Thank you all so much for the support, the emails, the comments, and the prayers about my health- they mean the world to me. I never feel alone, even in the moments when I am, because of you and all of the other people who surround me with love in this world! I’m so grateful.
I’ve been mentioning tidbits about what’s going on with my health here and there but have been waiting to be closer to answers so I could share with you. Since I started this blog I’ve been committed to sharing the struggles in my life right alongside all that is good, to remain authentic in telling my story in between the inspiration I share. So today I’m going to give you all the nitty gritty details. It’s wild to think about writing this for the interweb but if reading about my path to health can help even one other person find their light at the end of the tunnel or feel less alone in their own struggles I will lay it all out there!!! Sit down with a cup of tea if you’re interested, this is a long one…
I can’t really define the moment when I became unwell, I think it was a slow progression. As you may have read in my posts about Crohn’s Disease (read more about that here) I was an unhealthy eater who thought she was eating healthy but didn’t really know what that meant, for most of my life. I abused my body in numerous and common ways- too much alcohol, not enough sleep, too much work, not enough nutrition,etc. And then, during a time of tremendous stress, I developed Crohn’s Disease and was hospitalized for a week. From a Western Medicine perspective, Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease. They believe there may be a genetic component but that more or less it’s just the luck of the draw. From an Eastern perspective, I’ve come to learn, Crohn’s is a symptom of imbalance in the body- and most likely has parasitic roots. I was floored when the homeopath I’m seeing suggested that I might have picked up a parasite shortly before I was diagnosed because prior to my diagnosis every doctor I saw about my symptoms had suggested that perhaps I’d picked up a bacteria or parasite on one of the few trips I took to Mexico that year. My acupuncturist told me that in Chinese medicine they believe Crohn’s is a response to a parasite as well.
Naturally I was freaked out at the idea of a parasite, but the homeopath reminded me that ALL animals have them, that humans are animals too, that we ALL have them, pick them up, pass them around, and typically, our immune systems fight them off. Or they survive within our systems in a way that doesn’t effect us. I believe that because I’d been such an unhealthy eater- from birth- my immune system wasn’t strong enough to fight that parasite off. There may be genetic component that contributed to my susceptibility as well since I have two family members with the disease.
As you know I treated the Crohn’s with a Macrobiotic diet in early 2011. It really seemed to help- as long as my body wasn’t under a lot of stress I could stay “healthy”. But my new normal of health was never quite the same as the health I enjoyed in me early twenties and pre-diagnosis- and not what I want for myself- which is to truly feel full of life and have the energy to do all that I want to do! I was significantly more susceptible to fatigue, had increasing anxiety, heart palpitations that never went away, and slowly developed what I was never diagnosed with but appeared to be Endometriosis (extremely painful periods that would have me in bed for 2-3 days). In 2014 my level of fatigue started increasing, and I began seeing an Acupuncturist and an Ayurvedic doctor to treat the Endometriosis and my overall health (you can read more about that here). The acupuncture helped tremendously with the Endometriosis, and both practitioners suggested that I begin eating animal protein to build up my system. After eating a primarily vegan diet for almost 4 years and believing that it was keeping me healthy this was a huge transition but I trusted that I was on the right path. And I did begin to feel stronger, the eggs and meat were absolutely helping- but something was still OFF.
In January of this year we moved, sold a house, bought a house and moved cities. It was insanely stressful. I found myself growing more and more tired as the year progressed. There were many days I could barely drag myself out of bed. In early February I cut out everything that I thought might be causing inflammation out of my diet- no sugar, no gluten, no dairy, no processed foods, no alcohol. Not even on occasion. But still, I was unable to stabilize my bowels- alternating between diarrhea and constipation. I developed dark circles under my eyes, my voice became hoarse (which I attributed to the exhaustion), I experienced intense bloating and crazy digestive noises after meals, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, nausea, stomach pain, and soreness in my chest. I also had a panic attack that landed me in the ER. When I told my western doctor about these symptoms, she suggested I try an anti -anxiety medication since it was such a stressful time in life and my body was having such a hard time coping. So I started taking Zoloft. It has helped a great deal with the anxiety, but none of the other symptoms went away. I kept thinking that my body was reacting to the stress of a move, to settling into a new house, and to a few other stressful things that have come up this year. But then the dust settled. And my body didn’t. I’ve not been able to get well. My acupuncturist, as amazing as she is, realized that she needed help treating me. So she referred me to a homeopath.
The thing that I love most about Homeopathy is that it looks at the entire system. It begs the question WHY? WHY the Crohn’s, WHY the Endometriosis, WHY the fatigue, WHY the anxiety and panic attack? Instead of just dishing out pills to treat the symptoms, my homeopath started looking for the root of the problem. And as she was doing so a lightbulb went off- I was in Bali in December. A land ripe with parasites. One of my fellow travelers got “Bali belly” but quickly recovered, I had diarrhea briefly while we were there but didn’t think much of it since I was traveling and diarrhea is not crazy uncommon for me when I’m eating an entirely different diet. I believe I’m susceptible to parasites because of a weakened immune system. My friend who got Bali belly is 100% healthy. I came home and started developing symptoms.
