Breaking the Rules: A Conversation with Amy B. Scher

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“My body is the ultimate secret-keeper of what’s going on inside me,” writes Amy B. Scher in her unflinchingly introspective memoir, This Is How I Save My Life: A True Story of Finding Everything When You Are Willing To Try Anything. And it only takes a trip to India and some stem cells to discover what those secrets are.

Diagnosed with late-stage Lyme disease on top of endometriosis, autoimmune conditions, nerve damage, and more, Scher had been proclaimed incurable by doctors at the Mayo Clinic as well as top California specialists. Facing a life of chronic pain and wide-ranging disabilities, Scher took the risky step (“I hope it doesn’t kill you,” her Lyme disease specialist in LA cautioned) of being the first person to receive stem cell treatment for Lyme. Scher chronicles her eight-week stay in Delhi with humor, ease, and often devastating insight. She worked hard to hear what her body was telling her and we all benefit from what she learned.

In the end, the stem cells treatments weren’t enough and Scher began exploring the burgeoning field of energy medicine. She’s now completely healthy with a thriving energy medicine practice of her own.

I met Amy through the chronically ill grapevine (I’m healing from head and brain injury) and while I initially thought much of the work she did was bananas (it kind of was, but, boy, did it help!), I knew immediately Amy was big-hearted, highly intuitive, and wicked smart. She helped me get to the next level of my own health through both the work we did together and simply sharing stories of her own healing.

And that’s what she’s done with her memoir, shared her stories. Stories that hold the potential to help others save their lives.

We spoke in February about what to do when all available treatments have failed, the upside of the Trump presidency, and the power of our bodies to heal.

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The Rumpus: You have lived through tremendous health challenges. Can you start us off by sharing some of your symptoms and describing what it felt like to be in your body?

Amy B. Scher: My first symptoms were migraines and nausea. When I went to my doctor, he said “Oh, probably hormones or nothing.” And in my early twenties that seemed perfectly reasonable. Over a period of four or five years I ended up with full, contracting body pain, fatigue, stabbing pains in my legs, and difficulty walking. It came on slowly and then hit me all at once. To live in my body felt like I was completely trapped. Typically, my first reaction is to get away from something. This was the first time in my life that I couldn’t run because the problem was inside of me.

Rumpus: I imagine that was very scary.

Scher: Very, very scary. And because nobody knew what was going on for so many years with every new symptom or with an increase in the intensity of existing symptoms, I never knew if it was as bad as it was going to get.

Rumpus: How did you deal with not only the physical challenges but the psychological challenges of living through that?

Scher: How I see it is that I didn’t deal with it very well. And I don’t know who does. I crawled day to day just surviving, and sometimes hoping I wouldn’t. I remember going to bed so many times thinking, “I can’t do this, I don’t have the capacity inside of me to deal with this.” And then of course I would wake up the next day and I would still be here.

In the midst of all the pain and meltdowns I once in a while was able to experience joy and tried to fake it to make it. But I would never look back and think, wow, I handled that so beautifully. I was miserable a lot of the time.

Rumpus: When you fly to India for your stem cell treatment you bring a suitcase full of medicine and supplements. What were the daily logistics of getting that many pills and injections into your body?

Scher: I had such cognitive impairment and blood flow issues at the time—Lyme disease really affects the brain—that my sweet brother-in-law made me a spreadsheet of when to take what. So, I followed this regimen. At one point I was up to forty-four pills a day. Often, I would throw everything back up because my body couldn’t handle it.

Rumpus: You write:

Chronic illness does not delete who you are, it covers up who you are. It lays upon you hundreds of pounds of useless weight, crushing something deep inside. Being sick does not change the person you are—but it does make being that person a whole lot harder.

And you later ponder if there’s “even a real me anymore?” I think this loss of self in the midst of chronic illness is really common. So many of our identifiers fall away and it’s hard to know who we are anymore. I wonder how this manifested for you and how you managed to keep a connection to yourself?

Scher: When you’re in survival mode you’re less focused on what’s important for everybody else and that had always been my MO. So even though I got lost in the illness and blamed the illness for that, I never was really able to connect to who I was even before that. I always felt buried because I was so worried about taking care of everyone else, and if everyone else was happy or sad or mad at me or whatever. Through having to focus on myself—like life-or-death focus—it helped me connect with either the me that I lost along the way or the me I never really knew.

