Category Archives: Alternative medicine

Bright ideas revisited

Continued from part 1

Hello and welcome back!

I’ve been away: I did a couple of years of research, wrote my thesis on autism and the enforcement of normality, got my master’s degree, and am now training and licensing people in my applied work: Dynamic Emotional Integration®. It’s been an intense couple of years, and though I haven’t been updating this blog, I’ve still been thinking about everything here, and continuing to study paranormal and metaphysical ideologies.

Now I’m back, and following up on my previous post, where I wrote about entering a compounding pharmacy in my county, and stepping back 40 years into the shockingly evangelical era of alternative medicine. I had the opportunity to revisit that era again this year, this time with slightly different results.

Alternatives become necessary when the conventional fails, continued

The Caduceus, a fascinating mistake. This is actually the staff of Hermes, and it's related to commerce, and not medicine.

The Caduceus, a fascinating and telling mistake. This is actually the staff of Hermes, which is related to commerce, thievery, and undertaking — and not to healing or medicine.

Street drug serenade: I’m still supporting the friend whose prescription I was picking up at that compounding pharmacy back in 2013. My friend’s condition is serious and ongoing, and she and her doctors have tried everything on-label and off-label to address her chronic illness. She’s been on more medications and therapies than we can count, and though her doctor is conventional, he will often try alternative medications and treatments if he thinks there’s a chance that they might help.

There is a very, very off-label medication that I discovered for my friend’s condition; it’s known primarily as a street drug, and it needs to be administered by IV. We learned about this medication a few years ago, and tried to get my friend into a trial at the National Institutes of Health, but it didn’t work out, and we couldn’t find a local doctor who would even consider providing a trial treatment. There was one doctor in Los Angeles who offered to fly up to Monterey and provide an hour-long IV infusion for $1000 a visit, but the drive from here is 3 hours each way, and it just never came together.

Last month, my friend’s doctor discovered a clinic in a nearby county that offers IV infusions of this drug for $175 per treatment! So we went there together (my friend is not allowed to drive after the IV), and surprise! It’s the health spa where my mom worked when I was a teen and we were camping under the stairs at her friend’s house. The spa has a new name now, and though the giant 70s redwood hot tub is gone, the leaky skylight has been repaired, and the smell of chlorine had faded long ago, it’s old home week for me every time we go.

But let me not mince words — this place offers deeply questionable intravenous treatments (see below) based on the discredited idea of detoxification, superfoods, megadoses of vitamins, and other alternative approaches that promise to return people to perfect health.

I grew up in that detoxing, miracle food, megadosing, obsessive exercising, perfect health community, and let me tell you: these beliefs are extremely seductive and powerfully habit-forming. When I went cold turkey on all of my miracle foods and treatments back in 2003, my health didn’t change at all; however, the underlying issues that I had been obscuring with all of my obsessive-compulsive health rituals became apparent.

My actual healing from my true difficulties only commenced when I finally let go of my alternative medicine lifestyle. Continue reading

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Filed under Alternative medicine, New Age, Sociology

Dark circles and bright ideas

Have you heard the good news?

“Stop. Just stop. I do not want to hear this.” It was all I could think to say to the woman behind the counter. Considering how shocking her aggressive sales pitch was, I’m astonished that I could say anything at all.

She was also shocked that I — that anyone — would not want her free medical advice and (loud and public) diagnosis of what had caused the dark circles under my eyes, because, in her view, she was being insightful and supportive.  She kept trying to come back to the topic, because she couldn’t believe her ears:

“Allopathic medicine can’t help you, but I know exactly what to do about your dark circles!”

I had to keep saying, “No. Stop it.”

“My husband had the same problem for years and…”

“Please stop!”

She was shocked by what she saw as my rudeness and stubbornness.

She seemed to have no workable frame through which to view me, so I paid for my friend’s prescription and got out of her compounding pharmacy as quickly as I could.

My theory is that I'm listening to the first person to mention my dark circles. Riveting!

My theory is that I’m listening to the first person to mention my dark circles. Riveting! 50 years later, not so much.

But outside in my car, I had to shake off like a cat who had smelled something bad. Here it was July of 2013, yet I had stepped backward forty years into the wild-eyed, fundamentalist era of alternative medicine, of intense certainties and promises of miracles, of ungrounded ideas promoted with evangelical fervor, and of a categorical distrust of anything conventional or, in the terminology of the community, of anything from “allopathic” medicine.

It was an era — and a mindset — that I knew very well, and really didn’t want to revisit.

However, I live in Northern California, where alternative medicine is a given; it is everywhere. I’m completely surrounded by it, and though I’ve made a kind of peace with it, quietly moving over to conventional medicine (thankfully, relievedly, happily) and away from metaphysical and paranormal alternatives, I sometimes witness people espousing views about health and medical care that are very concerning to hear.

