The Herxheimer Reaction

Because I jumped in to holistic health with both feet, without looking back and with complete resolve of pursuing renewed health in a completely natural way, my body kind of threw a fit. 

When I came off of my antidepressants it took my immune system about two weeks to totally crash. Not my mind or emotions; I’m not talking about a relapse. I’m saying with drastic diet change, using detoxifying essential oils and creating the most toxicant-free possible environment, my body started to respond. Granted I weaned in February, braving the cold & flu season with a 10 month old, but this was unlike any sort of sickness I’ve experienced. 

It began with catching colds. I wrote about it earlier in the blog. Colds that seem exacerbated to the nth degree. I would recover, seem to be doing alright and then BAM another bout of something would hit me. When things really went south was when I visited the pools at Lifetime Fitness and did in-and-outs from the dry sauna to the frigid lap pool, to accelerate the detox. I guess I got my wish, but detox doesn’t look like what you think it would. Our bodies heal top down, inward to outward and detox manifests as all the ways you’ve been ailing at some point in your life, most recent maladies to those from the past. So any illness you’ve had — mono, herpes, sinus infections, chronic pain in specific areas — will come to light in an intense way, and then, hopefully once evacuated, will finally leave you alone. 

Well I didn’t know that at the time. So I wrecklessly tried to induce the detox without knowing what I was doing and just tanked my immune system. My main symptoms was coughing up all of this thick, lumpy crud. I felt like I was getting kicked while I was down. Headaches, lethargy. I was spending copious amounts of time in my shower and bath, taking detox baths nightly and waking up at 4am for random steam showers because the shower head pressure felt good on my tight sinuses. Anything I could do to loosen up the internal gunk, I was doing. Lots and lots of tea. I was craving Raindrop therapy but didn’t have the finances for it. A friend would let me borrow her Raindrop kit — a group of oils known for their powerful immune enhancing and antiseptic qualities including oregano, wintergreen, marjoram; a true Raindrop is done along the spine in a very specific manner — and I would do a mini-Raindrop on the bottoms of my feet, and feel better. But if I became inconsistent or ate sugar, all of my hard work would be undone. 

Then one night I drew a detox bath using powdered ginger, Epsom salts and baking soda. I closed the shower curtain and kept the water as hot as I could stand it. I stayed in there for 40 minutes sipping on a tall glass of water the entire time. Sweat poured from me. I rinsed with cold water à la Suédoise when I should’ve kept my body temp up. This was the catalyst my body needed for a complete “healing crisis”, also known as the Herxheimer Reaction. 

First, I couldn’t sleep. At all. I was freezing cold even after piling dryer-heated blankets and robes upon me. My lower back started hurting — my kidneys — and all I wanted to do was stay up and drink copious amounts of water and apply Cistus (Rose of Sharon) oil to my back. When I did lay down my whole body hurt, especially areas that had been prone to injury, like my right hand that was in danger of developing carpal tunnel because of all of the rose pruning I’ve done over the years. My head throbbed, like a big whooshing in and out. And when I would finally fall asleep, I would wake up shivering, covered in sweat. 

It sounds miserable but it was also fascinating. I had never seen my body work this way. I knew powerful things were happening internally, and that toxins were being released. Like all of the other avenues of this walk, it felt like productive pain. I knew the best thing I could do was to stay calm and rid myself of the “take something to treat this” mentality. I needed rest, easy nutrition (soup, fresh juice) and water. My body would resolve the rest on its own. 

But a few of the symptoms lingered. So I reached out to an oily friend of mine and admitted that I was thiiiiis close to throwing in the towel. I didn’t want all of my hard work and suffering to be for naught; I didn’t want to reintroduce foreign chemicals via conventional medication back into my body when it had worked so hard to expel them! But I was getting desperate after nearly three months of being immunosuppressed. 

She simply said “Have you looked at the emotional roots of those symptoms?”. I balked. Of course I hadn’t! Who thinks of doing that?! Well, a lot of oily people, actually, and with good reason. 

