Advocating for Your Health
Interview with Misty Williams of Healing Rosie
We are fortunate enough to speak with Misty Williams today from Healing Rosie. Misty, you’ve had some real challenges on your health and healing journey, and some of it was very intense. Like many functional medicine patients, it took you awhile to find solutions or an ideal ‘operating system’ that would move you forward in your healing journey.
Your healing journey has become your work, organizing and getting resources out to those that need them. You help many women in a certain age range with brain fog, fatigue, hormonal issues, difficulty sleeping, who often wonder why they are overweight and not lean even though they are doing a lot of things right.
That’s correct, because I am one of those women. I spent years struggling to reclaim my health and vitality after a botched surgery to remove an endometrial cyst. I suffered from debilitating brain fog, extreme fatigue, tanked hormones, unexplained weight gain (45 lbs in 4 months!), hypothyroidism and thyroid nodules, and premature ovarian failure. The doctors I consulted had no answers other than drugs or surgery, so I set out to find alternative answers to reclaim my energy, brain power and even my figure!
Is there anything else you’d like folks to know about you?
It’s important for listener’s to know that I’m not a practitioner. I come at my work from a patient’s perspective, as in what it’s like to be a patient who is navigating the system. One of the harsh lessons early on for me, was the fact that there isn’t a doctor or practitioner who cares more about my health and my healing journey than I do.
Unfortunately, I still haven’t found a practitioner who has really owned everything about my journey over the last 10 years up through now. I’m fortunate that I now work with caring doctors, but it’s my own advocacy that has helped me get the majority of my positive results.
How does self-advocacy relate to female patients in particular?
I think this is really important for women to note. We go to doctors complaining about worrisome symptoms, and we’re often told that our labs are normal and things are fine. Doctors will often give us antidepressants, and basically insinuate that we’re making things up or that maybe we’re just depressed. We know inside, however, that there’s something else going on.
I feel we can gain an empowered perspective on our healing journey if we open our mind to the idea of lowering our expectations of doctors. Even wonderful functional medicine doctors! We need to lower the expectation that a doctor is going to fix everything wrong with you.
We can gain an empowered perspective on our healing journey if we open our mind to the idea that no doctor is going to fix everything that is wrong with you.
If we didn’t have toxic lifestyles, we wouldn’t suffer from many of the symptoms that we’re experiencing. This whole healing conversation is a big conversation, and I’m super passionate about helping women advocate for themselves so they can move the needle on this. It’s also important to highlight protocols and practitioners who have really honed in on important parts of this healing conversation, and give people tools so that they can advocate for themselves and make some progress regardless of who you’re working with.
So this is kind of a big conversation, this whole healing conversation, and I’m super passionate about helping women to advocate for themselves and to take on this journey
Thank you for what you’re doing, especially empowering women to self-advocate.
Thank you! It’s very rewarding work. When I was sick I beat my head against the wall for almost five years of my journey and I felt very alone — very alone. I have a very vocal and proactive personality, and I take a lot of responsibility. You can probably feel that in my energy right now. I wish I could say that being vocal, proactive, and taking responsibility helped during the first five years. It did not!
What did help?
Resilience helped! Eventually I started finding things that worked and I want to share this with people, especially women. It’s extra hard for women in the 21st century, especially in the Western world. Women are the perpetrators of our species. Our biology is far more sensitive to our environment and we’re much more affected by toxicity than men are. There is a delicate hormonal equilibrium that keeps us alive, vital, rejuvenated and able to contribute to the world. This can easily get knocked off balance and there are devastating consequences for that.
My experience has been that even in functional medicine there are not enough doctors who are educated on the hormonal side of helping women heal. They will often follow their usual protocols and apply them carte blanche to women without addressing underlying hormonal issues.
Hormonal imbalances often keep women from sleeping at night and further impairs their body’s ability to detoxify, rejuvenate, and heal. Accepted and popular protocols often work better for men than women. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “Yeah, these things don’t work as well for women.” Can we open that conversation up?
Yes, and hopefully that’s part of what we’re doing today. In my practice women do report feeling heard and that they do move forward in their healing journey. I acknowledge that with a lot of humility, and I am careful to only speak for myself and my own MD functional medicine journey.
I feel that thoughtful male physicians can maneuver past the common predisposition to patronize pretty quickly. I think some of the more subtle, insidious aspects may take longer to change, in terms of truly hearing women properly.
