The thoughts contained below are linear in nature, and show a progression of my journey into wellness. Please check back for updates!
The Beginning of an End:
So, I haven’t blogged in awhile and I want to address the reasons why. If you know me personally, then it should come as no surprise that I’m writing this. Either way, my hope is that through reading my story, you will take away from it a message. A message about why taking care of your body needs to be a priority in your life. It just has to. Like it or not.
Although I don’t have an official diagnosis, all of my doctors agree that my body is sick. Well, actually, I have a list of diagnoses, but none of them actually explain or justify what’s going on with me. I have what they call “autoimmune response”, which isn’t an official diagnosis, and certainly not one that would justify my health insurance company paying for any of my prescription medications. I have spent the past decade bouncing from doctor to doctor, diagnostic to diagnostic, without ever receiving any affirmation of what is causing my symptoms. All the while, my body’s ability to function, along with my quality of life, has been steadily declining. No one disputes this, yet no one has answers.
I’ve talked about this before on my Facebook page, but I want to mention it here as well, because it’s really important. It’s important because I know a lot of other women who are facing similar struggles, and each of them deserves better than what my experience has been. One of the most difficult aspects of living with chronic illness is the isolation. Any chronic illness comes with the need to withdraw socially. Not by choice, but by necessity. I can’t predict my sickness. I don’t know when a flare will occur, or when an acute episode will strike. Making plans is difficult for this reason, as is keeping the plans I’ve already made.
When you have a label for your disease, a “diagnosis”, people can be sympathetic to this need to withdraw. But without it, a lot of people simply don’t get it. “There’s nothing wrong with her, she’s just a hypochondriac” or “She’s making herself sick with that anxiety” or “She’s so unreliable, she doesn’t care about me”. These are the attitudes I’ve been received with far too often. It makes me angry. It makes me angry on behalf of my husband and son who have to live every day with a wife and a mama who isn’t well. It makes me angry for all of the times my husband has had to defend me or explain my absence, for all of the times he’s had to take off work to care for our son because I couldn’t get out of bed, for all of the times my son has pulled on my sleeve saying “mommy, mommy” wanting me to play with him, but I can’t. I want to shout it from the rooftops, if only I had the energy, “This is not my choice. This is not the way I CHOOSE to live.”
But enough about that. It doesn’t matter if it’s a choice or not. This is my life.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I am genetically predisposed for an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disease is present on both sides of my family. But I don’t technically have one, at least one that has been identified. So why is my body attacking itself?
Here’s where it gets ugly. The truth of the matter is that I have abused my body for a very long time. When I was a teenager, I began to poison my body with cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. Good nutrition was non-existent. I ate only foods like pizza, fast food and candy. This continued into my twenties, until I eventually calmed down on the drug use. I continued to smoke cigarettes and eat highly processed foods until I was 30 years old. I had also developed a new habit of drinking energy drinks daily. This lifestyle, combined with my inability to deal with stress, was destroying my body on the inside. But I didn’t know it until it was too late. Or so I thought.
I started to get sick in the Fall of 2010, after I got married. Looking back, it had been one of the most stressful times in my life. Planning a wedding, maintaining a 4.0 in school and a toxic living situation that forced my husband and I to move out of our home for a month, and the stress of it all triggered something in my body that had been underlying for years.
I began to experience nausea everyday. Then I began to experience cognitive issues, like memory lapses and forgetting where I was. Then came the headaches, muscle aches, joint pain. And then, the acute episodes of horrible sickness. And, eventually, the crippling fatigue. Suddenly I could no longer take Micah to the library for an hour without it feeling like I had ran a marathon. It took me days to recover. The simplest things became so difficult for me. I felt like I was 100 years old. Worse, actually. I remember talking with our elderly neighbors and thinking “Why do they feel better than I do? Why do they get to be healthy and have energy?”
But again, enough of that. It doesn’t matter. What matters is this: I am here. I am alive. And I will not give up my fight for a healthier body.
