As I sit trying to write my review of Healer by Ryan Haynes, I find myself struggling to know where to begin.
‘Healer’ is a strange book: it fluctuates between genres. It is part self-help, part spirituality, but these facets are intertwined within a fictitious narrative framework that reads like a love story. The result is a book which seems to emanate uncertainty; there is a real sense of befuddlement, a confusion of ideas that are always hinted-at but never fully formed. There is a lot going on in this novel, but there is also very little. I finished the book feeling frustrated: the notions explored were interesting, and yet limited in scope.
‘Healer’ is written from the point of view of an unnamed narrator, who, like some kind of modern-day Jesus, seeks to cure those suffering from illness and disease. His approach is a mindfulness-based therapy: the narrator talks through, explores, and ultimately cures the pain of the patient by placing the illness in the context of the patient’s unconscious thoughts and feelings.
In short, the narrator’s method of recovery stems from the notion that each of us harbours a deep-seated rage, despite our background. In response to this rage, the brain creates physical, bodily pain, or an illness, in order to distract the patient from the unconscious suffering. The narrator creates a bond between unconscious emotional pain and pain situated in the body. Now, we know that stress and emotional suffering can often manifest themselves as physical ailments, and studies have shown that mindfulness-based therapy and more traditional counselling therapies are absolutely invaluable methods of treating chronic pain and long-standing illnesses, whether physical or mental. However, at the introduction of the narrator’s theory, the novel seems to divert from scientific fact into airy, problematic pseudoscience.
Throughout the book, the narrator seems to twist and obscure his narrative in order to correspond to his theories regarding illness and health. He frequently makes a solid point, only to completely distort its meaning in the same breath, so that it matches his argument. He seems to grasp only a fraction of each idea: it’s as though the foundations are there, but the bricks are crumbling and the roof is caving in.
One of the points at which the narrator’s assertions began to bug me was the depiction of mental illness. I was interested, as someone who is passionate about mental health issues and extinguishing stigma, to see how the idea that the brain ‘creates’ illness to mask unconscious pain or trauma would relate to illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Apparently, for the narrator, the same rules apply: “It [the brain] creates the distraction of depression to subdue the rage. And it’s not just depression. Anxiety is the same. The brain creates an anxiety state to mask the rage.” It is, in my opinion at least, overly simplistic and actually quite damaging to see emotional pain as purely a distraction tool. Again, facts are twisted to fit the narrator’s theory: yes, repressed traumatic experiences can lead to mental illnesses, but for me the idea that the brain will consciously create mental illness to mask unconscious rage is hard to stomach.
But it was the mention of the woman’s menstrual cycle that actually made me laugh out loud. Describing ‘that time of the month’, the narrator explains: “we have an extremely emotional time that is difficult for a woman to explain, we have anger/rage, and we have extreme pain from cramps […]. Wow what a coincidence. There are no coincidences when it comes to bad health.” The fact that the narrator seems to actually be trying to fit his madcap theory to a biological process, something which is not ‘created’ but just happens, is laughable – but also quite worrying.
In short, I really hated the narrator. He is, I feel, unlikeable from the outset: he sees himself as a healer, an almost holy presence; he is patronising, self-involved, and limited in emotional intellect and tact. He seems to have a real saviour complex: he is constantly trying to assure the reader that he is a good person, someone who wants to help and save others (particularly the person he is writing to, someone he loves, whose unpalatable position we as readers are forced to inhabit), despite the fact that most of us know that if a person spends all their time convincing others that they’re one of the ‘nice guys’, they are often, more than likely, pretty deplorable people. All of this makes for an extremely unpleasant narrator: and, we learn in the beginning of the book, his impassioned pleas and desperate prayers for the return of the one he loves are actually directed to a woman who has a restraining order in place against him. Not such a nice guy, then.
I finished this book feeling frustrated and angry; maybe, I thought, I was missing something, and actually this is one of those life-changing books that you pass around to everyone you know, hoping to spread the word? I don’t want to sound as self-righteous as our narrator, but I would have to say, I sincerely doubt it.
by Ryan Haynes
A heartbroken Healer will do anything to make you feel good. An entire love story written directly to YOU,… whatever you suffer from, whether it’s pain, anxiety, depression, or heartache… READ THIS BOOK AND YOU’LL FEEL BETTER.