My Path to Healing

I always wanted to be a healer. In fact the need to help others, to make a difference somehow, would sometimes become so great that it would overwhelm me and leave me shaking and crying out. But that was when I was depressed. That was before I understood that in order to help others I had to first learn to help myself. It's amazing how something as natural as entering puberty can be enough to shatter the soul, scattering pieces to the four winds and leaving the fractured self floundering in a dark and stormy sea.

I have often looked back on those dark years and thought about them from the perspective of one who has 'come to'. Now I am aware that I was making a choice about my experience. Perhaps I was choosing the darkness in order to learn what it is to journey inwards, that even then I understood that one can never know the inner and outer Divine, without first knowing the depths of the shadow self. Near the end of those ten years, while I was studying theatre and music in Manchester, I became very physically ill. For nearly a year I battled with excruciating abdominal pains that would literally throw me to the ground and a raging insomnia that threatened to take the final threads of my sanity from me. Endless trips to the doctor, blood tests and pills neither helped, nor explained what was happening to me. Because of my 'nervous disposition' the establishment, including my university tutors really believed that it was 'all in my head'.

I wonder how many other poor unfortunates have heard those horrific words. I empathise with you. It's such a cruel thing to say to someone who knows that there is something dreadfully wrong with their body, even if there is a psychosomatic connection.

In 2002 after my tenth trip to the doctors in less than a month I was admitted to hospital. I didn't know at the time, but I had just been admitted to one of the worst hospitals in all of the UK. 3 weeks later and other than the administering of very large doses of morphine, nothing had been done. My Mum insisted that I be brought home. So one day I was loaded up with as much morphine as they could give me, bundled into the car and driven to Holyhead, across the sea, and on to the Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. Within 3 hours of arriving they had diagnosed me with Crohn’s disease, something I had never heard of and which sounded utterly terrifying.

Crohn’s disease is an auto-immune disorder. There is a section of the immune system called the TNF system. This is the part of the immune system which causes us to heat up and become inflamed in order to kill off infections. In a healthy person, the TNF system will switch on when someone falls ill, like with a cold, and when it has fought off the infection, it will switch off again. In Crohn’s and with other auto-immune disorders the TNF system never switches off, so the person is in a constant state of inflammation. In Crohn’s this inflammation can occur anywhere along the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus and when the sufferer is in the midst of a 'flare up' they are likely to experience terrible pain, bloating, extreme diarrhea, exhaustion and a general sense of lethargy.

At the age of 20, of course I thought that the world had ended and my life was over. Little did I know that it was just beginning. I spent another week in hospital before being allowed home. I had lost over three stone in that one month and was exhausted in every conceivable way. Thankfully a friend of my sisters, also a Crohn’s patient, had enjoyed wonderful results with a holistic treatment called Kinesiology. She put us in contact with a lady called Ann Marie McGlintchy who we booked an appointment with. I had been interested in holistic ideas and alternative Spirituality for some time but up until that point it had been all theoretical with no actual experience - all that was about to change.

Kinesiology is a holistic therapy that originates in Chiropractic medicine. It uses muscle testing as a diagnostic aid to explore what is going on in an individual’s body. Through muscle testing we can discern whether a person’s symptoms are Structural ie muscular, spinal, pelvic, cranial, Chemical ie Food related, hormonal, viral, bacterial, fungal Electrical, ie energetic imbalances in the chakra or meridian systems etc or in fact Emotional. You'd be amazed how many people’s neck and back problems originate with an emotional imbalance, whether at the time of physical trauma or ongoing stress factors.

Once we've discerned where a problem originates from then we can treat accordingly with a wide and varied toolbox of techniques from food sensitivity testing, to Emotional Stress relief, Bach Flower remedies, nutritional supplementation and energetic balancing. Everyone's body is different and reacts in different ways, therefore every session is tailor-made to the individual.

The insights I gained into myself and my body in that first session of Kinesiology were quite incredible, but not only that, as soon as I started to follow the program of diet, supplements and simple physical exercises, I began to feel better for the first time in 18 months. I was still fragile and had a long way to go but I could feel a massive cloud lifting from over me and knew I had found one the major keys to my ongoing physical and mental well-being.

My Mum had just watched her youngest daughter go through ten years of depression followed by the diagnosis of a life long illness and needless to say she was incredibly worried as to what would happen to me. I often think that she had images of me ending up in some cult or commune, disappearing from the world altogether.

So instead, a couple of months after I was diagnosed, she introduced me to the local Witches! Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, world renowned writers and teachers on the Craft were to become my High Priest and Priestess. They were well known and trusted members of the Kells Community, which was why I think my Mum felt confident in making the connection between us and at that time they had recently established a new Coven, called Coven na Callaighe, named for Slieve na Callaighe, the ancient Hill of the Witch at Loughcrew, Co.Meath.

As soon as I met them I knew I had come home. I had found what I'd been searching for my whole life. A Coven is like a family, so one has to be rather careful when deciding to accept someone new into the fold. I spent two years practising solitary, consuming every book on the Craft I could find and inflicting myself as often as possible on Coven na Callaighe until at Imbolg 2004 I finally got my greatest wish and was dedicated into the Craft, a path and connection that has influenced every single aspect of my life ever since.

Eleven years on from a diagnosis that I thought would prevent me from living my life, I am a qualified Kinesiologist with a busy practice and run my own Progressive Craft/Pagan teaching group as well as working as a storyteller, singer/songwriter and writer. My depression, illness and spirituality have all taught me to reach for the strengths buried deep below the surface, strengths that I could never have believed possible.

I now fulfil my dream of helping others to heal themselves through my practice and my teaching. I believe that the challenges that have been laid down for me have all been to prepare me for the work I do now. It's no coincidence that in the same year I was diagnosed with Crohn’s I found both Kinesiology and the Craft. When the Gods throw down challenge, they also provide tools to help us overcome those challenges, if we choose to recognise them!

About the author: 

Gemma McGowan is a High Priestess, Healer, Progressive Pagan teacher, writer and Bard from Kells, Co.Meath. She orchestrates and is Seannachai for the Samhain Festival of Fire at the Hill of Ward, Athboy every year and has been a practising Witch for 11 years. She is also a dedicated Priestess of Brighid.