angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection
to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night …”
—Allen Ginsberg, “Howl,” 1955–1956
As long as I have known myself, I’ve been affiliated with the New Age. When I was growing up, my father used to describe his phobia of that other world, linking it to scenes out of the single sixties Maharishi Mahesh Yogi meeting he snuck into at MIT, describing it as the provenance of overweight women with very long hair and colorful skirts. Early on I was far too fascinated by American consumerism and eighties materialism to go there; I loved pop, punk, metal, hip-hop, and everything in between; I’ve always loved things black and torn and weird. As a kid I was terrified of Hare Krishnas, those flowy orange-draped bald stick figures with their ramshackle parade that used to echo down Wilshire Boulevard, just off the college campus I grew up on, UCLA, where my nuclear-physicist dad, and only hero, taught.
But in the summer of 1997, my first summer home after college, a yoga studio opened up on the other side of Raymond Hill, the apartment district in South Pasadena, California, where I came of age. Just over the hilltop was a small stretch of strip mall, mainly a revolving array of hair salons and insurance storefronts, but suddenly the words Yoga House and Grand Opening were plastered on a dark door.
I don’t know what compelled me. Boredom, I think. But somehow I walked into a Yoga 101 class taught by Jean, a woman who’d be assisting my yoga teacher’s training in Santa Monica a decade later—and, well, I fell in love or habit or something in between.
My father’s reaction: Good luck being one of those ladies. Do you want a rainbow skirt?
I went nonetheless, and for a while just the exercise aspect of it appealed—I got a sort of yoga high from it all. I convinced myself my waist was disappearing, skin was clearing, sleep was improving, and anxiety was waning. And who knows, maybe it was.
Every year that went by I grew a bit yoga-ier. “Namaste” for goodbye sign-offs; crystals on a chain hovering over my collarbone; head wraps; and a few times, saris. Sometimes even the dreaded colorful flowy skirts.
I never became a hippie, but I began to call myself “spiritual.” I began to blame things on my ayurvedic makeup (my pitta vata nature), I began to chant during chores, I began to read the works of Eastern sages and prophets of every caliber. At worst I was J. D. Salinger’s Franny with the Jesus Prayer; at best—or another kind of worst, at least—I was Madonna and Gwen Stefani, blond sisters with brown hearts, in power-yoga fever, bindis and psychedelia in the pop world just before the freak-folk fringe.
On the final day of the last millennium, I took a yoga class in that same old hometown yoga studio with Cara, a teacher I adored. She began class with, “I know this is a difficult time for many of us.” I had no idea what she meant. There were a few murmurs of agreement, too. “Some call it Y2K, some call it an end, but I call it a beginning.” I groaned in my head—it was all over the media, strangely worming its way into hard news, this new paranoia that had as much to do with a distrust of digital technology as it did with apocalyptic magical thinking—but she went on and on, “I think we can change the world. And I mean that. We can do it.” My thoughts drifted to yoga pants and headstands and lunch as her platitudes blended into the yogascape. “Our minds can do it. Let’s practice now, and a few minutes before midnight I want you to do this again. You are in a burning airplane, imagine the burning airplane. But if you and every person on that flight think water and air, the plane will be fine.” I looked around and all eyes were closed, all faces serious, from serene to tense. “And even when the disaster strikes, and you are in a world of sirens and chaos—let’s embrace the possibility of it happening—imagine that your mind and thoughts can reverse it.” I heard sighs, unclear of what. “And they can. Only we, those in this room, can reverse Y2K.” At the end of the otherwise-normal hatha-yoga class, as we all filed out, she called, “Please remember to pray for us all just before midnight! Don’t let the plane crash and burn, loves!”
Many worlds later, in the summer of 2006, I came down with a mysterious illness. I had a book deal, a boyfriend, some money, and a ticket back to L.A. to work on edits in my parents’ home. It was a hot July and I had been experiencing anxiety attacks. I decided to sign up for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which felt like buying an electric toothbrush—sound and stable, something everyone should do—and I went through the motions and congratulated myself on attending. And everything was good.
And then one night I lost my ability to sleep.