Rumpus: You have a breakthrough moment in a grocery store in India when you and your mom come across some of what you call inflatable chocolate cake. At that point you’d had yourself on this extremely limited health-conscious diet for years, which I think a lot of us do when we’re sick. But you decide to buy the cake. You write, “I have built my entire life around Lyme disease, the one thing I don’t want. What about the rest of me?” And after that you give yourself permission to do what you call, ‘save yourself any way you can.’ What sort of practices did you change and how do you think eating chocolate cake contributed to your healing?

Scher: I basically lightened the fuck up. I’m such a Virgo. I have this side of me that’s a free spirit, but for the most part I was a rule follower, and I wanted to do all the right things so if I didn’t get well nobody could blame me. It took me a while to realize that the way I became obsessive and controlling about my healing was an extension of a problem that had already been there in my life: wanting to be perfect. This was just a new way for me to be perfect and the stress of that was far worse than any chocolate or gluten I could eat.

Little things, eating what I wanted or sleeping in if I wanted or going to bed at eight or changing my mind (I never allowed myself to change my mind), were so good for me. I adhered less to my own rules because I was my own rule-maker and nobody gave a shit if I broke them or not. That was my biggest turning point, realizing that if I was the rule-maker, I could break the rules. They were mine. I wasn’t going to get into trouble.

Rumpus: When you arrive in India your doctor tells you you can heal yourself, which you initially view as “Eastern philosophic bullshit,” and you appropriately think, what the fuck am I doing here if I can heal myself.

Yet, your book is called This Is How I Save My Life. What changed?

Scher: It was really a process of elimination; there was no one left to save me but myself. I wasn’t a willing participant who suddenly went, “Oh, my gosh, all this Eastern philosophical bullshit is not actually bullshit.” I didn’t have some evolved moment of evolution where I realized everything that I had thought was wrong. I just got to a point where I was like, “Well, this is the only thing left.”

And that is usually how I come to things. I know a lot of things now that feel easy and right, but I didn’t come to them in an easy way. I was a fighter and I only accepted things when it was my very last choice. And saving myself was my very last choice. And trying to heal myself when no one else could was my very last choice. I didn’t come to it in a graceful way; I came to it because her words, “you can heal yourself,” were the only ones left for me.

Rumpus: It sounds like part of healing yourself was relaxing and not putting so much pressure on yourself.

Scher: Yes, I had to do that. The physical pressure that I felt on my body, the aches and pains that were deep into my bones and the pressure that I felt in my muscles and the tightness, all of that was only a parallel to my emotional pattern of putting pressure on myself.

Rumpus: So getting well had more to do with bringing pleasure and enjoyment into your life and less to do with what supplement you were taking.

Scher: All the supplements and everything that I was doing, I was counteracting with being so hard on myself and so strict and so fearful of what would happen if I wasn’t perfect. No wonder none of that stuff worked. How could it? My body was under so much stress. The piece that was missing was the work that I did inside. I’d done all these medical treatments, and some helped a little and some didn’t help at all. But when I did this most drastic, ultimate treatment and then backslid after that, it allowed me to solidify the truth that treatment wasn’t my answer. Here I went to the craziest, most dramatic effort that I could to save my life and even that didn’t do it. There was no other physical treatment I could try. Not just because there was nothing left to try, but because I’d tried everything and kept producing the same result, which, by the process of elimination, showed me that a physical treatment wasn’t going to cure me. Because if twenty or thirty physical treatments hadn’t, thirty-one weren’t going to either.

Rumpus: You compile a list of things people say to you during the years you struggle with your health, amongst them: This time in your life was meant to be; God doesn’t give you more than you can handle; You’ll see, one day we’ll look back and laugh at this. At first, these words infuriate you and you fight against them. But you write that years later you find yourself believing them. They all fall under the header of “things happen for a reason,” so do you believe this is true?

Scher: I do. I’m now one of those annoying, optimistic people who believes that things do happen for a reason. I also honor that it totally doesn’t feel like that in the moment and that is the shittiest thing you can try to convince yourself of in the moment because it’s horrible. But everything is getting you somewhere you need to be. I was never going to give up on being the perfect person that I wanted to be. I was never going to voluntarily choose the things that I had to do and go through in order to be who I am now.

Rumpus: So, when you look back on all the hardships that you lived through with your health are you grateful for it?