But the confusing thing is that the symptoms were similar to Crohn’s symptoms. I thought it was stress. I thought I needed to tweak my diet, rest more, drink bone broth. Until I did all of those things and couldn’t recover. This year I’ve been feeling increasingly worse and worse- I hit a rock bottom.
During my first visit with the homeopath she wrote down my entire medical history starting with childhood illnesses, she had me tell her in great length about every symptom, every aspect of my health and how I feel. And then she started to connect the dots. Right away she mentioned my thyroid, she mentioned the possibility of a parasite triggering autoimmune responses in my body. She mentioned Hashimoto’s an autoimmune response where the body attacks the thyroid. She tested my blood- and then told me what people of my blood type thrive on eating (a diet high in animal protein and low in grains, legumes and starches- very much the opposite of what I ate for 2 full years after my Crohn’s diagnosis while my health continued to slowly decline).
She had me run some bloodwork and analyzed routine bloodwork that I’d had done in November. The Thyroid bloodwork I had done came back WITHIN THE NORMAL RANGE by Western standards- yet I have almost a textbook case of Hashimoto’s. She told me that even though my Western doctor saw the results as “normal” in her opinion they were extremely low. She asked me to request the blood test for Hashimoto’s, which tests specifically for thyroid antibodies and is used to diagnose the disease. I begged my doctor to run the test- he told me that I didn’t have the disease because my thyroid blood tests were normal but that he would do it just to ease my mind. And then, the results came back: POSITIVE. He emailed me the results and told me to come back in 3 months to have my thyroid levels re-tested. In spite of the fact that on my best day I feel only OK and only that until the evening, in spite of the fact that on my worst days I can’t get out of bed and think I’m dying- he told me to wait three months to come back. In Western medicine, from what I’ve come to understand, unless the thyroid tests comes back low within the pre-set range they won’t treat you. They will wait until the disease progresses enough to fit within their standards to treat you. It’s outrageous, at best.
To complicate things further in May a routine pap test came back abnormal, and a biopsy revealed that I had stage 4 pre-cancerous cells, otherwise known as stage 0 cancer. Last Wednesday I had a procedure to remove all of those cells (photo above before surgery- I don’t know how Lou always remembers to take photos when I’m at a hospital but he does and I’m always so grateful!) I was hoping to get a trip to Fiji in before the surgery, but unfortunately had to cancel when I just wasn’t well enough to travel. All of this has delayed aggressive treatment of any parasites I may have.
Thankfully there are people like my homeopath who are committed to helping people (as I’m sure there are better western doctors, they are just hard to come by as the Western school of thought on it is so wildly off). My homeopath put me on the GAPS diet- she believes that all of the poor eating in my younger years created a lack of healthy bacteria in my gut that made me susceptible to the parasites- my gut was a great habitat for them to thrive in. And their thriving has triggered multiple immune diseases in my body as it misfires and misidentifies the foreign matter in my intestines and bloodstream and attacks itself. Additionally my homeopath ordered intensive parasite tests so that I can get to the bottom of what may be throwing my body off and take appropriate antibiotics/herbs to get rid of any critters that are harming me.
I’ve spent a good part of this year in bed. There have been stretches of days, and even a few weeks at one point, when I felt better. But it’s been a roller coaster. It’s been the most challenging 6 months of my life. There are moments when I feel like I’m hanging on by a thread, and then I remember that the world is full of people who are suffering, that it’s a part of the human experience, that I have to keep searching for the good. For all of you who are suffering from chronic illnesses, I beg of you, don’t give up. I know just how dark it can get. Search for the light.
The GAPS diet seems to be helping- I’m 18 days in and SO many of my symptoms have either lessened dramatically or gone away completely. I’m very hopeful that I’m well on my way to recovering. But I have a long path to go down still (luckily we caught the Hashimoto’s early- although I believe I’ve been experiencing symptoms of a malfunctioning thyroid for at least the past year if not longer). The GAPS diet involves eliminating foods that feed bad bacteria or parasites, healing the gut, getting rid of Candida and then building the health of the intestinal walls, good bacteria and gut back up. It is widely believed that the immune system and gut are linked- and some believe that the entire key to a healthy immune system is a healthy gut. I know more about all of this than I would ever have wanted to, but I think at the end of it I’m going to have a very clear picture of what health looks like for my body.
One of the things I keep reminding myself is that the answers to health problems are not always easily sorted- and vary from person to person. I thought I’d found my answer with the Macrobiotic diet- as so many with Crohn’s disease have, but truly that had only stabilized me enough to lead a relatively normal life- it hadn’t treated the actual cause of the disease. And I am not certain that this GAPS diet is the answer- but I do believe that we can heal our bodies of many illnesses, and especially many auto immune diseases. And I intend to keep trying and searching until I find out what works for mine. I believe Hippocrates hit the nail on the head when he said “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”. (Although it’s a slippery slope to this if you don’t keep things in check) Please, if you have any advice I would love to hear it! Thank you so much for reading and following along- I promise to keep you updated! xx- Sarah