In the early years of our formal education we are often asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Depending on the age of the child, typical answers range from doctor or dentist to firefighter or astronaut. Fast forward many years and you are likely getting similiar answers but perhaps the answers sound more like plans and less like dreams.
Very few children, or adults for that matter, dream of being a herbalist when they grow up. It’s a field that many folks don’t know about and even fewer pursue. So how does one decide to become a herbalist and what exactly does that mean?
I truly believe that deciding to purse herbal medicine as a career comes as “a calling” for many of us. It is a power greater than ourselves that drives us to want to guide others to health with the help of plants. For some it may be a spiritual calling, for others it’s the call to help people. It’s a pulling or yearning to learn about this field; a feeling deep in your heart/gut/soul that tells you – you need to do this.
I have always been frank and transparent about my history of depression. While it is a private matter – in a way – I strongly feel that, as a healer, sharing my story and experience can only benefit others. So I will share it with you now…
While never diagnosed, I do believe I was depressed as a teenager. My mother called me “moody” and maybe it was the raging hormones; but my memories of high school are not pleasant and I remember long periods of melancholy in my life at that time.
It wasn’t until university that I was first officially diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (also known as Clinical Depression). I won’t go into the sorted details of how it came about, but suffice it to say it was bad. I was suicidal, crying constantly and sleeping the rest of the time. My grades were suffering, my relationships were suffering, I was suffering. It was one of the most difficult periods of my life. At the time it was absolutely the right call to medicate me. This was long before I was called to work with plants as healers so I honestly knew of no other alternative.
I was on antidepressants for 365 days; a full year (at my doctor’s recommendation) and while I no longer felt sad or suicidal, I instead felt flat. There were no emotions to speak of at all and a list of side effects from the medications that was a mile long. I was told I would not experience withdrawal symptoms when I weaned off the medications, but that was NOT true… at least not in my case. Cold sweats, hand tremors, strange dreams coupled with long periods of sleeplessness were the most prominent. The one thing I remember vividly was the sensation that a fog was being lifted. A fog I didn’t even know was there until it started to dissipate in my mind. I had spent a year feeling nothing and walking around in a haze.
As the medication was leaving my body I vowed that I would never walk that path again.
Many years later I once again faced the dark beast of depression; he was on my doorstep and I was terrified. All the memories of the fog, the flat emotions, the side effects and the withdrawal came rushing back and I knew I needed another alternative.
At the time I was living in Victoria B.C. and I was blessedly surrounded by healers, alternative medicine practitioners and just a different way of thinking and feeling. I visited a local naturopath and I left with fish oil, lots of B vitamins and a little bottle of St. John’s Wort. A little bottle that would forever change my life.
After a few months I found my way out of the darkness thanks to help of Hypercium, a herbal friend of mine who has guided my path from that first day and onwards. I knew that I needed to work with plants and immediately signed for my first herbal course through Dominion Herbal College. The rest, as they say, is history…
As a health practitioner I would be remiss in my duty if I do not explain that treating oneself for depression is not a recommended or ideal path. It is extremely difficult to reach the level of honesty and truth with yourself, that you need for this level of healing. Being objective can be impossible when you are weighed down by sadness, despair and grief. It is in these times that we need to the help of others – plants, healers and medicine people – and there is no weakness in admitting this. If you are in deep, if the sadness impairs your heart and life, please contact your health practitioner right away. Don’t wait my friend.
Forgetting and Remembering
As healers in a modern world our lives are very different than those who walked this path before us. Shamans of many tribes around the world had only one responsibility (albeit a massively important one); the spiritual and physical health and well-being of their people. Their needs were taken care of by the tribe so they can could focus their entire being on their work and their path in this world.
Well life here in North American isn’t quite like that anymore. As modern healers we have many jobs and responsibilities on our shoulders and while not a good excuse, these responsibilities can often get in the way of Spirit. We forget to meditate, pray, thank our guides and teachers. We forget to slow down, smell the goldenrod and breath in deep. We forget to smile, hug our families and walk the Earth with grounded intention.
While this is not ideal, it is truth. This summer the garden, the markets, the canning… they encompassed my entire life. I felt joy and I loved what I was doing, but I knew there was something missing. I’m sure there were subtle reminders throughout the months, but my remembering came in the form of an injury. You see plants are patient. They know the ways of the world have changed and they know that humans are flawed and scattered and busy. But I missed the subtle calls and they needed a louder voice to be heard. So while making medicine I received second degree burns.
The healing and the recovery from the burns not only provided me with the opportunity to slow down and take care of myself, but it gave me a moment of clarity. I had been using Elder, both the berries and flowers, for remedies, but not once had I remembered to thank the plant for it’s medicine and teachings. How did I forget? How did I get so busy that I neglected that responsibility? Life got in the way, but thankfully a remembering happened; a reminder of my path.
This corrected my course, reaffirmed my intentions and reminded me of my responsibilities. The path of healing is full of bumps, turns, road blocks, forgettings and rememberings. Healers have their own healing path to walk and while remembering in this case, was painful, it was beautiful, welcomed and necessary.
The way I practice herbal medicine requires this work of me. I am required to aware, practice humility, to learn constantly, to listen fully and truly to the needs of others, to be filled with gratitude for the medicine in my life, and to be open to new experiences and learning opportunities.
This is the call of the herbalist; at least is for me. And I am forever grateful that I answered.
Chi miigwetch and herbal blessings,