If you’ve read my health content you may have come across my little disclaimer blurb where I explain that I’m not a doctor, nutritionist etc. As I explain, I’m just a gal who had to do a lot of research and work to get properly diagnosed and address my own health issues. This may have left you wondering, though too polite to ask, what I might be referring to. So, I thought it’s high time I share my personal journey to good health.
The Early Years
I should start off by saying that I’ve never been the picture of excellent health. I spent much of my childhood ill. It seemed like if I got the slightest ailment (chicken pox, bronchitis, strep throat, etc) I was heading to the ER to address a fever that wouldn’t break. I keenly remember being home for a significant part of 5th grade. Due to frustration with ongoing and recurring illness, my mom took me to see 2 different doctors and then a specialist which resulted in a tonsillectomy (no big deal but it resolved a lot of health issues).
In reality, none of my health issues were really a big deal but they were persistent and interfering with my life. It just seemed like the slightest thing would lay me up in bed for a week. UGH! That’s no fun for a kid. My health issues, I now know, were connected to my struggles with depression and anxiety. A lot more is known about stress and the immune system than was in the 70’s & 80’s (stop doing the math to figure out how old I am!)
Being sick so much as a child definitely didn’t help my mental health either. It was isolating and scary. And between the two I really struggled. (You can read more about my mental health recovery journey here).
As a teen I enjoyed much improved physical health from the standpoint of contracting illnesses. But I developed severe endometriosis that landed me in the hospital and in surgery just before my 18th birthday. I was told I would never naturally become pregnant. I had over 90% blockage in both fallopian tubes. This was devastating news to me since I’d always seen motherhood in my future. (I knew very little about other options for becoming a parent).
Over the next two years I received even more bad news. I was diagnosed with pre-cancerous cervical abnormality (despite being HPV negative). And, I had 2 solid masses removed from my breast. It just felt like the hits kept on coming.
Young Adult Life
As most people did in the 20th century I put all my faith and trust in the conventional medicine system. In my late 20’s I began struggling with nausea and pain. I was told my gall bladder needed to be removed after a series of inconclusive tests. So, I scheduled it immediately. Only to find that it added to my symptoms and didn’t resolve any. I later discovered that I have Gilbert’s Disease which is relatively benign but causes some nausea, and discomfort. I never needed the gall bladder surgery after all.
I’ve also naturally conceived and carried 2 children and had no trouble becoming pregnant.
So, this led me to start doing a little digging and questioning. I mean, what if conventional medicine wasn’t the end all be all? What if doctors don’t know everything and shouldn’t be blindly trusted?
About 10 years after giving birth to my youngest child and having my gall bladder removed I became very concerned about my health.
Firstly, Most of my cervix was removed due to non-HPV early stage cervical cancer. I think it’s important to just stop for a moment to explain that even if you’ve had the Gardasil vaccine you can still get cervical cancer and still need screening. (Just a note to my readers, for their health, if you’d like more information about this let me know). But what concerned me more was a laundry list of symptoms no one could explain.
In addition, I was in my mid 30’s and had begun struggling with some disconcerting symptoms. I was struggling with memory, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, inability to lose weight (and gaining), hair loss (my eyebrows were almost gone), body aches and my adult acne had even gotten worse. It just felt like everything was falling apart physically but at the same time it was “just” a collection of low-level discomforts.
My Path to Diagnosis
In massage school I’d studied enough anatomy, physiology and pathology to know that these seemingly mild, low level symptoms could be the early signs of serious chronic illness. I was very concerned! I mean, this could be anything! So, I immediately scheduled 2 appointments. One with my general practitioner for a physical and consult. And the second with a naturalpath, hoping supplements might improve some of my symptoms until I could get a diagnosis and treatment.
I was shocked to find that, according to the tests, absolutely NOTHING was wrong with me! My physical came out perfect! I should mention that I have an amazing doctor who is very supportive of alternative medicine. It’s just that none of the standard, traditional tests showed anything irregular. He had no way to explain my symptoms. The only logical conclusion was that my symptoms were likely caused by age. And perhaps I was perimenopausal. Seriously people… I was in my mid 30’s!
