by Elissa Weinzimmer
Six months ago I was not doing so hot. I was lethargic, uninspired, and unable to move forward with my projects and creative ideas. I have an autoimmune condition called psoriasis, and I knew what was coming… I knew I was about to have a flare. So when I woke up one morning to find that the welt-sized mosquito bites I’d gotten a week earlier were scaling over and turning into a big ‘ole psoriatic rash, I smiled a resigned smile and said out loud: “Welcome back psoriasis!”
I’d had another big episode about a year prior as well. That time, I’d had a really awful experience trying to treat it. I’d gone on methotrexate (a cancer drug) to get the outbreak under control. Except not only did the methotrexate not really work… it weakened my immune system so much that I wound up with a serious staph infection in my ankle. Ultimately, I got that outbreak under control by taking a month of antibiotics. By the time I was “healed,” I was exhausted, depressed, and my gut felt like a ravaged wasteland.
So when I began to get sick again this past August, I made a commitment to myself:
No Western medicine. No dermatologist. I was going rogue, and I was going to heal myself naturally.
Now let me say something before I go on… I don’t think Western medicine is evil. (Thank god for the antibiotics that cleared my staph infection, for example.) I also absolutely get that the decision to pursue holistic healing is not for everyone. However after nearly 30 years – basically my entire lifetime – dealing with this chronic condition, I decided that maybe my body was trying to tell me something. Maybe instead of masking the problem with topical steroids and other drugs, it would be worthwhile to dig deeply to figure out what was off balance inside of me.
As I understand it, the premise behind holistic healing is that our bodies want to be healthy and given the right conditions, they will be. Plus holistic means that we’re taking a comprehensive, whole-body look at things, not just looking at the most obvious manifestation of a problem. So, I see natural healing as a process of removing the blockages in our minds, bodies, and spirits that are preventing us from being healthy. It’s not about manufacturing a fix. Our bodies know the fix. This paradigm also describes how I teach voice. I don’t believe in teaching fixes or tricks to help people have a “good” voice. I believe in teaching techniques and exercises to help people uncover the voice that is fully theirs. If someone perceives that voice as “good,” that’s a by-product of having a healthy and authentic voice. What I’m saying is, it’s all the same thing. Healing is about trusting the inner wisdom of our body, whether we’re dealing with our voice, our skin, our gut, our heart… any part of us.
I’ve felt compelled to write this blog because I want to share how I was able to apply this paradigm to even heal a ‘dis-ease.’ Two other disclaimers before I dive in…
First, this account of my healing is not designed as a guide, nor should it be substituted for advice from a professional. What worked for me is not going to be what works for everyone. Plus I needed a lot of guidance as I embarked on this process, and asked questions of a lot of smart people.
Secondly, I will say natural healing ain’t easy. In my experience, taking drugs every day was easier…it didn’t require as much mindfulness or monitoring. Healing my psoriasis holistically has been and continues to be a crazy amount of work. However it feels like the time I used to spend standing in front of the mirror obsessively staring at my spots has now been replaced with preparing delicious meals. So to me, that’s worth it.
Without further ado, my cocktail for healing (no actual cocktails involved)…
Body work and diet:
The route I decided to take for my holistic healing has been Ayurveda, Indian medicine. I began getting weekly Marma treatments – Marma is Ayurvedic acupressure. Then in a gradual, manageable way, my practitioner and I started to overhaul my diet. Ayurveda works on the principle that our bodies find health by balancing the three elements (doshas): wind (vata), fire (pitta), and earth (kapha). The dietary changes I made were based on the idea that autoimmune conditions are inflammation, which is an expression of too much heat and pitta in the body. So I was eating things to cool myself down. We’re talking mint, fennel, cucumber, aloe, watermelon, coconut… the foods you intuitively want in the summer when you’re overheated. As opposed to chili, chocolate, alcohol, coffee, onions, garlic… foods that warm you up. This may sound simplistic, but oh my goodness it has worked. Especially when I’ve paid attention to the signals my body gives me about what foods it wants to eat, and whether eating them feels good. Since I’ve started eating ayurvedically, I’ll go to the grocery store, stand in front of the produce section, and ask myself, “What do I want to eat right now?” After years of so many psoriasis diets – DO eat this, DON’T eat this, this is on the RED list, this is on your GREEN list, NEVER eat broccoli (what?!) – it is so LIBERATING to eat intuitively. Food and cooking have become joyous again. And guess what? That makes me feel better.
