Jim Curtis is an author, speaker, health coach, and Head of Business at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. He is a graduate of the Whittemore School of Business at the University of New Hampshire. He has been a wellness pioneer for the last 20 years, helping to develop WebMD, Everyday Health, and Remedy as well as publishing The Stimulati Experience : Nine Skills for Getting Past Pain, Setbacks, and Trauma to Ignite Health and Happiness (Random House).
This article is an excerpt from Carrie Ann’s February 17th, 2022 Instagram Live conversation with Jim Curtis. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Wellness burnout. It’s a thing. When you’re flooded with opinions and options, looking for answers can actually leave you with more questions. The sheer amount of “cures” and information out there can be exhausting to sort through, especially when doctors can’t provide a clear diagnosis. Someone who probably knows this feeling better than most is our latest guest, author and health coach Jim Curtis. His story is fascinating and a testament to his resilience in fighting his invisible illness. Not to mention the persistence needed to advocate for yourself and your health. He’s tried it all, and turned that knowledge into a career in coaching and growing businesses in the health sector. We hope you enjoy this conversation as much as we did!
Carrie Ann: My guest today is a really cool guy, and he’s been through a lot. I found him on social media when I came across his TED talk, and at that time I was going through a very, very difficult period. For all my autoimmune sisters and brothers out there, I was going through a really bad flare up. It was around the time that I had taken leave from “The Talk”. And his TED talk really inspired me. It’s called “The Cosmic Algorithm: Deciphering the Signs”. When I watched it, I was deeply moved, and I felt connected to him through his story.
He is a speaker, author, and is the Head Coach and Head of Business at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. His philosophy is really fascinating and it focuses on all facets of life – mental, emotional, spiritual, relationships, and career. I thought you all would love this conversation.
Thank you so much for being here today Jim, I’m very grateful to you for taking the time.
Jim Curtis: I’m so happy to be here, I’ve been watching your conversations. I saw the last one with Fran Drescher and I couldn’t wait to get on this conversation!
Carrie Ann: Thank you! Yeah, we talked about detoxing the home. So I have a nontoxic candle in the background. And I know you know all about detoxing because of your background. But I want to start with how I was introduced to you – I found you on Instagram, and came across your TED talk. I have lupus, fibromyalgia, and Sjogren’s syndrome, and I was in a really terrible flare up. I listened to your TED talk, and you talked about how you had gone through something similar. Would you mind kind starting there and telling people about your story, and how you came into this world of healing?
Jim Curtis: I love connecting with people that are going through chronic illness because I can understand it. There was a time when I was having all these symptoms, including paralysis in my legs, and I could not figure out what it was. I had a lesion on my spinal cord and it was inflamed, but we couldn’t figure out what it was and the treatments weren’t working. It was going on at a point in time where there were no communities to connect with. I was 20 years old – there wasn’t and Instagram or even YouTube where you could find a TED talk. So you felt alone, you felt really alone. You were in what I call survival mode, because you don’t know what’s happening to you. The fear of trying to figure it out just puts you in this survival mode where you shut down some of your emotions, otherwise you’d become so overwhelmed with it. But you still get hit with bouts of fear and a little bit of panic. That went on for me for 15 years, and then finally I was able to get out of it a little bit. I still walk with a little bit of a limp today, I still have some issues, but I’m no longer living in illness.
Carrie Ann: First of all, I’m glad to hear that you’re no longer living in “dis-ease” or illness. But it sounds like it was such an uphill battle for you, and probably took you having to become a seeker of knowledge, wellness, and answers. What was that path like for you?
Jim Curtis: I think you’re probably familiar with this too, you can always keep seeking right?
Carrie Ann: Yes! I’m a seeker.
