Imagine a Culture of Healing

About healing v pain and chronic illness in general: shouldn't the process of getting better, in and of itself, actually make you feel better?

This is not a new thought for me, as many times over the years I have noticed how "getting better," at least in modern America, can often feel anything but.  Some days "health" seems like an elusive prize, available only on the other side of a daunting journey through a harrowing gauntlet. 

Dealing with doctors, wrangling with insurance or suffering the lack thereof, dead ends, failed treatments, and the never-ending list of implementing, tweaking, and maintaining lifestyle changes (better sleep! healthier food! learn how to meditate!) feel like a second job.

Do other cultures make their sick people go through all this? Is this common? I don't know. Logically it seems like if someone was unwell, you would try to make things easier for them, right? 

But here we don't. Here we send them to the gauntlet. To be fair, some of this crazy gauntlet-running can pay off.

Eating healthfully takes effort: planning, shopping, cooking - but most people do feel better eating fruits and veggies than a steady diet of chips and soda. Maybe the effort you spent seeing six unhelpful doctors in a row was completely draining, but doctor number seven has some solid advice. So yes, gauntlet-running is not completely without benefit.

But overall, gauntlet-running is an inefficient slog, especially for those of us whose health issues are not well understood or researched. In our already weakened state, we pour effort into getting better and still -- perhaps -- frustratingly -- see very limited results. 

Is it any wonder? We're put through the wringer, and weren't in great shape to begin with. I bet if you took a perfectly healthy person and gave them the to-do list of the average chronically-ill person, they too would end up exhausted and miserable.

Does that mean we are somehow "broken," or "less than?" In the past I have felt so much frustration with my health and aimed it all at myself. Other times at the medical system. But look at where I live -

Modern America, for all of our wealth and resources, is the antithesis of a healing culture.

What I do here as an "ill" person wishing to recover is swim upstream, all day, every day.

* * * 

What if we lived in a society where getting better felt better? What would that look like? What would our lives be like if our culture recognized, "Hey that person is having a tough time, how can we accommodate them?"

Let's pretend...

You are feeling really crummy. This has been going on for a while. So you let your boss know - he or she arranges for a reduced schedule to allow you time to get the help you need, and make the lifestyle changes necessary. You will still get to do rewarding and meaningful work, and be eligible for promotions and pay raises, etc, the only difference is the time required reflects what are you able to give. 

You have guaranteed access to whatever health resources you needed, regardless of income, including a "medical navigator." The medical navigator answer your questions about what approaches are available and how they may help, and directs you to resources. 

Health care practitioners of all stripes are warm and caring, see you as a whole person, and have the time needed to address your queries.

At home, your family/roommates/cats respect this new phase of your life, and together you work out a way for you to contribute to the running of the household in a manner that doesn't compromise your health. 

The community organizations you belong to are similarly flexible, and your friends "get it." 

In short, everyone in your life recognizes the need for change and knows how to go with the flow. As your role in their life changes, they in turn may need to adjust or ask for support as well, and so loving changes and adjustments are made, rippling out from the center. 

When you first started to get sick, you did not panic, because you knew this support existed. You knew because you had already participated in it, having supported others in this ebb and flow ever since you were a little girl.

* * *

Don't you think it would be so much easier and more efficient to get well in that scenario? Don't you think that everyone in that example is better off than with the current state of affairs?

In the medically-wise culture described above, everyone makes adjustments, but everyone also gets supported. The attitude is not "that sick person has to change," but "the entire community around this sick person needs to change, and we can do so in such a way that supports all of us."

Healing in all it's many forms is viewed as an opportunity rather than a problem: at work, at home, everyone looks at the issue and says "Hmmm, how can we make this new reality work for everyone?"

The intern gets a chance to step up. Your co-worker gets to take the lead on some projects. Your friend helps out with cooking happily, because she gets to fine-tune some new recipes she has been testing. Your empty-nester neighbor who misses her grandkids helps out with your children for a few hours a week, and your kids get to hang out with someone new.

In return, you get back on your feet faster.

Instead of becoming a frazzled, drained, sick person (which helps no one), this support enables you to shine your love and talents and goodness onto the world throughout your illness, however long that may last.

And when someone else needs some give and take? You will be in a state to participate in that dance. Even if you are still physically struggling, you will be so firmly rooted in your inherent worth that it would be impossible for you to not have plenty of love to share.

Amidst all this love and creative problem-solving, society flourishes.

* * *

I don't really know where I am going with all of this, other than to highlight challenges and dream up potential solutions...sometimes we don't realize how broken something is until we see an appealing alternative. 

I'm curious - what would your "healing culture" look like?

In the US, our love of independence puts a premium on what we as individuals can change, and as a fan of taking responsibility for yourself, I see the benefit to that. But humans are social animals, and it behooves us to recognize that no harm or good comes in a vacuum; we are all in relationship to each other every minute of every day, and our communities have a profound effect on our health.


Take the focus off "fixing yourself" for a minute, and instead imagine you could change the world around you. Journal it, draw it, sing it, whatever. Make every detail come to life.

What does it look like? What does it feel like?

(and how did creating that reality, even if only in your imagination, change your relationship to yourself and your v pain and your life?)

* * *

I would love to hear your responses. Comment below, email me, whatever. If you wish to share your experience with this query, let me know and you can have a guest post! (You are welcome to remain anonymous or use a nom de plume if you wish.)

PS I am changing my writing schedule - it's now one post a week, on Wednesdays. This is to allow time for all the B-School work I have going on, and to allow time for my own health journey. Cheerio and take care of your wonderful selves!

PPS I spotted this miraculous little flower on the sidewalk in my neighborhood. Anyone know what it is?