Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Witch Doctor

This piece first appeared in Zadok Perspectives No. 113 (Summer 2012). The Winter edition is out now, with my reflection on the houses in my dreams.


What would it have been like to be healed by Jesus? I have largely regarded the healing stories to be about the restoration of people to their community; but more recently I have had such a strange experience of physical healing that I find myself revisiting them.

For many years now, I have been tired, very tired, so that I always feel like I am wading through molasses. I have mentioned this to several GPs, who have all patted me on the head and told me it's grief / I have young children / it'll go away.

For many years, too, I have had mild twinges in my joints whenever I stood up, brushed my teeth, or turned around too sharply. I have put on weight; felt bloated; caught every bug that went around; and experienced many other small niggles, all of which I dismissed as signs of aging. Until recently. Recently, the twinges in the joints became screaming pain, so that for a few days I could barely turn on a tap, pick up a pen, or go up or down a step. This was clearly not right for someone in her middle thirties, so I went to the doctor.

Blood tests established that I didn't have rheumatoid arthritis, or any of a dozen other conditions. The doctor announced it must be viral arthritis, handed me a script for anti-inflammatories, and told me to prepare for the next few months as the virus slowly worked its way through my system.

But the diagnosis didn't fit. I explained that this pain wasn't new; instead, it was an exacerbation of my normal. I had experienced aches and pains in my joints for years, and blaming a virus didn't make sense; however, the doctor was unmoved. So off I went, clutching my script and wondering.

A couple of painful weeks later, someone recommended a natural therapist who had a knack with odd conditions. In desperation, I arranged a visit. The therapist greeted me but asked no questions about my symptoms. Instead, he looked into my eyes with a torch for about thirty seconds, then said that I had a deeply depressed adrenal gland. So, he said matter-of-factly, I expect you've been having severe arthritis; lethargy and fatigue; chronic dermatitis; weight gain; lots of colds, flus and gastro; bloating especially after eating wheat; heavier periods; anxiety; and perhaps depression. You've been suffering most of these symptoms for years now. What was the traumatic event five to ten years ago that triggered it?

Once I had scraped my chin off the floor, I confirmed that I had all the symptoms bar full on depression, although I had certainly lost my spark; and that, among a cluster of major events about a decade ago, my mother had died.

'That would be it,' he said, 'but don't worry, this is easy to treat', and he prescribed a four month program of meditation, stringent dietary restrictions, herbal tablets and exercise; he told me I'd be right as rain in no time, with more energy than I'd had in years.

I went home and ate forbidden bread and butter, then polished off some forbidden chocolate. That evening, I sucked down a pint or two of forbidden beer, and reflected on the course of treatment.

What I began to realise was that I was reluctant even to try it.

Of course I longed to feel energetic, of course I didn't want to feel joint pain, of course I was fed up with being sick, of course I wanted to lose weight. And yet how much of my writing has come out of a slow approach to life that is a physical result of lethargy? How much of my reflective nature is a gift that comes out of pain? How many of my friendships are based on a personality which is shaped, to some extent, by being in this particular body that feels this particular way?

I was scared to follow the regimen because I didn't want it to work. I knew how to be an exhausted, flat, mildly depressive person who feels slightly sick every time she eats a sandwich. I barely remembered the playful, mischievous person I once was; and I didn't know how to integrate her into my relationships with my husband, my children, or anyone else.

I had felt old for such a long time. I didn't know what it would be like to feel young again; long ago I had accepted that I was aging, and modified my life and expectations accordingly.

Too, I'm a cook with a blog about local food. I knew how to use spelt and apples and cream; I didn't know how to cook and write about a gluten free, fruit free, dairy free, sugar free diet necessarily reliant on grains from thousands of miles away.

The concerns were ridiculous, of course – how much more joyful would life be if my energy and playfulness were restored? – but knowing this didn't make them go away.

It made me wonder about the people Jesus healed: was it all plain sailing for them? Or did they, too, struggle to give up some aspects of their self-definition as a cripple, a bleeding woman, a blind man, an outsider? And it caused me to reflect on other aspects of life. How often do we compromise or even refuse healing – physical, emotional or spiritual – because we're too scared of change, even if it's change for good?