I went from sleeping eight hours a night, no problem, to one to two if I was lucky, as if my entire system had been hijacked and reprogrammed. I blamed the neighbors, approached them, and then they quieted down; I blamed the heat and then we got an AC for my room; I blamed the mattress and then I got a new Tempur-Pedic mattress pad. But nothing worked. I could not figure out what was happening. This went on for days and then weeks. I went to a doctor who promptly gave me an Ambien prescription. And without a second’s thought I took it.
And I slept.
And that went on for some weeks, four to five hours of sleep. And then it stopped working, and the sleep hours shrunk, me awake but in a terrible psychedelic Ambien delirium. By that point, I had a million aches and pains and little mind left. My days were spent on the internet researching illnesses and causes of acute terminal insomnia. Usually they pointed to depression. Was I depressed? I was now. But I wasn’t when it had started.
The CBT teacher taught me all sorts of “sleep hygiene” practices, and nothing worked, and I began to become a regular at ERs—bonus points for ERs operating as drug dispensers—and suddenly my array of sleep meds broadened and on my desk at home there was my army of chemical bedfellows: Ativan, Klonopin, Trazodone, Restoril, Remeron—you name it. I finally went to a psychiatrist, and he wanted to add antipsychotics to the mix. He gave me a sample size with warnings printed on the bottle—he said he felt obligated to tell me that the first time I took it there was the slightest chance I could go into cardiac arrest but that it was more than highly unlikely.
And that was when I exited the world of Western medicine.
Alternative was the key—I simply needed alternative. I went the yoga route that I knew, and I fled to the healers of the yogic realms, the ayurvedic doctors. I went to a renowned L.A. one who charged several hundred dollars a visit and sent me home with several bottles of supplements and a big jar of clarified butter (ghee) for another several hundred. He said it was my “bird energy,” that my vata was out of balance and I had to focus on grounding. He recommended I eat lots of warm fats and sit in the dirt in the sun and put ghee on everything, which would enhance the “mode of goodness” in my life. Sleep would come, he said over and over.
It did not. So I turned to friends and talked to a psychic who told me my anxiety had done this, not given me a nervous breakdown, but rather shattered an orb of glass around me. She told me to drink water with lemon, avoid a friend with an H name, be around nature, and that I was a prostitute in a past life. $250. And this also did not help.
I talked to a holistic-medicine woman who spent five hours with me on the phone taking notes and sent me little white pellets, in tiny brown jars, that I was supposed to put under my tongue. I was supposed to consume no mint—it could interfere—and that meant mint toothpaste as well. There was a jar for insomnia, a jar for anxiety, a jar for depression, a jar for envy, a jar for phobias, a jar for trouble with my mother, a jar for father issues—and again, it did not work.
I went to a chiropractor whose adjustments were known to heal the soul as well as the body. He touched every part of me—bent me this way and that way. Told me to take a deep breath and cracked my spine like you’d do knuckles. He asked me about car accidents, lost loves, career failures, 9/11. He x-rayed my body, did muscle testing and spinal correction and told me all the parts of me that were off and played a video he starred in for my family and me. And he sold me a $500 package—my father and mother glumly watched as I signed that personal check, blindly. I used only one class of that, and it did nothing.
I went to a Chinese herbalist who gave me black beads that were pills, Ziplocs full of what looked like dirt and twigs to turn into tea. He did not speak a word of English, but his secretary said he “does not need to converse with you”—it was all pulses with him. All he said the whole time was that I had “liver deficiency” and I was a “wood type.” And it did not help.
By October I had become convinced I was incurable and my life was over. And by November I dreamed of suicide, plotting to buy heroin and do a onetime overdose.
But by the end of that month, as I wrote in my journal: “the cosmos sent me Ryan.”
He was a former Hare Krishna monk who had served for years in Vrindavan, India, making garments for the deities. And that was part of his fashion-designer narrative—that electric former skater from the Deep South who was covered in jail-style tattoos had been of a very different world he still seemed to covet. He would smoke and drink but was a strict vegetarian; he saw ghosts in people’s faces and slept with the lights on; he made me pray to gods I didn’t know and took me to temples and taught me the names of deities. And eventually he convinced me to part with hundreds of dollars—not counting the money I used to entirely support his chronically unemployed self in the end—to give to his old gurus in India. I sent a wire to a nameless, faceless, and apparently thankless entity in India, and did not look back.