Which is what led me to Dr. Cole, a functional medicine doctor. After spending endless hours of midnight googling, I found Dr. Cole through God’s grace. I’ve received a lot of God’s grace in my lifetime, of this I have no doubt. I began treatment with Dr. Cole only 6 days ago, and I am already feeling a notable improvement. He and I both are confident about my body’s ability to be healed. It’s not an easy road, though. I am on an incredibly strict diet, which is not for the faint hearted. But my will power is solid, because it stands on my only hope for a brighter future for myself and my family.
My biggest struggle recently has been an emotional one. Not so much over having to give up so many things, and not even over the isolation. The struggle comes from my passion to help other people find happiness and health. It is also my job. But how can I do it? How can I lead people to better health when I don’t yet have it myself? Why would someone accept my offer to help them improve their health when I am so sick? How can I possibly do my job?
But the truth, again, is that my story and my sickness make me even more qualified and more motivated to help people work toward better health. I have seen what poor lifestyle choices can do to a body. I’ve lived it! And I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, if I had one. If I can prevent just one person from becoming sick the way I did, then I will consider myself a success.
More and more women are falling victim to chronic digestive issues, chronic pain and chronic fatigue without resolution. Why? Because of the “food” and toxins that we put onto and into our bodies. It could happen to you, and I pray that it doesn’t. But let me help you make sure that it doesn’t! Take control of your health now before it’s too late. I can help you. We can do it together. I invite you to join me on this journey by being a part of my next health & fitness support group run entirely through Facebook. I promise that I will hold your virtual hand, and together we will work towards better health. You don’t have to be on a crazy diet like me, you don’t have to love working out. All you have to do is say yes to a healthy YOU.
Because this post is all about truth, I want to end with this statement: You only get one body, so treat it well.
60 Days Into Treatment:
I’ve spent quite a bit of time this week in reflection of the year past. 2014 was by far the most challenging of my life. I have been struggling with chronic illness for nearly a decade but, in August, I became very sick while at the beach and never really recovered. My health declined steadily and rapidly after that, until daily functioning was more than I could handle.
After many years of being bounced around between doctors, chasing a diagnosis and being labeled a conundrum, my husband and I decided to seek care from a Functional Medicine doctor. Within weeks he was able to determine the cause of my vast array of health issues and determine a course of action.
I am experiencing an autoimmune response of the blood cells in my body, meaning they are too busy attacking themselves to properly absorb vitamins, nutrients, hormones and the like. As a result, I am suffering from a number of deficiencies and all of the side effects that result from those deficiencies. Virtually every part of my body has been affected by this abnormal function of the immune system.
My treatment is holistic, using nutrition and herbal supplements to calm the immune system, heal the gut, detox the liver and replace some of the most extreme deficiencies, such as Vitamin D and Iron, as my body is able to tolerate them. My diet is extremely limited, and I am really only able to eat vegetables (9 cups daily, which is almost impossible) as well as limited meats and fruits. I am unable to eat sugar, grains, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes or nightshades. Of course, I began this treatment right before Thanksgiving and have had to recreate all of my holiday meals according to the Autoimmune Protocol. It’s been a true test of my inner strength and willpower. Luckily, I have been permitted a few glasses of holiday wine to combat the sense of deprivation and social isolation.
This treatment, while effective, has been a very slow process with many setbacks. And I am only sixty days in. It’s also come with a powerful emotional element which I did not expect. I experienced a period of mourning when I began the diet. At first, I was mourning the loss of so many foods, but I soon realized that what I was actually mourning was the loss of normalcy, perhaps forever. I could no longer have a meal in a restaurant, or at someone’s home. I felt isolated and abnormal. I was grieving my previous life and learning to accept my new reality. Keeping my eye on the prize is critical. My doc informed me from the start that I was likely looking at a twelve month recovery process to get my symptoms into remission and, even after that, my life would never be the same. He has been amazing, is incredibly supportive and I finally feel that I have someone who will listen to me and help me get healthy. I am incredibly focused on doing everything in my power to heal my body. I have to, for the sake of my family.
Which brings me to the incredible blessings of 2014.
I can think of at least a thousand moments spent with my son that make all of the sickness obsolete. His smile, his laugh, his curiosity and love of knowledge. Watching him learn to speak, dance, sing songs, give kisses. His cuddles and silliness before he falls asleep in my arms. Every single moment spent with him has been a blessing.
