“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
These were words I kept repeating to myself as my body continued to be unresponsive to any medical treatment – prescription, natural, or otherwise.
I had been battling severe digestive symptoms for four years. They came on suddenly – almost like someone flipped a switch. One day healthy, and bam! The next day, I was in the bathroom 4-10 times a day. With no end in sight.
I was determined to heal, but after countless doctor’s visits, a mountain of nutritional and herbal supplements, and a 30-day juice fast, I was running out of ideas.
And toilet paper.
I wondered if this was just how I had to live the rest of my life. At age eleven, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disease of the gastrointestinal tract. And I was told there was no cure.
But some part of me believed that there was.
I traveled the world, practiced yoga, meditated, got rubbed down in Ayurvedic oil massages, attended months of trainings, and consumed every healing book I could get my hands on.
But it wasn’t until I started helping others, that things transformed. Radically.
One of my first ever clients was Mary*. I distinctly remember the day I first worked with Mary. There’s always a level of awe as I observe this person opening up to me with their greatest fears and dreams.
Mary didn’t just want a change. She wanted a life transformation. She wanted to depart the job at the pharmacy she was working at and embark on something new… something that would allow her that same feeling she felt when she was outside, breathing in the fresh air, feeling that clarity of mind that nature so amply provides. We talked about the possibilities for her new business, how it would affect her relationships, and what this transformation would mean for her.
The last thing she shared with me as we completed our session was, “Yes, maybe this change will help with my colitis.”
My jaw dropped.
Ray* had just been diagnosed with lupus when he came to work with me. He was gearing up to start his own coaching practice, and he had more energy than any man I knew. He would wake up at 4am, get on the treadmill, get his kids off to school, then work 12 hour days at his business for the car dealership. He and his wife would then prepare a vegan meal for their family, and he’d roll into bed, sometimes not until midnight, only to do it all over again.
So he was especially frustrated and at a loss when his body would go into full lockdown and it hurt to even move his fingers. His doctors loaded him up on corticosteroids, causing him to gain weight from the medication, and he then bravely dealt with his own shifting perception of his appearance on top of everything else.
But Ray was determined.
I was leading a retreat in Vermont. I crawled into bed one night on day two of the week – a big breakthrough day for everyone – and cracked open Steering by Starlight by Martha Beck, one of the pioneers in the life-coaching field.
It was about halfway through the book that Martha started talking about Madison. Madison was a high-powered Wall Street professional who suddenly started to experience complete exhaustion. Every muscle in her body went into “power down” mode. To the point where even carrying a stack of towels to the bathroom caused pain so extreme, she could hardly move her arms for days. She kept getting conflicting diagnoses, and no real improvement with treatment.
According to Beck, Madison drew her aside at one of her seminars and said:
“ ‘…I figured you’d think I was crazy. But I didn’t start getting my health back until I started admitting to myself that…’ Her voice trailed off…
‘That what?’ [Martha] said.
‘That my whole life, I’ve always know I’m supposed to be some kind of…healer,’ said Madison. ‘Not medically, more, uh, intuitive.’
She covered her face with her hands. ‘I’ve been fighting this for years,’ she whispered. ‘I did not go to Yale to become a fruit loop.’”
That night, I had trouble falling asleep.
Martha had introduced me to a puzzle piece that made the picture click.
It’s called: Shaman Sickness.
“Shaman sickness” actually refers to a well-documented phenomenon. According to anthropologists, in many traditional societies, shamans (also known as druids, medicine people, healers, and empaths) discover their calling after being struck by prolonged, incomprehensible illness, which heals only after they accept the spiritual nature of their vocation and allow themselves to “shamanize.”
If I had read this a few years ago, I would have scoffed, rolled my eyes, and thought, “Woo-woo magic,” while twirling my finger next to my temple.
But when you experience something, and then begin to see it elsewhere, and then research comes up to smack you in the face, it’s a little hard to ignore anymore.
Shaman sickness is an illness, disease, or set of symptoms –mental or physical - that does not respond to normal treatment. The illness is cured only when the healer accepts their gift and steps into their role as a mystic. As a result of this, the individual can work with others who are struggling to cross this same territory.
The healer heals.
Shamans, contrarians, medicine men/women from all cultures share certain similar characteristics. Typically during childhood, they may be sickly or accident-prone. They are extremely empathetic, sensitive to the emotions of others, and may suffer from high anxiety and/or emotional overload. They may deal with depression or substance abuse issues as a result of being so “wide open.” Some have sleeping or waking dreams or visions, and this leads to a life-long interest with the spiritual realm. People tend to be drawn to these visionaries for advice. The challenge is that these healers struggle with anyone understanding them.