So, I followed up with my Ob / Gyn. They concluded that I was not perimenopausal and also had no idea why I was struggling.
Everyone chalked it up to age, stress, the demands of raising 5 kids including a special needs child. I mean… I know… It’s a lot but why after so many years would I be having such profound symptoms? When I say I was struggling with memory, I was really struggling, to remember my maiden name, address, how to get home from an outing. It was beginning to feel unsafe. But there was no indication that anything was neurologically wrong either. I just knew it couldn’t be age alone!
My naturalpath (who by the way works out of a well-respected area hospital) spent about an hour with me. She asked, what felt like, a million questions and listened well to my responses. I was so frustrated with my symptoms and situation that I simply summarized by saying “I feel like I’m at war with my body”. She made a few lifestyle suggestions (the usual, get rest, hydrate, eat well), recommended a few specific supplements that would help with some of my more frustrating symptoms and suggested I consider seeing a homeopathic MD or functional medicine doc. Then she said the thing that changed just about everything I think about health and wellness.
She told me that the most important thing I could do for my health was to start a journal immediately. I needed to write down how I was feeling both physically and mentally. Because not only would this help in the diagnostic process but feeling like I was at war with my body would only deteriorate my health more.
This made so much sense to me. What she was saying was reinforced by my memory of my younger years. Often the mental anguish and physical illness occurred together. Every stint of illness in my life had been preceded by or accompanied with mental health struggles. Surely there was something to this. So, I started my journal and research immediately and made an appointment with a local homeopathic MD. I mean, what choice did I have, no one could help me!
The Next Steps
First, I should mention that if you think you may want to see an alternative medicine doctor you should make an appointment ASAP. There was a 4 month wait for my appointment. But I had plenty to do in the meantime.
Day after day I would write in my journal about how tired and sick I felt. My weight continued to climb, and I was at my 9 mos pregnant weight. I felt miserable and hopeless and I hated my body. I was exercising daily and keeping a food log, thinking this would help me get my weight under control. I’d begun researching different nutrition plans in hopes of finding something that would give me energy and help me lose some weight.
The Whole 30
That’s when I stumbled upon The Whole 30. I read the book cover to cover. And I was amazed by what seemed to be a pretty logical approach. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to suspect that natural food is likely better for your health.
I started looking for others who’d tried The Whole 30 or who followed what I’d come to know as a paleo diet. At the time, there were very few resources or communities available. While I wanted to try The Whole 30 plan, I felt completely overwhelmed and intimidated. Many of the suggested foods (like alternative flours and grass-fed meat) weren’t really available yet in my area. Even Whole Foods had limited availability. Despite my cooking relatively healthy already, with 5 children it seemed impossible to create alternative meals for myself or meals they would eat as well.
So, I decided to take it one step at a time. I searched my journal and food logs to try to find a clue as to what food(s) might be causing me the most issues. What I found is that when I ate dairy, I often had more or worsening symptoms. It seemed like a good place to start.
My First Elimination
I have to be honest and tell you that I was never a huge fan of dairy to begin with. I’d never liked milk so the only dairy I really ate were ranch dressing, cheese, and ice cream. It’s not like anyone thinks of these as health foods so it was pretty obvious that it would’t hurt to eliminate them.
Cutting these 3 foods from my diet wasn’t all that tough but cutting dairy as an ingredient was a lot harder. Keep in mind this was before nut milks were a thing. I didn’t think it was a good idea to add soy milk since I’d never even tasted it (and it sounded gross), plus soy milk isn’t in The Whole 30 so I thought I shouldn’t add it. It took a bit of adjustment and a lot of determination to overcome the cheese cravings but by the time I went to my doctor’s appointment I had been off dairy for a few weeks. But unfortunately I wasn’t feeling much better.
At the time I’d never heard of functional medicine and didn’t know of anyone who’d seen a homeopathic MD. To most this seemed like tin foil hat medicine. I was hopeful that they’d figure out what was wrong with me but also fearful that even if they did no one would believe it.
