My Journey Back to Health

Me and my fiance Jeremy

Looking back, I realize I started having symptoms related to a food intolerance and/or a gut imbalance at an early age. Growing up, I would have reoccurring throat infections several times a year, for which I would take antibiotics to recover. In high school, I developed anxiety and fatigue. It was this nervousness that kept me from joining into many social functions. I started experiencing slight digestive issues, which I thought were caused by this nervousness.

Upon graduating high school, I landed my first job in a corporate atmosphere. I commuted an hour each way which I found to be difficult. I couldn't handle the stress and was exhausted at the end of each day.  My digestive problems got worse.  Maybe I was lactose intolerant from my morning lattes?  I didn't always get this after drinking milk so I was stumped. My doctors chalked it all up to depression, so I began taking Zoloft. My moods seemed to get better, but my digestive problems did not, and other problems arose. In the last few years I have had some embarrassing situations where I had to be near a bathroom due to uncontrollable bowel movements.  Maybe I had IBS? What was going on and why couldn't doctors help me?

It seemed like it was getting worse.

Three years ago at the age of 32, it did. I started experiencing debilitating muscle spasms and would miss work for days on end. I couldn't lay down and slept upright in bed and on the couch when I couldn't get comfortable. I was also popping muscle relaxers like candy, which didn't really help, they just knocked me out. I took a chair massager and heating pads to work with me to get through the day. I saw a chiropractor, which only helped temporarily. One day I went to get a massage and was in so much pain that I sat huddled in a robe in the corner of the bathroom crying. I was also suffering from brain fog, joint pain, trouble concentrating and memory issues. I remember always "searching" for words that I couldn't seem to find. I was falling apart and it was frustrating not knowing how to fix it.

Then one day walking upstairs to my apartment I realized I was out of breath. Me, a person who loves to hike, doesn't smoke or have asthma and never has had any respiratory issues. That night I had horrible chills and knew something was terribly wrong. The next day, I walked to my doctors office near my work.  An x-ray showed a large amount of fluid in the lining of my right lung. I was immediately checked into the hospital and was told I would need thoracic surgery. Needless to say I was really scared. There I was in the hospital with a chest tube for more than a week; it was surreal. Everyone kept saying how unusual it was for a then 32 year-old to have this illness. I mean, I was healthy, right? 

 I really wasn't. My friend still jokes with me to this day that I always have had some kind of illness plaguing me.  I've had endometriosis, the cartilage in my knees is falling apart, and depression (or so I thought), and of course strep almost every year since the age of 14. Where was all of this coming from? Were they possibly all related?

 I thought I would get better after surgery, but I wasn't. I still had chest pain, joint pain, brain fog, severe fatigue and an inability to concentrate. I lost my job two months after my surgery because I could not perform important tasks. 

After the surgery, my doctor put me on broad-spectrum antibiotics. (Later I would find out what a detriment this was to my digestive and immune system.)  But it still didn't cure the problem. No one could diagnose the cause of my symptoms, and was told repeatedly it was all in my head. Doctors tried to push pain pills and antidepressants, which I refused.

So, I started doing research. First I thought it was my moldy apartment, so I moved. Symptoms got a little better but not much. After a few weeks I had an "a-ha" moment. Could it be Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance? I immediately began following a gluten-free diet and although my symptoms lessened, they still existed. I started the GAPS diet and then transitioned to the Paleo diet. I discovered nutrition sites like the Weston A. Price Foundation and Mark's Daily Apple. I read Nourishing Traditions which really opened my eyes to the world of real, nourishing and healing foods.  My symptoms are almost gone. I rarely feel joint pain, and it is nice to feel normal and not have anxiety and all those other things plaguing me daily. About a year ago, I stopped taking Zoloft and find I don't need it now.

I still have a lot of healing to do. I believe the cause of my problems was a lack of good bacteria due to severe damage to my digestive system from antibiotics, processed foods and sugar, which left a door open to candida, molds and other pathogens. It could also be possible that these drugs and other factors resulted in auto-immune problems. I still can't tolerate dairy, gluten, sugar or most grains. 

As a result, I've learned to adjust my lifestyle. I can't say it was easy in the beginning. Giving up certain foods was challenging and I've had many setbacks. I've learned to read confusing ingredient labels. And there was a time I went through denial and backslid, only to get sick again. Parties and family events were hard initially, but have gotten easier now that I have found substitutions for foods I once enjoyed. And restaurant employees still look at me like I'm speaking a foreign language or think I'm some high maintenance chick. I said chick. Chickadee. I know, I'm a weirdo :-)

But now I'm in a groove and am pretty comfortable. Discovering new foods and new places to eat has been fun. And you know what? I'm healthier than ever before and that's amazing to me. I try to focus on the foods I CAN have instead of those I can't. And my fiance has been very supportive, adapting with dinner and groceries because he sees how much better I feel as a result of my new lifestyle. I've always been into nutrition, but this has really opened the door to truly healthy eating! It's a good thing for me that I love to cook. I really enjoy using whole, organic local produce and visit the local farmer's market several times a month. It's good for our bodies, the environment and the communities we live in.

I know this is a much heathier way of eating for me and I will continue to research foods and supplements that can help me heal. I can only hope that my story will help others with health issues like mine (or are just naturally curious about nutrition) will find that whole, nourishing foods can lead the path to wellness.