Chronic Healers: An Alternate Way to Understand Healing Practitioners with Chronic Illnesses

At 18, I was having one of my common chronic migraines, and asked a friend if he had painkillers.
He gave them to me but also offered to spend time doing Polarity Therapy, an energy healing modality he had been studying, to see if this could help as well. It was amazing. Not only did my migraine ease, but I felt calm and grounded for days (which was very rare for me at the time). I began to seek out different healing arts, attending workshops and sessions which eventually led to me becoming a Reiki Master. 

I’ve recently started a Reiki practice,  Oceana Healing Arts. I have wanted to do this for a very, very long time. Why did I hold back? Among other things, I was struggling against a particular kind of internalized ableism: the idea that healers could not be healers until they were “healthy.” 

I didn’t make this crap up. There’s a old adage, “physician heal thyself,” the ableist interpretations of which have wound their way through Western culture and were getting in the way of my ability to  believe that I could have a healing practice. The popular mythology claims that a “sick” person needs to heal themselves first or they cannot, or should not, do healing work with other people. I read many Reiki books by Western practitioners who urge healing professionals to take time off if they have a persistent condition and treat it first before offering sessions for other people. While there is no problem with deciding to devote your energy to self-healing, the imperative concerns me. Where would this leave those with chronic conditions? Some of us would not practice anymore and this is not necessary. 

Over the decades that I have been doing healing work with friends and acquaintances, I have seen some pretty freaking cool things happen:

  • A friend on dialysis was able to paint again Reiki 3because the calcium deposits in his writs cleared up overnight after we had a session together;
  • A woman had nurses double-checking the date of her eye surgery because her recovery was so rapid with our daily sessions that it didn’t seem possible her surgery had been as recent as it was;
  • Someone else was gradually able to move panic attacks from a central to a background part of their life because of the healing work we did together.

The old adage, with it’s associations, needed to go. But it wasn’t enough for me just to dislike this prevalent model, I needed a different one to work with. 

The idea that people with chronic illnesses shouldn’t be healers, was based on two ideas that I don’t want to carry in my body or into my  healing practice:

  1. The idea that chronic illness is a flaw, that chronic illness must stem from the “sick” person doing something wrong (something “healthy” people are doing right);
  2. The idea that healing is scarce, that if I need healing it will take away from yours and what I offer you will be diminished by my chronic condition.

In this model, illness just makes for more illness. No thank you!

What if healing capacity doesn’t need to be diminished by need but can instead be expanded with practice? What if healing can make for more healing rather than illness necessitating more illness? I have chronic Lyme for a variety of reasons (including gendered medical neglect). That I struggle with my illness is not a failure of mine as a healer, it is because the condition itself is complicated and complicated things need attention, not shame. Having this illness, I devote a great deal of time and energy to cultivating healing in my life. If I adopt a model in which healing can build more healing, my pain does not diminish my efficacy. Instead, my focus on healing builds a greater capacity for healing work with others. 

This model lends itself to building community. Rather than framing “healthy” people as the only ones who can to heal and framing those with illnesses  solely as people in need, we afford room to for people with chronic illnesses to be Chronic Healers– a most powerful form of badassery. I have now turned one room in my new house into a Reiki studio (it’s a wonderfully restorative space). I am building this Reiki practice as a Chronic Healer. 

I invite you to visit the website or like the FB page and share in this Chronic Healing together!

session 1
“I had a wonderful Reiki treatment. I felt completely safe as her warm, gentle hands encouraged energy to move more freely from my head down through my feet. Unlike other therapies, I came away feeling lighter and more whole, and was energized and pain-free throughout the day. Such an optimistic glimpse into future healing.” L.T.