I couldn't answer these questions, but I needed to make a choice. Would I opt for the comforting familiarity of pain and fatigue, and the person I had become; or would I take a punt on the mysterious promise of naturopathic healing and all that might unfold?

A day or two later, I grit my teeth and went shopping, stocking up on nuts, corn cakes and vegetables. At the time of writing, I've been on the program for a week and am already feeling a little better: like a crippled man throwing away his crutches, I have hurled the anti-inflammatories into the deep recesses of the medicine cabinet and am running up and down the stairs again.

As a child, I longed for Jesus to cure all my ills. Now I wonder if the Great Healer is to be found in an uncanny iridologist nicknamed the Witch Doctor. He looked into my eyes and perceived my pain, both physical and emotional; he saw me as an integrated whole. It is possible that what was promised has come, once again, to pass: I have encountered Christ in the stranger, and a very strange one at that.

(To those lovely people who first read this in Zadok and wrote to me about coeliac disease – put your minds at rest. I have had a gastroscopy and I do not have coeliac disease, just a nasty gluten intolerance.)


  1. nice to see you at Savers the other week and meet the bump! can't believe she is 4 years old now...
    Yes, I had a recent experience at a local health food store which initially I refused to go into cos they had crystals in the window. Turns out the bloke who runs it is lovely and gave me heaps of help suggesting supplements that have really assisted with symptoms I have been struggling with for years! It really is interesting to see how God works in these situations.

  2. That's great news, Linda. I'm finding myself turning more and more towards complimentary medicines, much against my preference; over the last few years, they have helped far more than anything the doctors have dished out. Certainly not the direction I expected to be moving! al.

    1. Both kinds of medicine can help - doctors seem to be very unaware of the alternatives so often people end up having to seek them out...

    2. true, although I do think there are more GPs these days who are open to a different methodologies - the trick is to find one willing to work across disciplines.

  3. Since this was first published somewhere else, Im wondering, at what stage are you in the treatment, and how is it going? A fascinating post!

  4. So, have you seen real changes since you first started? I remember reading the Zadok article and wanting to know how you went in two months or so.

  5. Oh yes this piece does leave one hanging, doesn't it! I will write a post about the changes, but in summary, all is transformed - I haven't had a cold in a year (unheard of), my eczema has all cleared up, I sleep almost 2 less hours a day, my bad temper has largely disappeared, and so on and so forth. Big, good, life-giving changes. And I'm staying off the gluten...

  6. I was encouraged to hear how threatening you appear to have found the idea of getting better! I felt very similar emotions when I suddenly got much better after several years of being largely bedbound. Some people have found my reaction very surprising, so it's nice to know I've got company :-) I, too, quickly adjusted to improved health although, in my case, the improvement was only of fleeting duration and the adjustment to renewed poor health took a great deal longer :-(

  7. Hi Heather, I've seen fear of healing several times in people with psychological damage eg victims of abuse; it was very interesting to realise I had it, too, only in more physical matters (and how they defined my personality). Going back to being sick (my month of eating gluten prior to a gastroscopy) was no fun at all, so I really feel for you looking at ongoing poor health. alison.

  8. I am really looking forward to you'd blog Melbourne seasonal eating sharing more gluten free ideas. Have you discovered bread from Black Ruby cafe in North Carlton? I got some this week and it was so much like real bread (sort of stretchy) I rang in a panic, thinking I had bought the wrong loaf. But all their stuff is gluten free. Jean

  9. Oh yes, I'm a big fan of their bread. Also Sprout in Auburn sells fantastic gf bread! But thanks for the tip - I'm always on the lookout for ideas.

  10. I think the alternative medical practitioners (I go to a wonderful traditional Chinese medical practitioner) are the ones who now practise the careful observation and relationship skills that GPs once had. My lovely GP laments the dominance of computers and impersonal clinics too.

    Sorry I have to keep commenting as anonymous because I can't get the other options to work, but I sign off at the end. Jean

  11. Certainly my experience is that alternative practitioners have tended to see me as a whole person, and their suggestions have helped at many levels; whereas GPs have tended to try and fix individual symptoms (this rarely works). Perhaps GPs are more pressed for time? Or perhaps their training is too mechanical? Either way, it's pretty sad.


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