It’s not what you’d expect
When people ask me why I became a naturopathic doctor, I usually give some sort of response like “I was always interested in preventative health and wellness” or “I got sick, and a naturopath turned my life around”. Both answers are true but the real reason I became a naturopathic doctor is because of shame. Yup – profound, toxic, illness-making shame.
When Stacey asked me to contribute to her blog, I was honoured but unwilling to get too vulnerable. Even thinking about writing this gives me a giant lump in my throat. I’m shy about my writing and don’t love sharing personal stuff. But I talk to so many patients everyday who are walking around with deep shame. They think they are alone. And in my experience, both as a practitioner and a patient, shame is the biggest barrier to health.
My shame came after a divorce. The big D-word. Even writing this today, 14 years later, makes me tear up. It was a short marriage but a long relationship. When it ended the shame was unbearable. I felt shame because I hurt someone I loved, shame that I was depressed and isolated, shame because I grew up religious and thought it was a sin, shame because our friends were hurt, shame because I thought I embarrassed my family.
Certain conditions must come together for someone to feel shame. Notably, the person must be aware of having transgressed a norm. They must also view the norm as desirable and binding because only then can the transgression make one feel truly uncomfortable. For me divorce was the ultimate scarlet letter.
My shame was so profound that I couldn’t answer calls from my parents. I didn’t go to friends’ weddings, birthdays, and celebrations. I would never consider speaking to a professional. I stopped talking to the very people who were ready and willing to be there for me. Hiding often accompanies behaviours that are themselves a trigger for further shame and I experienced this in spades.
The months after my separation I lost 20 pounds, and I looked like a human lollypop: giant head, skinny body. I remember size 0 pants falling off my little hips and not recognizing my face when I looked in the mirror. I literally made myself sick in every sense of the word and my friends were growing concerned. On the other hand, my GP told me I looked great. He never even considered there was anything wrong and I was happy to not tell him. But my bloodwork told another story and suddenly I was exposed. The big D-word was replaced with the big C-word. I finally reached out to my friends and family, and this is what happened:
-My dad told me I was brave
-My best friend told be she’d love me even if I killed someone (although not condone it)
-One of my mom’s friends whispered to me ‘I wish I had the guts to leave my husband’
This is when my healing began. It began when the shame was lifted. I see this in countless people who are carrying around shame about a divorce, or their weight, or parenting, or not conceiving, or eating chips for dinner, or drinking, or drug use, or making a mistake. How is anyone supposed to ‘just eat more vegetables’ or ‘just go to bed earlier’ when they are filled with painfully toxic shame. They’re making choices that prioritizes quieting emotional pain over physical pain because that’s the scarier beast.
This is what set me on the path to becoming a naturopathic doctor. I dreamt of helping patients let go of shame so they could experience health and wellness to the core. Sometimes people are surprised I ask questions about their mental health, their biggest stressors and occasionally their biggest shame. I will continue to ask because there’s no health plan out there that can work when you’re living in emotional pain.
I have always wanted to be a naturopathic doctor even before I knew this career existed. As a kid, I loved learning about the power of healing. I talked at length with family and friends about vitamins and minerals and, because I grew up with social worker parents, I was also passionate about mental health.
Like so many others, I ignored my heart and followed another career path. But I was miserable and lost. I worked as a flight attendant for a few years and, while traveling the world, decided to be a doctor.
Unfortunately, my personal life took an unexpected turn: I got sick, divorced, and depressed. All three, while connected, were also a painful eye-opening gift. I needed to prioritize my health and decided that I had no choice but to go back to school and become a naturopathic doctor.
It was not easy. I worked full time while in medical school and had a baby in my third year just to keep things interesting. But it was who I was meant to be and I never looked back. That’s why I’m so passionate about helping others become who they are meant to be. As E.E. Cummings stated, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”.
Dr. Jen is a licensed naturopathic doctor. The content of her videos are intended for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to substituted for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Please consult your physician or qualified naturopathic doctor for medical advice.