Sipping the Kool Aid

tl;dr: I’m open-minded to the potential helpfulness of essential oils & don’t believe network marketing is a scam


I am a strange mess of opposites.  I’m one of the most cynical people I know, but I’m also one of the most naïve and hopeful.  I don’t believe natural remedies should work; my rational, scientific schooled brain wants more evidence and if natural remedies were as successful as people claim, wouldn’t the big pharmas be out of business?  But then, the big pharmas are run by capitalist patriarchal systems which exist to con us into being hooked on more and more drugs to make them richer.  So, I don’t much trust conventional medicine either.

I’m also what I characterise as ‘desperately hopeful.’  Despite my best attempts in the darkest days of my depression to remain steadfastly apathetic about life, even then I sunk pounds and pounds into various attempts to feel better – the high point (low?) being upwards of four figures into Chinese acupuncture, cupping & pills to reduce the intense sweating my big pharma antidepressants were causing me.  It did work, but not as well as it needed to for the continued price.  I’m not that rich.

And this willingness to try everything started several years ago, before even the crazy in me started (by that I mean my PTSD which did definitely make my judgement rather suspect at times).  Way back, a colleague/friend of mine introduced me to Forever Living products which are based on the power of pure aloe vera juice.  She has since done really well, running her own business in distributing the products – and I continue to drink aloe vera juice daily.  I notice when I don’t.  My hair loses lustre, my gut gets unsettled, I have (even) less energy.  I absolutely believe in the benefits of aloe vera as a health supplement and in its powers to heal anything from burns or rashes to any problems of the gut.

So, I imagine I was already in a good place to be ready to believe also in the powers of essential oils.  Those words are ones we see with almost everything these days – even our shower gels come with essential oils.  Of course, these are not pure, nor are they free from artificial contamination with all the other ingredients, but manufacturers are ready to claim their products are better because they have some essential oils in them.

And it was another friend who introduced me recently to essential oils, this time through the Young Living brand.  At the time, I was nearing the end of my psychiatry treatment, my sleep was still very unsettled and I was concerned about ‘going it alone’ without a crutch.  So, I guess I was a ripe prospect.

Despite this, I was determined not to fall for it.  I know from the aloe vera experience, which I don’t think I can do without, it’s an expensive habit getting hooked on these wellbeing supplements.  People will tell you ‘what price a better life?’ – they do it with coaching too for example, an area I want to get into, but I am very very very uncomfortable with that selling approach – it plays to people’s desperation – ‘if you want it badly enough, if you really want to change your life for the better, you’ll pay’.  I don’t like that, not at all; it passively but aggressively preys on desperation as the motivating factor to pay up to improve your life.  But, my friend gave me some samples of an oil called Peace & Calming to help my sleep.  And I slept like a baby (that sleeps through the night), and woke feeling refreshed for maybe the first time in ages.  So, I wanted that to continue (but being me, I continued to tease her, and being her, she knew I was just teasing).

I bought a bottle of the Peace & Calming by becoming a distributor, it was the way I got my aloe vera too; wholesale prices but I don’t actually sell it to anyone else (yet?).  And so, because I now had the beginner’s introduction pack I started to experiment with other things.  A couple of drops of lemon oil in my water in the morning (my friend had also given me a small sample of that and she swore by it) was the start.  Then I got some really bad eczema on my neck.  I’ve always been prone to eczema, especially in summer, but had never had it on my neck before.  My usual go-to of hydrocortisone Hc45 just wasn’t having any impact.  I consulted some notes my friend had sent me about how the oils might be used for common ailments.  Lemon was suggested for eczema, and so was lavender.  I went with the lemon first – it stung!!!  I layered lavender over the top and that was immediately soothing.  The eczema disappeared, almost immediately (within about 20 minutes the rash had gone).  Since then, when I’ve felt it coming back, I’ve gone straight to the lavender (the lemon sting not being pleasant, even if it might’ve worked) and I haven’t had any more eczema all summer.

Mosquito bites – horrible things.  My friend got bitten and nothing was working, none of the various over-the-counter bite lotions, hay fever tablets, nothing.  I put some lemon oil on – and whilst it apparently stung like hell, it killed the sting.  Lavender oil, again layered over, and the bites were much less sharp.

Another friend did the Moonwalk, a marathon walked over night (I know, crazy, right?!).  Pan Away, the muscle/pain oil on her sore legs and what she thought would be pain for a week only lasted a day or so.  Pan Away and Deep Relief have also provided a lot of relief for a friend with a very swollen (sprained) ankle.

