I’ve struggled with IBS, the allopathic doctor’s catch-all term for “We have no clue what’s wrong with your poo’ing system,” my entire adult life. But being at home on a sort of grown-up winter break, I started doing some fresh reading, and I stumbled on this whole thing about the human microbiome.
It sounds very sci-fi, but the idea is that we have billions of little microbes living in our gut that not only handle the mail, process returns, and tut-tut over that cream donut as it passes by for Fred to deal with. They also manage a lot of our hormonal activity, our serotonin levels, and coolest of all, they communicate directly with our brains.
Remember at Costco those little suction tubes that the cashiers put canisters of cash into, to be whisked away to some bookkeeper in the Back Offices? We have an entire community of creatures, most not possessing any human DNA, by the way, doing that from our gut to our brain all day every day.
For years, my family and friends have implied, some more gently than others, that my digestive issues may be related to the fact that I’m a sensitive worrywart who thinks too much. And I usually agreed, but I wasn’t sure how much more I could do about it. If my life was any calmer at this point I’d be dead.
What changed when I read this research was that I stopped thinking about how my brain talks to my stomach and started thinking about how my stomach talks to my brain.
It made me start wondering what it was saying.
The beauty of this scientific research into the human microbiome is that it is, on an individual personal level, mirroring what is going on in the entire planet. My tummy is a noisy, quaking landscape full of smog and acid rain. If my intestines were a country, the Red Cross would be collecting donations to save it. And yet I ignore all these rumblings exactly the way we’ve been ignoring the changing planet.
Why? Because we’re creatures of comfort. We like treats made of white flour, and gas-guzzling SUVs, and made in China slippers, because they’re comfy. Cozy, even. When people hear phrases like, “climate change,” their eyes glaze over, not because they don’t care, but because it’s horrid. The sight of a dying polar bear is horrid, toxic waste signs are horrid, a bay black with oil is horrid.
And because they’re horrid, we get defensive. The dialogue about “saving the earth,” to a Westernized mind, has become one of “humans vs the earth.” It’s like our takeaway from all those ABC news programs and Ted Talks and Avatar is that in order to live harmoniously on this planet, we have to accept a dirty, hippie, pagan, sandlewood-scented existence full of disease and ravaging wolves and barefootedness.
Since most of us don’t want that, we’ve subconsciously decided, Why bother? We can’t win. May as well drive our SUV to the mall to buy an $11.99 sweater made in a sweatshop, and cinnamon roll scented antibacterial hand sanitizer, before waddling home to drown our confusion eating cheese sticks off Styrofoam plates.
We don’t listen because the answers feel overwhelming.
So here’s what I think.