Melanie St. Ours is a clinical herbalist specializing in mental health and the founder of Psyche & Soma. She has worked with clients from all over the world using natural medicine to support recovery from trauma, anxiety, depression & other mood disorders. She is also a podcaster, an animal activist, and a theater enthusiast who believes that creativity is a vital part of any wellness practice. Melanie works with clients all over the world using natural medicine to support recovery from trauma, anxiety, depression, and other immune disorders. Through this fun interview, I learned a lot about how to be healthier in my own business.
Meredith: Melanie, we were talking in the pre-interview about how you got interested in natural medicine. You were self-employed, had a horrible health catastrophe, and didn’t have access to medical care. Can you tell us that story and how it all unfolded for you?
Melanie: Sure. At the time all of this went down, I was working as a massage therapist at a really prominent, wonderful physical therapy clinic here in D.C. while pursuing my other passion as a theater artist. Even though I was working within health care, because I was self-employed as an independent contractor I could not get health coverage. Back then the laws were such that if you had any kind of pre-existing condition you could be shut out completely, as many people who are self-employed may well remember. I have a couple of different autoimmune conditions that are all in remission right now, but at the time I started to get sicker and sicker with ulcerative colitis. It began with a lot of digestive distress, and I started to lose weight and became weak. By May of 2008, I was running fevers of 104 every night. I could barely walk a quarter of a mile. This was a few months after having run my first 5k ever. My strength had deteriorated that much. I was getting really close to the point where I could feel my life just draining away. I have never been so close or so acutely aware of feeling like “I don’t know how long I can keep going this way and still survive.” It was really, really horrifying. Perhaps most horrifying was the fact that I knew what was wrong with me. At the time, I was in a partnership with a medical student. My mother is a registered nurse, and here I was working in health care myself. I had tried all sorts of alternative ways of dealing with this issue but nothing was working.
Fortunately, I had a happy ending because I was able to figure out a way through a different state to get health insurance, that there was a special program and I was all right. I got the medicine I needed. But I came out of that experience feeling like, “Wow, I never want to be that vulnerable again.” I know now that there are other ways of dealing with our health other than relying upon a system, you know, that depending on what’s going on politically or economically may or may not be available to me. That was really where my passion for learning about herbs and natural medicine started.
Meredith: I think one of the things that scares new entrepreneurs the most is the lack of access to the health care system. Even though Obamacare in the United States has certainly made that easier, I think it is really important for entrepreneurs, more so than even someone who only works outside the home, to keep themselves very healthy because they are the linchpin and the goose that lays the golden eggs for themselves. So can you give us some tips on
what you think the most important thing is for people to do to stay healthy?
Melanie: It’s like so many of these things when it comes to health. There are some universal truths, but the real gold is when you individualize the answer to the person. I would say that almost all of us know that the basics of taking care of ourselves including sleep, movement, stress management, and eating well. All of us have one or two areas of those that we do pretty well, and then we have the other areas that we struggle with. What I would say to whomever is listening is that you probably know which of those is the hardest for you. It might be that you tend to burn the candle at both ends and feel like you’ve got to just get that one extra thing done at 11:30 p.m., or 3:00 a.m. Or it might be that you really know that you should be eating more whole foods, more greens, and more fruit, yet that siren song of the drive-thru really calls to you.
I think that just using your own intuition and self-knowledge about which of those places feels like the one that’s hardest to get a handle on, then just play with that. Create some small goals around it and take in this truth that Meredith has just shared, which is your health is most important. None of your business, none of your dreams, none of your fabulous ideas can come into the world if you, as the instrument, are not clear and tuned and ready to be played full out.
Meredith: On a personal level, very recently I’ve started taking much better care of my health. I’ve started eating better, lost 25 pounds, and my business is taking off along with that, so it all goes together. There’s the “eat your fruits and vegetables, sleep, move” parts, but I also think a big part of it is your emotional health as an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, it’s such a stretch for your mindset as you can’t just be lazy and go to work and just kind of be there. You have to fully engage with your work. Can you give us some hints about how to develop that emotional health starting from the physical base?
Melanie: Sure. I teach a lot about emotional resilience, and there are six characteristics that we find in resilient people, resilient communities, and resilient ecosystems. They are almost like universal laws of resilience. One of them starts from a very physical place and that is the idea of heart rate variability. People who have a heartbeat that stays pretty much exactly in the same rate all day long tend to have less emotional resilience when they are hit with significant stress. One thing you can do that’s very simple and concrete is get up, move around, do little quick bursts of activity during your day. Break things up and challenge that heartbeat so that you’re not staying stagnant in that same rhythm. Of the six characteristics, that’s the most concrete and down-to-earth one.
The others are a bit more like practices and include things that are really familiar to a lot of us entrepreneurs, like adaptability — being able to have your goal in mind but be flexible about how you get there and willing to change the course or the tactics that you use in order to achieve your goal. That is a really, really critical piece of practicing resilience.
Another one that I really love is called temporary distress and dysfunction. Perhaps this goes back to my drama and acting days, but this is the idea that when you get hit with something that really rocks your boat, really upsets you, or really causes a flood of emotion to come into the body, allow yourself to fully experience that distress or even that dysfunction. So after the terrible news, the really tough business breakup, spend a day or two on the couch watching movies and letting yourself grieve and feel upset about it. Even though it could seem like pushing through, it’s what we would define as “bouncing back” or resilience. True resilience comes from allowing yourself to feel what you feel and then moving into what’s new and what’s next from a place of truth.
Favorite Book: The Power of Myth by Bill Moyers & Joseph Campbell
Favorite Resource: MyFitnessPal.com
Want to get a free audiobook version of the book recommended by this week’s guest? Click here to download it.
It took an initiating illness to turn me from a massage therapist and theater artist to the path of an herbalist. Ulcerative Colitis was a tough teacher. The greater part of my suffering came about not because of a genetic flaw that makes my family members & me more prone to autoimmune diseases, but because of gaps in the health care system. The massage therapy job that I loved was a contract position; no health insurance was included. I tried to buy some for myself but I was denied because I had been sick with chronic illnesses before. A simple, cheap medicine could have turned it all around for me—-if only I’d been able to get it.
My story had a happy ending. I found a clever way to get insurance (by establishing official residence in a state with progressive laws) and life started to come back into my body just hours after my first dose of medicine. As I regained my strength, the seeds of a new life and a new vocation were taking root in my heart. If this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone. And I wanted to do something about that.
It’s possible to harvest medicine with your own hands. It’s possible to experience relief & resilience. It’s possible to manage symptoms without side effects and it’s possible to feel more connected to yourself, the plants, and the planet.
You have a right to experience this, too. You have a right to remember the traditions that have been too long overlooked. You have a right to deep connection to the natural world. You have a right to the knowledge about how to get well and stay well, how to work with healing plants, and to live your own destiny.
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