Archive for September, 2009


There’s a lovely little robin who lives in the tree right where I park my car at home. It’s good to see him back there recently.



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sunshine in a flower


light and shady leaf

There’s a lot of colour and flourishing in the garden at the Homeopathic Hospital just now. I love how really every day throughout the year you can find something beautiful to stop and contemplate in here. Guess that’s why we thought it was a good idea to build a hospital around a garden…..

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Fushimi Inari Shrine

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mont st victoire


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….you’ll find it’s the season for these


I’m always fascinated by how often they grow in circles….


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Taken from the train passing through Partick…..

partick graffiti


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What an incredible video!

Not just creative, but think of the planning, the organisation and the sheer hard work! Wow!

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indra's net

I spotted this be-dew-elled spider’s web this morning and immediately thought of Indra’s Net.
Interestingly, the entry about Indra’s Net on wikipedia illustrates the following quote by Alan Watts with a very similar image.

Imagine a multidimensional spider’s web in the early morning covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And, in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum. That is the Buddhist conception of the universe in an image

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There really are many definitions of health, and that’s not a bad thing. Such a complex phenomenon cannot be wholly understood by the use of a sound bite, a mission statement, or a simple formula. However, a simple statement or formula can provoke thought, change a perspective, or shine a light on a poorly understood issue.
Here’s one simple statement about health

Vitality + Resilience = Health

When someone is sick they seek a restoration of health. They, preferably, want a cure. Something which will completely remove all traces of the disease and leave them back where they were before they became ill (or, maybe even in a better place than they were to start with!). In acute disease that can be a reasonable aim. Infectious disease is a good example. If you suffer from some infection this winter, say a chest infection, a cold or a flu, then you’ll find that the illness will last a few days after which time, the symptoms will all fade away. You might need the assistance of some anti-infective drug to kill the offending bug but the bottom line is your body will repair itself and the disease will be over. (I’m talking best case scenarios here!) However, chronic diseases are not like that. Chronic diseases involve changes which don’t go away. Despite that two people with the same chronic disease will experience very different levels of health. Two people with the same pathological lesions (similar locations, similar severity) may report completely different levels of well-being, and whilst one may state that the illness is making life unbearable, another may state that life is good, or even that they are flourishing. Eric Cassell, the American physician explores this in his writings by taking a focus his patients’ assessment of their “suffering” and shows that whilst there is a relationship between disease and illness, or, shall we say, between lesions and experience, that it’s not a simple one-to-one relationship.
If we return to the scenario of acute disease for a moment, two people who suffer from the same infection don’t have the same experience. One may get severe or long-lasting symptoms whilst the other experiences only mild, short lived ones. Beyond the period of infection, one person may bounce back fully restored, whilst another finds themselves with lingering symptoms or feeling just under par for several days, or even weeks. What makes the difference?
I think one explanation lies in this simple statement
Vitality + Resilience = Health.
Vitality is not an easy thing to pin down. Some people understand it best as “well-being”, “wellness” or “energy”, but I prefer the word “vitality” because I like it’s positive connotations and I think it captures a sense of vigour or brightness. The opposite of vitality would be debility. It would be reasonable to expect that someone whose vitality is very low will be both more susceptible to catching an infection, and more likely to experience a more severe or prolonged illness. Without good vitality, resilience is impaired.
Resilience is the capacity of a person to cope, to deal with what has happened by repairing damaged tissue or systems, and/or by adapting to the changes in their bodies and their lives. Resilience also involves some kind of growth. When we cope with something, or when we adapt to a major change, then we grow. We grow by having learned something, by having become stronger in some way, more able to deal with challenges perhaps. This kind of growth is a part of resilience. When we grow as a result of our coping and adapting then we become more resilient.
I think both vitality and resilience are important parts of health and I think they’re relevant to the treatment of both acute and chronic diseases. But most treatments used by doctors are not designed to influence either of these phenomena. Why is that? Sure, it’s good to have treatments which directly kill bugs, or which assist the body to address a pathology by having a direct effect on lesions, but if we don’t pay attention to vitality and resilience are we really going to become healthy?
We need to understand vitality and resilience better. We need to better understand how they work, and we need to understand what therapeutic interventions will stimulate vitality and enhance resilience. Then we need to develop that whole aspect of health care because so far, we focus almost exclusively on lesions and disease, not on health.

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Pharmakon, by Dirk Wittenborn, ( ISBN 978-0747598107), is a good read. It’s a novel which tells the story of one American family, starting with a focus on the father, a psychologist, then following the story of his youngest son. The territory of the book is the treatment of mental health, and in some ways, that reminded me of Sebastian Faulk’s “Human Traces“. However, despite the fact that both novels make you think about psychiatry as a therapy, it’s a more modern novel than Human Traces, taking a focus on drugs. You could tell that from the title I’m sure! In fact, by focusing on drugs taken to alter mental states, Wittenborn explores and entwines both “therapeutic” and “recreational” use of drugs.

Dr. William T. Friedrich wonders if it is possible to find a drug which will produce human happiness. The idea that this might be possible is prompted by two things. Firstly, he is horrified by the contemporary 1950s psychiatric treatments, finding psycho-surgery barbaric and psycho-analysis ineffective. Secondly, he comes across the use of a plant by tribes in New Guinea to alter mental states. He persuades a colleague to set up a clinical trial of this plant extract and see if they can prescribe happiness. Things, of course, don’t go according to plan, and one of the volunteers, a deeply disturbed young man called Caspar, after an initial apparently astonishingly good response to the drug, turns homicidal and sets out to kill the two researchers.

For the rest of the novel, Caspar haunts the Friedrich family. His crimes result in him being committed to secure psychiatric care for the rest of his life, and to Dr Friedrich and his wife having another child, Zach. Zach’s story leads into recreational drug use and its sorry consequences. Friedrich himself goes on to become a successful consultant to major drug companies helping them to create and market a number of anti-depressants and other psycho-active products.

As you might imagine, this is not a happy story, but it’s engaging and it also makes you think not only about psychiatry and drug companies, but also about human happiness – what is it and can it ever be achieved by using chemicals?

The drug company thread of the narrative echoed some of the themes of Popco but this is not a novel about drug companies. It’s a novel about life, mental health care, the place which drugs (prescribed and illegal) play in our society, and, ultimately, it’s a novel about families and happiness.

I found the last paragraph of the book immensely satisfying. I won’t spoil the story for you, but suffice it to say that at the beginning of the story, Friedrich wonders if its possible for a drug to produce happiness, and at the end, he’s wondering if it’s possible to find a drug which will produce tears.

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