How do you know if you are one of these people? See if you resonate with these statements:
- You’ve always felt a bit…different than everyone else. Odd or outcast even. And yet…you have the ability to help others feel like they are accepted and understood.
- You have this incredible urge that you have something very important to do in this lifetime.
- You have a vision for the world that most cannot see in the current reality.
- Surface level conversations do not interest you. You crave deep connection.
- You’ve experienced what is sometimes referred to as “the dark night of the soul” – losing a family member, suffering from illness, and/or deep emotional or spiritual turmoil.
You may be reading this and thinking, “Well, I’m sure everyone feels or has experienced this in some way.”
Because we are all, in our own unique way, shamans. We are all healers.
The thing is, in western society, with our veneration of modern science, stepping into a role of a mystic can classify you as borderline insane. A true “fruit loop.”
So what do we do with the gift? We repress it.
What happens to all that energy? It goes into our body. And gets stuck.
Many healers have taught about their personal journey through self-healing, and the resulting work they do with clients. Some notable ones include Louise Hay (teacher and author of You Can Heal Your Life, which has sold over 50 million copies world-wide), Amy B Scher (energy therapist and author of the book This is How I Save My Life, chronicling her journey of stem cell and energy healing), Bruce Lipton (Scientist and author of Biology of Belief, with scientific evidence that energy and environment are what determine our genetic expression), and Carolyn Myss (medical intuitive and author of the acclaimed Anatomy of the Spirit), to name just a few.
What do all of the journeys they share have in common?
That not accepting this knowledge, this knowing that we have a Calling, drains and weakens us. We start to experience feelings ranging from low-level malaise to addiction, chronic exhaustion, or full-blown body breakdown.
That is, until we decide to claim our true destiny.
Mary’s and Ray’s stories are just an extreme version of breakdowns that I have observed in many of my clients who tell me that in some way, they have lost their purpose.
When you lose sight of why you are here and the unique way you serve the world, it only makes sense that this depletes or weakens your life force.
So what do you do?
Well, you’ve got to choose, of course.
When I do breakthrough sessions with my clients, there always comes a point where the individual must choose - To heal or not to heal. Do I continue to believe that I am the past self that I have always been? Or do I instead choose to let go of who I thought I once was, in order to become who I might be?
What nudges this choice in the direction of the latter?
A vision that is BIGGER than yourself.
When you have a mission for the world that is bigger than you, bigger even than any one individual you support, you can’t help but be in your purpose-lane.
And in purpose-lanes, there is no room for sickness. There is no room for misalignment. There is only a deep and true inner knowing, that you are Called to service. And you know it, deep inside of you.
You will do anything to save the world.
Including boldly accepting yourself in the unknown world of the healer.
So what happens to that old story of sickness?
It goes back into the nothingness from whence it came.
For the past several months, Ray has been dedicating more of his energy to his passion business, taking down time for himself, and accepting his role as a coach to help others through this process.
Before our breakthrough work together, Ray was blowing up on corticosteroids to manage his illness. A few months ago, Ray dropped down from 20 mg of prednisone to 5 mg.
In a recent email to me about his miraculous turn around, he wrote:
“Basically, I’ve chosen health.”
Mary took a bold step out of her “safe” job and has experienced dramatic reduction in her symptoms, with no use of pharmaceutical drugs. She hikes daily now and reports that she finally feels like she is able to “breathe again.” Her renewed sense of freedom has led to increased energy for her new business, helping others with natural remedies and meditation practices to provide healing benefits.
She’s an example of how when we continue to align with our authenticity, to take the leap into what we truly desire, that we can’t help but want to give. It really demonstrates the age-old adage:
“You live it, to give it.”
I sat on the hard plastic chair in the super air-conditioned doctor’s office. I had taken the day off from working with clients to drive an hour to find out the results of my latest test. The door opened and the gastroenterologist strode in, his dictation assistant in tow. As he sat down, I mentally prepared myself for the worst.
“Who diagnosed you?” he asked.
“Well, several doctors since I was eleven. But this is the first colonoscopy I’ve had in six years,” I answered.
He scrolled through the notes on his computer.
"And you're not on any medication?" he asked, his eyes peering over the screen.
"No, I just take a multi-vitamin and a couple of supplements..." I trail off.
He looked up, paused, and said frankly:
“You have no signs of Crohn’s disease.”
He furrowed his brow. “And you haven’t been on any medication for this in the past five years?” he inquired…again. This was the third time he asked me.
“No, none…” I trailed off, as what he was saying totally sank into my mind.
I shuffled out of the doctor’s office ten minutes later, clutching the report from the colonoscopy procedure. Two weeks later, I opened my mail from my second opinion, and read “Your blood and stool tests have come back completely normal.”
Except I knew. This what anything but normal.
*Please note: All clients’ names have been changed to preserve client confidentiality.