I was born with slightly weird hips, possibly exacerbated by falling off a ladder at the age of 21, but it seems to run in my family. My father had them, my aunt had them, my brother had them. My mother was the one who first noticed it. ‘You walk like a McTaggart,’ she once remarked to my brother offhandedly, he recently told me.
And so, I would learn much later, did I.
As an adult I was tipped ever so slightly forward, a posture I was informed of for the first time by my husband, who first became aware of it when we met, in my 30s. To be honest, I never noticed it largely because it had never held me back in any way.
I was fit and active, I gave birth naturally, I did complex yoga moves and aerobics, I’d liked walking and running and bike riding and even some fairly tricky waterskiing – as my Dad and brother did, too.
And over the years, as I grew older, after giving birth or when I occasionally felt like something was out of position, a bit of osteopathy, largely focused on my back, easily did the trick.
And then a few years ago, it no longer did.
I returned from a week-long workshop in Dubai and the next day started limping badly on one leg. I went to all the usual first line treatments with osteopaths and chiropractors.
And, working with a brilliant physio, I started improving, until suddenly after getting close to walking normally, I started rapidly going downhill.
I began making my way through a long list of holistic modalities – Feldenkrais, bodywork of all varieties, energy healing, even a stem cell procedure – all with the best of therapists in their fields.
But through all this, what I began to focus on, sometimes even more than my intention to get better, was the off-the-cuff and largely unconscious language – even the thoughts – being broadcast by otherwise sterling practitioners.
In fact, I grew so fascinated by them that I actually began writing them down:
‘It’s going to be a long and painful road to recovery.’
‘We may be able to improve things, but I can’t promise anything more.’
‘This hurts, right?’. (It didn’t.)
‘You have scoliosis.’ (I don’t.)
‘Let’s see if you are still lame after doing this exercise.’
And, my personal favorite: ‘You’re a shadow of your former self.’
I had no problem with their techniques. I had a problem with their thoughts and words – the fact that they seemed to be projecting, however, unconsciously, that they had some doubts that I was going to get completely better – thoughts and words that threatened to undermine all the good that they were achieving.
So, as I became more and more physically impaired (by this time my hips were no longer moving at all) I had to hold onto those thoughts myself, be my own cheerleader, imagine that moment with ever greater certainty when I’d be dancing or walking or twisting into a yoga pose again.
But it was a lonely business, made even lonelier because I had to hold these thoughts close to me, despite what a variety of therapists were, however offhandedly, however, unconsciously, communicating, an ongoing internal wrestling match between my thoughts and their words.
Nevertheless, I never stopped believing. I’d began watching Strictly Come Dancing (the UK’s version of Dancing for the Stars) as a kind of intentional therapy. I would sit with my feet moving in time to the music, imagining myself up there, flying around the dance floor with the quick step, clinging fiercely onto the utter certainty that I was going to get better.
After I had run out of holistic options, I made an appointment with one of the UK’s top hip surgeons, who is not especially known for her bedside manner. When I greeted her, as she stared at my x-rays, she said, by way of hello: ‘Your hips are terrible. We don’t see many like yours.’
Now, I really, really did not want surgery. For 31 years I’ve written about the failings of conventional medicine and all that time I’ve heard about all the horrors and the side effects and the deception of the pharmaceutical industry.
The thought filled me with a dread so visceral that I was still searching for a way out at the close of our 90-minute appointment. I’m a fully paid-up member of the belief that holistic medicine can sort just about anything.
But in the end, she got to me, not because of all the favorable facts and figures about her own success rate or the fact that this is one of medicine’s few success stories, but from her answer to one final question.
I’d asked her: ‘What won’t I be able to do after hip surgery?’
Her answer: ‘Skydiving, maybe?’
She had me at skydiving.
That simple, positive answer created an entire mental image for me of physical activity – of trekking sinuous hiking trails, of dancing the rumba, of even slicing through the water on a slalom ski.
That single word gave me the permission to heal.
And I did. I held that intention with me through the entire eight days I was in the hospital in March 2020. I smiled at all the nurses and the physios and the anesthetist and the surgeon, imagining everything I was going to do besides skydiving.
And it worked. Despite having what is supposed to be one of the 10 most painful surgeries, I had no pain, didn’t need opiates, didn’t need NSAIDs, just took paracetamol (Tylenol), and found after a week that I didn’t even need that.
And after a few months, I was back walking and doing yoga.
And a few months after that I was fully back: trekking 10-mile walks, sweating through HIIT classes and twisting into complex yoga positions, planning those dance classes after lockdown – and pondering the power of a therapist’s words and thoughts when it comes to healing.
Ted Kaptchuk, professor of Harvard Medical School and an expert in the placebo effect, has discovered that the words and mannerisms of a doctor are so powerful when it comes to their patients that even when handing them a bottle of pills with the word ‘placebo’ plastered over it, the patients will get better if the doctor tells them they will.
The point is that while technique and training is, of course, vital, medicine of all varieties, ultimately, comes mainly down to thoughts and words, of giving the patient permission to heal.
And because healing is such a complex mix of the mental and the physical, whatever the method used – conventional or holistic – there is often one single vital ingredient inadvertently absent from most encounters with therapists: hope.
No therapist, no matter how learned or experienced, can predict how a given patient will respond to the challenge of illness or healing or say with certainty who will live and who will die.
Hope is the most important medicine there is. Hope is ultimately what healed me and what heals virtually every patient in the world. And that’s the real point. A therapist’s most powerful tool of all is his or her words and thoughts, and they must always be healing, must always be about hope.
Learning how to use healing thoughts and words as a practitioner is the subject of my forthcoming online course: ‘Become a Better Healer with the Power of Eight®.’ Book now or find out more here.
Sign up and receive FREE GIFTS including The Power of Eight® handbook and a special video from Lynne!