Ryan lasted a few years, but to this day, I chant the maha mantra on planes during turbulence and I utter “jai sri Krishna!” when I kill an insect. Like all sorts of mindless superstition and plastic magical thinking, it has just gotten built into me, because I justify that its presence in my life doesn’t hurt me.
In William Blake’s 1809 preface to his epic Milton, a Poem, he declares, “Rouse up, O Young Men of the New Age!” and elaborates that “when the New Age is at leisure to pronounce, all will be set right, and those grand works of the more ancient, and consciously and professedly Inspired men will hold their proper rank, and the Daughters of Memory shall become the Daughters of Inspiration.” This is one of the term’s earliest usages. “New Age” seemed to evolve out of nineteenth-century metaphysical movements and their offshoots—transcendentalism to Swedenborgianism to chiropractors and naturopathy, everything from astrology to kabbalah. A weekly avant-garde Christian arts and politics journal was called the New Age (circa 1894) and featured George Bernard Shaw and William Butler Yeats among many other art stars. You even see the term in the letters of Carl Jung: “1940 is the year when we approach the meridian of the first star in Aquarius. It is the premonitory earthquake of the New Age …”
Of course what we today recognize as New Ageyness, what my father saw in his long-haired colorfully frocked ladies, was sixties and seventies counterculture, the world of Hair and “Age of Aquarius” as a pop song. It is the aesthetic that has found its literature in Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra and various other, more far-out theoreticians.
It is all around us, so part of the fabric that it often feels contrarian and conservative to poke at it. Several times in the writing of this piece, I questioned if Ann Coulter would agree with my newfound suspicions of it, and I shuddered at my own answer.
Why would anyone rain on this parade of “love and light,” what many of my New Agey friends sign off their e-mails with? After all, it never hurt anyone, did it?
One of the many traumas Ryan, my Hare Krishna love, would allude to was his firsthand knowledge of a section in Monkey on a Stick: Murder, Madness, and the Hare Krishnas by John Hubner and Lindsey Gruson, published in 1988. It was a terrible tale of the disciple who beheaded his guru, and then there was the guru who brutally murdered a devotee in front of his other devotees, and then many more horror stories of sexual transgressions. Of course he knew many grown men who were molested in the movement. I never forgot the dark side of the sixties the Krishnas seemed to in part embody.
New Age dangers were never a literal, concrete thing to me, however, until recently. Until 2012, when they nearly killed me. At that point, I was suicidal and what felt like days away from that final decision. It seems like a tall order to blame any New Age allegiance for my ending up there, and yet…
It was everything it did not do and did not let me do. It kept me from getting well. It kept me from Western medicine. It did not allow me to reach for antibiotics, the most effective cure we have against any form of my chronic illness, Lyme disease. The alternatives distracted me so much that I never saw the main road.
I have never been a fan of Western medicine. To this day, I will be the last person who reaches for an Advil or aspirin for a headache. I will endure all kinds of pain, because I want to feel it. I don’t want the fever to be brought down artificially because of a pill I took—I want to know where my body is. I want it to go through it all and come out the other end naturally.
To a degree I have even believed in mind over matter, always bringing up the same case, that same boyfriend Ryan’s father, the special-ops Vietnam War vet, with 10 million ailments, who sliced his hand in front of me while cooking. As we rushed to him with towels and gauze and Neosporin, we watched him simply hold his injured hand and squint his eyes hard, focusing on something, utterly silent. When he removed his hand there was no trace of what appeared to be a deep cut just moments before, just a very faint line, pristine and white, no hint of blood. “Mind over matter,” he said, and claimed he read it in a book. It reminded me of the time in elementary school when some substitute teacher showed a movie with Sufis eating glass and swallowing swords and smiling totally unscathed, how afterward I’d asked my Sufi grandmother about it, to which she had only one reply: “God.”
And so I’ve always turned to the power of the mind to survive things. Car accident: Don’t fall into shock, chat your way through it and ignore the blood. Or as a six-year-old about to have eardrum surgery: Don’t let them put you out, fight to remain conscious—and again and again I was given more general sedation as I broke through the gas over and over. “Brave girl,”was all they could say after, and in some way I felt I had ultimately failed when I woke up out of that very strong fog, evidence that the gas had conquered me in the end.