Another really important revelation I’ve had about food and my body is that healthy digestion is as much about how I eat as what I eat. Before making many dietary changes, my Marma practitioner Bud taught me to drink a small cup of hot water before eating and then do a belly massage. Drinking hot water helps stimulate the digestive tract, and the belly massage manually helps move excess gas out of the gut. The belly massage is super simple: I gently but firmly massage in a clockwise circle around my abdomen (the direction in which stuff travels through the colon). I can’t emphasize how much drinking hot water and belly massages have been a game changer… the practice encourages me to slow down and be ready to eat, which then means that I eat more consciously and with less stress. Who wants to eat a big pile of stress with their sweet potatoes? Not me.
The other major treatment I’ve been doing is taking high potency CBD oil. CBD stands for cannabidiol, a natural product of the cannabis plant. THC is the cannabinoid that gets a person ‘high’, but the oil I’ve been using is derived from hemp (not marijuana) and doesn’t contain THC. CBD oil is touted by advocates as nature’s most powerful supplement, and people use it to address a huge variety of conditions. There’s a lot of research showing that it’s highly effective, which is of course controversial, but this blog post on the Elixinol website is a good place to start. Now granted I changed a lot of things at once… I started taking the CBD oil at the same time as I was making massive dietary changes and reducing my stress levels. So it’s hard for me to know how much of my healing can be attributed to the CBD oil. But I feel pretty certain that the answer is: A WHOLE LOT.
On my skin:
I had already been switching my hair and body products to natural stuff as much as possible over the years, and believe me I have tried every psoriasis lotion out there. Slowly but surely I’ve been using stuff with less and less ingredients, and here’s how extreme I’ve now gone with the natural thing: I use oil on my skin – specifically coconut oil with a bit of neem and lavender mixed in. And when I wash my hair I use baking soda and apple cider vinegar. Feel free to call me a straight up hippie. (But know that I cheat with Cerave lotion when I’m super itchy. Nobody’s perfect.)
Bluntly speaking, I’ve had to chill the f*©k out. For me this has meant leaving the house earlier so that I’m not rushing and running late. It’s meant scaling back on my commitments. It’s meant booking a trip to Miami over Christmas to sit in the sun and relax. It’s meant going to bed earlier, doing more yoga, and reading books that remind me about self care. Plus it’s especially meant committing deeply to my meditation practice. I have been a meditator for over four years now, and put quite simply, nothing I’ve ever done has made a bigger impact on my stress levels, happiness, and health. I make it a point not to shout about this from the rooftops, because something like meditation is every individual’s personal decision. However since I’m writing this blog I’ll come out and say: Meditation has completely changed my life.
Otherwise, I’m also trying to redesign my life and work choices to have a daily schedule that is more in line with what I believe promotes ongoing, sustained mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. Working on it, and the nature of being an overly ambitious entrepreneur probably means I always will be :).
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of my healing has been believing that I will heal. When I think back to my last big flare, the thoughts going through my head as I stared in the mirror were “I am afraid this will go on forever.” Our thoughts and beliefs have energy, so this time I decided to commit fully to the belief that I would heal. I said daily affirmations out loud. When I rolled over in bed each morning, I kissed my spotty arms and told my skin I loved it (not exaggerating a bit). I acted as if I believed even when I was doubtful. People told me I needed to see a dermatologist and go on medication, or that the dietary changes I was making didn’t make any sense. I persisted in staying focused and believing. Commitment is a powerful thing.
Finally of course, a huge part of my healing has been speaking my truth. I wrote a blog about it three months ago while I was in the thick of my healing process. I’m writing this one now to continue to share. I do realize that some people are more private, and I absolutely respect that. However if I’ve learned anything about myself over the years, it’s that I am a sharer. That’s why I’m a voice teacher, a performer, a director, and a storyteller. Writing this now helps me to heal. I teach people to speak their truth and I feel healthy when I live that.
About a month ago I had what felt like an epiphany. I thought to myself: “Holy moly, I am SO happy. I feel so much joy. Healing is SO JOYOUS! In fact, I think healing might be the most joyous experience we can have as humans.”
I then evaluated healing against love, sex, good food, all that. Yes, I’m sticking to my guns.
This was me three months ago, smack dab in the middle of my outbreak, when I published my blog about healing by speaking my truth:
This was me on the beach in Miami two months ago (about 75% better spots-wise and feeling pretty great).
And this is me today. My skin is 90% of the way back to where it was before I got sick, but my heart, my guts, and my soul are about 300% better:
I keep improving with my ability to find balance. But of course I might have another flare someday. The good news, though, is that next time I find myself off balance, I think I’ll see it as an opportunity to grow rather than a travesty. After all, I think healing has gotta be the most joyous thing a human being can experience.
Elissa Weinzimmer is a voice and movement coach and vocal health specialist based in New York City. She is the founder of Voice Body Connection and the Managing Director of Vibrant Voice Technique, working with performers and public speakers to achieve presence and vocal stamina. In addition to her work as a teacher, Elissa is also a performer, a director, a lifelong student, and an avid yogi.