See, the conventional person undergoing illness or chronic health problems doesn’t consider their very real, physical symptoms to be linked with anything other than their broken body. They know they should eat well and rest (will they truly allow themselves that?) but they don’t consider what emotions hav been internalized and become toxic. “Normal people” just don’t think that way. 

I am here to tell you that a new way of thinking is becoming the new normal, friends, because it is the unequivocal truth. When my Oily friend suggested emotional release, I was grateful for another friend who had gifted me with Dr. Carolyn Mein’s workbook “Releasing Emotional Patterns With Essential Oils”. I had flipped through it and found it fascinating but didn’t take the time to start applying it to myself. It takes effort to teach yourself from the workbook, but it’s not rocket science. You can figure this out without someone holding your hand. 

I’ll quickly try to summarize how this works. Hold on to your knickers because we’re about to delve into the woowoo realm for some of you. 

Dr. Mein is saying that “emotions are powerful and provide momentum initiating action”. They have energy, and our bodies can either release the energy of an emotion or hold onto it. If we release it, and it’s a negative emotion, we feel badly afterward — like when you blast your spouse with all of the anger you’ve pent up after a rough week, or you lash out at your kids irrationally when they spill some milk. Who hasn’t experienced the shame of handling negative emotions poorly? When it’s a positive emotion and you release it, it feels good — like laughter, or understanding or receptivity. 

When we hold onto emotions we either stuff them or redirect them. When we redirect them we channel the energy into positive expression, like work, play, creativity, exercise. You know, like the angsty or heartbroken artist makes their life’s work during a period of immense trial. But when we stuff emotions, the energy becomes blocked and it creates either emotional or physical pain. Dr. Mein argues that emotions have a negative and positive polarity and that we must be able to access both polarities of ALL emotions (and there’s a lot of them!) to be fully alive. And therefore that when we try to avoid emotions it can cripple us, either by limiting our life experiences so that we avoid situations that could cause emotional pain, or via unresolved emotions manifesting in physical or mental pain and strife. 

We were wonderfully created for more than those last two options. 

So using her workbook we are releasing emotions mentally, by recognizing and understanding the lesson/pattern; spiritually, by increasing awareness; emotionally, by identifying and feeling the feelings; and physically by clearing the cellular memory stored in the body. 

You should seek out more research about the physical storage of blocked emotional energy in DNA, and the amygdala’s ability to release emotional trauma only through the sense of smell. The science seems supernatural, but is very real. In her workbook we are working with alarm points throughout our body that connect specific points — like acupuncture — to the function of an organ or gland that is storing the cellular memory of the blocked emotion. I said we were gonna get woowoo, folks! But if you’re willing to try anything you’ll be amazed at what results you can find when faith and resolve drive your motives. 

So after making peace with the theory and practice, and after knowing many people who successfully use this method, I went for it. What did I have to lose? I was miserable, sick and very aware of the many years of trauma I had been through. It made sense that some of it, maybe a lot of it, was still unresolved. 

Beginning, what I did was really consider what it was, symptomatically, that I needed to resolve. What came to my first was my immune system and second my sinuses. 

As an important side note, I also combined my emotional release routine with prayer, never wanting to elevate oils over healing from God, where my faith truly lies. My mindset was if this technique is to work, how much more could prayer work symbiotically with it. I found this to be highly effective. 
Focusing first on my immune system, I went to the back of the workbook and looked up “immune”. There it was on page 76, nestled between “ileum” and “infection”. In the adjacent column it read “Melrose” and in the second further column it read “Impatience”. 

Melrose is then the Essential Oil I would use to on the alarm point (we’re getting there) and “impatience” is the emotion that’s gone wayward. So I then flip to the Emotional Reference section and find “impatience” on page 43, in between “illusion” and “inadaptability”. 