I always liked the road less traveled. I knew at a young age I wanted not to be a part of anything mainstream (punk rock was my first love), I worshipped villains not heroes (She-ra’s Catra, Jem’s Misfits), I trusted left before right. I considered myself an outsider in every way.
When I got sick, I did not know what was wrong. It had been three years since the Lyme diagnosis—and at that point, my infectious-disease doctor suspected I had had it for at least another three—but I was told I had gotten rid of it. Somewhere in my mind I knew it could come back, but I had forced myself away from Lyme literature, promising myself to not obsess over illness. So I had forgotten that disease, and when in the winter of 2012 I began collapsing on the streets of Leipzig, Germany, where I was a teaching fellow, I had no idea. And neither did my German doctors. I also had insomnia and anxiety, of a type I only knew in 2006, and still no dots were connected.
I was asked about traumas. Has anything happened? Of course something had. I had walked away from an engagement and dumped my fiancé between Christmas and New Year’s of that year, and over the phone. It had seemed easier than I thought, the hardest part being living in university housing in cold, gray, dead Leipzig in the winter all alone.
An endocrinologist assigned to my case asked me if I’d ever heard of mind over matter. Absolutely. And he said this was a case of this, but in the worst sense.
For the next six months that was all I heard—that it was all in my head. Even when I got to L.A., having moved from Europe with help from my sixty-something mother. A few weeks in, I collapsed on Sunset Boulevard and ended up in Cedar Sinai’s cardio ward for more than a week, with no results.
“The mind can do all sorts of things,” the pulmonologist assigned to my case told my mother. “We see this all the time.”
And so I went to psychologist after psychologist and reluctantly took their meds. When I started to feel the faint specter of dependence on antianxiety drugs, I remembered I was not someone who took pills and went down the path I knew best, the only chance I felt I had: the alternative.
It began with my mother’s friend, who had just started an acupuncture business in Los Angeles. She tested my pulses and heard me and laid me out and, as usual, the needles felt good to me. One day I burst into tears, frustrated at my slow progress. “My darling,”she said, “the progress is all in your mind—you know you don’t have an illness, right?”She told me to focus on breath and prayer daily and sent me a few dried exotic Asian fruits that would calm the psyche.
Then I called the old holistic doctor who sent me more pellets again, which did nothing.
Then I called a company that got people off Western meds—a front for Scientology, I later discovered—which convinced me during a phone consult that I was a benzodiazepine addict who had ruined my own life but said, “Don’t worry we deal with many VIPs like yourself who have taken a bad turn.” They sold me very expensive bottles of sour-cherry juice (insomnia treatment) and whey powder (glutathione nutrient builder) to start taking as I reduced my Western meds. They’d call to check on me and scold me that I didn’t check in enough and nearly hung up on me the one time I asked about Scientology. I stopped working with them.
I talked to a psychic who said there were dead people around me jealous of me and I had to burn sage and say a mantra and eat only red things if I could from now on.
I talked to a hypnotist who said my father was the problem and who did exercises to erase him from my consciousness. “But I live with him,” I argued, “I’ve moved back home.” He’d shut his eyes and say, “He is gone he is gone he is gone.”
I talked to a nutritionist and qigong master who told me to spend a week with her and she’d heal me through her magic teas and qigong, in San Francisco—if in exchange I’d write her memoir, which would get me back to my old self, writing being the key to my true self. At a point when I was bedridden, I got a ride to San Francisco and committed to a week with her and then I started to realize her memoir was more fiction than fact and I said I could not participate in lies—the one moment I felt like my old self, even in the awful moment of finding myself yelling at an old lady—and I promptly kicked myself out.
I went with a few friends, a young aspiring writer and her cancer-survivor mom, to their beachside “church”—“a spiritual center and community” that had been established in the 1980s—a group I’d heard of but never knew anything about, and watched their handsome charismatic dreadlocked leader sermon about “New Thought” spirituality as his wife played on the piano, and how over and over they’d healed the ill through prayer—reversed cancers even—and how the duty of each person was to be as wealthy as they could. They did many songs and everyone swayed and sang and clapped, and at one point they made first-timers stand and they all welcomed me with glazed eyes. It bothered me that even though I always sought multiracial atmospheres, here all I could think of was footage of Jonestown as I struggled to sing along. I never went back, of course.
