The Tyranny of Healing

We’re all supposed to want to be perfectly functional. To be well, stable, capable, not inconvenient for others. Being well is not all peace and light.

On the New Age side there can be a lot of pressure towards wellness, with a sense that being ill represents a personal failure, a not having tried hard enough. The more extreme end of other religions will ascribe illness to being out of favour with God. Good Christians don’t get cancer, in some people’s book, therefore to get it is to have failed religiously, on top of everything else.

There are a lot of chronic and on-going illnesses out there that can, at best, be managed well. No amount of healthy lifestyle choices or positive thinking will cure you of Multiple Sclerosis or arthritis. Then there are the psychological ailments, because it simply isn’t the case that you can positive-attitude yourself out of suffering from severe depression. There are life experience too painful and serious to heal from as well. I know people who have lost children, and who carry that grief. No one should be asked, or expected to ‘get over it’ but the pressure to be convenient to those around you, is vast. Grief is something we are supposed to knuckle down and heal from, and if we can’t or won’t, we will be treated as though we need a medical intervention. There are occasions when not healing should be a perfectly valid option.

That which seriously harms us, in body or in mind, leaves marks that endure long after the obvious damage has gone away. The damage to a rape victim’s body will heal, but the damage to self, to relationship with the world, may be there for the rest of their lives. There is no way back from certain kinds of experience, no way of unlearning it, or ceasing to be aware that it can and does happen, that it could happen again, and that it will happen to other people. Extreme pain and sickness, violence and dire accident change our relationship with the world. Afterwards, we are not the same. We can’t be. We become more cautious, more aware, and we see differently. The damage becomes a part of self, a part of life, and to be asked to heal after that is to be asked not to recognise your own harsh journey.

The pressure to heal, put upon us by well-meaning people can add insult to injury. Are we to forget, then? Are we not to learn the lessons a failing body has taught us? Are we to pretend it never happened? Those who have not been put through hell at some point, quite understandably do not want to have to think about what might be out there, waiting for them. Those who have, may not wish to be reminded by seeing it happen to someone else. But what kind of answer is that? It’s not healing that is sought here, it’s not about what the survivor may need, but abut rendering them less problematic to those around them.

Sometimes, the best you can hope for is to make peace with things. A place of acceptance that makes it possible to get by, and from which you can make something of life. Peace is not the same as healing. One can be at peace with the open wounds in the psyche, with the lost parts of self, with an innocence that can never return. One can be at peace with grief while still carrying the razor-sharp sense of loss. Healing is not always available, for body or for mind. It is not always the best response. Sometimes we have to adapt and become some new thing, and let the damage shape us. The pressure to be well, to be normal, to be convenient is of no help at all in that process. Healing people might seem universally heroic and good, but there are times when it isn’t the right answer, and where honouring the transformation and allowing the change would be a good deal more helpful.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

13 responses to “The Tyranny of Healing

  • lornasmithers

    This is a very good post.

    I went to a talk on faith and mental health as part of Interfaith week a couple of weeks ago and was horrified by the predominant attitude that in spite of growing criticism it is still assumed that people who have ‘non-ordinary’ experiences are ‘ill’ and need to made to be made ‘better’ (ie. ordinary).

    I question the equation of happiness and stability with well being.

    I also question the concept of earth healing. The earth is millions of years old. Surely attempts to heal the earth of natural process which have been carried out by human beings who are part of nature is just to satisfy our guilt?

  • syrbal-labrys

    Thank you for stating clearly what should be, but is not obvious. Some illnesses, some traumas do leave marks: PTSD remains an invisible thread in many lives. I admit, even when I suddenly recognize “triggered” behaviors in myself, I cannot always reel myself back “in” immediately. I have to sit with the dysfunction a while, analyze what put me back in that darkness before I can turn back on the lights of my life. And I find new eyes in that dark that are useful when viewing the lives of others. The rush to “make things right” is sometimes a rush to whitewash pain INSTEAD of promoting healing change. Transformation is not a fast process!

  • dapplegrey

    A good point and very well made. I think it’s really unhelpful to think of ill health and wellness as clearly opposite states with the one being wrong and the other right, and we only make life harder for ourselves and others by believing this. I think anyone understanding true healing would understand this and not try to force a harsh black-and-white view of things. A better way is to start from an acceptance of how things are, and let compassion and love bring healing of the deepest kind in the way only they can, and which may often not be the sort of healing we might expect.

  • bittysnitty

    What a wonderful post. Thank you.

  • Léithin Cluan

    Thanks for this post. As a disability rights/long-term-illness rights campaigner, I was shocked when I got involved with the Pagan community and found out how similar many people’s attitudes to illness were to the Christian attitudes to disability that I research. We should be more aware of the cross-fertilization that has taken place between the Christian healing movement and New Age healing (they’ve influenced each other in both directions). I’ve known people who get angry when they hear about someone offering to pray for someone else, but are delighted to impose their views about acupuncture, reiki and (worst of all) ‘The Secret’ on someone who is ill. The people in question are usually speaking from a place of privilege. Health is a social issue. Access (e.g. to Pagan events) is a social issue.

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  • literaryvittles

    Just one wonderful post after another!

    This reminds me of our tendency to over medicate in the United States and elsewhere, especially with respect to depression and other forms of chronic unhappiness. Sadness, while perhaps not perceived as a desirable feeling in today’s world, is nonetheless an important one of the many, many emotions that a human experiences. Attempts to suppress all sadness also compromise part of our emotional range, and sometimes sadness is a useful emotion and, contrary to popular belief, a type of healing in its own way.

    • Nimue Brown

      We pathologize things that should be allowed to just be part of the experience… sedating children, sedatng out pain… there are no doubt odd times when this is called for, but the way we seem to be turning all aspects of human experience into some kind of ailment that needs pills, troubles me enormously.

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