In My Own Words: Illness and a presidential candidate

By: RABBI RACHEL ESSERMAN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR

When I was coping with the hearing loss that left me profoundly hearing impaired, even with hearing aids, a friend suggested I see someone she thought could help. I had gone to alternative health professionals before and was open to their suggestions. For the most part, they focused on my general health – eating correctly, exercising, etc. – that, while not necessarily curing my problems, did help me feel better. When I asked more about what this new practitioner had to offer, the person said the first thing he would need to discover is “what it was I don’t want to hear.” That led to an abrupt end to the conversation.
While I know psychosomatic illnesses do exist, in my case, the suggestion that my hearing disappeared because there was something I didn’t want to hear not only made no sense, it was offensive. It also made me wonder what the practitioner would have said to someone with cancer: “We have to figure out why you want to die.” Or tell someone with AIDS: “We need to discover why you want to be sick.” Yes, how we react to an illness can be affected by our particular psychological profile, but illness and disabilities are real and not some figment of our imagination.
The reason for my comments is due to a link a different friend sent me about Jewish presidential candidate Marianne Williamson. The article is called “Marianne Williamson Isn’t Kooky. She’s Dangerous.” and it discusses Williamson’s writings about medicine. A Google search shows that the author isn’t the only person concerned about her ideas. Another writer shared a sentence from one of Williamson’s books that left me chilled: “AIDS and serious illnesses are physical manifestations of a physical scream and their message is not ‘Hate me’ but ‘Love me.’” (from “A Return to Love”)
Looking at the candidate’s website, www.marianne2020.com/issues/healthcare, was interesting. There are several points on which I agree with her. I do think we need to control pollution, make certain our food is healthy and curb the use of pesticides. However, I’m not certain that she understands that this won’t help people with certain types of illness. Williamson’s website says, “Policy changes that help prevent and reverse chronic disease and cultivate optimal health will, in addition to helping Americans live more vibrant and healthy lives, save taxpayers trillions of dollars. We need to do more than figure out who is paying for whose disease; we need a president who understands the many policies that contribute to Americans’ illnesses.” Yet, for many people, it is impossible “to prevent and reverse chronic disease” without the use of medicine. In fact, we don’t have a cure for some diseases, and all the good thoughts, prayers, meditation, biofeedback and good food won’t change that.
I have another friend with health problems whose source the doctors have not been able to discover. A mutual friend once said he wished he could take her to the best hospital and have her stay there until they figured out what was wrong. I told him that she had been to numerous doctors, including some alternative ones, but no one had been completely able to solve her problems. As much as we like to pretend otherwise, the human body is complicated and doctors still don’t fully understand how our bodies work. As someone who doesn’t know whether or not her health problems might return in full force tomorrow, I want a presidential candidate who accepts that illness is real and that it can’t be cured by magical thinking. Helping ourselves as much as possible: yes, that’s a wonderful idea. I try to eat right, exercise and get enough sleep, but there are some days my body just doesn’t function properly. Saying I could make myself better if I just thought correctly is blaming people for being ill.