Relaxing in the jungle in Manu, Peru. Photo by Lynne Nardizzi

I was sick, and now I’m healed.

Two years ago I came to Manu, in the Amazon jungle of Peru. I had rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease, and came to heal with the medicinal plants of the jungle.

RA causes inflammation of the tissue and joints, resulting in pain and fatigue. RA gets worse over time, and eventually causes bone erosion and joint deformity.

My doctor told me if I didn’t start medication right away, I could be in a wheelchair soon.

Western medicine sees RA, and all autoimmune diseases, as incurable.

Prior to coming to Peru, my life had fallen apart. Twice.

First when I got diagnosed with RA in 2011. And then a couple of years later when my marriage fell apart. For I had changed. I was no longer the energetic, adventurous woman when I first got married.

I felt dead inside. My whole body hurt and I was paralyzed with fear. Fear of my body deteriorating, fear of the future, fear of what my life had become.

It seemed that overnight my life changed from an active life of rock-climbing and hiking to barely being able to climb stairs. In reality, this disease had been slowing creeping up on me for years, until I had a flare that was debilitating.

I couldn’t hold a pen. I had trigger finger in all my fingers and all my toes. Food shopping and simple errands would drain me for the rest of the day.

I started taking medications, as I had to get out of bed every morning and get to work. First was Prednisone, which initially gave me a much-needed boost of energy. It also depleted my bones of calcium, resulting in another diagnosis, osteoporosis. This, in turn, required a medicine that I had to take intravenously.

I began giving myself a weekly injection in my stomach for the inflammation caused by RA. Over time I needed medication for low thyroid, vertigo and migraines.

I had always been interested in alternative medicine, so along with my cocktail of medications, I was taking supplements and herbs, going to acupuncture, taking meditation classes, and researching different diets. I saw a naturopathic doctor, a nutritionist, various massage therapists. Nothing seemed to work long-term.

The different diets would frustrate me, as they often would contradict one another. Food that was considered anti- inflammatory in one diet would be prohibited in another. I kept intuitively feeling that I needed something deeper.

It wasn’t until I watched a documentary about shamanic plant dietas (a shamanic retreat with medicinal plants of the jungle) that it clicked. I had never considered this before, but now it seemed the most obvious and only solution.

I had to go to Peru and work with a curandero (healer or shaman) and medicinal plants.

It took a lot of planning, but my goal of coming to Peru felt so uplifting and invigorating. Just thinking about it gave me hope. I was convinced it would work.

I closed down my psychotherapy business and shipped some boxes to my parents home to store in their basement. I left my house and everything in it to my now ex-husband, and came to Peru with a backpack.

When I got to the jungle I immediately stopped all of my meds and started a shamanic dieta. A dieta involves drinking a tea made from plants or trees from the jungle, while eating a simple salt-free and sugar-free diet. Dieta food includes food that is bland and white such as white rice, pasta, yucca and green platanos. This is so the medicinal plants will have the most effect.

Dieta also includes living in isolation and being immersed in nature. I spent a lot of time by the river, listening to the rain, or just watching the trees. I didn’t read or listen to music, and of course I had no Internet. It was just me, alone with my thoughts.

Over the course of two months, I completed dietas with different plants and took ayahuasca.

And it worked.

When I was sick, I knew that things had to change, and that things could change. How I healed, and what happened…well, it’s complicated. And indescribable. It’s difficult to talk about, as things are constantly changing, and still unfolding. Where do I begin, and where does it end?

I’m not a teacher or a healer. I only have a story to share. There are so many things I don’t understand, and the more I try to understand, the less I know. It only becomes more mysterious and unexplainable.

Changing involved some blind faith, and showing up when I had to. It involved trusting myself, and tapping into something much bigger than me.

But there is nothing special about me! True healing can happen to anyone.

In Manu I was given the time and space to work through things on my own, immersed in nature and often in solitude. I was always offered a smile, a joke or some wise words when I needed it.

I was shown that there are things that we simply don’t talk about, and definitely don’t brag about. I was shown to respect the plants, and to respect the jungle. That there is power in silence, in that which is not spoken. And to understand that some things are sacred.

When we work with the plants in a shamanic dieta, it is a journey inward, going within to find our true selves. It’s a cleansing of emotions, memories, attachments and past experiences. It’s about breaking down the ego. It’s a meditation.

The journey inward has no ending. I may be healed, and I had some type of spiritual breakthrough, but the process of breaking down the ego takes time. A lifetime. Many lifetimes!

There are so many buzzwords popular now- awakening, upgrade, activation. What do these words mean? Everyone has a different definition and I don’t know the true meaning anymore. As soon as we define our experience, we get locked into that one way of thinking.

Healing also involved learning to be patient, something I still wrestle with. As a foreigner to Peru, I have a different mindset. I come from a culture that values multitasking, watching the clock and having a sense of urgency.

When I first started my dieta, alone in my tent, my brain felt lighter and more spacious for the first time in years. I wasn’t aware of the impact of the constant train of mental thoughts that running a business had required.

In the jungle we are often without Internet, and even electricity. I don’t have a TV. Life is simple and slower, more in tune with nature. It feels more fulfilling.

When I was sick in San Francisco, I was constantly looking for ways to feel better, to decrease the constant pain and fatigue. It could get overwhelming meeting so many people who call themselves teachers, experts, healers. It seems that people are quick to adopt these labels.

I would research information online for alternative treatments that would often contradict something I had read a day earlier. I know that frustration. It’s good to be skeptical. But don’t give up.

Along the way there have been highs and lows, challenges and triumphs, and an ongoing struggle to maintain a balance between the two extremes. I’ve been inspired by so many people, found incredible guides and made new friends.

I’ve had dark days and experienced loss. I thought about quitting more than once, but ultimately kept plugging along. And now I see it’s all been part of my journey and part of my healing.

Today I’m free of doctor visits, blood tests and medications that were once part of my daily life. When I’m out hiking, or just walking upstairs, I remember how it used to be.

Life offers so many lessons and opportunities. I’m still friends with my ex-husband. I couldn’t see it at the time, but him leaving me was the biggest gift. It opened the door to a new life, a life without disease.

I’m grateful for everything that happened and everyone involved. For my family and friends for their unwavering support. And of course to the curandero who guided and supported me.

I want to shine light on the critical importance of conservation of the Amazon, which is at risk from illegal logging and mining. We also need to protect and preserve the traditions of the indigenous people who live in the Amazon jungle, as they hold the ancient knowledge of the plants.

Western medicine cannot explain a spiritual healing, a spiritual breakthrough, an awakening. But there is no doubt that there is a link between our physical, emotional and spiritual selves.

My healing isn’t just for me.

It’s for everyone.

It shows us all that anything is possible.

writing, traveling, living my life after healing from an incurable disease with medicinal plants of the Amazon jungle// psychotherapist at

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