My path to wellness opened up much like that of a shaman emerging from shamanic illness. My life had been a series of abuse, trauma, and sickness, and it took hitting rock bottom to awaken to my life’s calling.

Before I could talk, my body started speaking to me. It spoke in the form of protection and anger, beginning with a seizure, followed by a cycle of “flare-ups” every month, as though it were on a timer, waiting for me to answer its call. An internal fire of 103 degrees screamed when I couldn’t, and a wall of inflammation protected my tiny being when I was unable. Together, the symptoms formed a rare disease called Behcet’s Syndrome, but symbolically they were a barrier for outside assailants.

The first two-and-a-half decades of my life were subsumed by this invisible illness that crushed my body and soul. Dragged from one specialist to another, forced to endure endless hospital stays, doctors spent years experimenting with toxic and painful treatments while working to formulate a diagnosis. One pill for this, a few others for that, and soon enough my mornings began with a tincture of drugs that did more harm than good. At age twenty, I was gifted the diagnosis of Behcet’s Disease, a rare autoimmune syndrome of the vascular system.

I wore “Behcet’s” like a badge of honor. After all, it was my identity and my story, the only story I knew.

Everything changed in my mid-twenties when I fell into a cycle of crushing flare-up that prevented me from working. Depressed, hopeless, and lost, I knew my doctor would not have the answer I was looking for; he hadn’t had an answer for decades. Wellness was not his specialty; he had sent me out to sea without a life jacket. I wanted so much more than that. I wanted to dance on an island in paradise in a healthy body for the rest of my life.

My Zen Buddhist mentor was sure to have an idea for me. He was the only person I knew I could turn to in a rock-bottom moment. He recommended a psychologist-healer; “I don’t know what she does, but she heals people who have cancer,” a compelling reference that piqued my interest. After all, I was desperate.

Angela was the first healer I had ever met, let alone worked with. Given my heavy indoctrination in western medicine, I was skeptical when I first went to see her. Through our sessions, I became conscious of buried memories. As my guide, she helped me uncover painful traumas from my past that my body had recorded and converted into pain. We explored my past, included my parent’s divorce and other situations that helped relieve tremendous stress on my body.

None of my physicians, or therapists for that matter, ever made the connection between childhood trauma and health. The body’s stress response causes inflammation, which can lead to chronic conditions, including chronic illnesses. I’ve since learned that non-threatening traumatic situations, like a death in the family or a divorce, can change a person’s brain structure and contribute to contributing to long-term physical and behavioral consequences. By excising the toxins in my subconscious, my body began to relax, its’ fight-flight response ceased, and I was able to heal. The more we unearthed and transformed my psyche, the healthier I became.

Outside the sessions, I made significant changes to my life, including dietary alterations, movement practices, and cutting out toxic relationships. Healing past trauma was great, but I started to slip and get sick again if I did not change my present-day circumstances to support a healthy mind, body, and soul.

Symptoms I had lived with for twenty years disappeared as though I had never had them. Within two years, I was the picture of health.

The impossible became possible, for the first time ever.

The Path of The Shaman

Over two years, I had found my voice, cultivated inner wisdom and intuition, connected with my higher self, and aligned my mind, body, and soul. The previous me had become a shadow of my soul radiating through my new physique. I redesigned my life to reflect this new self and spent the next decade traveling and living overseas in Southeast Asia, studying and practicing healing methodologies.

A critical part of my recovery was learning to listen to my inner voice and the messages from my body. As I tracked patterns of the illness, I found that ignoring my body caused it to crash into a disease state.

My awakening came when I realized that my body was a tuning fork for my soul.

While I was studying yoga in Mysore, India, a toxic ex-partner came to visit me. Unable to say no, I let him stay, even though I knew our relationship was toxic. Living in Mysore to study yoga, somatic therapy, and meditation, I was traveling deeper into the path of a healer but fell ill when Andy came to visit. Within hours of him leaving, I began to heal.

My body spoke my truth when I was unable to voice it for myself. If I chose to ignore it, the results were debilitating. Often, it resulted from traumatic relationships; patterns I had tracked now for several years, but still had trouble trusting. This time, my soul was done reliving this karma.

At that point in my travels, I was moving closer to my authentic self, and learning the trade of healing, and the closer I got to my authentic self, my inner wisdom, and alignment, the disease almost magically disappeared.

It became clear that healing was my path, and the illness had shown me the way.

Transforming Chronic Illness to Your Superpower

Your illness is preparing you for a higher calling in this life. Perhaps you’re tuned in, and you recognize that your suffering is not wasteful, but full of purpose. Below are some keys to harnessing chronic illness as your superpower.

1. Your pain is guiding you to your purpose

The darkest moments of your suffering contain the most opportunity for growth. The times you spend dormant, waiting, resting, healing are your training ground as a healer.

Darkness, pain, and suffering feels impossible to overcome. As you heal in your cocoon, you are generating knowledge and great wisdom. You will hold tremendous power to heal others because of the journey you have been through when you are ready. Whenever you feel down or depressed, remember this time is necessary to rest, recover, and gain the passive wisdom necessary for the next stage in your evolution.

2. Begin where you are

Healing others does not require you to be 100 percent healed yourself. There is no such thing as wholly healed; it’s a life-long process. The knowledge you have to share, whatever stage of your processing, is invaluable to others at a different stage.

3. You have the capacity to overcome, again

If you transitioned from sickness to health, and then back again, that is powerful. In our society, we perceive slipping backward as a weakness. That is a false narrative. You are not taking steps backward, regardless of any messages you receive from society or your inner critic.

After a decade-long remission, I evolved by slipping back into a disease state. Although at the moment I felt as though I had lost years of forward progress, that period of hibernation allowed me to transcend the disease in a more integrated way. 

4. You are an intuitive healer

Contrary to popular belief, shamans do not become who they are through bliss or enlightenment. Traditional shamans are called to their role through what’s known as shamanic illness. This is a severe physical challenge like prolonged illness, often bringing them to the edge of life or a set of psychological or psycho-spiritual crises.

While you or I might not work with traditional medicines like ayahuasca, you will know if your illness is driving you towards a greater purpose. How do you know? When you start listening to your body, and your life begins to “flow.”

5. Be creative with your healing

If you are healing and want to learn how to use your wisdom to help others, consider what comes naturally to you. Healing can take on many forms today. While having a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology helped guide me, I felt too vulnerable at first to do hands-on healing. Instead, I leveraged my artistic skills to create hand-made, Monk-blessed jewelry, infused with healing, and protective properties until I felt ready to work in other formats.

When you do decide to heal others, follow your heart, and intuition. Let your calling unfold naturally. It will guide you because if you try to force it, you will wind up sick all over again (if you do that’s ok, there’s always a lesson in the journey).

Be well.