In December of 2007, Amy Scher arrived in Delhi. She was 28 years old, exhausted, and ill; she’d been diagnosed with Lyme Disease, which, undetected for years, had taken root and ravaged her body. She reached India along with her loving parents, a vast array of drugs for her many symptoms, and hope that the treatment she’d come for, an experimental stem-cell therapy, would cure her when all else had failed.
Scher documents these experiences in her candid, open-hearted memoir, This Is How I Save My Life: From California to India, a True Story of Finding Everything When You Are Willing to Try Anything, released recently in the UK.
As it grapples with the author’s poor health and fears of remaining ill indefinitely, the book is filled with passages almost anyone can relate to (“I have always been good at not noticing things that I am noticing, if by actually noticing them, my life might get too hard,” for example; and “I am not sure how this happened, or when, but the names I call myself and the things I tell myself are not anything I’d ever say to another person”).
It’s also quite funny, often in an understated way. “Living with a rat in my room has not been helping matters,” Scher writes of her efforts to acclimatise to life in a completely new environment and culture. (The rodent in question is eventually caught with a humane trap and set free outside.)
Scher is funny in person, too, when I meet her for coffee near her home in New York City. She’s also frank and enthusiastic as she discusses her books; her family (including some relatives found recently through a DNA website, a process she describes as “life-enhancingly cool”); and her recent move, with her wife, from California to New York. Her cheeks are pink, her hair is thick, her smile bright, and her demeanour lively. It’s hard to imagine she could have been sick for a week, let alone for several years.
Scher’s time in India — eight weeks at the clinic for her initial visit, then two subsequent trips — did ultimately facilitate her healing; medically and emotionally, it “set the stage,” as she puts it, for her full recovery.
It also led her to see that a complete regaining of health involves the mind and the spirit. Stem-cell treatments helped to repair her organs, nerves, and muscles, she says, but there was more to do: “Healing is not just physical. This was my biggest epiphany. The final piece of my healing came from also healing my internal landscape.”
In the book, Scher recalls her primary doctor at the clinic urging her to consider this kind of self-determination: “The stem cells can do their part, but you have the power to heal yourself. You have much more power than you think.”
At the time, Scher was less than impressed, writing, “it feels as if she has chosen me as her pet project, continuously giving me unsolicited pep talks about my personal power to heal.”
But, ultimately, Scher chose to make it her own work: She’s now a therapist, consulting with doctors and patients about paths to living in health.
“I help people make the connection between emotions and how they impact our lives,” she says, “including our physical bodies. Most people think of stress as running around trying to get everything done. But the real stress that affects our lives comes from emotions we store in our body, damaging beliefs we hold about ourselves, and trauma we haven’t processed. I teach people effective ways to address their emotions to support healing.”
Some of the trauma Scher helps with is intergenerational. A granddaughter of Holocaust survivors whose father was born in Germany just after the war, she thinks a lot about distress and terror that can get passed down in families —and how a sense of crisis can affect even those who don’t know where it came from.
“Feelings of fear, and that we’re never safe, can be passed down in families and can very negatively affect the immune system,” she says.
“And if people feel that they don’t matter, or even don’t deserve to exist, why would that not jeopardise their health?”
All of these feelings, she points out, were of course contained in the Jewish experience during the Holocaust—and in some cases have been internalised and handed down through generations. In addition to her work with medical institutions and individual patients, Scher partners with Jewish community organisations to address these issues.
“How we process things,” she says, “can be at least as important as the events in our lives”— which means that people who’ve experienced direct or inherited trauma have the possibility to prevent it from dominating their physical or emotional well-being.
Scher is sometimes affectionately referred to as an “accidental guru” of healing. She went to India seeking solutions for a disease and was not imagining that she’d end up in a healing role.
When she returned to the States, she took a few years to work on and settle into the next phase of her wellness before making further decisions about her goals.
“It was about four years between my trips to India and when I started my business,” she says. “At first, I just wanted to lead a normal life… I didn’t have a dream of being any kind of guide for those struggling. But once I had enough time and space from my own experience, I felt really drawn to helping others move forward, too.”
Her newest book, How to Heal Yourself from Anxiety When No one Else Can, was also published in the UK this month.
“I never realised I had anxiety my whole life,” she says, “but now I realise that contributed to the breakdown of my body. As I see it at this point, anxiety is not fear or an emotion in and of itself—it’s a side effect of a dangerous pattern of suppressing emotions that need to be expressed or released.”
Having regained her health, Scher reflects on all she has learned — and all she wants to help others incorporate into their lives. For instance, she’d thought that her habit of micromanagement was keeping her safe, but now she believes it contributed to making her ill.
“We need to let go,” she insists. “To accept what is, and not try to control everything.”
Complete control will never happen, but healthy boundaries can. “The immune system is all about boundaries,” she says. “Emotionally and physically, we have to teach our bodies: What’s yours, what’s mine.”
She knows now that health includes feeling our feelings rather than squelching them and embracing who we are rather than playing self-criticisms on repeat.
“You can find parts of what you need in a million places,” she writes at the end of This Is How I Save My Life, “but you always have to come home, to yourself, for the cure.”
‘This Is How I Save My Life’ is published by Simon and Shuster
‘How to Heal Yourself from Anxiety When No one Else Can’ is published by Llewellyn Publications