Framing Glenn Beck

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I recently saw a news article about Glenn Beck. In it he talks about having hidden an intense struggle with pain and auto immune disorders for the past five years. For anyone familiar with the work of Dr. John Sarno and Dr. Gabor Mate, the narrative of his story suggests that his issues had a lot to do with the unconscious repression of his emotions. He speaks of being in great pain and burning out his adrenal glands because he was producing so much adrenaline that he barely needed to sleep. He saw the lack of sleep as an advantage because despite the pain he was in he was able to push himself to do even more work.

His first symptom was the extreme pain in his hands and feet, but he just kept working as hard as ever. Pain is often a good thing to pay attention to as it can be a sign that there is something going on emotionally that we aren’t aware of. Having spent most of the last ten years looking into this issue I have talked to hundreds of people who ignored this sign, as I have too often have done myself. Pain can be an indicator that there is something that is stressing us out in a fairly constant way, that we aren’t consciously aware of. When Dr. John Sarno realized that most of his back pain patients had a history of other issues that were known to have an emotional connection like migraines, eczema, and ulcers, he was able to make the connection between his patient’s pain and the repression of their emotions.

A short time later Beck started to lose his memory and began having seizures. Dr. Mate connects this progression of symptoms to the idea that when we chronically repress our emotions our body is in a constant state of “fight or flight”. To be clear, I am not a doctor. I’m an artist and a filmmaker who makes sense of the world through stories. For the past 10 years I have spent a lot of time looking at the clues that point to a direct connection between how we deal with our emotions, and how our bodies react to that process. Looking at Glenn Becks’s story through this frame powerfully illustrates this connection. No doctor, especially Dr. Sarno, would diagnose an illness without seeing a patient, and I am not attempting to diagnose Glenn Beck. Instead I am looking at his narrative, and the way he frames it, to illustrate the connection between our emotional ecology and our physical health.

“While I was at Fox, the pain would get so bad that my camera crew, our executive producer Tiffany and I, had worked out hand signals so they would know when to take the camera off of me,” Beck revealed. “We didn’t know at the time what was causing me to feel as though, out of nowhere, my hands and feet, or arms and legs would feel like someone had just crushed them, set them on fire or pushed broken glass into them.”

Beck said that while he was in intense pain, something unusual was happening that he actually thought was an advantage in his business: he only ever needed two to four hours of sleep a night.

Beck was working himself to the point of exhaustion, yet he didn’t feel tired. He had over stimulated his adrenal system to such a degree by working in a constant state of “fight of flight” that he had ceased to have REM sleep. One problem that I see with our current medical system is that it is often fails to even consider the way in which we live our lives to see how that might be contributing to our health issues. If doctors, or his pastor, had asked him what was driving him to work so hard he might have been able to reflect on his situation and change his behaviors in ways that might have slowed the progress of his illness. In this clip from our work in progress film “All The Rage“, Ashok Gupta has an interesting perspective on this idea when he talks about “nervous system” medicine.

Over time Beck’s symptoms became so bad that he moved from New York to Dallas where the climate was easier to deal with. His doctors told him that he needed to stop working, but he wanted a sign from God before he “put down his sword”. He also felt a great responsibility to those that he worked with to continue to build his business.  When we look at the connections that both Dr. Mate and Dr. Sarno have made between the tendency of some people to push themselves to be perfect and good and these types of illnesses, Beck seems to fit the mold. Finally he found a clinic in Dallas that helped him to get better.

“After a few short visits, they found that I had several things going on, from an autoimmune disorder to adrenal fatigue. They also found the connection to everything that was going on, and for the first time gave us hope that we could reboot my system — not just stop it, but reverse things,” Beck said. “Me never having to sleep was finally understandable. The last sign of adrenal failure is a hyperextension of your adrenal glands. In other words, I didn’t need sleep. I could have been lifting cars during my time at Fox!” “But now that I had blown out my system, all I could do is sleep,” Beck continued. “My immune system was looking at these natural hormones as an infection and so my body was trying to kill its most basic functions. I also appeared at the time to be in the early stages of Addison’s disease.”

Reading Beck’s tale it is quite clear that he pushed himself beyond his capacity on an ongoing basis. In addition he hid his condition from everyone except for his closest allies. The amount of emotional repression needed to carry on this kind of charade for five years must also have been exhausting. Thankfully, the doctors in Dallas helped him to retrain his brain.

Beck remarked. “After months of treatment and completely changing the way I eat, sleep, work and live, along with ongoing hormone treatment and intensive physical therapy, I have reversed the process. Some of the physical scars will be with me for the rest of my life … but my brain is back online in a big way.”

I hope that someone will get him both “Healing Back Pain” and “When the Body Says No“. While it’s awesome that he has been able to reverse the process, a deeper understanding of the mind body connection certainly couldn’t hurt. Watch the clip below and then read the whole article on Glenn Beck. Through the frame of Dr. Mate’s ideas, it becomes quite clear that it was not outside forces attacking Mr. Beck’s body, but instead his intense desire to be strong for everyone but himself.

Whenever people talk about losing the ability to produce cortisol or adrenaline it indicates that they have been living in a constant state of unconscious stress.


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