After years of practicing functional medicine I naturally started going into a state of deep listening and attending. When my female patients would say things like, “This is how it feels like to be me, and this is where I am stuck,” I was able to harmonize with their suffering. I’d clip it to part of my MD toolbox.
If patients are not heard and respected in a deeply humane and attuned way then the therapeutic alliance is just botched.
I also found that I needed to go back and listen to many female educators from the Institute for Functional Medicine, especially those who have a super nuanced understanding of the best tools to help women move forward in their healing journeys. I learned to keep listening carefully to my female patients and ask, “Is this getting you what you want?”
Yes, I think it’s very helpful for doctors to listen, and then accept what a woman is saying. Some of the responses I heard early on were, “Well, your labs are normal.” It was like my symptoms were being immediately dismissed. Other times I would be in the middle of explaining my problems, and doctors would already be shaking their head no. In those cases you can tell, coming out of the gate, that they’re not interested in really hearing and understanding your experience.
It’s important for anyone navigating this journey to find the seat of your own power, and realign your expectations of working with doctors.
It’s super important to find the seat of your own power for anyone navigating this journey. You also may need to realign your expectations of working with doctors. Many people walk in with the expectation that, “This doctor or practitioner is supposed to have all the answers. They need to know how to fix me, and it’s their job to fix me.” If that is your mindset then you’re setting the relationship up for disappointment. There are wonderful practitioners out there, but remember that your health and the symptoms are impacted by genetics but also lifestyle choices. I know some pretty ‘Jedi’ practitioners at this point in my journey. As Jedi as they are, they don’t have tools that overcome your lifestyle.
If you’re not disciplined in your sleep patterns or following doctors’ orders in general, and you’re still frustrated with your symptoms, no doctor can be enough of a miracle worker to overcome those lifestyle choices. You may be putting yourself in stressful situations. For example, if you’re in a bad marriage, stressed out from fighting with your partner, and you keep yourself in that situation, how is the doctor going to overcome the enormous amount of stress that you’re under?
If you’re enrolling a doctor as a partner there is assumed responsibility on both sides. You are placing yourself in a position where advocating for your own best interest is your job, even if it’s uncomfortable.
Rethinking what we expect of doctors serves the doctor-patient relationship really well. I look upon doctors as partners and feel it’s a fairly level playing field. It’s that whole Buddhist idea of, “Hold no head above thine own.” I live by that. If you’re enrolling a doctor as a partner there is assumed responsibility on both sides. You are placing yourself in a position where advocating for your own best interest is your job. This is true even if it’s uncomfortable, even if it means hard conversations, even if it means creating discomfort because you’re going to meet resistance sometimes.
A partnership perspective with doctors serves the healing journey in my own experience, and I see it in our community. While it’s true that doctors who listen well can lay an amazing foundation for camaraderie and healing, I also think that it’s on us as patients to approach the relationship more realistically.
I don’t believe in having just one doctor. I think there are so many areas of specialization, even within functional medicine, that oftentimes we need a few different people to help us on our journey depending on the dimension that we’re tackling. We’re all so unique.
Can you give an example of how you have worked with a practitioner as a partner and hit some obstacles?
Yes, a few years ago I had a conversation with a practitioner who was helping me identify deep root causes that were affecting my energy. I was exhausted. I was sleeping but I wasn’t feeling refreshed, and it was perpetual. I was on hormone therapy during this time. I had done some things that gave me a better foundation, but I felt like I should be moving further along in my healing journey.
I worked with a practitioner who is a Jedi at energy and mitochondrial function. He’s very, very good. He wanted me to stop hormone therapy. I didn’t want to, because at that time I was sleeping at night, thinking clearly, and had noticed a positive difference in my energy all due to hormone therapy. Stopping hormones would threaten my ability to provide for myself. I wondered how I could function in a professional capacity if I felt drained and wasted all the time?
Whenever he resisted hormone therapy, I very respectfully explained why it was very important to me. He came back with, “I hear what you’re saying and I respect where you’re coming from. Stay on it and we’ll deal with this later in the journey.” It didn’t matter to me in that moment that he wasn’t bought in. It didn’t hurt our relationship in the least. I wasn’t expecting him to act like a parent to tell me what to do, or to follow his advice in order please him. I was looking to him to be a partner with me.
