If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
-Lilla Watson and Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s
I cruised through adolescence without skin problems, but in my late 20s, a persistent mottled pink and red color palette crept into my face with varying levels of chaotic topography on my cheeks. Rosacea is a chronic skin condition, the Internet tells me. It’s treatable, but dermatologists say there’s no cure for it.
“Are you sure?” I ask over and over. “It’s barely there when I wake up, but it gets worse after I eat certain foods and when I’ve been at work, so…I’d rather get to the root of the problem. I’m willing to make lifestyle changes.” They vaguely say I can try to avoid triggers. They put me on endless courses of antibiotics—no one knows why antibiotics work in rosacea treatment, but here you go.
At the worst of my flare-ups, my face was oozing, my hair was limp, and I was suffering from chronic fatigue. They tested me for lupus, for liver and thyroid problems, but when all the tests came back normal, they offered that I could burn the capillaries of my face shut with lasers for $500 a year. They also advised me that I could wear green-tinted make-up to mask the redness.
I had put off asking the experts for help because I was worried about how sad I would feel if their help wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t just that the problem affected me on more than a cosmetic level, I felt sure that it was coming from somewhere deeper, too. But no matter what I said, it didn’t change the fact that my doctors were trained to only address the surface symptom.
On the vast spectrum of problems, my skin issues are obviously quite trivial, but in a way similar to how learning a new skill showed me a lot about my relationship to creativity, this situation has given me a daily chance to consider the concept of healing.
I’ve written several drafts of posts over the last few weeks amidst the turbulence of the events in America and around the world, the news, the strong waves of feeling about the news, the news that is not news but veils being lifted then tugged back down and tucked in at the corners.
First impulses: say something—anything to not be silent right now—act, push through, rally, describe, suggest, show up, help. Next: hold up, listen, practice before you preach, consider your position in all this as a white, cis, heterosexual, middle-class American, steep in that.
I’ve shelved those early blog posts. Something about them was prescriptive in a way that felt not actually helpful and decidedly White. I am white—there’s no getting around that—so I have to be very aware about the way I allow my whiteness to expresses itself (it’s a normative culture, a set of experiences, a way of moving around in the world—not just a skin color) because, though white people are not the ones directly dying from racism, boy is it our sickness. And I do not want to be that person who shows up for work in a shared office with the flu acting like I’m a hero for being there when really I’m compromising the health of others.
There’s a Cancer Treatment Centers of America commercial spot that I hear almost every day between programs on public radio. They inform me that their integrative care involves a personalized approach, which, among other things, includes a nutritional treatment plan tailored to every individual patient. I think to myself, Well that sounds like something I’d certainly want if I had cancer. I would want to address the thing trying to kill me, and I would want to support the body/mind/spirit I wanted to save with every tool available–coming at it from every angle. Every day.
This brings to mind 2 questions, though:
- Why do we wait until the crisis moment when people are dying to pull out all the stops in a plan of care like that?
- Why, when people are dying of a socially-inflicted cause, why are we any less concerned?
I’m not here to answer those questions today; I just want to fully ask them.
I think most would agree that our world is in dire need of healing right now.
We all need it, but given that we occupy different places in and are affected in different ways by this mess, the healing plans obviously need to be personalized and multi-faceted.
Before we figure out how to heal, it might be useful to examine what comes to mind when we think about healing. For the most part…I posit that we don’t. We don’t think about healing much—at least not comprehensively and collectively.
Some things—little scrapes and bruises—we trust to heal themselves. We rub some antiseptic on them to clean them up and cover them with a bandage to let the magic happen out of sight. (Ironic that most “flesh” colored band-aids are made to blend in best for white people?)
Don’t we do that socially, too? Felt things, like heartbreak and embarrassment, get a vote of “time heals all wounds.” For deeper grief and loss, most of America offers a few days of funeral ritual, a few days off of work, and then we toughen up in public and get on with it. “Just keep shopping.” “Back to normal.” Yes, there are support groups. There is therapy. There is the crying and processing we do in private. But so much of this is compartmentalized and kept out of sight.
We seem to be a little more comfortable with addressing symptoms—how often do we turn to or get prescribed things that will lessen a feeling caused by an imbalance rather than digging through the dark for the base of the imbalance itself?
Odds are most of us don’t even know we could use some healing when we really could. Or maybe we feel guilty for thinking we need to heal if our wounds seem trivial compared to the suffering of others. If we know we need healing, we might be embarrassed and tired of our still-broken pieces that we don’t know what to do with.
Let’s face it: a mysterious and individualized process of real healing is not quick, convenient, comfortable, or clear-cut.
It means getting vulnerable with yourself every day—sometimes in front of other people. It means making changes you never thought you could or would have to make—sometimes without knowing whether or not they’ll even work.
When I started to try to heal my body, I tried a lot of different things in hopes of finding the magic answer—the one change I could make that would clear things up quickly. I never found that answer, but I am healing.
I didn’t reject conventional western medicine altogether; I took the antibiotics and slathered on the expensive prescription topical creams, because I do think they help. But then I also did my own reading, kept my own records, found a health coach, let go of anything inflammatory in my diet, let go of hormonal birth controls, took supplements, applied essential oils, set and revisited intentions, changed my work-out and social routines, started acupuncture, talked to intuitive/energy healers, reduced my work-load, and prioritized rest…among other things.
What started as an embarrassing burden became a fascinating course in nurturing myself.
My flushing face became my best teacher. It clearly signaled when I was providing my body with what it needed and when I wasn’t. It completely changed the way I think about medicine—medicine for the physical body and for the spirit.
I understand why people are wary of acknowledging the connection between physical and spiritual health (most of us are not spiritually advanced enough for our belief in a higher power to replace antibiotics, and I would never suggest to someone that they try to fix a big problem with positive thinking), but I think we’ve got unrealistic expectations for our compartmentalized and truncated cultural ideas about healing.
The bad news is most of us are led into a false belief that there is either a simple cure or there’s no cure. The bad news is most of the things we conventionally think of as medicines are made to numb or cut off symptoms of the body.
The good news is that, if we pull away from those beliefs and orient ourselves toward seeking balance instead of comfort–physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually–we can enter a space where modes of healing can be all kinds of things, everywhere, and involving many people at once.
Cutting harmful things out can be medicine. Letting go, cutting back, getting quiet, slowing down, speaking up, changing routines, listening. The right foods can be medicine. Healing stories, songs, places, relationships, fresh air, fresh ideas, right action, fellowship, deep breathing, making things, using our gifts, using our voices can be medicine. Finding meaning in symbols, rituals, intentions, service, animals, colors, dreams can be medicine.
The question is, can we commit to setting and following a sustained, integrative, and personalized course of treatment for ourselves? For our world? Can we allow ourselves and our systems to be humbled by facing it every day?
Do we value our healing process enough to let it into every corner of our lives?
What about you, dear reader? What healing do you know and what do you need? In what ways might healing yourself help you heal the world around you?