It’s not all magic though.  The Peace & Calming oil does help me sleep, and I truly believe the times I use it are the times I have the deepest sleeps – but it can still take me forever to get to sleep.  I often use Cedarwood and Lavender too and the combinations improve it, but it’s not a miracle sleep-aid.  I had an ear infection, and for me that’s usually caused by eczema in my outer ear canal – lavender oil had helped once before, but this time there was no impact at all and I had to resort to antibiotics.  (I was then told by those who know much more than me, never to put the oils directly in the ear canal… oops!).  I’ve got a gammy knee from when I came off my bike in early January (the same knee I’d had an op on, of course) – however much I use Pan Away, or Wintergreen, or Deep Relief it’s still a gammy knee.  Sometimes it’s relieved a little, but sometimes maybe I think that’s a panacea effect.

What definitely is magic is the En-R-Gee which I diffuse during the day – not every day, but the days I remember.  And what is magic about that is that I’ll be quite amazingly productive when that’s the background scent in the room.  In fact, there are some days when I have consciously decided not to diffuse it, because the part of me that wants to curl up in a ball and not be part of the world wins the internal battle.  The days I use it, that part of me (I call her Alice) doesn’t get a look-in.

Recently I went along to a seminar held by Young Living to learn more about the products.  There was definitely ‘something’ to them and I wanted to find out more…

It was held by Haley Jenson who is one of the main rep’s of the company from America.  Young Living was founded in 20 years ago in 1994 by Gary Young.  When younger, Gary sustained injuries in a logging accident and was told he would never be able to walk again.  With traditional ‘big pharma’ letting him down, he looked for natural ways to help himself to walk again – and he did.  It’s an emotional story – and it draws you in.  His belief in the power of essential oils seems to stem from his own personal circumstances and a desire to help other people overcome their own issues, rather than purely about money and profit.  Although we can’t be certain that’s not part of it, the fact he’s also developed the D. Gary Young Foundation which helps disadvantaged communities all around the world demonstrates it’s not all about the money.  (A note; following my visit to the ‘mother ship’ the European HQ this week, it’s definitely a business set up to make money and has all the normal corporate pitfalls (imo) of a mostly white male executive structure.  But it’s founded on ethical principles.  And if you rejected every business which is mostly a white male executive structure, you wouldn’t buy much or do much these days).

Haley went into some detail about the science behind essential oils.  They might not be sold to us by Glaxo SmithKline and they may come from natural sources, but the science seems really quite sound (to my very non-scientific brain, I only got a B in Biology).  Basically, they are already the armour & defence weapons that these plants use to protect themselves against predators.  The structure of the oils is very similar to our own, so we can absorb them direct into the skin without having to digest them, and they are totally safe for us to use (and ingest if we want to).  They are 100 to 10,000 times more concentrated than herbs (and when I used just 3 drops of lemon oil to flavour my smoked salmon, cream cheese and avocado the other day, the flavour permeated through it all – I’d have had to have squeezed a whole lemon over to have anything close to the same effect).

Some people have commented to me that they would prefer to trust a double-blind scientific study.  Well, the side effects from those double-blind scientific studies which claim to cure depression, or headaches or anything in between, can be really quite debilitating.  The worst side effect from using essential oils is that they don’t work.  Essential oils also don’t claim to cure.  They claim to possibly help.  And you don’t know until you try.  During the seminar many people from the audience shared their own testimonials of how they had used various oils and with what impact; I am attracted to the power of personal testimonial, personal experience, personal stories.  Here are some of those experiences:

Peppermint – a very versatile oil, used to pain, headaches, gastric problems, car sickness, can provide energy in a drink, can provide mental clarity, can clear sinuses, calms nerves.  Peppermint is also a penetration-enhancer and can be used with any of the other oils to enhance the effect.

Lavender – a couple of drops in the mouth for hay fever, deodorant, relaxing, skin issues, bug bites, scratches, freshen linen (a couple of drops in the washer/dryer), bruises.

Joy – uplifts the mood

Pan Away – this one really amazed me – an axe injury to the arm…. It stopped the bleeding straight away.

Clove – toothache, especially good for babies teething.