The dynamic that we create with our practitioners and showing up differently serves the entire relationship. Even if someone doesn’t fully understand or get what you’re experiencing, you can still get a lot of value out of that relationship if your expectation isn’t that, “They have to see me, agree with my ideas, and want to do this the same way as I do 100%.”
I love what you’re saying, and I think it might be the most important thing that we talk about today.
I was thinking about how my relationship with my dad evolved, and how relating to medical providers as parents is a trap. I would contrast that with the way we relate to a trusted friend.
I cast my dad as superhuman when I was young, and was disappointed when the superhero cape didn’t hold up. That expectation didn’t make sense in the first place beyond adolescence.
This ‘un-caping’ set the stage for an incredibly rich dynamic later on when my dad and I interacted adult-to-adult. I deeply respected his opinion and thoughtfully considered whether to act on things that he valued or shared with me, but I also was capable of saying, “That’s not me,” or, “That particular thing isn’t my thing.”
It’s no longer the old-school parent-child relationship that many of us intuitively sense is flawed, but rather a relationship in which the locus of power lies within the patients themselves, particularly women.
Is there a trap in the new model of patients and practitioners working together as equals? I don’t think so as long as mutual respect exists in that relationship.
I think that’s the important part, right? It’s also nice when the respect goes both ways. I won’t stay with a practitioner if I don’t feel respected. I don’t need to feel they fully understand everything about my journey if I believe that they have some value to bring to my journey.
I suddenly experienced challenges with weight gain in 2017, and I was like, “What’s going on?” I crossed paths with an alternative health practitioner who had a protocol for cleansing and detox. I followed his protocol for some time but then it got to the point where I felt, “This isn’t really moving the needle for me.”
In my conversations with him, it was a turnaround game of, “You’re not following it enough, there’s something you’re not doing.” Very shaming, as though he were saying, “This isn’t working because of you and you have hidden addictions,” and it was just a bunch of crap.
This far into my journey, I was very quick to cut the string. Like, “That’s your opinion, I respectfully disagree with you. And because of the way that you’re approaching this, our relationship is done.” I feel that patients, especially women, need to be quicker to do that. You can just feel it in your gut.
Be ready to move on if you’re working with someone who is judgmental or not aligned with your goals.
It’s very important that you make the pivot. We have to be careful because sometimes early in our journey we get burned working with practitioners who aren’t aligned with our needs. Later, even if we do find a practitioner who can help us move forward, we risk following a pattern of “doctors aren’t for me” and that old pattern can keep us from being able to work well together.
I relate to that so strongly. In my own relationships with my providers, I do what you’re describing, which is, “This person’s another human being with good and bad aspects, with flaws, insights, etc. The foundation of the relationship is respect. I need to trust my gut, I need to listen to my intuition.”
It also felt like, “Now this is on me.” This can be intimidating and anxiety-producing, but also exhilarating, “This is my journey. I’m going to decide what this means, what makes sense, and act on it.”
I love the feeling when I get to work with patients and together we decide, “How far can we run? How many things can we do?” Gender aside, I just love working with the patients that I have a therapeutic alliance with say, “Oh my gosh! My thyroid numbers are good. I’ve gained ground back and now I want to go after my adrenals. Now I’m sleeping better! Suddenly I can run again and can even do my yoga again! Now I see why meditation helps me sleep!” Boom, boom, boom, the dominoes start falling. It’s a natural momentum, not that we’re trying to make it happen or force it.
Yes! That’s what I wish for everyone. I wish for every single person that they can find doctors and practitioners to align with them on their journey. They need to feel supported in their healing journey. At this stage of my journey though I almost feel that the doctor is there to run the labs as a check to make sure I’m not getting too crazy with the practices I’m trying.
A couple of years ago my situation was much more dire, and I was so, so desperate for help. Finding supportive practitioner-partner relationships is deeply transformative. There are so many creative ways that people can forge relationships with doctors and build their medical teams.
Sometimes, however, there is the belief that functional medicine is so expensive. If you don’t have thousands and thousands of dollars to spend on a functional medicine doctor and lab work, then why even bother?” Then people can have the mindset of, “I’m just destined to suffer with my symptoms forever.” What I’ve found is that it’s really unbelievable how the universe conspires on your behalf when you commit to resourcefulness and figuring things out. There are ways to navigate all of this, and there are ways to navigate the health insurance piece.