I finally took a break on all the alternatives that I was dabbling in—I knew that very method was flawed anyway. I decided to listen to my mother, who pleaded that a simple gym could be one answer, knowing I had been essentially sedentary since my collapses in Europe. I knew there was something to that, so I went to sign up for a class at a Glendale gym chain.
I had a bad feeling the moment I walked in, the gym dirty and small and extra meatheady with almost all men. They immediately shepherded me to a meeting with their head trainer, an extraordinarily buff man named Jay, who looked like a Hollywood stuntman, all gold with sharp blue eyes. I felt like he was seeing through me the minute he saw me.
“I was like you once,” he said after he heard me talk. “The meds were killing me, too.”
I sighed. Here was yet another person who thought an addiction to psychiatric meds was my problem. He told me a story of intense drug addiction—from speed to coke to every sleeping pill and muscle relaxer on the market. He had stolen things, gotten kicked out of homes, and then ended up in the Malibu office of a “holistic healer.” For a quarter of a century he had been a healer to the stars, and Jay told me that he did a few adjustments and then “trippy stuff with crystals and essential oils” and he “turned my life around.”
I nodded, skeptically.
“And look at me now,” Jay said. “I’m the manager of this gym.” At that moment, I nodded totally sincerely, finding anyone with any sort of job or purpose leagues ahead of me.
He signed me up and told me to buy a package of three training sessions a week with him. My mother joined me there and said she’d split the cost with me, eager to see me try it—my mother’s only therapy in life had been the treadmills and free weights of her local gym.
And so I tried. And every session he spoke to me about the healer.
One very bad day—a day I skipped a session with him because I was in too much pain—I researched the healer, Dr. Wayne. There he was: an eagle-eyed, white-haired man the internet claimed had saved millions. I called his office expecting to wait weeks, and it turned out they had appointments that day. He cost several hundred for an hour and the first appointment was sure to run over, but they had time, the young woman with an eastern European accent claimed. I said I’d be there, Malibu over an hour away in afternoon rush hour, but I convinced my paper-grading father that this was it: I was going to get real help.
My father had been through it all by then. He was my main driver, the man I’d repeat GPS directions to, who watched me over and over write checks I could barely afford and hand over cards whose contents I had forgotten. I was a junkie for self-help, and I could tell by his mild grumbles he no longer wanted to enable me, but I knew a part of him also hoped this would work.
“Dr. Wayne has a Ph.D.,” I said to my Ph.D.-holding father, in hopes that would connect.
“In what?” he asked.
I didn’t know, but I pretended I didn’t hear and he did not pursue it.
When we got to the office, only one other woman was in the waiting room—a thin, very sick-looking woman who was using hand sanitizer repeatedly. We waited and finally the doctor came out—the same thin, spry, older man I’d seen in the video. He heard me go on about my undiagnosed illness and said it didn’t matter what I thought—he’d test me and we’d know by the end. He said there were two other practitioners, a chiropractor who’d run a neurotransmitter test on me and a bodyworker who’d do cranial therapy with a special laser that would fix my brain.
“I believe you have brain damage,” he said, before I could even ask why my brain needed fixing.
He asked me to lie down, and by then I knew what muscle testing was. I’d raise a limb and he’d tug up or against it and repeat. Sometimes he’d put a vial or a bottle of something on me and try it again. “See, see it now!” he’d say. “It’s this side of your brain.”
“Where the damage is,” he said.
I asked him where I got the brain damage, and he said it could be any one of a few things. I told him I had been a successful writer and novelist and professor—how could brain damage have happened and I’d gotten away with it? He said I wasn’t damaged now and sometimes it took years before the “trauma would manifest.”
I remember nodding, trying to nod myself into believing.
“The good news is it’s easy to fix.”
Dr. Wayne rattled off the names of some supplements I’d need to get—his gift store carried them all—but now I needed to meet with Craig, his chiropractor who’d do an adjustment and run the neurotransmitter test.
I’d been to enough chiropractors—five at that point—to not fear them, but his spinal correction sent me flying out of the chair. He shrugged at me, as if this was normal.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll find out.” Then he had me hold a cylindrical metallic weight connected by a wire to a computer—it looked like a movie prop, very fake. We just sat there as the machine hummed and buzzed and produced a printout.