Jim Curtis: I’m a seeker too. But at the time, I wasn’t a seeker and I just had a type A father and sister, who kept asking “did you go here? Did you go there? You have to go here”. I think I went to hospitals all around the country. Then I started to go to Europe, because I had a good family unit who wouldn’t let me not find out what it was. I think that once you start talking about your illness, especially today, everybody has a guy. Like, “I got a guy for you, you’ve got to see my guy, he cured this”. Everything from energy healing to Western medicine. Everybody always has a recommendation. You can choose to see those people or not. I was luckily in a position where I could say, okay, I’m just gonna say yes to everybody’s guy. I ended up seeing over 200 people, everybody from an Ecuadorian shaman to grandmasters of kung fu, to watsu (a combination of hydrotherapy in warm water and Shiatsu massage) and qigong healers (an ancient Chinese healing method that includes meditation, controlled breathing and movement exercises). I went all over the country and the world, from the Mayo Clinic to the East Village. I just kept searching. I think I found a lot of answers that kind of led me to where I am today.
Carrie Ann: You said you saw over 200 healers and professionals, and I relate to that so much. Right now I’m in the process of Lyme disease treatment. I just had oxygen IV ozone therapy, and it didn’t go so well. I’m kind of in a state of a conundrum right now. Sometimes, there’s so many healers and it can be confusing. From your point of view – because I’m going through it myself right now – what can I do to avoid that kind of confusion? I feel like I should just trust my intuition, but sometimes I get scared to do that.
Jim Curtis: I call it wellness FOMO (fear of missing out). Like, could there be a cure that I’m not willing to try? I’m gonna try it because I don’t want to miss out on that cure! I was doing it because I could, and because I was researching. I wanted to write a book. But at one point, I just said, no, I’m not seeing any more people. You could literally go down this rabbit hole forever, and sometimes you have to just stick with one thing. Even though it’s so enticing when someone says, “I have this new therapy, have you heard about it?”. And you want to just quickly go try it and spend more money and time investigating it. Sometimes you just have to say no, and reduce the amount of information coming into your head so you can focus on a few things that are working for you. That’s what I did.
Carrie Ann: I like that. Keep it small, just reduce, because it can be overwhelming. There are so many options right now. That’s one thing about social media, you have access to everything. I heard you say something about how you’ve got to do research when you’re working with people. Have you ever had a weird experience with a healer?
Jim Curtis: Yes. I believe that wellness is incredibly seductive. In the sense that you can be seduced into bliss. If someone offers you bliss, you want it. When you’re feeling sick, and someone’s like, “I have a solution”, you say, “yes, please can I have a solution”. But not everyone in wellness has good intentions. There’s a real practical side of this, and I learned this a number of times. So of the hundreds of people that I’ve seen, some were true masters and had energy, and some were people that positioned themselves that way to make money. The story that I tell sometimes is during the time period that I was saying yes to everyone, someone said there was a shaman in town who was working magic. It was really hard to get him, so you had to do some weird things. I said alright, fine, I’ll go bring $200 in cash and a pack of Marlboro cigarettes. I was like, alright, I’ve done weirder stuff than that.
I find myself in the East Village of New York City in the most rundown building ever, walking with my broken body up six flights of stairs to the top apartment. I’m pulling on the railing, and it literally comes off my hand and I stumble down a couple steps. I finally make it all the way up. The shaman has a translator there who tells me to take off all of my clothes and lay down on this map, and it was pretty dirty in there. I was like, “take off all my clothes, did I understand that right?”. And she says yes. So I did it. I’m laying face down naked while this guy is blowing Marlboro cigarettes across my body and beating me with a burning sage tray. So I just started laughing uncontrollably about the situation I had just gotten myself into. I had to find the humor in it. Because it was so bizarre that I was going through such lengths just to find that person that could heal me, that I started laughing. And of course, they thought that was the cure, that was me dispelling the negative energy. And perhaps I was, even if it wasn’t the intention. That definitely gave me some levity. I left there wrapped in newspaper under my clothes, so I didn’t let out the good energy as he instructed. But yeah, I would never do it again.
Carrie Ann: You left there wrapped in newspaper?
Jim Curtis: Yeah, he had me wrap myself in newspaper and then put my clothes back on. I wasn’t to remove the newspaper or shower for two days. So I went to work like that, crinkling every time I walked, and it didn’t work. Needless to say I wasn’t cured, but it was definitely enlightening in that you have to be careful. You have to be prudent.