Fasts, repetitive detoxification rituals, extreme diets, megadoses of supplements, miracle foods — these are normal and accepted behaviors in my community, and they concern me.

I’ve become very skilled at dissociating slightly so that people can’t see me react in sadness or frustration, because I remember what it was like to believe in all those miracles and wonders. Now, I just practice non-attachment while people talk about whatever new miracle cure or super food is going to change the world and heal every possible ailment, and I wait until the sermon ends.

But this woman, sitting behind the counter in her compounding pharmacy, surrounded by books from people like Suzanne Somers and Jenny McCarthy, went crackerdog about the dark circles under my eyes — I mean 1970s Jesus-freak street theater intense: she was going to bring me salvation from my dark circles and heal me. There was no way for me to escape a direct confrontation.

“Please stop it.”

From her point of view, she was helpfully giving me a free diagnosis based on what she fervently believed. From my point of view, she was being thoroughly inappropriate, violating HIPAA privacy rules (there were other customers in the pharmacy), and loudly proselytizing about a worldview that I no longer find helpful at all — and through which I and my loved ones have experienced untold suffering that we were never allowed to talk about, and that almost no one in the alternative medicine community wants to hear.

Hello darkness, my old friend

I’ve got dark circles under my eyes. I’ve had them since I was a baby, and they’re just a function of how my eyes are. I have deep-set eyes, a high bridge on my nose that casts shadows, and pale, thin skin that lets you see right through to the purplish blood vessels and darkness inside my eye sockets. I’m partially transparent! Continue reading

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Filed under Alternative medicine, Empathy, New Age

Why I am not a psychic — or a skeptic

In 2003, after 32 years in the New Age, and after having published nine books and audio learning sets on psychic healing, auras, chakras, and metaphysical concepts of energy, I left my career to return to college. I made this decision after two years of self-directed study into many of the metaphysical and paranormal ideas I had based my career upon.

While leaving those ideas behind was very frightening and painful, it was a valuable learning experience (this is a joke you will understand further down the page).

I returned to college in 2004 to study the social sciences (history, sociology, criminology, psychology, demographics, economics, cultic studies, and anthropology) because I wanted to understand what had happened in my own life. I also wanted to understand how spiritual beliefs are formed, how ideas are created and change over time, how social movements arise and decay, how groups create their own realities … you know, simple stuff like that.

I graduated with a degree in Social Science in 2006. Though I focused on the sociology of work & occupations, the sociology of cults & high-control groups, the sociology of murder and criminology, and career testing & guidance (okay, I’ve got a lot of interests), I also studied religions and the New Age when I could. I am no longer working with paranormal or metaphysical ideas, though I continue to study them through the lenses of anthropology, sociology, history, neurology, and social and cognitive psychology.

While I am agnostic* about whether any paranormal, spiritual, religious, or metaphysical concepts actually exist, I now understand that I personally am not a psychic, and that there was nothing metaphysical or paranormal about what I did in my previous healing career.

*Definition for clarity: Agnostic means without gnosis or certain knowledge. It is different from atheism, which is merely a lack of belief in gods. Being an agnostic is sort of comical. When the question of religion was posed in a class and I answered, “I’m an agnostic,” a Christian student said loudly to the rest of the group, “That means she wants to believe in God, but she can’t.” Hah! I corrected her, “Actually, it means that I’m saying we can’t know because we are imperfect observers of the world. I am an atheist in regard to every human conceptualization of God (religion has always concerned me, which was why I was originally drawn to the New Age), but I’m able to leave room for a creative force that we aren’t yet capable of understanding. I’m open-minded.”

Some of my atheist friends think agnosticism is a lily-livered kind of fence-sitting, where you’re trying to keep all your options open just in case there’s hell in the offing. I say Hah! to that as well. I didn’t choose agnosticism because I’m afraid; I chose it because I’m willing to be surprised.

What I understand now after all this time is how culture formed my career as a psychic healer, but also how my natural abilities formed the core of my work. Through my rather excessive empathy, I was able to create a full-fledged psychic career, not because I was tricking anyone, but because I can read emotions, gestures, undercurrent, body language, and intentions to a greater extent than is deemed normal. I’ve also been through intense trauma in my life, and because of that, I’m able to understand things about emotions and the human condition that many people don’t understand at all.

The work I did wasn’t about magically reading the future or past lives; rather, it was a form of peer counseling based upon my own understanding of how to rebuild a life after extreme trauma. Continue reading

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Filed under Agnosticism, Alternative medicine, Cognitive Biases, Energy, Metaphysics, New Age, Skepticism, Sociology

9. Unraveling

After nearly two years of study (and that final wake-up call from my Atlantean pelvis alien), I was so alarmed by the implications of my support of New Age ideas that I slammed the brakes on my career.

