You were called at a very young age. You were less than ten when you discovered that the life of another being mattered. Maybe you rescued lizards when the boys were pulling off their tails. Maybe spiders were your friends. Maybe you were the squirrel girl. But your natural healing tendencies weren’t cherished, not in our culture.
Your inner healer drove you to seek out a career in the health care profession. Maybe you’re a nurse practitioner or a midwife or an acupuncturist or a doctor, a therapist or a health or life coach or an energy healer or a physical therapist. You figured your innate healing gifts would be welcomed within the health care profession, that you would be given the opportunity to fulfill your calling, to serve out your purpose, to help others thrive.
But it didn’t quite work out that way. Your training in medicine robbed you of your joie de vivre, or becoming a therapist carved you into such a rigid box that you felt stifled in your earnest desire to help others find their phoenix wings. You felt abused by others in your profession, especially those who didn’t understand the profundity of your healing gift and left you feeling like you were somehow less than enough because you wanted to touch patients not only with your hands, but with your heart. You knew there was something more to health than you were taught, and having the heart of a healer- and often the experience of being a patient that perhaps stemmed from your thwarted gift- you yearn to fully express this innate ability you know you have.
Maybe you’re still slogging away in a career that doesn’t feel quite right, or maybe you’ve even left already, because you feel like you’re selling out your soul’s integrity when you compromise your gifts as a true healer. You know you’re being called to something more, but you’re not sure what it is. Your soul is calling you- stronger and stronger, like the pull of the moon on the ocean, arising waves within you that disturb but also awaken you. Mother Gaia is reaching out for you, pulling you into her mysterious rhythm, pulsing you like the heartbeat of Africa, yearning to initiate you.
But what would it mean to be an initiated healer?
You are called into ceremony with the others who are like you. You might have never met, yet on some soul level, when you are all in the same physical space, you recognize one another instantly. You sense a resonance, like a core vibration that entrains you into a frequency of Mother Gaia, deep and pulsing and vastly feminine, the mother, the healer, the goddess, the priestess. She has been there all along, this part of you that is being called forth. She is as familiar to you as your breath, and yet, you have forsaken her. But she has never abandoned you. She has been waiting for you all along, ready for you to call her back home, when you’re finally ready.
My mother had a sore neck, probably from Pilates class, she figured. So Mom went to her doctor, who ordered an X-ray. Upon reviewing the X-ray, her doctor ordered a CT scan for a week later. My mother asked her doctor why he was ordering more tests. Did he see evidence of osteoporosis? Arthritis? A slipped disc?
Without even making eye contact with her, Mom’s doctor said, “Could be metastatic cancer.” Then he promptly left the room.
Let me explain what was happening in my mother’s nervous system in that moment when my mother’s doctor said the words “metastatic cancer” without offering any comfort. Mom was married to my father, a radiologist who read X-rays for a living, so Mom’s thinking rational forebrain knew that if the radiologist saw anything even mildly suspicious, he might order follow up testing and it wasn’t necessarily the end of the world. But Mom’s rational forebrain was not in charge in the moment when her doctor said the words “metastatic cancer.” Instead, the amygdala in Mom’s primal brain flashed back to my father, who had died of metastatic cancer only a few years earlier. All her amygdala heard was, “METASTATIC CANCER! A CERTAIN DEATH SENTENCE!”
When Mom’s amygdala heard the word “cancer,” her amygdala automatically signaled “danger,” and the red alert fired off, flipping on Mom’s “fight-or-flight” stress response. Mom’s hypothalamus then released hormones that communicated with her pituitary gland, which communicated with her adrenal gland, and then BOOM. Her body was instantly filled with high levels of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine. Her whole body was now in what Walter Cannon at Harvard called the “stress response.” It was ready to outrun the threat, even though in reality, there was no threat to outrun. The only thing Mom could do was wait a week until her CT scan was scheduled.
Is medicine saving us- or killing us? Are doctors helping you- or harming you? Are you improving your health by taking prescription drugs- or are you decreasing your life expectancy? Are you getting the medicine you really need? Do you even know what kind of medicine that is?
These are the questions I answer in my third TEDx talk, which I delivered live at TEDxFargo, which was organized by Fargo community leader and Whole Health Medicine Institute physician Dr. Susan Mathison.
