In Praise of Worry

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Don’t worry, people say. Just let it go. Escape.

Worry is bad for you, just stop. The odds are in our favor! It can’t happen.

But I did worry. I worried a lot about this election, about this reckoning with America and its discontent. I indulged in news every single day. Radio, podcasts, internet, even the so-called “failing New York Times”.

My fear has been realized. The exact thing I was worrying about has happened. I knew that it could happen, because I am of the “uneducated, white working class” and I have been listening for 38 years. I’ve been observing what we do, what we say, what we believe.

Those who chose to avoid this worry have to mourn today. They have to accept that what they thought would not, could not happen HAS happened.

The media says “noone saw this coming”. But worriers DID.

I do not need to spend today accepting this.  I’ve already ground down my teeth, and now I am ready to go to work. I needed 5 minutes to wallow in my own despair, but now I am ready to do something.

I think that saying “do not worry” can be a bit too easy. When something is too easy to say, how might examine it further? How might we look into the cognitive dissonance that is allowing us to avoid this worry? Why do we think we deserve to live without it? To disengage from the news and our community?

Of course, there are different types of worry. One is a circular type, going over and over the same things. It can be paralyzing, keeping us from action. Worrying can take the place of doing the work, can keep us from being present.

We might say “do not worry in circles”.

The other type is activating. It can spur us into problem-solving, forming a strategy, taking action. Activating worry  is preparatory and engaged, in conversation with the ongoing situation.

We might say “worry better”.

And ultimately, I think neither worry nor escape are inherently good or bad. Perhaps we need both. Perhaps the problem is making either path your home, living inside of one or the other and being unable to move back and forth between different approaches. The need to escape is very real, and I do recognize and honor this need. We might need to let go of the things that we can’t do anything about, and these things DO exist.

But right now, many of us feel powerless. We may feel despair like never before. And if my 18 months of worry have given me anything, it’s a plan–and maybe this can help those of you in shock right now.

So. What can we do to get through today? What can we do to get through the next 4 years?

  1. Self-examination. How have any of us contributed to this situation? This culture? When have we stayed silent? How have we participated or othered? What conversations have we avoided? How can we be better people?
  2. Volunteer. Whether it is with an organization that helps refugees, provides accountability, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, food banks and domestic violence lines we ALL need to get to work. Give time, money and resources.
  3. Heartfelt communications. Tell someone who is hurt by this political climate that you are with them, you love them, you care. Write it, sing it, spray paint it on a bridge:  YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Give a smile, hug, listening or a supportive note to a neighbor or community member who may have suffered from this political rhetoric.
  4. Go talk to people. Gather information. Outside of your comfort zone, that is. We need to learn WHY people voted this way in order to move forward, to fix the problems.
  5. Support the media, Be the media. On my path towards journalism, I personally vow to tell everyone’s story with ferocity and heart, a commitment to truth and justice.  The media can play a very important role going forward in addressing othering and forging whatever is next for America, and we can all participate. Now is NOT the time to lose our great journalists or to check out of supporting our storytellers. Stay informed! And remember that those who help us all  to do so have value.
  6. And yes, take care of yourself and each other. Today I am taking a walk, hitting up the Hawthorne tincture, reading a book that I turn to in hard times and writing. Do what you need to do, and get some sleep. You’ll need it

I love you, friends and neighbors. It is only because we love each other so much that it hurts so bad. Don’t look away. Witness these times with your whole self. 

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Update, August 2016

Dearest friends of Fellow Workers Farm,

I would like to officially announce that FWF is scaling way back as a products business.

I will never totally walk away from my deep and abiding love for the plants, medicine-making, my beloved clients and the ongoing debates that surround our field. (Get it? field?)

But I will be pursuing an education for myself, and a career path which looks to me right now like media/journalism/communications. With a strong health and science angle, and a lot of interest in ethics, social justice and accountability.

I will be teaching several exciting classes this fall, and I will continue teaching about and writing on Critical Thinking, Holistic Stress Management and other subjects very dear to me.

Essentially, I am choosing to focus more on the ideas side for a bit, and I’ll see where it takes me.

I am excited to start this new phase of my life, and this blog WILL continue, though I make no promises as to regularity of posts.

Thank you all so much for your support.

-Traci

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Guest post: Harm reduction and the community herbalist

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INTRO–Hi, readers! welcome to the first ever FWF guest post.-Traci

Harm Reduction and Herbalism

By Rippy, herbalist and owner of Riptide Herbs

*This is based on my experiences in the field. I would like to state that there are many methods and principles out there that work for folks; these are some that have resonated with me as a community herbalist*

 

The Principles of Harm Reduction are most often applied to folks who misuse substances.  However, these principles can also be applied to interfacing with folks in general. What brought me to this topic has been my own work with active drug users and folks who have misused drugs in the past.  Illicit drug use is commonly associated with drugs like heroin, meth and crack, but it’s important for us to think about drug misuse happening with prescription and non-prescription drugs as well. I think this is an important caveat as with the recent opioid epidemic and health crisis in New England (and other areas)– often times the misuse has started with prescription drugs. If you want to read more about this please check resources listed below.