Carrie Ann: That might be the best story I’ve heard. And I have experienced some very odd things. So I think I you win. I do love the levity of it all. I mean, I think that laughter is good medicine. Sometimes you do need those, as you said in your TED Talk, perfect place, perfect time moments. It’s sort of like that was a perfect place, perfect time for you to remember, okay, wait, maybe I don’t need to go see every single healer. And maybe the newspaper thing isn’t quite what I’m looking for. Maybe I need to trust myself a little bit more.
Something that I liked about your book, “The Stimulati Experience: Nine Skills for Getting Past Pain, Setbacks, and Trauma to Ignite Health and Happiness”, was how it’s written in your voice, which is a masculine voice. This is a voice we don’t often hear in the world of autoimmune disease. There’s not a lot of people out there who speak openly about this. You talked about hating yourself, and that you got to the place where you were in gratitude for your chronic illness. Now, that’s quite a journey. First of all, thank you for saying you hated yourself, because I think you gave me permission to honor the feelings within myself and everybody else who read your book. That’s a big part of this process. It’s okay to feel those feelings, but I love that you give us tools to get to the other side. What was that process like for you?
Jim Curtis: First you have to recognize that oh, my god, I really dislike myself, I hate myself, I’m not being good to myself, right? Because a lot of us do. The way we look at ourselves in the mirror can really cultivate low self-esteem. It’s a question of how do you get beyond that? One is awareness, you have to recognize that that’s what I’m doing to myself. That’s how I feel about myself. Now, how can I feel better about it? A lot of it is having some grace with yourself, finding the things that you actually like about yourself, and interrupting the negative talk. Literally asking yourself, “would I say this to my best friend?”. Also, it’s about doing the things that you say that you’ll do to build self-esteem. Oftentimes, when we begin to really dislike ourselves or feel not good enough, or just completely inadequate, we don’t do the things we say we’ll do. So just taking those small steps will increase your self-esteem amazingly.
In fact, in the “Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” by Nathaniel Branden, he talks about this. He gets into how you raise your self-esteem, and oftentimes it’s by living in integrity and doing the things that you say you’ll do. And then having a little bit of grace with yourself in terms of what you think that you’re faltering on. Then if you want to get to the metaphysical, you can create a fire burning ceremony, you could change your energy, you can do all the fun stuff, but there are really practical things to it.
Carrie Ann: Those are the things that I like to keep in my back pocket, like honoring your word. You could also read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, I think he talks about having integrity with your word. What I’m learning more and more in this world of wellness and health, is that we’re all saying the same thing, just in a slightly different way. This is what I find so fascinating about what you do, because you are Head Coach and Head of Business at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. You guys create health coaches. I think this is what the world needs, because people are understanding that health takes effort, attention, and awareness. I believe it’s a right, a god given natural born right to have wellness. But I think that we weren’t taught how much work it takes, and people are now starting to see that.
I want to go back real quickly, because I’m fascinated by this one aspect of your journey. As a man who went through what you did, was it harder for you to be more open about it, because men are expected to be strong? I know that’s a very traditional thought and outdated. Have you experienced that?
Jim Curtis: Yeah, I have. I think it’s opening up a little bit more, there’s almost a renaissance of men being able to be vulnerable and get out of this kind of protector / provider paradigm. But when I was sick, I would actually tell people that I walked with a limp because I was in a motorcycle accident. It was more macho, and I didn’t have to be vulnerable. No one would ask me questions about my illness. I didn’t have to talk about it. It was this way of like being a macho man, instead of saying, well, you know, this is what I’m really dealing with. This is how it’s affecting me emotionally. Luckily, I feel like those things are changing a little bit. You have a lot of people on Instagram that are opening up and becoming more vulnerable men. But yeah, as a man that’s expected to be the protector and provider, it was hard.
Carrie Ann: Well thank you for being a path opener for people, and opening doors for people to talk. You were way ahead of your time.
What do you guys think about Jim’s story? Leave us a comment below if something in particular resonated with you! There are so many nuggets of wisdom to take from this interview. Wellness burnout might be unavoidable in your own path to health, but people like Jim have been creating ways to avoid the pitfalls and unnecessary trips to shamans.
For more information on health coaches and classes at IIN, follow the links below!
The Institute for Integrative Nutrition Classes
His TED Talk