I filled out all of my paperwork and showed up a little early and well hydrated as instructed. It surprised me that their office was so busy and also so peaceful. I was led to an exam room with a paper covered massage table and some unique diagrams and symptom charts on the walls.
The nurse asked me a series of questions. Everything from how much sleep did I get to how my relationships and stress levels are. There were questions about what I was eating, drinking, my bowel movements and of course my symptoms. I told them about my inconclusive physical and my fears that no one could help me, and I’d continue to deteriorate. I’ll be honest, I was so overwhelmed, I sat in that room and cried to a perfect stranger. She reassured me that my story was common and they would do everything they could to get me answers.
Seeing the Doctor
After she left it was only about 5 minutes before the doctor came in. He reviewed what I had told her and then talked about their process. Then he explained that they would be taking a lot of blood (I’d been told this prior to the appointment) and running several tests. Lifestyle changes I could begin to make immediately that may help were suggested. Since I’d mentioned the elimination of dairy being unsuccessful, he recommended I may want to do a full elimination diet. Come to find out he was a big fan of The Whole 30 but felt an elimination diet first would be most beneficial to me because of my symptoms.
Concluding my Appointment
He also gave me a list of supplements I needed to get on my way out to help with my symptoms and told me when to come back for a follow up.
When he left the nurse who I’d first seen came in to take blood. It was a pretty lengthy process. I was at that appointment for about an hour and being seen by a care provider for at least 45 minutes. I’d never spent so much time with doctors or nurses in my life. Typically, if a doctor’s appointment takes an hour it’s mostly due to long waits, not actual care.
When I returned for my follow up appointment, I was both afraid and relieved to know that the tests were conclusive and they knew what was causing my symptoms!
Here’s what was discovered:
- I had severe vitamin C and D deficiencies (my vitamin C level was so low I had Scurvy)
- A casein allergy showed up in my blood work (which means I’m allergic to cow’s dairy)
- I was also diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis in its early stage. Which means I have an autoimmune disease that effects my thyroid.
My supplements were changed and an elimination diet with thorough tracking was strongly encouraged. In future appointments my supplements were cut back as follow up testing was done and I brought along my food logs and symptom trackers which were incredibly helpful!
Through the years I’ve continued to do research into not only Hashimoto’s but other chronic disease prevention. I’ve modified my diet and lifestyle extensively and make caring for my health my first priority. Surprisingly the elimination diet and Whole 30 program weren’t that difficult (especially compared to the alternative). And my whole family enjoys the recipes, so I don’t need to make separate meals.
Throughout the process of becoming diagnosed, diving into research and creating and maintaining my optimal health I’ve come to love my body. I’ve redefined what health means to me. I’m no longer focused on a number on the scale or even what size jeans I wear. If I can wake in the morning and go through my day with a clear mind, pursue the activities I love and have the energy to play with my grand-daughters (yes, I’m a grandma now), I’m healthy. I’m proud of how far I’ve come in taking care of my health!
Additional Changes and Benefits
Over the years I’ve added more plants to my diet. I move daily and practice self-care regularly. Intermittent fasting and semi-annual to quarterly partial feeding fasts have become part of my life. I’m often told how young I look by my readers and social media followers (I don’t know how to edit photos yet, haha). And my family and friends marvel that I appear to be aging backward.
All in all, I think it was worth the effort and frustration I went through. And if I can help anyone else, even one single person, to create their optimal health I’ll do it! That’s why I’m so committed to this blog and this community. I know what it’s like to struggle and to overcome and once you do, I believe it’s only right to create a map and share it with others!
So, yeah, I’m not a doctor, a nutritionist or a therapist. I’m just a gal who’s been in the dark places with my physical health, mental health and environment. No different from you. And I found a way to the other side. I feel like it’s only right to pass on the map, to shine a light, to be a guide and a coach for others who want more. For those of you who want self-Oh… and by the way, this is why my eBook is FREE