Dr. Steve Rissman, ND

For about a month I’ve been dealing with a severe back spasm that has brought my life almost completely to a standstill. Not how I envisioned my summer. When I really dig in to look at this, it’s the vulnerability that I’m most “guarding” against. Deep within are pervasive “guy” beliefs that if I’m unproductive, I will have no worth. If I’m immobile, I’ll be dependent and decrepit, I won’t be attractive to my partner. If I’m moody with pain, I’ll be a bad father. How can I complete my writing commitments, my research, my curriculum development and my teaching and advising for my students? Will I recover and return to riding my horses, biking, hiking? It scares me to think of that part of life leaving, which, I guess, inevitably it will, as life proceeds on. But not now! I don’t like this and I’m hoping to learn something quick and get back to it. Spasm!And here it comes again. Breathe, tighten the pelvic floor, let go, its all okay. Damn. And so it goes.

I have used my “tried and true” herbal formulas, new and innovative formulas, Chinese herbs, homeopathic medicines, cell salts, topical oils, topical patches, TENS units, manipulation, cannabinol, diet changes, EFT, Vicodin and Valium. And while there is slight improvement, I spasm onward, feeling, vulnerable.

Here what has “worked”. Laying on my back (I know, I’m supposed to be lying on my back, but I’ve always been more comfortable “laying” on my back!). Meditating and some form of prayer give me comfort. Having others chanting for me- hey, I’m sure it’s helped, even the thought that others care enough to chant, must help. Laughing at myself lightens the load. Crying when I just can’t “hold back” brings relief, even though I feel so silly (boys aren’t supposed to cry- yes, it’s an old concept but still runs deep).

I’m trying to search for past (“back”) issues and of course, they are there. I’m looking at the heavy load I carry and the need to maybe be forced to stop. Stop!Savor the down time, the excuse to do nothing. (yes, I’m hearing it-“need” an excuse to do nothing, that ain’t right!)

In an article in the Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, the author described how vulnerability is a concept used in conventional health care to describe a level of risk to a population or individual, but also how vulnerability can be a trait that defines the human condition. She states that by seeing vulnerability between a care provider and patient as mutual, there is a chance for both parties to grow…”1

Being a physician and a patient, I’m finding this provoking some thought.

Many argue that vulnerability, especially in medical patients, diminishes the capacity to protect oneself and, therefore, decreases the individual’s ability to thrive with wellness. Others contend that knowing one’s humanness, one’s weaknesses, provides an opportunity to rise above challenges, to temper the blade, so to speak. When we know our susceptibilities, whether compromised connective tissue/joints, feeble heart, or hyper immune sensitivity, we can seek the wisdom of experts who may be able to lead us through the deep dark woods and into better chances for health.2

Lest we put the cart before the horse, let me restate that one has to be willing to go downward, to feel one’s frailty and fears, to fiercely pursue the grail, before starting the journey out of pain, weakness or other suffering. That’s not easy for most men because we have been taught most of our lives to “man up”, “be strong” and “muscle through it”. I’m suggesting a different approach. Rather than avoid it, sit in the pain, feel it, listen to it, know it. It has a message. Listen boldly, then when it’s too intense, toss down the meds and a glass of wine and listen more creatively! I’m not suggesting that drugs are the answer, but getting to some form of altered state may be useful for healing.

As an endnote, I’m experiencing slow, steady improvement. I happened to pop an L-theanine yesterday (it’s anti-spasmodic) and I’m encouraged by the effect- I’m relaxed, knowing that I’m on a journey. I’m figuring some things out, but my true prayer is, “Quit trying, allow vulnerability”.

Rissman_newest_headshotDr. Steve Rissman is a full-time associate professor in the Department of Health Professions at Metropolitan State University of Denver, teaching in the Integrative Health Care program. He teaches Clinical Pathophysiology, Men’s Health, Men Across Cultures, Men and Anger, and several other classes. Dr. Rissman has studied, taught and worked in the field of men’s health for over twenty years and has lead the way in lighting the path for young men embarking on the journey to better know themselves. In a new facet of his professional life, Dr. Rissman is the primary investigator in a research project looking at qualities of great men- men who know their purpose in life and hold a larger vision for what is possible.

In his practice on his farm, north of Denver, Dr Rissman works with men/boys confounded by behaviors related to anger/rage, anxiety, and depression in their lives.

Having grown up on a farm and spending a great deal of time in the outdoors, Dr. Rissman has a deeply rooted curiosity for the laws of nature, particularly the science of disease process. Consequently, he has an extraordinary ability to illicit the story of one’s unique dis-ease process and to perceive what needs to be cured in each individual man/boy, using psychotherapy, botanical medicines, therapeutic nutrition, homeopathic medicines, and other insightful methods intended to help lead men through the abyss of dis-ease toward a rich, purposeful life.

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  1. Sveinsdóttir, H. and Rehnsfeldt, A. (2005), Vulnerability. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 19: 85. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6712.2005.00329.x)
  2. (Gjengedal, E., Ekra, E. M., Hol, H., Kjelsvik, M., Lykkeslet, E., Michaelsen, R., Orøy, A., Skrondal, T., Sundal, H., Vatne, S. and Wogn-Henriksen, K. (2013), Vulnerability in health care – reflections on encounters in every day practice. Nursing Philosophy, 14: 127–138. doi: 10.1111/j.1466-769X.2012.00558.x)
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