Healing Chronic Illness: A Conversation with Jan DeCourtney, CMT

By Karen Engelsen, for EdgeLife.

Q. What makes you an expert on working through chronic illness?

A. “Through my experience of being without financial resources or medical help, yet working through and getting well mostly on my own. Plus the study of massage and other modalities, and the work with Dr. Stoll gave me great understanding. Going through the healing process myself made me able to support others through the process.”

Q. What set you on your healing journey?

A. “In my 20’s, I began to have an awareness that something wasn’t right - not terribly wrong, but I didn’t feel or do as well as others. Everything was making me more and more tired. I wasn’t enjoying anything. Life was becoming more and more restricted. I forgot things I shouldn’t. Then I had a very painful episode of difficulty focusing in social situations and embarrassing digestive problems. I was exercising and cut out sugar, doing things to improve my health. But it just didn’t help. And there wasn’t anything real specific I could tell a doctor.

Q. Answers were hard to get?

“I had no ability to describe what was happening to me. Partly because I’d probably never been really well, so I had nothing to contrast it with. Eventually, after undergoing a lot of stress and getting worse, I went to many different doctors. I’ve seen conventional Doctors, Chiropractors, several acupuncturists, and Naturopaths. I tried all of their advice and it was not much help.

“Some Holistic Doctors understood stress was the problem - but either they couldn’t take the time or lacked the ability to be able to explain in detail what I could do to help resolve it.

“That’s when I found Dr. Stoll’s website - he had all the educational materials and details that brought me to an understanding of what to do. The KEY to healing was finding information that could help me. That - and Dr. Stoll’s diagnosis.”

Q. It sounds like you’ve dealt a lot with alternative medicine in your healing process. Why do alternative modalities work better for chronic illnesses than regular allopathic medicine?

A. “Alternative modalities work on the causes, and not just on the symptoms. For instance: Sometimes I see clients who suffer from pain and soreness in neck and shoulder muscles. If they go to the doctor, they might receive a prescription for muscle relaxants. But muscle relaxants don’t resolve the underlying problem. When such individuals appear in my office, we not only begin alleviating the symptoms through massage, we also begin looking for the cause of the problem. Is it the way they are sitting at their computer work-station? Is it cold air blowing on their shoulders from the air conditioner? Is it the pillow they sleep on at night? If it is a woman, is she carrying a shoulder bag that contributes to neck strain? Should the person see a chiropractor to make sure the pelvis and spine are in alignment? Any of these things are possible underlying causes, which should be resolved in order to heal. This is the direction in which alternative practitioners work.

“I felt lousy, and had a lot of conventional lab tests - which all proved normal. They didn’t come up with anything. Holistic medicine had the answers.”

Q. How did you deal with the losses that this illness gave you?

“I didn’t have that much to lose in the first place. Divorce helped precipitate the illness - after that, I had little to lose. The story of economic distress is inseparable from the illness. Poverty and illness were a vicious cycle - I never had the money to get well enough and never was well enough to earn the money to get well. I missed a lot of normal things - never had a house, friends, pets. I only had enough energy to cope with illness.

“There actually is another level of loss - the loss of all those years when ill. There’s a mourning process for those lost years.”

Q. What was the most frightening thing in your healing process?

“Before the 3LS program, I had done a lot of healing work on myself and had made a lot of personal progress in the quality of my health and life - then I had a period of intense stress, and all that progress was lost. That loss was terrifying. I was so disordered, I didn’t know if I could ever work again and make a living for myself. Those times I didn’t know if I’d get better were really hard. The one thing that pulled me through was that I already knew that healing might be possible, since I had already done it partially once. Fortunately, I found the 3LS program after that which recovered the lost healing and took me even farther.

Q. What was the biggest eye opener or surprise for you in your healing process?

A. “How good I felt! For example, when I started to do skilled relaxation, after a month I had a big muscular release, and another one two months later. I felt like I was coming out of a straightjacket that I didn’t even know I had on. When I started taking supplements, I was amazed when my anxiety disappeared, and how much easier social interactions became. How wonderful it felt to be approaching wellness - even with the realization there was still more healing to undergo.”

Q. How have your experiences changed your understanding of what it means to be healthy?

A. “The thing that changed was my understanding that it IS possible to be healthy. When you watch TV, people look healthy there. But that was so far removed from my experience that it was unreal to me. To start experiencing that kind of ability to function so well was amazing. I felt like just being able to function was like coming out of a cocoon, into the light.

Q. What gave you the strength to stick to your healing path?

A. “The desire to be well - it’s what I’ve wanted all my life. I just wanted to feel good. If I don’t feel good, I can’t enjoy other things.

“Also, I’m strong willed and on a strong spiritual path. There’s meaning to be found in healing - to know that even if you are suffering, there’s some good that comes out of that suffering. Anything that moves a person toward health, moves them toward a greater sense of being or a spiritual self - you might call healing a spiritual path. The whole process is a gift. Mystical experiences were also a part of this healing process - they taught me that this reality isn’t all that there is. They changed my perspective. I know now that I’m not ever alone. There’s something larger than myself and I’m a part of it.

When you recover from a chronic illness… it is so transformative. You grow and you learn about yourself in a deep way.

Q. Why is this work your passion?

A. “There are probably hundreds of thousands of people like me who suffer from chronic problems that can’t be defined - or can be defined, but the sufferer doesn’t know how to help themselves. There are so many people who live in that hopelessness and despair. I wish to see them help themselves out of their situation.

“When I was growing up, I knew a lot of people who weren’t well and I couldn’t do anything for them at the time. In a way, I’m doing this work for them.”

Q. You really came in with a mission to heal.

A. “I’ve been told that I’m a wounded healer.”

Walt Stoll, MD, and Jan DeCourtney, CMT, are co-authors of the book, Recapture Your Health: A Complete Step-by-Step Program to Reverse Your Chronic Symptoms and Create Lasting Wellness, (ISBN 0965317129), available at local and online bookstores, and from Sunrise Health Coach Publications, 1-877-357-9355 or "http://www.sunrisehealthcoach.com".

Recapture Your Health by Walt Stoll, M.D. and Jan DeCourtney, C.M.T., (Sunrise Health Coach Publications, 2006)
Order at www.sunrisehealthcoach.com, 303-527-2886, or toll free at 1-877-3LS-WELL (1-877-357-9355)
Contact/info: Jan DeCourtney, info@sunrisehealthcoach.com, 303-527-2886, www.sunrisehealthcoach.com

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