“Drugs,” he said.
I groaned. “I’m weaning myself off of some sleep and anxiety meds—I’m taking miniscule doses—” I began as I often did.
He shook his head. “It says heroin.”
“Heroin?! I never did that in my life.”
He called Dr. Wayne in and showed him the results. Dr. Wayne smiled.
“Brain damage,” he said. “Drugs.”
I told him I never did heroin in my life.
“Did you do ecstasy?” he asked.
And I could not lie. There was a rumor in the nineties that E was cut with either heroin or speed.
He nodded. “I see it all the time with ecstasy users,” he said. “That’s the brain damage. There’s other stuff, too, but that’s mainly it and the good news is we can reverse it.”
I nodded. “What’s the other stuff?”
He shrugged and ran through the list. “Some adrenal fatigue, possible endocrine, possible Lyme.”
I stopped him. “Lyme? I had that.” It was the only item that had rung a bell.
He shrugged. “I have some drops for that but it’s not a big deal. You don’t want to go that route. They give a chemo-load worth of antibiotics and then you’re worse.”
I nodded. He sent me home with some Lyme drops, B vitamins for insomnia, Siberian ginseng, and a sixty-dollar one-ounce bottle of some essential oil.
“What is this?” I asked.
He told me to apply it three times a day.
I asked again what it was.
He pointed to the label that said one word: JOY.
I went back to Dr. Wayne many times. I paid him well into the four figures, and when I felt it could get to five I started resisting. He claimed I was getting better fast but I needed more sessions. He told me all sorts of things: to avoid arugula and kale—they exacerbated pain. He encouraged me to eat at In-N-Out—their burger patties were excellent and I should skip the bun if I could.
One day I told him I’d never get better in L.A., I could feel that—I could no longer drive, I lived at home, the air was so bad.
“Where would someone like you go?” he asked with a smirk.
I told him I had lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and I liked it there and I thought it would be the type of city he’d approve of.
He looked appalled. “There’s radiation in the water from Los Alamos—I can’t tell you how many sick people I see from Santa Fe.”
I nodded, discouraged. He wrote his bill and patted me on the back and said I looked more balanced, that he could tell I was taking my supplements and following his directions.
I told him I’d finally gone to a Lyme doctor who had just ordered tests, a man here in Malibu.
He laughed. “Mills! I go surfing with that guy. But let me do you a favor: Do not go that route.”
Before I left that day, I was in tears again, and I asked him at the door, “Dr. Wayne, you can see things, right—”
He often reminded us of his psychic abilities, told stories of seeing a person’s cancer a decade before she did.
“Do you know if I have cancer?” I asked.
“Why would you think that? No. You had brain damage. We’re working on it.”
I nodded. “It just feels worse than that.” He showed no emotion. “Do you think I’m going to die soon?” I hadn’t told him that all month I’d been consumed with different ideas for my own suicide.
He chuckled. “I can promise you you are not.” That was the greatest thing he ever said to me, his most important role in my life. He gave me a chance. For thousands of dollars, I got a psychic healer’s assurance that I no longer had any control over my life, in the best way possible.
His surfing buddy, Dr. Mills, was a soft-spoken man who said that while he thought Dr. Wayne was a good person, he would not recommend him. He had no idea I’d been going to him for months.
At that point the test results had come back and it looked like I had severe Lyme.
But there I was, arguing with the doctor, suddenly not ready for it.
“Could I get an MRI?” I asked.
“To see if I have brain damage,” I said, dabbing Joy at my wrists absent-mindedly.
Another time, I tried to see if it was possible that anxiety could have given me false test results. “What if it’s all in my head?”
He was businesslike and into facts, but one time he asked me why I stayed in L.A.—he knew I got rides from friends and my father and that it was not a good place for me.
“Where would a person like me go?” I asked, smirking a bit.
And he said simply: “I can’t answer that.”
A few weeks later, after a group of literary-community friends who’d gotten word of my disintegration had set up a donation fund, I concocted a plan to return to Santa Fe.
A friend had a room. A Lyme doctor there gave me an appointment. And two women—one a former student and another an old friend—decided to drive me there. I didn’t tell anyone I felt it was all or nothing—this or I had to end it—but I took a chance because I had nothing else.
