Mais do que Desifanado (Translation: More than slightly out of tune)
REV OMAR S. BAILEY, ND
“And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.” This 1 line from Whitman’s poem, “Song of Myself,”1 has held such power throughout my life, especially my life as a naturopathic doctor. Holding the possibility of miracles in our lives, having faith in the power and grace of spirit and nature – these have been the kindest companions throughout my own life, including my decades of naturopathic practice. They were absolute truths to my elder friends and teachers, Ralph Weiss, Bill Mitchell, Joe Boucher, John Bastyr, and so many others who came into my life in the late 70s and early 80s. Their humble faith in the power of nature and grace was palpable and visible and no doubt aided their clinical brilliance in using the simple tools of nature.
My “song” – “more than slightly out of tune” – is the clinical case that I have chosen to present in this Men’s Health issue of NDNR. It has been more than 5 years since I have submitted an article to NDNR or any other publication – a very long 5 years, 4 of which I suffered severe disabilities from a pharmaceutical injury. Sometimes rudderless, homeless for 23 months, hopeless, and isolated in my own desperate journey, I managed to hold on. My debt is to the Vis – the spirit, the vital force that resides within, even during our absolute-worst times. The staggering miracle of the human body knows no limits and addresses the profoundly complex with the same natural simplicity that takes the acorn into the mighty oak. With time, prayer, perseverance, and patience, I completely recovered from more than 90 long-term clinical side-effects using protocols based on the time-honored precepts of naturopathic medicine.
The word “health” is defined as being free of illness or injury (ie, whole), but this spans a huge spectrum of human states of existence. Restoring health from a state of distress or disease is the providence of our profession, and when this work involves organs, tissues, and functions specific to the XY chromosomal expression of our species (ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny), it can be considered a male health issue. It is wonderful to no longer need a catheter, to have a strong urine stream, to have prostate markers normalize and symptoms disappear. But, is “health” what is left after this? I would put forth that men and women are nearly identical, and the practices of good health in nature are also nearly identical, and that the naturopathic approach to men’s health issues is holistic and no different from addressing and removing the obstacles to the body’s ability to restore normal, optimal function.
My story began after a perfect storm: 7 days of a pharmaceutical medication that changed my entire world. I would return home from the hospital to find my home empty, my then-wife and daughter gone, along with furnishings, and empty accounts. I had been given a temporary 1-2-week prescription for olanzapine, which I handed to my new trusted primary care physician (PCP). Though I knew it to be against medical advice, I stated that I would cease the drug cold-turkey. My PCP and I graduated together in 1983, and he was familiar with my lifelong avoidance of all prescription medicines.
It was a wicked initial withdrawal, lasting more than a few months and then continuing for 2 ½ years. I would bear witness to a lengthy materia medica of withdrawal symptoms that outlined the many systems and regions of influence of this particular drug. I was pretty much clueless as to what was happening to me, or what had happened. And I would remain clueless for 18 months, during which time I lost my home, car, and family. To avoid foreclosure, I was also required to obtain an ad-litem power of attorney, as I was deemed incompetent and unable to understand my own interests. As I was losing my home, my business was also folding, and I did not renew my license. I remained disabled for 30 months, with no short-term memory and an inability to understand my best interests.
I was fortunate during this time to reach a Social Security employee who set me up with early retirement and Medicare. She referred me on to further branches of the agency, a task I was unable to fulfill in my current state of incompetency. I became homeless for 2 years. I was isolated from others, living through Facebook and a hot spot, and plummeted into severe Complex PTSD (CPTSD) and anxiety. My posts were paranoid and disturbing enough that a one-time student of mine who viewed my posts visited me out of concern. She saved my life. I had lost 45 pounds, had non-healing wounds on both feet, and I was afraid to go out in public, feeling terrified of sirens and all loud noises. Living my dream, I guess.
This same student, now a doctor, specialized in treating people, especially children, suffering with long-term side-effects of olanzapine. My response to the drug resembled that of a child, which we felt might be due to my lifelong avoidance of pharmaceuticals and chemicals in foods as well as and frequent fasting for detoxification. She told me that when parents would come to her wondering what had happened to their children, she would tell them, simply, that the drug had stolen their soul and wiped out their gut serotonin. Bull’s Eye. The concept of “lost soul” felt so accurate, though indescribable until then, and the gut serotonin “wipe out” explained why I had lost all that fat and muscle and wasted away to grade-school weight. She told me that she knew no teacher, peer, or person as anti-pharmaceutical as I was. Her usual approach was to titrate through drugs like lorazepam and duloxetine, but she didn’t think I would choose that approach. Indeed, I told her I would take 10 weeks of natural therapy before even considering her titration approach.
After she mentioned a condition of olanzapine’s long-term side-effects, I followed up to find 2 national class-action suits that settled for $2.6 billion. Out of approximately 150 side-effects listed in those public records, I was experiencing over 90 of them. And while some were within the category of “male” health issues, fitting the theme of this NDNR issue, the size and complexity of my problems left me thinking “big picture,” with nature and the body’s own restorative ability as the only acceptable long-term approach.