I cancelled all of my workshops, stopped doing consultations, edited my website, and turned down a number of book contracts. I made these changes as quietly as possible because I knew I’d get very little support or understanding from anyone. I also cleaned out my snail-mail and e-mail files and reread thousands of pieces of correspondence from people all over the globe.

Until I did that – until I reread all of those letters and e-mails in a row, I hadn’t noticed how alike they were. They were all from New Age people who – no matter their age, gender, educational status, or nationality – were wrestling with the same basic difficulties in protecting themselves from misinformation, untestable claims, untrained teachers and healers, and general confusion (including confusion about my work, which veered significantly from many accepted New Age ideas).

photo of Sisyphus and his rockI had originally responded to each of these concerns as unique, and when I answered each one, I know I was thinking to myself: If I can just write well enough, if I can just present models that will help people think clearly, if I can just help people find safe resources, if I can just….

I see now that I was like Sisyphus of the Greek myth, endlessly pushing a rock up a hill, only to watch it fall back down every time I got to the top. Though I meant well and was honestly trying to protect people, I finally saw that I was doing no lasting good.

I saw that by just using New Age jargon, or talking about unverifiable metaphysical concepts of energy, or imagining that there is another world and that people survive beyond death, I was helping people maintain their confirmation biases and support their motivated reasoning.

The ideas of the New Age are interesting, but they unfortunately exist within a framework that can invite all sorts of confusing and even damaging information into people’s lives. Though I realized that people needed to be responsible for themselves, and that I didn’t hold a hypnotic sway over my readers, my concerns were intensified because I knew my audience. I knew that many people in the New Age, spirituality, and metaphysics were there because they were in pain, because they didn’t fit in, or because they hadn’t been able to find help or comfort anywhere else.

It’s important to understand that alternatives become necessary when the conventional fails.

Continue reading

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Filed under Alternative medicine, Energy, Metaphysics, New Age, Ritual, Skepticism

4. The Flying Circus Psychic Academy

Like most of the people who been at the Lake of Li, I drifted for the next few years, getting and losing jobs, entering and leaving community colleges, traveling from town to town, living on the streets occasionally, and trying to make sense of my world. I took some psychic training on and off (when I could afford it) at a psychic school that was also a church for tax exemption status. The school taught people how to see and heal auras and chakras*, read people clairvoyantly, and heal physical illnesses or karmic troubles.

*Your aura is thought to be an energetic field that emanates from and surrounds your body. Some psychics can purportedly see or feel your aura and diagnose issues in your body and your life. Your chakras are thought to be a series of vortex-like energy centers in and around your body (many are at the sites of your endocrine glands). These vortices can purportedly be seen or sensed by psychics, who use them to diagnose specific conditions in your body and your life. In my New Age career, the aura and chakras were in my area of expertise (see this post about my current approach to the aura and chakras).

I learned a lot of useful things at that psychic school, but I found a great deal of trouble there as well. I won’t name that school, because these psychic schools are all very similar and everyone deserves their privacy. For the purposes of this story, however, let’s call it the Flying Circus Psychic Academy (FCPA).

photo of Monty Python image

If only the psychic school has posted this sign …

It was intriguing to go to such a place after my Lake of Li experience, because unlike many of my fellow students, I was able to identify and avoid anything that smelled of cultish behavior. The influence of Python comedy also helped me identify and avoid (for the most part) the wild-eyed and pompous characters who had infiltrated the academy’s hierarchy.

While the FCPA psychologically damaged many students, my hard-won cult savviness protected me (for the most part) from the most outrageous behaviors — and I was able to learn some very useful things about healing, even amid (or perhaps because of?) the chaos.

As it is with most psychic schools, this one relied upon a hierarchy of allegedly advanced psychics to create a false underclass among the students. However, making people dependent upon the approval of so-called superiors was one of the least damaging things the FCPA did.

One of their unofficial mottoes was: “You may be psychic, not crazy.” While this motto helped many highly sensitive and intuitive people reorganize their approach to their own lives, it was also a siren call for many deeply disturbed people. Many FCPA students would have benefited from competent psychiatric help, but they didn’t get any. Instead, these troubled people took classes, got psychic healings, and destabilized, often in frightening ways. Continue reading

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3. Building a magical life

Touring through the U.S. and southeastern Canada as a pit crew on my brother-in-law’s Formula Super Vee racing team was an excellent getaway, but I didn’t find my destiny out on the road. I was glad when racing season ended and we finally arrived back home in Marin County. The problem was this: home was gone.

While we were out racing, my mom’s health had deteriorated even further. She had to move out of the house where she and my younger sister lived. When I got back, my sister had moved to the East Bay to live with my dad, and Mom lived in a little room under some stairs at the back of someone’s house. The room had no plumbing, kitchen, or bathroom, but Mom worked at a health spa where she could use the bathroom and the kitchen. I had just spent the summer living on racecourses in the back of a Ford Econoline van, so I really didn’t mind the rough living. However, within a few months, I joined my sister and moved into my dad’s condo. Mom soon took off alone to travel and find her destiny.