 

The Principles of Harm Reduction as distilled from The Harm Reduction Coaltion.org

http://harmreduction.org/about-us/principles-of-harm-reduction/

 

“A set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences…Harm Reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies…to meet [folks]“where they’re at”. Because harm reduction demands that interventions and policies are designed to reflect specific individual and community needs, there is no universal definition of or formula for implementing harm reduction.”

SO FUCK YEAH TAILOR IT, MAKE IT YOUR OWN AND APPLY IT!!

The Harm Reduction Coalition has come up with these evolving principles:

Work to minimize harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them

  • Establishes quality of individual and community life and well-being-as the criteria for successful interventions
  • Calls for the non-judgmental, non-coercive provision of services and resources to people
  • Ensures that folks have a real voice in the creation of programs (protocols) designed to serve them
  • Affirms folks themselves as the primary agents, Seeks to empower folks to share information and support each other
  • Recognizes that the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other inequalities effect both people’s vulnerabilities to and capacity for effectively dealing with their health

 

How can these principles be applied to Herbalism?

 

  • Let us broaden our scopes, suggest that any momentum, movement, is good and implement a client-focused model.
  • Let us adhere to the notion that folks coming to us are knowledgeable about their bodies.
  • I often hear conversations about accessibility, especially when applied to the sliding scale model. Instead, I want to hear conversations about approachability. Let us ask ourselves, how do we as herbalists make herbs “approachable?”

 

My thinking is that most folks do not want to hear everything they have to cut out of their life; everything they have to give up and stop doing. Often I hear the rhetoric of “no alcohol, no sugar, no coffee, no grains, no wheat, no fun? Let us NOT draw a hard line. The first step to bridge the gap, rather, should be how to use food as medicine, and how to integrate herbs (especially with no contraindications) into a person’s CURRENT lifestyle.

 

I want to encourage herbalists to meet folks “where they’re at” while remaining aware of their own internal biases and dialogue and applying the principle of cultural humility. Cultural humility is the idea that one’s cultural lens and perspective is not superior to another’s, just different.  Cultural humility allows us to approach cross-cultural situations with a humble attitude and to have an openness to the reality of others.  Cultural humility is sometimes referred to as cultural competency. However, ‘competency’ has weight and gravity; that we are finished; that we have learned. It’s never learned as in complete/competent—it’s a lifelong learning process (Tervalon, Murray-Garcia, p 118).

 

A part of this process has been learning from the folks I interface with daily, in a polluted city, with limited resources. I work with folks who are living on the street, not sleeping, not eating, living with co-occurring infections, misusing substances and facing limited resources and socio economic barriers that include classism, racism, sexism etc.

 

Question: When folks are going through active withdrawal from opiates, will they listen to your opinion on what they should do and what they shouldn’t do? Will they listen to you if you tell them how to live their life?  Hell no!  Folks are attempting to manage their life in the best way they know how.

 

Instead, harm reduction can come in many forms. It can come in the form of a cup of tea, a sweetened cold brew, ramen noodles with some freeze dried shitake mushrooms, creams to help with track mark scars, ginger chew candies to help with nausea.  It’s important to offer options, a smorgasbord, and encourage folks to try different options and experiment.  Ultimately, it will be their choice to take it or leave it and I encourage folks to do so and experiment. I encourage herbalists to think about these principles and ideas and experiment with integrating it into their own practice.

 

Below is a list of resources that I have found helpful and inspiring:

 

  • The Harm Reduction webpage including the Guide to Getting off Right and Harm Reduction Newsletters specifically Witch’s Brew articles that feature herbal remedies
  • Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari
  • Chasing Heroin, Frontline Documentary, PBS
  • Cultural humility versus cultural competence: A critical distinction in defining physician training outcomes in multicultural education by Tervalon, M, & Murray-Garcia, J. (1998). Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 9, 117-125.
  • Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa, Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating by Stephen Bratman
  • Donna Odierna, herbalists, MPH, Harm Reduction, Herbalism and Needle Exchange
  • Motivational Interviewing, read about it, go to trainings

 

Questions or comments? Please contact Rippy at: emkmoulton@riseup.net

Maybe It’s Your Boo-tay

“Any time you see multiple factors contributing to dysfunction do NOT think ‘Wow, that’s complicated’,  instead think ‘Look at all the potential issues I could address.'”-Brent Brookbush, A More Sophisticated Approach to Correcting Knee Dysfunction

Hey, you know where your glutes are, right? Your Gluteus Maximus? Gluteus Medius? And, maybe you can guess, the Gluteus Minimus, too? Stand straight, arms by your sides. Slowly reach around the back of your body, and see if you can find them. I’ll wait.

