Mary Ann Warren had a successful military career that spanned decades. In retirement, after beloved mother passed, she came face-to-face with underlying anxiety, depression and overwhelm, all worsened by nagging low self-esteem. At her local VA, Mary Ann met licensed naturopathic doctor, Dr. Davis, and others who led her on a path to recovery. Other challenges Mary Ann had included gastroesophageal reflux disease, hip bursitis and osteoporosis. Over the last 10 years under the guidance of Dr. Davis, Mary Ann has been able to gain confidence and peace of mind as well as recover from her physical ailments. Here’s her compelling story.
Mary Ann Warren’s parents grew up in the Jim Crow South and were adamant their daughters have a better education and a world of opportunities. After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley on scholarship in the field of Conservation and Natural Resources, the military offered Mary Ann a chance she could not refuse. It would pay for graduate school in exchange for her service to the country.
She grabbed the chance, entered the Women’s Army Corp and never looked back. With a Masters in Human Relations and a wide variety of jobs within the military, Mary Ann brought her open nature, desire to help others and keen mind to each position she filled. She loved the creativity and interdisciplinary nature of the work. During and since her military service, Mary Ann was and is a dedicated volunteer, teaching English to soldiers in Korea, spending time with the elderly, taking part in service missions in Vietnam, India, and Africa and more.
About a decade ago, after the loss of her mother, many of the psychological and physical complaints Mary Ann had been experiencing came to a crescendo. Though she loved her military service, there were enormous stressors in the Army. As an African American woman, Mary Ann encountered both racism, sexism, and humiliation, sometimes less, sometimes more, which left their deep and indelible mark. As part of her healing, Mary Ann journaled about much of the abuse. At her retirement beneficiary committee hearing, she shared some of these experiences and described the PTSD she suffered. At that time, she met several female soldiers who had faced similar challenges.
Mary Ann thought she was doing well enough, going through the day-to-day of life. But at a routine visit at the VA Education Center, Mary Ann broke down. The cumulative impact of grief, the mounting sadness, the ongoing elements of PTSD were taking their toll.
When Mary Ann was referred to mental health services at the VA, she was introduced to a host of options the VA offered. She also had the good fortune to meet Dr. Teri Davis, who taught many of the integrative medicine approaches that have been true lifesavers for Mary Ann. It was at the VA that Mary Ann first experienced chair yoga, Qi Gong and the MOVE Exercise Program. She took an Introduction to Whole Health Class where she learned in detail about the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet and the relevance of the DASH diet. Dr. Davis taught an extremely beneficial Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course which Mary Ann really enjoyed. She has been able to integrate those skills and mindset, fundamental in her gaining confidence, direction and peace.
Dr. Davis says about her patient, “Mary Ann is the ideal kind of person to work with at the VA as she is committed to her health and wellbeing and is willing to make lifestyle changes. She is fearless in her self-reflection and her optimism and kindness are infectious.”
Over the course of this last decade, under the supervision of Dr. Davis and others at the VA, Mary Ann was able to discontinue her Omeprazole and no longer has GERD. Naturopathic doctors have many approaches to gastrointestinal illness which for Mary Ann, cured her of this long established problem.
Although surgical intervention was recommended for hip bursitis when more conservative approaches failed, Mary Ann’s bursitis resolved over time with gentle yoga, other exercise routines alongside her anti-inflammatory diet. Mary Ann happily discontinued pain medication as it was no longer needed.
And interestingly, Mary Ann is learning to reverse her osteoporosis with the addition of weight bearing exercise, the appropriate diet and a tailored, individualized plan, including nutritional supplements.
Mary Ann is considerably less triggered by memories of being harassed and put down during her years in the Army. She has gained tremendous equanimity, a profound quality that enables her to be present to her life at this moment and to find meaning and connection with those she loves. Also feeling better physically has been a wonderful gift. Mary Ann says, “I wish I had all this knowledge and all these skills when I was in the military. “I would not have wasted so much negative energy which resulted in sickness.”
Dr. Davis shares, “In Arizona, naturopathic physicians are licensed as primary care doctors. At this time, we are not able to practice to the full extent of our scope within the VA system though the VA does refer to NDs practicing in the community. Our philosophical approach to patient care allows us to model and teach fundamental and foundational aspects of practice: removing obstacles to health by teaching how to make healthy, life-affirming choices including the basics of a healthy diet, mindful awareness practices, acupressure, improving structural integrity, and education about the use of various natural substances such as supplements and herbs.”
Naturopathic medicine is ideal for the kinds of challenges so many veterans have from diabetes and heart disease, from chronic pain to PTSD and insomnia. Mary Ann is an inspiring example of how using ND approaches can help with both psychological and physical issues.
We look forward to a day when all veterans, who have served this country so selflessly, will have access to all approaches to healing, including naturopathic medicine, See this FAQ to read more about Naturopathic Medicine and Veterans.
Dr. Rothenberg is a contributor to INM and practicing licensed naturopathic doctor in Northampton, Massachusetts. Dr. Rothenberg is the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians 2017 Physician of the Year. Dr. Rothenberg's writing can be found on NaturalMed.org, Better Nutrition's Naturopathic Health Hub, Medium, Thrive Global, and The Huff Post. She is the proud mother of 3 adult children.