As soon as I learned of the serotonin component, and being fully aware of my constant state of “fight or flight,” I knew that I was not processing my proteins properly and was suffering a massive wasting syndrome. I started taking what I would call “Bio Fuel”: branched-chained amino acids (BCAAs) and isolated essential amino acids along with vitamins, enzymes, minerals, essential oils, and lecithin. Within a few days, I had a glimpse of my soul, and for the first time in 18 months my thoughts felt connected to my body – hard to describe if you haven’t been there. But as my body woke up, I would forget about water and fiber, and entered a severe state of toxicity-related depression for a few days. Then I remembered my own work helping patients to detox; water, psyllium, and black cherry juice brought peace. I also had non-healing foot wounds during this time, which an elder doctor said was due to selenium deficiency. Taking 100 mg of selenium twice daily for 30 days, along with zinc at a similar dosage, helped all of the wounds to finally heal.
It would take me over a year to consume the 3 months’ worth of bio-fuel that traveled with me during my many homeless relocations. I regained 35 of the 45 pounds lost, and was getting stronger, though none of the side-effects had disappeared. As mentioned, I experienced almost all of the severe and less-severe side-effects cited in the class action suits: Parkinson’s symptoms, disturbed personality, constant excitation, paranoia, depression, short-term memory loss, severe back pain, constipation, constant nausea and frequent vomiting, with difficulty swallowing, and – unmentioned in the public records – a severe brain-stem sensory blockage. These were the most challenging 4-year companions on my journey back to health.
With the Parkinsonian balance issues, confused state, anxiety, and sleeplessness, I would fall or have accidents during those 4 years, resulting in 9 fractures, complete rupture of 2 quadriceps, and innumerable sprains, strains, bruises, burns, cuts, and abrasions. I would also have 3 minor strokes (another possible side effect), 3 suicide attempts, and 6 breakdowns before I found traction in my recovery. I recently researched a client’s new prescription medicine which has a metabolic half-life of 14-18 days but is reported to remain in the body for up to 2 years; so these long-term residual events do happen. The half-life of olanzapine is 21-54 hours and is said to clear the system in 10-14 days. However, considering withdrawal symptoms, 1-2 weeks of use can result in residual symptoms that last for weeks, months, or even years, according to the manufacturer.
Around 2 ½ years into my journey, a grade-school friend named Doug offered to let me stay in a side building on his property for a few months. He also allowed me to store my 4-foot tall, 5 x 7-foot trailer (sometimes serving as my home) there, which another friend parked in a temporary space on Doug’s property. Doug told me where he wanted it, and when he left for dinner, I tried to tow the trailer by hand to the spot. It hit a dip and bolted into a higher speed, threatening to pin me against another trailer supporting a 30-foot fishing boat. I had about 6 feet within which to slow down the trailer, but it still pinned my leg to the steel frame of the other trailer, leaving indentation fractures of the femur and tibia, rupturing 2 quadricep muscles, and causing severe sprain/strain in 7 regions. My right leg was swollen and sported 2 ostrich-egg protrusions from the quads, which were already purple and red.
Remarkably, 3 days later, as I stood in the middle of Doug’s acreage, a dense cloud suddenly lifted, and all the side-effects left. Maybe the severity of the shock to the system evoked a tremendous immune/inflammatory response; but after exactly 30 months, I had finally returned to a conscious awareness of being. I could now begin to craft a more targeted approach to restoring my health. I shared family meals and began weight lifting and exercise. I also attended a 3-month spiritual group and completed a “Celebrate Recovery” program for my pharmaceutical recovery, both of which were offered through Doug’s church.
My social, psychological, and life skills were nonexistent during my illness. I stunk because I had forgotten how to bath, and I realized 2 months into my illness that I was no longer doing my 20 minutes of prayer and maxims each morning, but I soon forgot. Part of my recovery was the immediate realization that I had to enroll in the fastest-paced school of life that I could find: I had to unlearn homeless survival skills, transition from cooking and eating off a hot plate to some semblance of food as medicine, and I needed to refill my naturopathic pharmacy, with me as an important recipient.
I would have 8 more living spaces, including tent, car, trailer, motel, and couch, before I would finally be able to find a cheap apartment and begin my full recovery. I was back in Portland at that point and able to resume care with my PCP. An extensive profile revealed the consequences of instant potatoes, hot-plate living, high stress, and severe nutritional deficiencies caused by malabsorption. My CPTSD, high-anxiety disorder, and depression were not side-effects of the drug but rather resulted from the many losses and challenges I had faced over the recent years. I was aware of a longstanding and chronic yeast overgrowth/”auto-brewery syndrome” in my gut. I was aware of the connection between Candida, depression, and anxiety, and I treated my overgrowth with a 3-phase protocol of digestive enzymes with neem, then antifungals and probiotics, and then glutamine and colostrum. This ended my auto-brewery syndrome, and my blood alcohol concentration has since remained at 0.00.