Santa Fe was historically a place I affectionately ribbed for its New Ageyness. The first year I was there, my Facebook posts constantly commented on the aura of crazy in the town.“I’m never going to get used to the fact that I can find Mountain Astrologer here on the newsstands but not the New Yorker,”one said. The town seemed entirely inhabited by Dad’s mystic women and their colorful, flowy skirts, and there I was, all black and tweed, East Coasty and bookish. A man who was fixing my fence began crying as I checked on him. I asked him what was wrong, and he told me that I had just stepped on a fire ant and that it was okay, he would pray. Every few months something of this nature would happen and I’d dream of returning to New York City again.
But by the end of the year, it became a place I fell in love with—a place I learned to hike properly in, a city whose sunsets I lived for, whose food felt as nourishing as the pristine air, a town of madcap free spirits where everyone was an artist—what use was it to poke at that?
But moving back there seemed a mixed bag. I had spent months in the prison of New Age madness and now I was going back to its capital to “heal.” I can’t tell you how many people applauded my move, told me Santa Fe was “a healing vortex” and that I would be well there for sure. But because I think I was married to the idea that I would die at that point, I was open to everything; on the flip side of suicidal ideation is absolute freedom.
It wasn’t until I walked into my first session in the office of Dr. Canfield, a general-integrative-medicine guy with an interest in Lyme, that I realized I might have someone here for real. Again, I tried to convince him it could all be in my head, it could be brain damage, my father, my karma, drugs, anxiety, atheism—
“These results are unequivocally Lyme,” he said very seriously. He ordered me a tank of oxygen, wrote a prescription for three strong doses of antibiotics, and instructed me to come two days later for procaine injections and a glutathione IV, and soon ozone treatments, words that meant nothing to me.
He made no promises—he said he had a protocol and they would try and it would not be easy. But he thought and hoped I would get better.
And for the next four months I went to his office two to three times a week. I took megadoses of two to three antibiotics at a time, and we alternated them every few weeks. I took antifungals. I took nearly 100 pills of supplements a day.
And I got better.
I would not credit Western medicine alone—Dr. Canfield was balanced and encouraged everything from acupuncture to meditation—but I will say that without antibiotics, the simplest medicine available to me from day one, I would not have “healed.” Within weeks of treatment, my insomnia and anxiety disappeared and I slowly began to read and write again, and by the third month I could drive a car. By that winter, he said I was in “remission.” It’s now been six months, and just a season ago, I packed a Penske truck with all my possessions and a new puppy I’d brought into my life and moved back to New York City. Because I was ready to work again.
In New York, I was back in an old apartment I lived in during my twenties, the home of a lovely college friend, a fashion designer who was also a kundalini yogi. She had a serious practice. My other friend who was a fashion editor and restaurant owner was now a Reiki instructor. Another old friend of mine did tarot for people over the phone. The most unlikely people I knew were no longer in bars but retreats. So many of my friends were deep in that other life, none of them quite tipping over as I had—in my case, my life had depended on it, in their case it was an add-on.
I still do not curse “alternative” anything. I do not associate the New Age with a dark age, and I will never hate a hippie lady in a colored skirt.
I even found a job researching and editing for an alternative-health guru, who had had his heyday in the nineties. In my interview, his very straightforward CEO asked me if I was a member of “any groups.”
“No way,” I said.
He smiled and nodded. Slowly but surely we got to this classic: “This doesn’t pay much. Why do you want to be here?”
“I nearly died last year,” I said. I had told him my Lyme story—Lyme always makes more of an impression on the East Coast. “And I want to understand why.”
I don’t think he knew exactly what I meant but I was proud of myself for not lying.
At my new job, we got free vegan food and a nurse would come in twice a week and give ozone injections—what had helped me in Santa Fe greatly with Lyme treatment.
A few months in, my boss began laying off people almost at random, while meanwhile purchasing $12,000 monkeys to add to his menagerie of exotic animals in Florida.
I started to see him as another corrupt New Age mess, and I started looking elsewhere.
But this time I had a sense of humor. I had made it, by which I mean I had survived. I could see it for what it was.
And so I had my ending finally. When I quit that job it wasn’t only a job I left, but a chapter.