At 27, my doctor told me I would probably never be able to work full-time and encouraged me to go on welfare and apply for disability.
I was in constant pain and utterly exhausted all the time. My health had progressively deteriorated after a car accident I had when I was 20.
After years of seeking answers, I had finally been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Other doctors would later confirm I had chronic fatigue and hypothyroidism.
My career was on the line. I was not in relationships that nourished me. I was chronically ill. And I was only beginning to work through the wounds of my youth, of the culture, family, world that I had inherited.
After the fibro diagnosis, I went to Mexico on a research scholarship. I spent the rest of my career like that. Organizing my life so I could work at my own pace, or at least until I got so burnt out I couldn’t go on.
My initial career objective was, in a nutshell, to change the world.
I worked with Dutch activists, German Greens, Native stand-offers, Mexican migrants, South African post-Apartheid educators, at-risk Montreal kids…
Meanwhile the chronic pain, fatigue, health problems and post-traumatic stress I experienced since a the accident just got worse.
When I started my PhD, I could not function normally or live a normal life. Committed to getting well, I studied everything I could on health and healing.
I struggled to find the energy for my doctoral studies and career as a professor and transformative educator.
Logically, these came together in my life and filled me with greater purpose, inspiration and understanding.
In my research and teaching, I focused on the question of how to bring about a healthier, more caring culture through education for social change.
I wanted to know how we could break the unhealthy cycles of the past.
Like the old French saying: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” (The more things change, the more they remain the same), I wanted to know why most revolutions and movements for change end up returning to the place they started.
How could we truly learn from our experience so we could learn from it?
I became interested in reflective practice, especially therapeutic and creative forms of inquiry like using art and story. The theory was all about how we embodied social dynamics, and how, by studying ourselves, we could better understand the world.
As I wrote, stories emerged. Not just from my work in Mexico or South Africa, but from my childhood, my parents and grandparents lives, and the histories of the areas and regions where we lived.
I hadn’t realized how growing up as a minority in the wake of a nationalist movement in Montreal in a community full of Holocaust and pogrom survivors was something that shaped the core of who I was.
At the same time, I apprenticed with my mentor, a bioenergetic therapist who taught me how to use sound, work on the body, and listen deeply.
I began to see that the body resonated with our stories of the past in a way that social theory could not explain.
Later this became clearer when I learned about epigenetics and the new neuroscience of pain and trauma. The science has shown that our past experiences, as well as those of our parents and grandparents, are embodied and can determine the stories of our lives. In other words, if we don’t heal these resonances, our biology becomes are biography.
This work led me to a new way of approaching mental and physical, as well as personal and cultural health challenges and the work of transformation and healing.
The most important part of this work was learning how to open to life – to its goodness, grace, love, and wonder, and in finding joy, inspiration, and a sense of sacredness in my experience.
I have come to understand that no science, knowledge or theory can heal us. What my mentor told me in the early days of our work together is the key to our well-being: