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Culture and the Body

A new website, and a new theme! When I began this blog, I was drawing themes from my memoir, Cloud Messenger. The book is rich with interesting ideas to explore – cross-cultural relationships, the intersection of anthropology and medicine, and the quest to find one’s true path in life. Cloud Messenger has won several awards, and most recently it was named one of the 100 best Indie books of the year by Kirkus Reviews. But to me, the most gratifying experience is having people say that the book struck a chord within their own hearts. This is the magic of writing – the way we can reach across to readers and share a personal experience that then has meaning in someone else’s life.

Cloud Messenger has been launched into the world, and now I want to broaden the focus of this blog, naming it “Culture and the Body”. This theme cross-cuts various interests of mine. Throughout my career as a family physician, I’ve always been intrigued by the various ways that people experience their bodies in health and illness. For example, people perceive the feeling of pain in different ways, and the subjective symptom of pain often has little correlation with the objective damage to a body part. The meaning of illness is unique to each person who suffers.

Culture shapes the expression of illness in varied ways, as I discovered during my years in India, when I immersed myself within a culture dramatically different from my own. At that time, I became interested in the work of traditional birth attendants and how they interpreted symptoms of obstetrical complications. The meaning of such symptoms was derived from their understanding of health, and was often markedly divergent from the biomedical perspective.

My career path has now taken a new direction, one that promises to be filled with challenges and insights. My daughter Sonia struggled with a serious eating disorder for over eight years, and her illness led our family into a difficult and frightening journey. She finally recovered five years ago, a time of great joy for all of us. She returned to university, earned a Master’s degree in Economics and then began work as an economist. But she couldn’t forget her experience as a survivor of an eating disorder, having seen first-hand how difficult it is to recover. Last year, she and I founded an organization called Body Brave, a non-profit dedicated to providing support and guidance for people suffering from eating disorders.

Building an organization is a new experience for me, filled with challenge and excitement. Sometimes I am terrified by the temerity of what we are trying to do – and yet I am convinced we are engaged in important work. We want to bring the voice of lived experience into the conversation about eating disorders – the lived experience of survivors of the illness as well as their caregivers. We’ve already had speaking engagements in schools, a church and a university. It looks like we’ve embarked on an exciting journey!


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