I’m fortunate that most of my doctors’ visits and labs are paid by my insurance, but I still have out of pocket expenses. I just stroked a $600 check to have the DUTCH hormone test done, and a few other things like that. All of us have to figure out how to make this happen. If you’re committed and open-hearted, you can do it. You can find a way and you can find practitioners who are for you, who are on your team, who want the best for you. Together you can make real progress in your healing journey. The Healing Rosie community exists to provide a place for us all to come together, support each other, ask questions, and get encouragement. It’s a place to help figure out what’s working and for all of us to lift those boats together.
It’s really unbelievable how the universe conspires on your behalf when you commit to resourcefulness and figuring things out. There are ways to navigate all of this, and there are ways to navigate the health insurance piece.
Let me add to a couple of the pieces of wisdom you shared for our listeners. You mentioned that functional medicine patients have skin in the game, and I want to reiterate that. Sleep, movement, social connection, whole foods, stress management, those are the tools that can move people forward, a lot of which don’t cost money. They cost time and insight. I love that you highlighted that.
I want to emphasize what you’ve already shared in that people can connect to the functional medicine community, women in particular, if it holds value for them. It is easy for women to connect with you at HealingRosie.com, and from there listeners will see that there are lots of avenues to connect with the functional medicine community.
Let’s talk about sleep. How can folks get enough sleep when they’re highly stressed? You also offer a sleep summit which provides an additional tier of resources, so how can people get access to that?
Yes- my gosh! I’m trying to think if there’s anything in life I love more! I just love sleeping and I love going to bed, being in bed, and waking up in bed. Just everything about sleeping! I feel that my energy, vitality and joy all come from getting a great night’s sleep. I’ve had a lot of sleep struggles, so I know what it’s like to not have that. I actually went 144 hours without sleep at the very beginning of my health journey, when they stitched up part of my small intestines on the way out of a surgery.
Not a distinction one would ever hope for!
Yes, yes! I spent six days not being able to keep food or water down. We had a follow-up surgery to fix the first surgery, and then I didn’t sleep for six days. I have had lots of trauma in my life around sleep, and so I extra value it. I started noticing different patterns when I tried different protocols. For me it was like, this protocol was supposed to take me ten miles, but I traveled only two blocks. I kept thinking, “Why isn’t this working for me?” I wondered, “Am I broken? What is so different about my biology that I can’t get the expected return on the different protocols?” Everything always goes back to sleep.
It’s common to struggle with sleep when dealing with health challenges. As we get older these challenges can become even more compounded for both men and women.
It’s common to struggle with sleep when you are dealing with health challenges. You may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night. As we get older these challenges can become even more compounded. Men and women both struggle with sleep. A big, big thing for men is that prostate health really affects their sleep at night. Many men who attended the sleep summit reported that prostate health has become a big issue as they’ve gotten older. Stress can also affect sleep for men.
For women, declining hormone levels can have a severe impact on our sleep. Women are way more affected by a drop in hormones than men are. In fact, I have yet to come across a man who used hormone therapy with the outcome of improved sleep. I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist, but I think women are wired a little differently on that front.
I had mercury poisoning in 2013 due to mercury fillings being improperly drilled from my teeth, and this crashed all of my hormones. I was diagnosed with premature ovarian failure at 38 years old. No one asked any questions about dental work, so we didn’t connect the dots till five years later. I actually connected them myself and realized it as I started becoming educated on oral health.
My declining hormones had a massive impact on my sleep, and so as a result I’ve tried many different sleep protocols. I have found that if my hormones are optimized, I’m sleeping great. Many women are dealing with lower hormone levels as we get older, and there are a lot of hygiene habits that affect our ability to sleep well. One big foundational principle of sleep that we all need to acknowledge is that our entire body is governed by circadian rhythms.
Everything in our body has a circadian component to it. The timing in the body for different activities to happen, cellular response, everything has a circadian piece. Basically, our bodies are governed by light cycles, because our 24-hour circadian cycle is governed by light. We wake up in the morning and light hits our eyes, first thing. Something in our brain resets and says, “All right, it’s daytime.” Our knows the length of daylight at certain times of the year.
One big foundational principle of sleep that we all need to acknowledge is that our entire body is governed by circadian rhythms.
