February 26, 2019

You did not “Earn Your Illness:” the Dark Side of Alternative Healing.


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Several years ago, I was at a party in a neighbourhood I had recently moved to, and I must have been enjoying myself because I was uncharacteristically unguarded in that one moment.

One moment which left me feeling equally riddled with vulnerability and bristling with fury.

I don’t usually immediately reveal to strangers that I have Multiple Sclerosis (MS). I’m not precious about it or ashamed of it (indeed I share about it in much of my writing on wellness).

I’m just your average semi-introvert who likes to get to know someone a bit before inviting them into my personal space. It must have just popped out of my mouth.

And just like that, the stranger looked at me, with nothing short of delight in her entire expression and the words that popped out of her mouth were:

 “Then you and I were meant to meet.”

Intrigued, I did what anyone entering an unguarded space should never do—and asked her with way too much invitation in my tone how it was exactly that we were meant to meet.

And then it began. She explained she was a healer and a psychic one at that.

She said that she could already see the damage in my system and she could see that I needed some intervention. She knew what intervention I needed, of course, because she was psychic and a healer and had a strong prescience that I would be needing her help in particular.

I’m paraphrasing, but whatever the words she might have used, it turned out that was exactly what she was saying.

This was many years ago and I was not then armed with the range of “let’s–stop- this conversation-right-in-its-tracks” phrases with which I am now.

Hence, the intrusion continued.

We exchanged contact details (I did say I was unguarded) and from the next day onward, I began to be assaulted with texts and emails.

Sometimes these urged me to meet her without delay as she had important messages to share with me about my MS. In others, she would invite me to go and hear certain “wellness celebrities” give talks at some of the bigger stadiums and venues in my area.

When I said I was busy looking after my child, she urged me to get a babysitter. When I said I was too tired, she said she would drive me there and back and I could sleep in the car on the way. To each excuse I gave —for they were excuses—she fired back a “there’s-no-way-out-of-this” retort.

Yes, she was pushy—but her style was more insidious than an annoying character trait. It was the little barbed comments that she kept tucking into emails and texts, such as “Alison, I sense it is your illness making these excuses. It doesn’t want you to get well.” And, “Isn’t it interesting, Alison, this resistance in you to achieving full health? Might it be this very resistance that made you ill in the first place?”

 I had met this woman once and once only. We had spoken a minimal number of sentences to each other.

My aforementioned and momentary sense of vulnerability (poor sick person being befriended by superior well woman) was overtaken completely by the also aforementioned furious bristling.

Relax, dear reader—I blocked her.

MS is an energy limiting condition and those of us with it are the last people in the world who need to engage with the population otherwise known as energy-vultures.

Why it took me so long was probably a mixture of my having just moved to a new country and a new neighbourhood, and perhaps being a little to open in my approach to meeting new people and my not having developed the wise practices of protection and self-possession that I have cultivated since.

Disappointingly, that wasn’t to be the last time I heard the words, “you and I were meant to meet.” I have had those words spouted at me many times, as have so many of us with a serious illness.

As the ageing are to the producers of Botox, those of us with chronic illness are potential catnip for the predatory contingent of the wellness space if we allow ourselves to be. And when people are under the unrelenting onslaught of life-altering symptoms, it is easy for their filter to get blurred.

In 2015, here in Australia where I live, journalists uncovered the truth about a woman called Belle Gibson who had convinced the world she had healed herself from terminal brain cancer with a healthy diet. She built a global business based upon her claims. And had 200,000 followers to her blogs and social accounts, international book deals, and a best-selling smartphone app. The problem was, she had never had cancer.

The Woman Who Fooled The World, a book by Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano, the journalists who uncovered Belle’s deceit, exposes the whole story of the former wellness blogger’s fraudulent wellness empire and her lies to her family, friends, and business partners.

Through interviews with those who suffered the impact of her deceit, the hundreds and thousands of vulnerable people desperately seeking answers and cures, the authors not only exposed Belle Gibson, but the whole industry built around “wellness warriors” cultivated in the unregulated world of new age spirituality, mashed-up psychology, the maze of dietary research, personal opinion, and inspirational quotes.

Anyone who reads testimony from those who have been conned by someone promising an alternative cure to their life impacting illness based on nothing but pseudoscience and greed, including the loved ones of people who lost their lives to such “cures,”finds themselves in the territory of people who are so ready to believe—and are so open to anything that offers hope—that they are willing to suspend their normal judgment. Even if the philosophy of whatever is being spouted puts them firmly in the blame for their illness.

It is understandable and puts huge responsibility upon anyone working in the wellness space.

