At first glance it might seem that a book called Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself has nothing to do with writing. However, there’s at least two reasons why I think that it is an important book for writers. Everything in one way or another has something to do with writing. What we learn about life becomes our writing, and what we learn about ourselves affects how we write. For me, writing needs to be done in a mindful way, or there’s little point in doing it. The information Lissa Rankin presents in Mind Over Medicine is useful to writers because in understanding how our minds affect our bodies we can also understand how they affect our lives in general. The book also has several suggestions that could help your physical health but that will almost certainly help your emotional understanding and health.
Just now I opened the book at a random page. Here’s a quote:
“… the best way to alleviate loneliness is to tap into the essential nature of who you really are. Let the world see your real, authentic beautiful fabulousness. So many of us expend so much energy trying to be someone we’re not in order to fit in. In our efforts to be accepted, we lose a part of ourselves, an our health suffers as a consequence.”
I’d say that’s relevant to writers. Loneliness is really just feeling separate and wanting to feel included, or wanting acceptance. How often do writers fear rejection, or think that they have to work out what people want so that they can be accepted – or that least so that they can sell books or get blog views? This can often seem as if it’s about earning money, but there’s a lot of evidence that suggests we need less money to be happy that most people think. If that is the case, then why do we still keep believing that if we had more we’d be happier?
I don’t have all the answers to those questions, and one thing I like about Rankin is she doesn’t pretend to either. Mind Over Medicine is not a New Age woo-woo book telling us all we need to do is think happy thoughts and we’ll cure all diseases. It is a book filled with information on research into the way our emotions affect our bodies. Because this is something I’ve been interested in for years, I’d already read about several of the landmark cases Rankin cites. Yet the way Rankin delves into the this information helped me get a deeper understanding of it.
The book starts with a look at the many clinical trials that show effectiveness of the placebo effect – and its lesser known cousin the nocebo effect. During her research Dr Rankin came to see that it is more then just what you believe that affects your body’s ability to heal. What fascinated me is that it’s not just how you feel about the pills your doctor gives you that has an effect – how encouraging the doctor is can also play a huge part in your recovery. See a doctor who believes you will heal and it is far more likely that you will. (This is one reason why clinical trials of any drug need to be “double-blind” where neither patient nor medical practitioner know whether the treatment is real or fake.) Add to this other factors in your life, such as how happy your relationships are, whether or not you enjoy your job and Rankin shows that healing is not simply a matter of thinking positive thoughts.
Rankin looks at the way depression and stress affect our bodies and asks, “Can happiness cure disease?” (The jury’s out, but we have nothing to lose by taking steps to feel happier – it certainly won’t make us ill!) She also includes information about how the “flight or fight” response affects our bodies and gives information on how to use the relaxation response to counter it. (And did you notice that I included two photos to help induce a relaxation response in you as you read?)
Mind Over Medicine also includes Rankin’s personal story from over-worked, frazzled and sick doctor to healing. She explains her new way of working with patients, where they write their own prescriptions, not for drugs, but for the changes in lifestyle their bodies need to heal. This might be to move to live by the ocean, or it might be to value yourself more, to let go of an old resentment or learn a skill that you’ve always wanted to. More likely it will be a mixture of all of these. Towards the end of the book, Rankin includes questions to help you create your own prescription.
In a world where material success often takes precedent over all other considerations, and where world-wide recession means employees often work longer hours for lower pay, I am very glad that a doctor has written this book. We need to take time to live life holistically, and to see our bodies, minds and spirits not as separate entities but part of our whole. We also need to see ourselves as part of a bigger whole: of the human race and the world. That’s also a great way to counter the loneliness writers can feel.