And then there’s my husband, the most amazing man God could ever have placed in my life. He has always been my best friend, but this past year has redefined the love I have for him. Through all of the sickness, and every way that it’s impacted our lives, no matter how big or small, he has always made sure I am taken care of and that our son is taken care of. He cooks, cleans, changes diapers, gives baths, does laundry, grocery shops weekly at three different stores to get all of the things I need for my diet. He forgives all of my weaknesses and intolerances, and never loses patience with me. He gets up with our son in the night if he wakes up and every weekend so that I can sleep. He supports me in my work. He stands behind every decision I make. He tells me I’m beautiful when I haven’t showered or brushed my teeth. He tells me I’m a good mom when I’ve been on the couch all day sick. He tells me I’m perfect when I’m anything but. He gives and gives and gives, and never takes. He is so gracious and so kind.
I would never have made it through this past year without my husband, my best friend. As long as I live, I will never be able to express my gratitude for his love and support. I will never be able to repay him. But he is perfectly fine with that. I am truly blessed to have such an strong, selfless man to call my husband.
I am determined to become healthy this year, and to become the mother my son deserves and the wife my husband deserves. I am determined to make 2015 the best year of my life. I am determined to get well and get on with living life.
I am also determined to help as many people as possible live healthier, happier lives. I have been blessed by God to have found a job that allows me to do just that, while still being home with my son and focusing on healing. I had no idea when I became a health & fitness coach that it would become my true calling. But it did. I have lived with the effects of chronic illness, and I have learned first-hand how important it is to take care of the body I’ve been given. I have been blessed, even through this illness, to realize the importance of my work. I will spend this coming year sharing my message and providing people with the tools they need to improve their quality of life and prevent the type of illness that I’m still battling every day.
Diagnosis – 710.0:
Yesterday I saw my Rheumatologist and he gave me something that I wasn’t quite expecting. A diagnosis. I’ve struggled with how to let people know because I have very mixed emotions about it. On one hand, it’s an answer. It’s a concrete, affirmation of everything that’s been going on for the past 20 years of my life. It’s a label, an explanation for why I feel this way. It’s a valid excuse for all of the things that I’d rather not do because they’re too challenging.
On the other hand, though, it’s a label. One that comes with a stigma and a prognosis. And I don’t like that. Partly because I’m a bit of a control freak. Partly because it’s not my style to have limitations put on me. And also because I suppose I’ve had the liberty of living with some degree of denial about how sick my body is. Without that diagnosis, I’ve been able to convince myself (on good days) that I am just a little bit sick. No big deal.
But there it is. I left my doctor’s office yesterday with a piece of paper clearly indicating my diagnosis. 710.0: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). Everything has changed. But really, nothing has. Or maybe it’s somewhere in between.
I was shocked when my doctor said the word “Lupus”, but I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown accustomed to not having answers. Or maybe it’s just because I’ve been so focused on healing my body that I really didn’t expect it. But the truth is I’ve heard a number of doctors throw the word “Lupus” at me. It’s been the suspected diagnosis for several years. So why was I so surprised to hear it confirmed? Officially? I don’t know.
It was a strange feeling as I walked out of his office and attempted to digest the news. Earlier in the day, I had been looking at photos from when we took Micah to his first concert, and it made me sad to see how happy and seemingly healthy I was at the time. I thought of that as I walked to the elevator. I was sort of numb, I guess. But part of me felt like the life I once had was gone forever. I got in the car and told my husband. His reaction, I could tell, was the same as mine. There wasn’t much to say. We were just taking it in.
I was glad that we had plans to attend another concert that night at church. I needed a distraction and I needed some spiritual healing. Ironically, or maybe not at all, the theme of the evening was God’s victory over all things. “GOD IS ALWAYS VICTORIOUS.” That’s what I kept hearing last night. I held my son and danced with him and for a moment, everything was perfect. And I knew that I was exactly where I was meant to be at that moment, and in life.
Today is a new day. But I still can’t say it. I haven’t spoken the words “I have Lupus.” In fact, this is the first time I’ve even typed it. I don’t even know what having Lupus means for me.