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So now you know where your Glutes are, but did you know that they play an important in keeping us well? Did you know that weak or underused Glutes may be contributing to pain all throughout the posterior chain, including the very common lower-back pain, knee pain, even foot pain?

Yes.

Many times I hear the question “what can I take for my ____pain?” And I do think we can address, say, mild knee pain with an herbal soak or rub. But is that a great long-term solution? Or can we stop it from happening so much by focusing on….the booty!

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A movement practice that focuses on the Glutes is one possible solution for building a resilient posterior chain that may help prevent the injury and pain that comes from poor alignment, “Gluteal amnesia” and overreliance on the 3 Ps: padding, products and pathologizing.

Padding is overbuilt shoes, chairs, and support garments that we use.

Products are painkillers, various natural remedies for pain and (ugh) ice.

Pathologizing means adopting the attitude of “I’m just broken” or “I just have a BAD___insert body part here and there is nothing I can do about it.”

Here I must say that OF COURSE some people are differently abled. OF COURSE there are people who have serious health challenges, and these people should ALL seek professional help and not take their health advice from this blog. OF COURSE, there are times when using a rub or soaking in the tub make sense.

But please, let’s consider the booty, and its place in preventive care and rehab. As practitioners, we may want to check out people’s Glutes. (No, really.) When someone asks “what can I take for ___” we may ask what their movement practice looks like, and if their butt is working for them.  Let’s learn a few basic Gluteus exercises, how to activate the muscles, how to get them engaged in our daily movements, for ourselves or for those we advise.  It just might be a joy for herbalists to recognize how the glutes affect our whole system, to feel them working and to build up the strength and stamina that comes from strong buttocks!

(Too  nerdy?)

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And these movements can be integrated into our lives easily, from standing in a better position (feet pointed forward!) to squatting daily, from doing glute bridges while catching up on TV to band exercises while internetting. Multi-task!

I use stretchy bands which are widely available, cheap, portable and small, (They’re like Heavy Metal guitar riffs–use the heaviest you can stand) a slightly fancier band called the SlingShot, still pretty cheap, a large kettlebell for deadlifts and hip thrusts and the rest is mostly bodyweight –so the barrier to entry is very low.

I have listed my favorite exercise books in other posts, including Glute books. And yes, I’d be delighted to show you my favorite Glute moves.

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Oh, and one more DO NOT for you today:

 

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Ethics for Herbalists part 1: Confidentiality

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The existence of groups and forums on the internet have given many people a place to discuss their health issues. In some ways this has been helpful, and in many ways this has not.

In a social media world, where employers, lawyers, insurance companies and exes can find out a lot about us, there is a new level of privacy concern around information about our mental and physical health.

It is important for us  to openly discuss the importance of confidentiality and to maintain privacy around the details of our own and others’ health information. What we may see as a private group is NOT really that private. What we may see as harmless chatting, the discussed person may see as a breach of trust.
Whether or not we use a full name,  (and sometimes people do), it is quite easy for others to make connections and know who is being discussed. This can lead to awkwardness at best, legal issues at worst.

And it is straight-up unethical.

People are vulnerable when they share their intimate details with us, and by keeping it confidential  we honor the exchange. This includes recognizing the various power dynamics that may exist within any  client/healer relationship.

So before we write up a case study or ask a question in any type of forum–online, in a class, speaking with any other people or practitioners, let’s ask ourselves  a few questions:

Am I respecting the privacy of my client or loved one?

How can I do this better?

Would it be better if I used less identifying details, called them person X or “a client” perhaps?

Am I telling their story or my story?

What is my responsibility to this client?

Is there a level of trust here that I am responsible to?

Would I be OK with this person knowing what I’m sharing? What if the roles were reversed? Would I be OK with this?

Do I really know who else can see this, and/or if anyone in this forum now or in the future is trustworthy?

There may be, occasionally, reason to breach the trust of a client or loved one, and that is when serious harm to oneself or another is possibly imminent. But an internet forum is not the place for this. Seek actual help.

And there may be a person who consents to their information being shared, and that is OK.

But ultimately I think it benefits all of us to examine our ethical obligation to keep the details to ourselves, to honor the trust put in us and to  remember the expectation that exists that–whether we are practicing herbalists or just people into herbs–we won’t compromise anyone’s livelihood or future by making their personal information available to others. Privacy around our personal information is a RIGHT.