Scher: I definitely wouldn’t change it. I feel like some of the things that came from it could have never come from anything else and I’m at peace with it. Being grateful is kind of hard for me because I feel like that does such a disservice to anyone who is suffering in any way. Even though I appreciate how it helped me to grow and get to where I am now, it still feels hard to be grateful for all that pain and suffering, not only that I went through, but my family and friends as well. But I understand it and it makes sense to me now.

Rumpus: What is your health like now?

Scher: My health is really, really good. Ironically, I’d always wanted to get back to where I was before Lyme, but I feel like I’m so much better than I was then. I’m cured from Lyme disease and all other ailments and I feel good physically, but I also feel the most myself I’ve ever felt. I know that the two are so connected that I no longer fear illness in a way that I always did. If something were to come up in my body I would be curious about it instead of terrified.

Rumpus: Do you ever get physical symptoms?

Scher: Yeah, from time to time stuff will come up. I’ll have a day or a week where I’m really tired, but then I’ll pay attention and it will go away. I think the extreme symptoms come from years and years and years of not paying attention and not clearing whatever is behind them. So now if something comes up it’s no longer like, “Oh symptoms are bad,” instead I recognize my body is trying to tell me something.

Rumpus: Once you’re healthy you became an energy therapist. You’ve built up a thriving practice. In the West energy medicine is becoming increasingly popular, especially EFT, but it’s also considered by many to be pretty out there. Can you clarify what energy medicine is and why you think it works?

Scher: After India, I had a relapse. Chinese medicine hadn’t helped me with Lyme, maybe because I was on a million drugs and was so married to Western medicine that it wasn’t the right timing, but after the relapse, I began exploring how Chinese medicine uses the body’s subtle energy system to release blockages that then result in physical symptoms. I could feel that this was the truth.

I started studying Chinese medicine but soon became, with my totally impatient personality, like, “Oh my gosh there are too many acupuncture points, there are too many everything.” It was so complex and over my head, but I used what I learned to further my study. That’s when I came across Donna Eden’s work which felt more simplified but still like the truth to me. And I started reading Louise Hay and Bruce Lipton who wrote The Biology of Belief. They were talking about emotions and emotional energy and the energy system and how this is a new way to access something that medicine can’t. And all of it felt like the missing piece.

I really learned the work for myself, not to start a business. Remember I’m this science-minded, married to Western medicine person. But I started to practice it and felt a difference. I stuck with it and it helped me change some of those patterns of perfectionism and fear of people being upset with me and all of that stuff.

Rumpus: Since EFT is so popular now can you just talk a little bit about how that works and how that helped you with your healing?

Scher: EFT is a practice where by tapping on specific acupoints on the body which are used in acupuncture, you can release stuck emotional energy or blockages. This can be fears you’ve been carrying a long time, this can be anger, resentment, a memory you have that got stuck in your body. Science has now proven that our experiences live within the physical body, within our receptors in the brain, within our muscles and organs, and when those things get stuck they can start to erode the flow of energy in our body.

When we tap on these specific acupoints while we talk about our emotions it helps to release the stuck emotions. The acupoints correlate to specific energy pathways that run through all of our organs, glands, and muscles. In clearing that emotional energy we restore that health energy flow which helps us get all the energy we need to the muscles, organs, and glands that keeps us healthy physically.

EFT has become as mainstream as anything could possibly get I think. It does seem a little bit weird and I thought it was kind of crazy, but the thing you learn after you have been sick or depressed or anxiety-ridden for so long is it doesn’t matter if it seems crazy, it matters if it works.

Rumpus:. There’s this wonderful lightheartedness to how you share your story even though you’re living through these staggeringly difficult and terrifying experiences. How did you arrive upon this tone and what role did humor play in your healing?

Scher: I grew up in a house where we laughed at everything that we wanted to cry about. When I was writing the memoir, I knew that I didn’t want this book to be depressing because every book I ever read where someone experiences chronic illness is super depressing. And what I realized was if I wanted this book to be mainstream and a book that everybody could read, I had to be truthful but not depressing.

The way that I originally wrote the book was alternating chapters where it started off in India and then the next chapter was being diagnosed with my first illness at twenty-five. And then the next chapter was my second week in India and the next chapter was going to the Mayo clinic, and so forth. I liked how it was turning out except it felt really heavy. What made me change it was I sat down one day—and as you know my dad passed away several years ago—and asked my dad for his help, to send me a message. And what I heard was, “Make it five times lighter.” I didn’t even know what that meant but that’s what I did.