Back in our caveman days, when the sun went down that meant it was dark and our bodies no longer took in light. Darkness sends a whole different set of messages throughout the body, and we move into parasympathetic activity. It’s time to sleep. This is when our bodies repair, restore, heal. When it works properly, there is a rhythm of going through your activities during the day and shutting down at night to repair, restore, heal, and sleep. You wake up the next day restored and ready to go again. When this cycle becomes disrupted, there is a tremendous price paid by the body. That alone has done more to shift my relationship to sleep than anything else. Just the awareness that we’re not just sleeping, there is actually a biological function that’s tied to light, that’s affecting the health of our bodies.
There is a tremendous price paid by your body when your circadian cycle becomes disrupted. That alone has done more to shift my relationship to sleep than anything else.
I learned a lot about this starting in 2012 from Ben Greenfield and Dave Asprey. I also found the Paleo movement and the ancestral health movement, and was really trying to understand, from a lifestyle perspective, what I needed to do to get my lifestyle in check. I was more aligned with my own biology. I started wearing amber glasses back then, when you could only get ones that looked like safety goggles. They were not sexy!
You were really paying a price for your health!
Yeah! I had a friend come over one night and he called them birth control, because they just looked obnoxious, but I was very committed at this point. I was having so many challenges, that I decided that that is not going to be the thing that derails my life. Now you can go on Amazon and find amber glasses for around $20. There’s so many different brands and styles out there. You can get prescription lenses also. You don’t have to make the incredible social sacrifices that I made in 2012 to honor my circadian biology
That was a foundational practice that I followed and it made a huge difference. Basically, when the sun goes down, you put the amber glasses on. The amber lenses filter out blue light that is telling your body that it’s daytime.
You’ve got two sets of sensors in the body. I might be oversimplifying this a bit, but this will help everyone understand. The SCN (the suprachiasmatic nucleus) is right behind the eyes and is your body’s master clock. You also have clocks in all of your organs and everywhere else that respond to the SCN. You also have sensors in your skin, actually in red blood cells that are traveling through your skin, that respond to blue light exposure.
When these sensory centers pick up blue light, melatonin production is reduced. When there is no blue light, melatonin production increases. Removing exposure to blue light alone can help some people get on the right track, just by putting amber glasses on, dimming the lights, and having knowledge of this framework. I put amber bulbs in many of my lamps in my house. We have no overhead lighting, everyone wears amber glasses, and it helps! My brain is ready to go to bed when it’s supposed to go to bed.
When sensory centers pick up blue light, melatonin production is reduced. When there is no blue light, melatonin production increases. Doing things like wearing amber glasses in the evening can help a lot!
I’ve shared this tip with so many people. I have not had a single soul in eight years of sharing this that has come back and said, “Man, that thing didn’t work for me.” Everybody notices improvements when you start honoring that part of sleep. Filter out that blue light so your body can actually shut down and transition into sleep.
There’s tons that you can find on the web about sleep hygiene if you really want to geek out on this stuff, but we all need to kind of honor the three-hour period before bed. We need to stop eating and destress. It’s not the time to do your bills, it’s not the time to have a fight with your partner, it’s not the time to watch the evening news that might get you all ramped up. We need to give ourselves time to slow down. That’s really hard in our Western lifestyles. We want to go, go, go and then drop into bed and go to sleep! We’re finding that that’s actually not realistic and not working. Fundamentally, if we think from a circadian perspective how sleep works we can often find plenty of small lifestyle tweaks that will start supporting better sleep.
We all need to honor the three-hour period before bed. We need to give ourselves time to slow down, and this is really hard with our Western lifestyles.
Some of this is just lifestyle management, such as, “What are we doing to honor how we’re wired?” I just finished a session today with a group of students going through my Best Sleep Master Course, which was the follow up to the Your Best Sleep Ever Summit that I just hosted. They asked questions about shift work. “What do you do when you have shift work and you’re working half the night?” I’ve talked to so many amazing doctors and practitioners about this and you know what they all say? All of them? They all say you have to stop. That’s the answer. There’s so much resistance to that, especially because shift work means higher pay. What do you do for first responders, firefighters, and people who are in occupations with lifestyles where you’re going to have sleep disruption at night? There’s just no getting around the incredible toll that’s going to take on your health, long term.
If your sleep is chronically disrupted, there’s no getting around the incredible long term toll that that’s going to take on your health.