It is not–not, not, not–about calling people out, not saying “you are doing this wrong”. It is only about saying maybe you didn’t know, and that is OK. Let’s consider, going forward, the implications of all of this sharing for the good of the whole community.

For more information about this, please check out the AHG statement on the herbalists’ code of ethics:

http://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/ethics

and Sevensong’s great handout on community herbalism, with a section on ethics:

http://7song.com/files/Community%20Based%20Herbalism.pdf

 

As well as HIPAA, the Health insurance portability and Accountability act.

http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/index.html

 

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Standing in the road alone

This morning, very early,  I stood at my window and watched a man park  his large lumber-delivery truck on a very steep hill. It’s a blind curve, too. He put down the stabilizers and climbed onto the roof of the cab to check how close the powerlines were to the giant motorized metal claw. (Answer: really f-ing close.) He jumped down and put out some orange cones, then got back up and started to unload the pallets of lumber with the giant metal arm.
I noticed he was smoking the whole time.*
And why not? Here you are, literally standing in the road alone, behind/on/next to your giant, heavy, fully-loaded lumber truck. Here you are, one inch from the powerlines. Here you are, jumping 5 feet off of the cab of your truck into a ditch.

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Herbalism and “alternative healthcare” suffer from a common perception of being only for a certain type of person.

I hear a lot of talk within our community about making it more accessible. Accessible is  often presented as making the products or care more affordable. That which stands between working class people and an herbalicious lifestyle is often seen as money. But is that it? **

Wellness advice, marketing and media seems to focus on certain people too. I often observe health writing , books, podcasts geared towards people with desk jobs–it’s not that anyone is purposefully excluding the working class. It’s that the people who are creating this content are DOING SO at a desk, and their writing and, often, their whole life experience reflects this. We have a whole class of people today who are totally protected from daily experiences of workplace danger and elemental hardship, from childhood to death.

 

Do we, in order to break down some barriers,  need to also remember how the social determinants of health shape our individual and collective attitudes around self-care? Do we need to consider how herbalists  are presenting ideas about wellness, how we talk about it, how we view health disparities?  Whose face represents us? It may not be someone’s current income that determines their attitudes about health. (For example, a lineman is doing blue collar work but could be earning more than a desk-based worker.) It may be, for example, that  doing dangerous work creates a different feeling about health and mortality compared to doing a desk job. It may be that simple pleasures like smoking, even if we know they could harm us eventually, pale in comparison to working on live wires. It may be that we don’t actually expect to live long enough to deal with the consequences.

So what if it’s not just the money that determines our choices but our values, the IDEAS around health and wellness that we have been forming our whole lives, that come from our family, our friends, our co-workers, our community and the media we consume.  We all have a lens through which we see our selves and the world, and this lens is shaped by many factors, including class.

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Our state of health doesn’t occur in isolation. History of choices create a target audience.  Our behaviors occur on a continuum, and in a context. When we are exposed to very real hazards every day, we may not give a shit about gluten, about emotional release, about our posterior chains. We may just be relieved when our boat pulls back in, when we don’t get run over or impaled or beaten to death. Or if we are actually  interested in creating change, we may get so much negative social pressure  from those around us that we give up.  We may be unable to find a practitioner that feels welcoming or some writing that we believe speaks to people like us. We may have the money to spend on a tincture, but feel repelled by the way it is presented.***

So basically health decisions don’t occur in a vacuum, and our outreach should not occur in a vacuum either. We have to live in the web of interconnectedness, and take a systems approach to improving health disparities. Ultimately it is possible for working class people to thrive when we feel supported and integrated and heard, even in the face of work and life that tries to chew us up and spit us out. This is empowerment– NOT someone charging in and  saving people from themselves but a community giving people the tools to create change.

Leadership from within can help create shifts in the values and behaviors that improve health outcomes. This includes understanding that risk does not look the same to everyone. To me, making these shifts is about breaking cycles that keep us in one place and building bridges that let us cross to another. I have observed amongst beloved working class family and friends a certain air of capableness and sturdiness that just crumbles into brokenness over time, and I do believe that this is not entirely inevitable.

So our challenge is: how to make our ideas about herbalism and wellness approachable while still respecting the dignity and intelligence of our brothers and sisters who are doing dangerous work every day, grinding away in all kinds of weather, getting up with the sun and coming home in need of support.  How can we help transform that capable strength and youthful resilience into a lifelong wellness, physically and mentally?
Perhaps seeing our place amongst a lineage of survivors is a start, coming at this work from a place of deep respect for our brothers and sisters and the work they do, a willingness to start from a harm reduction model and listening. Lots of listening.

*please note that I am merely observing this smoking, and judging the behavior is NOT my intent.

**Not to say it’s never about money, of course.

***I’m over-using we because I identify with both herbalists and working class persons.

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