Rumpus: Do you think it’s possible to get healthy within today’s Western paradigm of healing?

Scher: Yes, I think for some people it is. I don’t think it would ever have been possible for me. But you know, it depends on what you mean by healthy. If you have gallbladder issues can you take whatever gallbladder medicine they give you and be healthy? If your definition of healthy is taking medication to control the problem and that feels good to you, yes. That apparently wasn’t my path. I think for some people perhaps their journey is not meant to be ones like you and I have had. And maybe the medication or removing the gallbladder or whatever is all they need. I think it depends on your definition of health.

Rumpus: And, also, possibly your belief system?

Scher: Yes. But it’s so interesting because my belief system was, when you get sick you go to the doctor and they fix you. I was so sure that with every treatment I had that they were going to fix me. I don’t think it crossed my mind that there would be one doctor, let alone doctor after doctor, who couldn’t fix me.

Rumpus: Do you think there is a correlation between the health of society and the health of her citizens?

Scher: Yes.

Rumpus: Can you speak to that a little bit, in particular what’s happening in America. We’re not treating our unhealthy citizens very kindly, we’re not prioritizing healthcare, there is more and more horribleness happening—

Scher: Yeah… you can’t see me but I have my hands over my face, like, ugh. I think the health of the people is directly related to the health of the society but I also feel that contrast is what helps us change in our own personal lives and in society. Even with the recent, deadly shooting in Florida, on one hand it’s the deepest heartbreak ever and on the other I’ve never felt more hopeful that things will get better. I feel like that about the Trump presidency, too, which couldn’t be further from the Bernie Sanders presidency I hoped for and campaigned for, but I think that the sickness we’re seeing in society now is going to turn tides greater than we’ve seen in a long time. It’s the only way as a Jewish, gay female I can find any kind of solace in this day and age.

Rumpus: As your body starts growing stronger you write about that push/pull feeling of wanting your independence one minute and the next wanting your parents to take care of you. Were you ever afraid to get well?

Scher: I was totally afraid to get well. Sometimes I still think, “Oh my gosh it’s so overwhelming to be well.” Not in a way that I ever want to go back. But the truth of it is that in many ways life is more overwhelming. You’re trying to keep up and you’re trying do big things. And things came with that that I’d always been terrified of. Like having to say no and upsetting people or sometimes failing and finding out I was imperfect. There’s more of a contrast when you’re well; failure feels bigger because you don’t have an excuse, maybe.

Rumpus: We were speaking earlier about how our emotions can manifest in the body. There’s the potential with this thinking to shift the onus of our illness onto us, like if you’re sick you’ve done something wrong. But I know you don’t believe this. Can you talk about how you see that relationship between the mind and the body?

Scher: What I ultimately think is that none of it is our fault but all of it is our responsibility. I was so against believing it was my fault for so long that I actually was blocking my own healing—because if I wanted to get better I had to take some ownership of it. Now if something happens I’m like, who cares if it’s my fault? What can I do to get out of it?

Rumpus: And the way then to get out is to listen to your body in whatever form that takes for that particular individual, yes? For some people it might involve meditation and for some people it might involve medication.

Scher: Just to be open to the idea that your physical symptoms are your body’s communication system.

Rumpus: You had so many doctors tell you you were incurable and now here you are frolicking around the world and helping others to heal. What is it you would most want people to know most about our body’s ability to heal?

Scher: That anything is possible. I think society and science and psychology and every aspect of understanding our life has been proven wrong in some way and so all the things we hear from our doctors are based on our doctor’s experience, opinions, and belief. When we listen to them, we’re taking something as truth that’s based on their experience and that doesn’t have to be our own experience. I mean there’s an entire database of spontaneous recoveries from people who were told that they would die in six months, die in two years, whatever it is. Your body has more of an ability to heal that anyone gives it credit for.


Jane Ratcliffe’s short stories have appeared in New England Review, The Sun, Michigan Quarterly Review, NER Digital, Literary Orphans, The Intima, and Knee-Jerk Magazine. “You Can’t Be Too Careful” was selected as a Best American Short Stories Notables 2013. Her novel, The Free Fall (Henry Holt), was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the most notable books of the year. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Vogue, The Huffington Post, Vh-1, Interview, Guernica, The Manifest-Station, Tricycle, ROAR, The Detroit News and Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood—and she has an essay anthologized in Lost and Found: Stories from New York edited by Tom Beller. Jane holds an MFA from Columbia University. More from this author →