Finding My “Way”: Healing Myself by Choosing Eastern Medicine by Amy Wolf
When I would get sick each year at the start of January, I thought it was due to stress. However, after my first semester at PCOM, I now understand there were many more causes or etiologies that led to my sickness each year. Before I made the decision to change careers into Eastern medicine (EM), I was a CPA in the area of Tax Real Estate. I hoped that this career would bring me the satisfaction and fulfillment I sought in my professional and personal life, but it didn’t. I knew that tax was not what I was meant to do, and as a result, I had a hard time feeling a sense of purpose and accomplishment from my career. Additionally, since I had to spend so much of my time at work, I continually felt like I was not living my life to its fullest—especially during the annual “busy season” of tax, when I worked in excess of 80 hours a week for more than 4 ½ months. The utter absence of work/life balance prevented me from making my own health and well being a priority. The competitive work environment and the values of those around me also took a toll on my emotional and physical health. Now that I have spent a semester studying EM, I understand that the sickness I felt each January resulted from etiologies stemming from my environment and life choices. Below, I explain these etiologies and how they impacted my health history, emotional life, and my decision to change career paths.
Throughout my life, I have always had an aversion to wind and cold. I generally have cold hands and feet, leave the heat on in my apartment, and sleep with a heating blanket. Therefore, it was not surprising that wind and cold played a role in me coming down with the flu each winter in January. EM considers wind and cold two of the six major external etiologies or “excesses/evils” that lead to yin yang imbalance in the body, thus causing disease. According to the five-phase theory (FPT) of EM, wind and cold invasion likely caused the rapid onset and swift change in my health condition each January. They also likely caused the simultaneous fever and chills, floating body aches and congestion in the upper parts of my body, including my head, neck and most significantly my lungs. Since EM considers the lungs the most fragile zang organ in the body, and the organ that regulates defensive “Wei” qi, it makes sense that wind and cold evil impacted my lungs the most. Furthermore, FPT associates wind with the liver which regulates the free coursing of qi, and associates cold with the kidneys which underscores each zang-fu’s yin and yang balance in the body. Thus, when wind and cold invade the body, the liver and kidney can become imbalanced leading to some of the various signs and symptoms I experienced during this time.
Although the etiologies wind and cold played a part in me getting sick each busy season, they were not the only etiologies that caused it. Each year prior to busy season, I felt worried, anxious, fearful, sad and angry. I ruminated about whether I could handle another year of working 80-hour weeks, causing my health to suffer since I had no time for the gym or social activities. I worried about whether I would be able to get all of my work done successfully in order to build my reputation at my company. I feared that I may fail or get sick during the time when my peers needed me most. I felt angry that I had chosen a career path for myself that I disliked so intensely. I was sad that I did not like some of the people around me and felt I could not connect with them on a personal level. Overall, I was immensely unhappy, and these emotions took a toll on my health. When I began my first semester at PCOM, I realized that these emotions led to imbalances in various organs in the body and resulted in sickness and disease. EM refers to these emotional etiologies as the Seven Affects. My worry, anxiety and rumination directly impacted the function of my spleen. My fear impacted the function of my kidneys. My grief impacted the function of my lungs, and my anger impacted the function of my liver. These negative emotions caused imbalances in my body that ultimately manifested in an illness each January prior to busy season.
I endured five years of busy seasons before I decided to finally make a career change into EM. Five years of working 80-hour weeks for at least 4 ½ months taxed my body heavily. Even though I had always been in good physical shape, I started to gain weight and had no time to lose it. Additionally, my skin started to appear dull, dark bags began to form under my eyes from lack of sleep, and my eyes appeared emotionless or sad—a direct reflection of what I felt inside. Overall, I felt tired all of the time and like I was growing old quickly. At the time, I knew this was not a good sign. I knew that if I kept going like this, it would lead to a very unhappy and unfulfilling life. In fact, once I started PCOM, my professor assigned me a reading in the ancient Chinese text, Tao De Ching, which described my situation perfectly. The Tao De Jing, a text that teaches people the “Way,” or how to live a meaningful life, said, “Something that grows old while still in its prime is said to be not in accord with the Way; Not being in accord with the Way leads to an early demise." I was not living in accordance with the “Way”, but I was also not willing to let my lifestyle lead to an early demise. This realization propelled me to make the decision to change careers. Had I not, the taxation on my emotional and physical body would probably have caused numerous other imbalances, leading to more sickness and quite possibly my demise. EM categorizes taxation as a miscellaneous etiology, which leads to various imbalances in the body, most notably the condition of vacuity or deficiency. This vacuity can come in the form of qi, blood, yang, or yin vacuity. Whichever form it may be, the vacuity takes a significant amount of time to develop and heal. Ironically, the many years I spent enduring tax season ultimately “taxed” my body leading to imbalances that manifested in me getting sick each January. I am currently working with EM practitioners and a physical trainer to get my health and body back to where they were before entering the tax profession: strong and full of life.
External, internal (emotional) and miscellaneous etiologies were all factors in me getting sick each January before busy season. While these etiologies negatively affected me during this time, they also positively motivated me to take a risk and change my career. The dual effect that these etiologies had on me underlies the very foundation of EM and the yin yang theory relating to balance among everything in the universe. Busy season each year led me to discover that what I wanted more than anything in life was to impact people’s lives and their well being, including my own. I wanted to use natural methods, integrating energy and the power of the mind, body and spirit to help heal others and teach them how to take better care of themselves. I also wanted the opportunity to personally connect with people. The corporate environment I existed in for the past several years kept me removed from anything that made a real difference in people’s lives. Consequently, my career move into EM completely changed my life for the better. I now wake up happy and excited for my future, grateful for everyone and everything in my life, and proud to finally, after a long struggle and journey, live my life in accordance with the “Way.”