Ten years ago, when I met my friends, we talked about our teenage children and our ageing parents. Now we talk about our own health. Most of us have something to whinge about and it seems we all have our pet theories. It’s the gut or the adrenals or the immune system. Maybe hormones. Diet – take your pick from sugar, dairy, wheat, gluten, animal protein. Pesticides. Pollution. Plastics.
As for me, I suppose there could be an element of all these things, but I’ve always been puzzled by the way some people get sick and others don’t. There are our genes, of course, but what about attitudes, personalities, temperaments? How we learn, think and feel. Our childhood experiences. They make us who we are, and influence how we respond to life’s challenges. In his 2003 book, When the Body Says No, Dr Gabor Mate explored the body/mind connection and the role of our emotional lives in the development of a range of diseases such as cancer, arthritis, diabetes and auto-immune diseases. In The Myth of Normal (written with his son Daniel Mate and published last year), Gabor Mate goes further and sets his sights on the tsunami of chronic disease and mental illness engulfing the Western (and Westernised) world. The subtitle is Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture. It’s so obvious, it’s scary; the way we live now is making human flourishing increasingly difficult. Addictions and mental illnesses are the ways in which we adapt to our crazy culture; diseases and disorders are the ways our bodies say “no” to the perpetual cycle of stress, hurry and worry. The authors emphasise that although the suffering is personal, the causes are culture-wide. At 500 pages, it’s a bit of an epic, but wide-ranging, ambitious and illuminating.