I work in this space myself, as a wellbeing and meditation mentor, and I’m mindful of staying alert to best practice guidelines in the therapeutic space. My passion for the value of such work adds even more fire to my desire to protect it as an adjunct and ally to the practice of medicine—and not a replacement, nor a place to peddle quack remedies, and drain more even more energy and money from people already in deficit.

I believe that it is vital that we as individuals, practitioners, and educators, challenge and question every idea we meet, rather than parroting scripts we have learned from trainings—which may continue a lineage of control and unequal power dynamics for instance, or allowing our passion to blur our own judgement.

As individuals receiving ideas and advice I think we need to be deeply conscious of our inner voice, our direct experience, and always touching base with our inner wisdom by asking such questions as “Do I really believe this?” and “Is this working for me?”

We need to be intimately aware of our own personal triggers so that we can protect ourselves from infiltration by voices not meant for us, that come to us through holes in our armor that might be created by a lack of self-trust or connection to our bodies.

During my 24 years with MS, I have heard “Well you and I were meant to meet” many times. I have been told again and again in ways disguised as “taking ownership” that I earned my illness—like earning points on a loyalty card at the supermarket of unhealthy-living. I have been told I can “think myself well.” I have also been offered every possible potion and elixir peddled at the predatory market of “health and wellness.”

Fortunately for me, I am and have always been content that sometimes people get illnesses and that most of the time that means nothing other than sometimes people get illnesses.

To quote one of my friends, “the next time someone says it was because of something you did, challenge them to walk through the oncology ward at the children’s hospital. And then ask them to repeat their mantra.”

The “you made this illness or health crisis happen” trope soaks easily into minds built on shame and self-reproach. Meanwhile, this language is a very convenient philosophy for a self-appointed healer hoping to gain your trust. After all, the last person they want you to go to for information or advice is yourself.

Sanctified in the language of metaphysics, such language can look something like this: You moved out of alignment with your source (you careless human, you), your mind-body system got all discombobulated—your illness is a kind of punishment for this foolery. (Okay the actual word used might be not be punishment but the implication is transparent.) And one of the ways to make this all better is to surrender your bank account and your own inner knowing (because really, how that has been working for you so far?) And while you are at it, just generally behave better (what I have termed “the call to worthiness”).

For my own part, my illness itself does not make me feel vulnerable— it connects me to my body, which empowers me to listen and feel and be responsive. It invites me to make choices in favour of my wholeness and vitality.

I actually thank my MS for that gift.

Before MS, I paid little heed to what my body was telling me (but no, that’s not why I have ended up with a progressive chronic condition or wouldn’t three quarters of the population have this too?)

I love that I give myself full permission to look after myself and I learned that from my MS.

What makes me feel vulnerable is the pervasive societal “agreement” that wellness means not being ill, and that therefore being chronically ill is a sign of some kind of inferiority and being “out of balance” with the model of health.

It’s been 25 years since I was diagnosed and I genuinely consider myself one of the healthiest people I know—which I am convinced is chiefly because I am paying attention to my wellbeing at “master level.”

Who knows why I have MS? Maybe it was in my genes. Maybe it’s just the way it is. Maybe it is so I can do the work I do better. That is certainly a big result.

Maybe it is what protects me, inspires me, and guides me to good choices?

I did not “earn” my illness.

I am happy to concur that I often collaborated with it—because I don’t know everything about everything and life is a journey of learning and hey, that is exactly the same for every other human.

But that’s not a failing—that is something which can happen and something that increases my awareness—so I’m winning.

All of us need to wake up to the whole language around healing and spirituality which makes beautiful people going through awful things feel guilty and ashamed.

I often wonder about the motivation of the people using that kind of language in their wellness businesses. While there are certainly people who actively see profit in shaming someone into believing that they need to hire them, I have also encountered people who are clearly just getting off on the power. Some people are “fixers.”

In the meantime, my experience has also shown me that there are people who are great at channeling healing for others.

In my life, this has come in the form of people who respect my own brilliance. We are all brilliant, and sometimes it takes another shining a light on our brilliance for it to feel confident enough to rise up from our inner depths and serve us.

Ans sometimes our brilliance gets hidden from ourselves. Everyone goes through those times—for me, it’s often when physically run down and I’m in pain that I can’t always feel it, but I still know and trust it is there.

Some luminous people in my life have always supported me in noticing it and believing it. They’re the kind of people we need operating in the healing space.

If you are someone on a wellness journey and can relate—you neither earned nor deserve your illness. You have as much access to healing as everyone else. Your own knowing and life experience are the best potential allies, supporters, and healers you have.

And ask healthy questions. Always.

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