These ancient rhythms are as old as the planet. We’re really synching with Mother Earth which is part of honoring the feminine, too. We can sort of dig in against that, almost like a rebellious teen, or we can flow with it. Sometimes patients want us to share our wisdom. When we say that it is something that’s right in front of you, then sometimes it’s not valued as much. It’s so right in front of you that you can’t see it sometimes. In Western culture we tend to think that if it costs $30,000 dollars to find out information at the Mayo Clinic, we’ll get $30,000 worth of value. It’s free to get a good sleep, so there is the thinking that we’ll get zero value out of that.
I have to practice what I preach to be an effective provider, otherwise I’d be like the lung doctor who smokes. I wouldn’t be believable. After switching to functional medicine I no longer had my sleep disrupted by delivering babies and being in the ER all night. It took me 6-12 months of good sleep before I felt like my depleted batteries were recharged. After that I felt like, “Oh my gosh, the robins sound more beautiful this spring! The air feels fresher after the rain!” I mean, there was just literally a “coming back to life” in response to restorative sleep. One of the privileges for me, as a functional medicine doctor, is that I get to sleep at night.
I had the same experience, it took me six months. I was a chronic night owl. From age 18 to 35, I never ever went to bed before 2 am. I loved it and I would say, “I’m a night owl.” After I had surgery after an endometriosis diagnosis, they removed my left ovary along with a large cyst, found polyps in my uterus, and spent two hours removing scar tissue from my abdomen. It got my attention that something needed to change. Conventional doctors were performing surgeries and said that my labs were normal and everything was fine, and continued to recommend more surgeries. I talked to a chiropractor whose first question to me was, “Tell me about your sleep.”
I started going to bed between 9-10 pm instead of 2 am. It took six months of getting to bed on time before I would start waking up in the morning not feeling like I’d been hit by a Mack truck. I was coming out of this deep exhaustion stupor. Six months! I don’t think that time frame is uncommon for people who’ve chronically had issues around sleep. Resetting the circadian pattern takes a while.
If you have experienced chronic sleep issues or deprivation it can take a while, even up to six months, to start feeling restored. Resetting the circadian pattern takes time.
I took cold baths, too. I don’t know if you’re familiar with cold therapy, but I was shocked at how much it helped my sleep. I took cold baths for about two weeks. It was just tap water that was around 62 degrees. I would get in around 7pm and sit for 30-45 minutes. I would hyperventilate for a minute, and then I was fine. It’s like a swimming pool. You jump in and it shocks your system, and then your body adjusts.
Cold therapy also takes a while. If you want to try that type of reset you have to be patient and honor your body. You also need to reshuffle the priorities in your life. I reshuffled many priorities, let go of a lot of things, and spent a lot more time in bed. I was pretty committed at that point, because I didn’t want to see my whole life go off the rails at 35 years old.
I hope that listeners check out the huge wealth of resources and knowledge that you have to share and connect folks with on your site.
I feel both privileged and sobered at the number of times I get to hear the story, “I thought something was going on but it wasn’t until I took responsibility to learn more,” or, “I found a certain resource or a person who could illuminate it for me.” I want to acknowledge that it takes a lot of courage to share your story as you have here today. It helps people by helping them feel that they are not alone in their own journey.
Interestingly, I hear from women all the time who’ve been struggling for 20 to even 30 years. I did a summit a couple years ago called The Fix for Female Hormones, and I had someone message me, “This has been my life for 50 years.” I just feel heart sick for so many women who’ve lost so many years of their life.
My prayer is that people find hope, know that they’re not alone, and that they start getting connected to doctors, healers, protocols, and education that helps them to see their way through their health issues.
During the early days of Healing Rosie I felt a little uncomfortable with how much I’m putting out there. I had so many women respond with comments such as, “You just told my story!” That made me feel less alone, and it normalized things for me! I’m talking about something that is so commonplace in our culture, unfortunately. We’re all in this soup together. I consider it a real privilege to hold this sacred space and I can feel, in the way that you talk about your practice, that you’re doing the same.
We have a desire to create space for healing in whatever way our influence and wisdom allows us to do it. My prayer is that people find hope, that they know they’re not alone, and they start getting connected to doctors, and healers, and protocols, and education that helps them to see their way through their health issues. Not just, “You’re not alone,” but, “Hey, here’s the way. Here are some things you can do,” and that requires more from us as patients. It’s a lot easier to believe that we can just go to a doctor and they will write a prescription, but that’s not the real world of healing. We can, however, create it for ourselves and come together. We don’t have to do it alone.
