Decolonizing needs to happen at all aspects of medicine including how we fund or do energy exchange for it. I use the term “energy exchange” because money is is a relatively new way of exchange for labor and goods, but it is not the only way. Prior to colonization, the Philippines did not have Capitalism. Healthcare was not dependent on extractive monetary transactions that focused on individual financial responsibility. Reciprocity was practiced through gift giving and being in relation to one another. Healers had a divine responsibility to care for the community and they, in turn, were cared for by the community.
The introduction of Capitalism and White European and American culture to the Philippines brought a disconnect with how traditional medicine was valued and accessed. The expectation of traditional healers to care for the community without monetary payment remained, but this existed within the context of a money-based system where most people lived in poverty. An ecosystem of traditional, mutual care was completely disrupted.
Decolonizing our energy exchanges for medicine is more complicated than replicating traditional customs – we can't just go back to how things were. We need to be in dialogue with our traditions and our current context. For me that has looked like the following:
I'm sitting here today writing as I vacillate in and out of anxiety mode. This isn't about forcing myself to be productive through an unstable mood. I want to share what this is like because:
There are times in my life when depression and anxiety immobilize me. As I write this, I am trying to record audio for my podcast. I keep hitting “pause” so I can hyperventilate and cry. My body is shaking. My heart races. My perception of time is weird. I'll blink and all of a sudden an hour is gone – I call this time travelling. Primm, my ESA dog, pokes me with her nose to take me for walks and remind me of our routines (including her feeding schedule). She slowly paws my hand if I'm stuck doom scrolling.
When I am in this emotional place, I can't take care of anyone, let alone myself. How can one work as a healer then? Doing healing work is so intimate, vulnerable, and sacred. Acting without being present and grounded could hurt someone (even natural medicine can have side effects). So, if I am off my game, what can I do? I can be human. I can give myself all the care I might give a patient. I can regularly reflect on what my capacity and boundaries are so that I can be competent in my work.
I need ongoing work on self awareness so that I am not frequently surprised by a “sudden” dip in mood. It took me a while to realize that I often experience emotions somatically. For example, I may not think I feel anxiuos, but my digestion may have been off for a week or I won't have slept in days. I have learned to be expansive about how I anxiety and depression feel. It allows me more agency in my response. It's time for Choose-Your-Own-Adventure:
What has been humbling during the pandemic is re-learning my relationship to mental health and my role as a healing practitioner. The collective emotional strain is real. The primary, secondary, tertiary trauma and grief is real. My threshold for feeling “okay” are not the same. My recovery times are not the same. My prevention is not the same. What I have access to is not the same.
What I am continuing to learn is that my relationship to my wellness is dynamic and it always has been. My body, mind, heart, and spirit fluctuate, respond, expand, and contract. Medicine cannot be effectively practiced in a static, non-adaptive way. In order to show up for others, I need to be engaged in my own healing actively and consistently. It is not about being perfectly well, but being informed and held. Being in relationship with my limits means I can practice medicine more safely and compassionately within an ever-changing context.
[This is written from personal experience and is not medical advice or therapy. I am not a mental health therapist. Please seek the support you need if you are struggling <3]