But I know what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that I will never be well. It doesn’t mean that I will discontinue treatment with Dr. Cole. It doesn’t mean that I will stop focusing on healing my body naturally and improving my quality of life. And it sure as hell doesn’t mean that I’m going to throw in the towel and stop fighting for a long, healthy, fulfilling life with my husband and son. I have so much love and support and a God that is always victorious. I’ve got all I need for a win.
I have Lupus. But I’m still me. I’m still a fighter. And I still have plenty of living to do.
I have Lupus. But Lupus does not define me. And it never will.
Wow. It’s hard to believe that six months have passed since I began my treatment with a Functional Medicine Doc. Its amazing to look back and see what I was able to accomplish and how much progress I’ve made in healing my body. But it hasn’t been easy.
I have to admit that the first three months were very difficult. I started the AI Protocol just a couple of weeks before the holiday season. I had to navigate my way through Thanksgiving, my son’s birthday party and several Christmas get-togethers without being able to eat any of the foods that were being served.
Thanksgiving was very difficult, because my family didn’t really understand or support the choices I was making with my health. I chose to stay home and make my own turkey and fixings, which went surprisingly well for my first time! I was pretty proud of my little turkey
The tension with my family grew, and my sister took it personally that we had chose to miss Thanksgiving because it was just too difficult to make it work on our end. She refused to come to my son’s birthday party and decided that she would not allow me to see her two children either. I was incredibly hurt, and couldn’t really understand why she was so angry with me. But I had to accept it. When Christmas rolled around, things became extremely stressful and the progress I had made up to that point was lost. My body doesn’t react well physically to severe and chronic stress. I spent the majority of the month of December being very sick again.
January was a welcome change. I committed to taking better care of myself mentally and emotionally, and separating myself from the things that were keeping me from getting better. I was excited for a new year, a fresh start for my family, my health and my business, all of which had suffered over the months prior. I did have a few more setbacks from the extreme cold, but I continued to stick to my treatment and power through. Once the cold weather broke, I started to feel much better. Almost normal!
At the 6 month mark, I underwent a fully comprehensive food intolerance test to determine what I may be able to reintroduce into my diet. I was really nervous because I knew that there would be some things that I wasn’t tolerating that I’d have to eliminate. But I was hopeful for some new additions and had my eye on a few things in particular; tomatoes, cheese and Shakeology, of course!
When my doc called to go over the results with me, I was like a kid at Christmas! I did have to eliminate a few staples in my diet, like onions, broccoli, ginger and bananas (Wha?!? I LOVE bananas!!) But the news overall was great! I am now able to have tomatoes and all other nightshades, including spices! I can also have CHEESE!!! I wanted cheese so bad, but didn’t have much hope for it, so it was fantastic to hear that it was a yes! And the biggest victory of all, for me, was getting the green light on Shakeology! Because it contains quinoa and goji berries, two things I wasn’t able to have initially, I had to forgo it for 6 whole months. My energy levels, my hair and fingernails and my digestive tract were desperate for that superfood goodness! So being able to reintroduce Shakeology was a HUGE victory. Since then, I’ve been able to successfully reintegrate a lot of foods into my diet on a “sometimes” basis. I still stick mainly to a paleo diet and do regular fasting to maintain gut health.
When I look back at my life right before I began this treatment, I had very little hope. My body was rejecting nearly every food I put into it. I spent several days a week curled up on the couch, too nauseated to move, unable to function. My son was the only thing giving me the will to live. I wondered if I would be forced to live the rest of my life in such misery.
Today, my life is completely different. It’s not perfect. I’m living with a chronic illness that will forever dictate the way I live my life. But I’m learning to give my body the nourishment, love and respect that it deserves. And I’m working hard to share that knowledge and that hope with other people who are battling Autoimmune Disease. I feel better physically and stronger mentally. And I have grown to see this illness as a blessing because of the opportunity it’s given me to connect with other people and help them to make their health a priority as well.
I am so grateful for all of the love, support and prayers I have received from all of you out there since I began this journey to wellness. If you are struggling with AID or any chronic illness, please feel free to reach out to me for information or support.
All my love,