Right on! Well, you’ve given us a lot of time today. Let’s close with something I think will probably be really fun and illuminating. When I was looking at your website, it occurred to me that Rosie the Riveter, as a visual icon, is sort of a little Easter egg right there in your website. And before we started today, you mentioned that that’s the case. So, do you want to close with that?
Yes, sure! Rosie the Riveter called upon women to work in factories during World War II while men were overseas fighting. There was a workforce shortage, and the Rosie campaign was led by the US government. I’ve always known of Rosie. I’ve never considered myself a feminist, but I’ve never been ‘not a feminist’ either, because I’m very much for the empowerment of women. The politicization of that bothers me a little bit, but it’s part of who I am, and I came by that really honestly.
In 1933, my great-grandmother Tina Mae lost her husband Carl to double pneumonia. Carl owned a furrier shop in downtown Columbus, Ohio. They had six children together. In those days, when a woman lost her husband the children were all orphaned because a woman couldn’t provide. People in the community came to my great-grandmother and said, “I’ll take baby Tina Mae, I’ll take Florence, I’ll take Carl,” and she was flipping out!
First of all, she had just lost her husband in a very traumatic way. Double pneumonia! It’s not like he was sick for six months. It was quick and he was suddenly gone. She lost her husband and her whole family was going to be split up. She went to the man who helped her husband run the business and asked him to stay on, and she took over the family business. This was in 1933, when there was no such thing as female entrepreneurs, when there was no such thing as a single mother. There were no single mothers back then! She ran the business and she raised six kids alone.
So this is our family story. I remember being a little girl and we talked about it like it was no big deal. When I was around 32, I started piecing together the timeline for women’s liberation and historically looking at this unbelievable opportunity I had, as a woman, to contribute in the workforce, to be an entrepreneur, and all of these things. I started feeling a newfound appreciation and thought, “Oh my gosh! Tina Mae was going headlong into the Great Depression and she did this!”
Women in my family are really strong! Tina Mae’s daughter, my Aunt Florence, told me a story once, and this is where the Rosie connection really comes up for me. I was 22 years old or so, visiting her in Columbus, Ohio. Florence said that when Rosie was calling on women to work in the factories that she was one of the first women who went and applied to work. She didn’t say this at the time, but because her mother was an entrepreneur and a working woman, it probably didn’t even occur to her to not sign up.
Because of the Rosie campaign the typical social bias that she might have had to push through wasn’t there. She was compelled to sign up and make a contribution. Her husband was a fighter pilot. When he found out that she was working he sent a letter from Germany saying that she was bringing shame on the family. She needed to stop working immediately, and she was embarrassing him.
Women have to be careful about how we align with a lot of societal expectations around us doing everything. We still need to honor our bodies, and understand that women are not hormonally designed to deal with stress as men are.
By the way, it took three weeks for this letter to get to her from Germany. It was a really big deal to outsiders that she had answered this call. Aunt Florence was spunky, full of life, 4’10”, and German. She’d put you in your place and you’d like it! She’d make you laugh and she just had so much energy.
In my early 30s I started thinking about this unbelievable history that I have, this connection to the iconic Rosie the Riveter, what she meant in history, and what she means for women. I thought about the fact that I was experiencing all of this stress that we take on as women in the name of empowerment. It has the potential of really breaking our bodies down.
We have to be really careful about how we align with a lot of societal expectations around women doing everything, and some of those memes. We still need to honor our bodies. Women’s bodies are not designed hormonally to deal with stress as well as a man’s body is. As much as I hate that, it’s true. Most men can deal with stress a lot better than women. They have the testosterone to be able to counterbalance it, they don’t have the hormonal needs that women have for all of those hormones. Their bodies often aren’t as sensitive to these outside stimuli or effects, even the circadian cues. We as women just have to be mindful of that and honor who we are.
Healing Rosie really is about healing that iconic empowered part of us that in some ways is really admirable and strong. I feel proud, as a woman, to be aligned with it. In other ways, however, it has its own dysfunction and can also break us down. It’s also a call to pay attention and make sure that we’re really healing Rosie.
Thank you so much-it’s been a blast! What a privilege!
Thank you! This has been awesome and I’ve really enjoyed our conversation today.
Rob Downey, MD
Founder of Seaworthy Functional Medicine