I initially treated the anxiety disorder and depression with lithium; a proprietary mixture of lemon balm, hops, thiamine, and GABA; 500 mg of flush-free niacin; and a favored multiple vitamin. In 2020, some basic lab tests were performed. I treated a very low vitamin D level with 50 000 IU of vitamin D3 per day for 30 days, then 10 000 IU per day for 3 months. After treating the yeast and dysbiosis, I supplemented with an adrenal cortex product, 100 mg/day of DHEA, and a natural testosterone booster for 3 months. I had also resumed my longstanding daily protocol of a power smoothie, vitamins, 60 000 IU of liquid vitamin A, essential fatty acids, lecithin, and protein powders including BCAAs. Repeat lab work demonstrated normal levels of vitamin D, hemoglobin A1c, insulin, RBC parameters, and testosterone.
New lab work was performed in March 2021. A number of markers were high, including total cholesterol (229 mg/dL), LDL-C (146 mg/dL), cholesterol/HDL-C ratio (5.5), and triglycerides (207 mg/dL); and HDL was low (41.9 mg/dL), though higher than the value in 2020. I initiated fish oils, lipotropic factors, running, biking, and aerobic dance. After only 6 weeks of this program, I convinced my PCP to repeat the relevant blood work. Total cholesterol had dropped to 186 mg/dL, the cholesterol/HDL ratio had dropped to 4.3, triglycerides had dropped to 96 mg/dL, and HDL had come up. No abnormal lab values remained.
Eradicating the yeast allowed me to discontinue the lithium and anxiety/depression formula without any rebound. At this point, anxiety is gone, even in the face of my biggest triggers, my brain is clear, serotonin is back in the gut, pain is gone, and pleasant sensations are returning. So much has improved since before this saga began. My vision is better than it was 10 years ago and I no longer need glasses to drive. I have been able to increase my exercise levels, regain flexibility, and improve my work endurance and capacity. All of these gains have come easily and consistently in this last stage of recovery. I have landed in an easy daily discipline that keeps what I want from the past and adds what I choose for the present.
As I benefited from an improved diet including daily fresh juices, resuming juice and smoothie fasting, and maintaining a daily discipline of yoga, dance, prayer, and meditation, I began to think that I was no longer disabled and had won the battle. Then, at 4 ½ years, I began to have feelings and emotions for the first time. At first it was simple memories – marvelous, sweet thoughts of people and times past – but soon the addition of more uncomfortable feelings to my consciousness added additional stress and challenged my recovery, causing me to suffer one last mental flare-up. Experiencing emotions, feelings, and a sense of life-purpose was the last remaining lost part of my soul, and it took a little work to land and deal with life with a full complement of being. Having done so much work, I added Natrum muriaticum 1M, 2 doses, and avoided coffee. My lifelong, childhood depression vanished and has not returned. When the pandemic started, I added an immune support product – an Ayurvedic combination of Boswellia and turmeric – which I have been dumping in my smoothie on a daily basis for the past 18 months.
I have learned many things on this journey. A depletion of serotonin can leave the gut paralyzed, and pain and nausea can occur from wearing a tight belt or even from the passive restraint of a seat belt. This is a major reason for the low-riding pants of the homeless. Survival in a homeless environment is extremely hard, and I was grossly unprepared. When you don’t know who you are, you don’t know how to ask for help or even know what help you need. Humility can come in large servings, and love, spirit, and grace are always present, even when you have absolute zero awareness of their presence.
Today, I do my maxims and prayers, yoga, dance, weights, and aerobics, just as I once did. I am content and convinced that I am whole, that true health was the outcome of my 18-plus approaches to my disabilities and illness. With help from my mental health PCP – an ’83 John Bastyr graduate – I have been able to fully deconstruct my past, construct and reconstruct my present, and fully engage in a healthful life. I move forward, building personal qualities of calmness, likability, fearlessness, and joy, and fearing and respecting nature while also being so very grateful that nature is such a marvelous and creative healer. And, of course, I am grateful to my elders and teachers who inspired nearly infinite patience in the powers of traditional naturopathy.
- Walt Whitman. Song of Myself. In: Leaves of Grass. New York, NY: Random House Inc; 1891-1892: 49.
Rev Omar S. Bailey, ND has a rich history with the naturopathic profession. After graduating from NCNM in 1983, Dr. Bailey maintained an active naturopathic practice through 2017. For various lengths of time, he served as Speaker of the AANP House of Delegates, board member of the AANP, board member and secretary of the NCNM Board of Trustees, and Legislative Chair for the OANP. He has authored numerous books, lectured nationally and internationally, and published over 200 articles in newspapers and journals. He spent 22 years as host and guest on public radio in Portland, OR. Rev Dr. Bailey is now semi-retired, but doing some counseling and life coaching.