I had a meltdown on the plane on my way to Fargo because I knew what I would be discussing has the potential to be wildly controversial, and I wanted to ensure that my message was not misinterpreted by the very people I seek to serve- doctors and patients. I reached out to one of my mentors, Brené Brown, and she talked me off the ledge with an email that guided me with exactly the advice I needed. I wound up rewriting my speech on the plane only one day before I gave the talk.
As I wrote about here, too many patients hand the power of their health over to physicians who they believe will fix them, and then if the doctor fails to cure what ails them, they get frustrated and feel like helpless victims of bad luck or bad genes.
But studies show that being proactive about your health not only results in better health care; it also strengthens your body’s natural self-repair mechanisms and helps your body fend off illness.
Your body is your business! Even though most of us doctors went to school for over a decade, ostensibly so we’d know your body better than you do, nobody knows what’s best for your body, mind, and soul as much as you do. Your body is your business because you are the gatekeeper of your mind, and it’s your responsibility to protect your body from the poisonous effect toxic thoughts, beliefs, and feelings have on your body’s physiology.
There are many ways you can be an empowered patient, but here are a few tips for taking the power of your health back into your own hands.
1. Guard your mind and reject negative health beliefs.
Just because your doctor tells you there’s only a 10% chance you’ll get better doesn’t mean you have to think like a pessimist and look at the glass as 9/10 empty. Reframe the numbers and focus on the fact that 10% of people with your disease get well - and for the 10% who do, the other 90% don’t matter. Remember that those positive health outcomes aren’t just flukes. Those who get well against all odds share common proactive characteristics. (To learn 6 scientifically proven proactive things people with stage 4 cancer who experience spontaneous remission share, read Mind Over Medicine.)
2. Avoid toxic situations when possible.
If you feel like a victim- of an abusive childhood, a toxic marriage, a soul-sucking job, a demeaning boss, a bankruptcy, or whatever- find a way to reclaim your power. Dig deep within and call upon the strength you’ll need to make healthy changes in your life, even if it means financial loss, loss of status, disappointing others, or other undesired consequences that may accompany extricating yourself from mind-poisoning circumstances. If you can’t change your circumstance, you still have the power to change your attitude.
3. Don’t be afraid to question your doctor.
Remember, medicine is a service industry. If you didn’t feel like your car was in the very best hands possible, you’d find another auto mechanic. Proactive patients- the ones who have the best health outcomes- don’t hesitate to ask their doctors questions, get second opinions, and switch health care providers if the fit isn’t right.
For example, when your doctor makes a diagnosis, ask your doctor, “What else could it be?” Every doctor should have what’s called a “differential diagnosis,” and sometimes asking your doctor to expand the scope of what your diagnosis could be can leapfrog you to optimal health sooner.
Recently, I was blessed to be able to spend an hour on the phone with my shero and mentor Brené Brown, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Daring Greatly. We had so much giddy fun on our teleclass about the intersection of vulnerability and health, how shame is lethal, and how daring greatly and practicing mind over medicine helps you heal. (If you missed the live call, you can get the free download here.)
I had an epiphany during our call that I want to share with you, so pull out your big highlighter. Brené says the most terrifying emotion we experience as humans is joy. We're so frightened of loss that we can't even allow ourselves to lean into those moments when we're standing over our children watching them sleep or when we're falling in love and it feels like our hearts will burst. The second most of us start to feel joy, instead of relishing the blessings, we tend to get swallowed by the fear that the other shoe is about to drop.
Brené said, “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding." Instead of allowing ourselves to feel the vulnerability of how much joy we feel and how much hurt we would experience if we lost what we have, we dress rehearse tragedy so we can beat vulnerability to the punch. We look at our kids with so much love and then imagine them dying. We feel such tenderness for the person we're falling in love with that we fast forward straight to the day when we get our heart broken. If things are going well in our professional life, we imagine the day we get fired or lose all our money, power, and status. It's like, by trying to imagine the worst case scenario, we somehow think we're protecting ourselves from what we fear most.
But guess what? It doesn't work. If your child dies or the love of your life abandons you or you lose your job or you declare bankruptcy - or whatever tragedy you imagine might befall you happens - no dress rehearsal will protect you from loss and pain. And in the interim, you've missed your chance for effervescent joy, radical presence, true bliss - and the health benefits that accompany joy.