Living at my dad’s didn’t work for long. My dad had remarried, and his second wife was a full-scale alcoholic. They lived what I called “the golf and tennis life,” very middle class, and I found it suffocating. After a few months, my older sister and her racing husband called from Southern California: they were there to help Purcell create a spiritual community based on Kan Li’s teachings. Wonderful! This was destiny calling! I packed up my stuff and hitchhiked from the Bay Area down to LA, certain that my magical life was about to begin. I was 17 years old.

This is destiny calling

Purcell’s  group was amazing. Purcell (and Kan Li’s teachings) had attracted intelligent, iconoclastic, artistic, and humorous people who didn’t fit into regular society for one reason or another. Most of us were artists, musicians, scientists, or visionaries — and we naturally attracted more people like us. Our group was a large, loving, extended family.

Many of of our members came from England (where Purcell often traveled and taught) — so my ability to act out Python sketches made me the beloved baby of the group. I grew up in that group, especially after my parent’s divorce. Purcell (though he had two children of his own) even became a kind of surrogate father for me. So this was a safe and happy place for me to land.

When the U.S. contingent of our group (about 30 of us) first formed in 1971, we gathered to hear Kan Li’s teachings at Purcell’s apartment in San Francisco, or at one of our friend’s homes in the Bay Area. After a few years, though, our group became much larger, and we all wanted to create something of our own.

photo of Chinese lake

My idea of the Lake of Li

By mid-1978 (when I was 17), our group had decided to pool our money and talent to create a series of spiritually attuned shops, businesses, theaters, schools, and so forth. This business was going to be named The Lake of Li, after one of Kan Li’s magical parables about life in ancient China. Our business idea was truly wonderful (and just writing about it brings back my old idealism), but essentially, what we were creating was a mall. In Southern California, no less.

But see, this was going to be a beautiful and meaningful mall — where everything that the people in our group cared about and knew how to do would be supported. We were going to serve our spirituality, provide excellent services for everyone, and make a living through our right livelihood. It was an awesome idea, and we were all deeply and totally dedicated to it. Continue reading

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2. Discovering the magic

This much was crystal clear when I was ten years old: yoga and homeopathy were magical. My mom was very sick, her regular doctors couldn’t help, but yoga and homeopathy cured her. It was magic.

A very welcome surprise

I think there’s a special kind of fear you grow up with when your mom is sick. I was the fourth of five children, and for most of my early life, my mom struggled with fragile health. Some of it was hormonal (mom had undiagnosed thyroid disease, plus, a few years after my younger sister was born, my mom’s endometriosis grew so excruciating that she had a total hysterectomy); some of it was immunological and musculoskeletal (Mom was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her mid-30s); some of it was pre-existing (a severe burn incident, followed by coma, at the age of two had damaged her liver and kidneys); and some of it was neurochemical (Mom had untreated depression).

Photo of Billie Kara

Mom: the beautiful Billie Kara in 1944

Mom was wonderful: deeply artistic, musical, well-read, witty, intellectual, beautiful (Mom was a model in her teens), and loving. But she was also fragile, in a lot of pain that her doctors couldn’t shift, and often despairing … whiny, even. I remember a lot of fun times with her, but I also remember being let down because she didn’t have the stamina she needed to take care of so many demanding kids.

I also felt singled out (though I wasn’t); I remember her dramatically ending school clothes-shopping trips (which I loved because they made the coming school year seem bearable) because there “wasn’t enough oxygen” inside the department store. I remember sharp feelings of disappointment and anger because I didn’t have a mom I could rely on. I also remember my own depression and shame at being angry with someone who was ill.

For my older brothers and sister, the emotions were even more complex than mine. The three of them were called the “first litter,” three years apart, boy, girl, boy — geniuses all. The athlete and musician, the artist and dancer, the math prodigy who loved dinosaurs. They grew up with a healthy version of my mom, and a family life filled with camping and swimming, sports and dancing, parties and fun.

I was born five years after the first litter, and my younger sister just sixteen months after me. Bam, bam. The second litter. And basically, the stress of our births knocked my mom into multiple illnesses. My older sister (at 9) became our caretaker, my brothers (12 and 6) watched over us too. Everyone focused on the needs of the new babies and their sick mother, while the first litter silently mourned the loss of their mom — and the life they once had.

I only learned the older kids’ version of the story a few years ago, because everyone in the family worked hard to give us a happy life, filled with art, music, learning, and fun. We sang together, laughed together, went camping … I thought our lives were pretty great, except when Mom was sick. Continue reading

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Filed under Alternative medicine, Energy, Metaphysics, New Age