At this point, if you’re following along to do this for yourself, the emotion will oftentimes be blaringly obvious in the way it manifests in your life. “Impatience” means so many things to me that I can’t get into it all here or we’ll spend the rest of the blog post psychoanalyzing my life. But the emotion will often mean something very particular to you and your life. What someone else derives from impatience — like the frustration of dealing with impatient people in their life — is completely difference with how I interpret “impatience” and why I’m being called to examine it. 

So once again we see columns. First is the negative side of an emotion — impatience. Then we are shown “the other side”, or the positive polarity to the negative emotion. For impatience, that is adaptability. Here I will sit and meditate on what both of those look like in my life. How do I reach adaptability? What is keeping me from it? When do I feel most impatient? How does that manifest? I want to really delve into the pattern that has been created somewhere along the way, increase my awareness of how these emotions work within my life and prepare myself to let go and move forward. I’ll also offer up a prayer, asking to be released from impatience, reminding myself that I am a new creation in Christ Jesus and a slave to nothing and no one. I pray for adaptability and maybe even ask for the intercession of specific saints who were proficient in dealing with these types of situations (lots of saints were very adaptable and very patient during the most arduous of times). I sit quietly and still. 

In the next column we read “the way out”. This is the affirmation we will say aloud to let ourselves know that we’ve found the solution — we no longer have to keep searching; we are safe and able to finally deal with this. I find these great too when impatience flares back up in the future because I can walk myself through dealing with it by saying “I am flexible” mid-moment. I take a few deep breaths and continue to say aloud “I am flexible”. I feel strong and confident. I believe what I am hearing myself say. Once again I offer up more prayer. 

The last three columns are how to deal with this emotion and the cellular memory where it is stored. So I will use Melrose on the alarm points for my immune system, and I am given chart C to look up where that physical alarm point is. I flip to the back of the book and see a chart of a body; I find immune “1 inch lateral to Lymph on lateral upper chest”. I search for the spot on my own body and to my utter amazement I find a tender spot exactly where the alarm point is. So I take a drop of my Melrose, apply it there, keep some pressure on it and say aloud “I am flexible”. I breathe deeply. I have zero skepticism. I feel grounded and in control. More prayers. 

I create list of what my immediate complaints are and commit to working on emotional release every night before bed for at least a week. It only takes one attempt when I experience relief in my sinus cavities. Is it like the drugstore-bought medicinal sinus relief that we’re used to? No. But by being still and tapping into my body I feel the small shift. And I am filled with hope and excitement… and a newfound patience! It feels proactive to carve this quiet time out for myself every evening. And alas within about three days my plague has abated, each day markedly better since the Herxheimer Reaction, which only lasted a few hours. 

Maybe even more interesting is after working on these alarm points, as I sit there listening to my body’s reactions, I’ll feel certain spots on my head or body that begin to ache. I mean I can point to exactly where they are. Fascinatingly enough, one of these times I used the body charts to look up what emotion might be attached to that ache, and found myself staring at the emotion “depression”. It was jaw-dropping. Through overcoming the initial emotions causing upheaval, it opens pathways for the underlying symptomatic problems to finally be let go of. Depression, guys. Looked up by looking at a body chart of where my head was hurting after doing emotional release. I couldn’t make this stuff up. That’s not coincidence. My body was finally ready to let it go. 

I am still in a fragile, newly healed body, not nearly up to the functioning ability that I had even a few moths prior. Maybe the most difficult part about this is that it isn’t evident on the exterior. If anything because of my dramatic weight loss (happy side effect of a life well nourished!) I look healthier and able-bodied. But I am still very much in the recovery stage, and as it isn’t evident, I have to set the boundaries to protect my own well being by limiting activities and responsibilities, resting when I can, cultivating quiet times throughout my day and week and being gentle with myself. There will come a time again when I am strong and thriving. I have no doubt. But right now is a special time that I’m being asked to live within this space, cultivating empathy for people who suffer from chronic illness and silently bear their burdens. !

There has been so much good that has come from these courageous changes. They may not make sense to everyone and this might not be a walk everyone’s willing to take, but it is where I have been called to. I am just doing my best to follow the bread crumbs. 


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