This seemingly simple question was asked of the circle of women on the Women’s Wisdom training at our first gathering earlier this year. This course with herbalist Amanda Rayment (of Welcome World Cafe) and Dominique Sakoilsky (of Relaxed Birth and Parenting) is asking me to stretch myself in many new and beautiful ways.
I thought I could answer this question easily, my years of being a therapist brought simple, smug answers that were seductive to listen to. I sat in the space between what I thought I knew and the great mystery, and waited for a deeper truth to emerge.
These are my musings.
I have three prolapsed lumbar discs, hip dysplasia and hypermobility. My L5/S1 disc is now occupying most of the spinal canal and I am at risk of developing cauda equina syndrome, a serious neurological condition where the spinal nerve roots are compressed which can possibly lead to permanent nerve damage and paralysis of the legs. I have been suffering with pain and gradual loss of mobility over the last few years and have had many treatments including osteopathy, chiropractic, traction, acupuncture, herbablism, homeopathy, to name but a few. These treatments have all helped to ease my pain undoubtedly, yet the fundamental problem remains: my spine is injured, my bones are congenitally misaligned and the joints are now struggling as I age.
Every morning I seem to have to go through a two hour process before I can get on with my day - an hour of being sad and grieving, fully stuck in victim mode, until that reaches a point where I become annoyed with myself...then an hour of being angry and raging at myself, my disability and fate, before that too reaches it's zenith and I drop into acceptance of the present moment. This is when I am able to appreciate the small but profound moments of beauty in the world, like the song of a bird outside my window, or moments of physical comfort. These moments are the gold in my Underworld, the crack where the light gets in. This is my daily meditation; if I am not able to go through this cycle, I get stuck with either the victim or angry mode and that affects my whole day and anyone I come into contact with.
I was called handicapped by a ‘healer’ recently which really triggered me. I thought we had moved on from calling people with disabilities handicapped... I am not somehow less than perfectly acceptable the way I am right now, I am injured and have a (hopefully temporary) disability. I am tired of hearing that I need to “take responsibility for my health” and other tropes that are insulting to hear, other victim blaming statements. We are not responsible for the things Life throws at us, all we can do is make peace with the cards that we are dealt and play the game the best we can.
I am taking responsibility for my health with knowing when it is time to engage with Western medicine and accept their help. My bones are misaligned. That’s the naked truth, one that I’ve avoided accepting for a long time. I can’t fix myself.
There was, and is, a difficult grieving process for the loss of mobility and the things that I can no longer do, like walk, dance, ride horses, travel… I never realised until I was injured just how many of these things were tied up in my sense of self. Yet I am more than my body’s ability to walk upright and unaided; I am more than the pain I experience; I am more than my ability to do yoga. My body is in need of support from an orthopaedic surgeon, yet I have been unwilling to accept that I am unable to fix myself. My suffering must be all my own fault somehow, I must try harder, do better, be stronger… Except I can’t. I need help, and I have been ashamed for needing it.
I was born with hip dysplasia and hypermobility and all the soul searching in the world won't fix that.
I am so tired of ‘New Age Guilt’ (using spirituality to judge oneself or others) and victim blaming and shaming. It is sometimes easy and tempting as a therapist/healer/well wisher to imagine that an emotional problem is the only cause of every health challenge, that somehow people could have prevented their illness or injury if their supplement/yoga regime or spiritual practice was strong enough, or that we can cure every health problem with green juice, GAPS diet, CBD oil etc etc. I confess to being guilty in the past of ‘helpfully’ suggesting certain cures or practices to people who are suffering, believing that as a therapist I need to find the answers for the human suffering presented to me.
But the truth is much more complex.
The reality of being human means that we live in a physical body that will from time to time be overwhelmed with one thing or another and need some sort of support. Often a change in lifestyle, diet, exercise or outlook can be just the thing that’s needed to get back on track; other times we need extra holistic support with herbs, acupuncture, massage etc. But sometimes we really need to accept help from the advances in Western medicine. Only the individual involved will know which path to take that is right for them.
One of the things that terrifies me about surgery is being made unconscious and people doing things to my body without my awareness or consent. This triggers the feelings of rage, helplessness and shame that I experienced (and still do) about the sexual trauma I experienced when I was a teenager and the dissociation I experienced. I had a session with an astrologer recently and we talked about various placements in my chart (Sedna in particular, the Inuit Sea Goddess whose fingers became ocean creatures after she was dismembered by her father); I came to the conclusion that this previous trauma and the need for surgery are connected, that to bring healing to this old wound I am being led to the surgery, being led to the place of my deep memory and dissociation by being made unconscious again, being cut open and dismembered so that I can transform.
After surgery I wonder what new spaces will open up for me that have been inaccessible before? I feel that I am coming full circle to find the truth of who I really am, of who I was before and of who I can become.
So yes, understanding and integrating our emotional issues are vitally important in our fall from health. Would I have had my spinal issues if I hadn't experienced trauma? I will never know. What is important now is that I accept my situation and its solution in order to move forward.
For me right now, Healing is the acceptance of my situation and surrendering to the divine will/fate with grace. To take responsibility for my health I have made the decision to follow the advice of my surgeons and to have the operations on my spine and hips, even though I am utterly terrified. Right now, Healing means courage and letting go of the idea that my body and health are something that I can control. I have to let go of my anger and pride and surrender to the path that fate has assigned me, and with fortitude and informed consent surrender my body to the hands of the surgeons.
So, what is Healing?
I believe that Healing is a personal journey towards wholeness, whatever that takes and in whatever form necessary. Healing is accepting our circumstances and bringing forgiveness and love to ourselves and all of our flaws, sometimes with the help of natural therapies and deep soul searching, sometimes with the assistance of Western medicine. We are perfect in each and every moment, and that is enough. We are enough.
"Dismembered, the Feminine sinks to the depths of the Ocean. She is betrayed by her Father and mercilessly cast to the icy depths. In her surrender, she begins to transform. Her body parts are transformed into the narwhals and other great sea creatures. And she becomes a Protectoress of her Oceanic Domain.
It´s powerful magick, but one that can only come about when you let go of all roles (victim, abuser, rescuer, healer, etc.) and face the Dark Abyss - without concept, without conscious control, without fear.
That´s how the Goddess is born."
- Priestess B. Bairavee
Fiona is a shiatsu practitioner specialising in women's health, Birthing From Within mentor and doula, menstrual health mentor, shamanic craftswoman... and mother.
To find out more about her services, visit