Ningxia Red is Young Living’s equivalent of the Aloe Vera juice I drink every day.  It’s made with wolfberry, which contains protein, and has lots of very powerful testimonials to improving eyesight, providing energy and stamina, totally turning around a persistent hypoglycaemic problem and much more.  It has so many different anti-oxidants packed into it, that it hits every part of the body. It has citrus oils in it, which are anti-ageing and anti-inflammatory and it’s anti-carcinogenic.  I’ve now purchased some and will be testing it for myself over the next month or so to see what the impact is for me.

Thieves represents the home-care range, but can also be ingested and inhaled to ward against colds and flu and other bugs.  It’s called Thieves because the recipe for it was taken from the grave robbers who didn’t get the plague, because they had covered themselves with a potion.  It has a 99.6% kill rate against airborne bacteria.  It tastes horrible (apparently) but spraying on a sore throat, or gargling in water will ward off colds.  Or, just add it to Ningxia Red to knock out whatever is ailing you.  You can use in in your laundry, in the refrigerator; you can wash your fruit & veg with it, as well as clean your toilet.

Coming away from the seminar, I was hooked.  When I told my friend, he said with a sly grin that I’d definitely been drinking the Kool Aid.  Maybe I had, maybe I am.  But I’m definitely sold on the premise that there’s ‘something’ to using essential oils to improve the quality of life, and I’d much prefer to be trying to do that with something that is entirely natural and good for me, than a man-made artificial concoction of various chemicals.

The European Convention was this weekend.  Friday was the visit to the European HQ, Saturday the main conference and expo, and today a series of seminars.  Being wiped out by the week, I decided to give the seminars a miss today, but whilst following two days in the clutches of the cult hasn’t left me gulping at the Kool Aid, I’m still happily sipping (and OMG, NingXia is de-licious).  I bought a lot of material to understand more about the properties of essential oil and how they can be used to alleviate various hurts of the mind and body.  I also bought a book about the ancient uses of essential oils – I mean, the Magi did bring Frankincense and Myrrh to the birth of Jesus, didn’t they?  These natural helpers have been around and used by humans for literally centuries.  Like the Eastern medicinal approaches, they have a rich lineage of success stories to their name.  I’m not suggesting I’m going to ditch my anti-depressants right now, Western medicine and big pharma still has a role, but I am going to try natural remedies before I put artificial chemicals into my body (unless those chemicals are the fun kind) 😉

Some have criticised the Young Living network marketing business model as being unethical, that it preys on the vulnerable.  I disagree for several reasons.  Firstly, I think it is often when you have tried other remedies which have failed and provided no relief, that you are in the mindset to be open-minded to try something new – certainly that’s my experience.  So, was I vulnerable?  I think I was just in the market for a solution.  It worked, so I bought.  Yes, the products are pricey, and I have many friends who I think they could help, but I am wary of suggesting because the price is most likely too high.  Unfortunately essential oils do not yet come on the NHS – I can understand in America where healthcare is more costly, that actually the price differential is not that great, or even less.

Secondly, whilst the term ‘pyramid scheme’ is often used to describe network marketing business models, this is inflammatory.  Pyramid schemes got their bad name from promises of richness through money lending that didn’t exist.  So those at the bottom absolutely did get screwed; they were fraudulent schemes.  Network marketing is not that.  Network marketing is, I believe, going to grow and grow as a business model in the future; it’s been around a while (think Tupperware and Avon) and it’s a really flexible model for those people who are part of it.  Rather than need to work a 9-5 for minimum wage (and often on zero hours and less than the living wage), people can work flexibly around their lives and they earn a decent living – how decent obviously depends on how much you sell, but it’s a decent living.  My friend who distributes for Forever Living was able to give up her corporate soulless job and focus on her family and children whilst having the satisfaction of running her own business with a product she absolutely believes is helping people.  Yes, at the top of the ‘pyramid’ people earn even more, and significantly more.  But isn’t that also the case for CEO’s, board members, non-exec directors, etc at corporates?  And corporates use network marketing too.  Member get member schemes are a form of network marketing and in the mobile phone industry in Europe, network marketing was a legitimate channel of distribution (I am not certain if it continues to be used by the MNO’s there).

Finally, I think I’ve already challenged the view that essential oils are just placebo nothings and a scam.  I don’t think they are because of the history of them being used, because of the existing testimonial that I’ve heard from others and because of the experience I have found on my body.  Everyone is of course entitled to remain sceptical, and as I say, I’m not gulping at the Kool-Aid just yet, but my mind is open to the possibility that I may well decide essential oils really are *essential* to living.