A Health Story: Battle for Balance with Food and Fatigue

IMG_7581Today, I wanted to share the health story of my dear friend Emily.  Emily and I have been friends for over 10 years now.  We met through church in college and lived together for a couple years before getting married.  I’ve shared so many memories with this girl (a trip to NYC and countless costume parties stand out best); she was always the friend I could count on and still is today. She’s one of those rare friends who would move mountains to be there when you needed her. Now we have daughters just a few months apart and have been learning how to be moms together- we share natural remedies, healthy recipes and parenting tips with each other.  Emily is also a very talented writer, so I hope you enjoy her story…

Short-term survival vs. long-term survival. Choosing my sanity in the present or my health in the future. Those were my choices when it came to things like food, caffeine, and treatment plans, as well as the way those things affected my marriage and finances. With a large mug of coffee in my hand and thoughts of brewing another, this is what I’m contemplating, and how it all seemed like a lose-lose situation.

My childhood was happy in my giant family of nine  – no we weren’t Catholic or Mormon, yes my parents were crazy. However, I was always the sickly one. I recently found out I had the worst vaccine reactions of all seven of us, and that was after I almost died from pneumonia as a baby – as in my grandmother told my mom to make peace with it. She was very sensitive like that. Later, I had multiple ear infections (read: rounds of antibiotics), and I got stomach bugs so often my favorite “food” for a while was ice chips. We even owned a breathing machine for when I got sick, as I had a form of asthma called reactive airways. It’s a good thing I was homeschooled at the time as I would’ve been “one of those” who failed kindergarten from missing school all the time!

As I got older, I grew out of the constant infections, but inherited my father’s world-shattering allergies. I even got his elephant-like nose blowing – charming, thanks Dad. These allergies followed me into adulthood, and would trap me in bed all day like the flu at the peak of cedar pollination. I couldn’t be outside at all then, or when mold, grass, trees, weeds, or oxygen was too high. (Wait, maybe oxygen was on my safe list…)

Sometime during all of that, perhaps in high school, my energy took a nosedive and never came back up. I slept in between classes, and until noon on Saturdays when my mom let me. A few months after I turned 16 and started driving, I even fell asleep at the wheel.

We all just thought I was a normal, sleepy teenager, particularly after my thyroid panel came back normal. So I just kept sleeping as often as possible, all through college, often snoozing 12-14 hours a day. This was, in part, due to my low grade depression that kicked in towards the end of high school.

These health issues followed me like the bouncing metal cans on the “just married” car, and the “clanging” of those collective problems finally arrested my attention: my body wasn’t functioning quite right. However, all of this was still my normal – it was predictable and liveable, so I did nothing about it. Then, right before I got married, my body really punched me in the gut with random and violent gluten intolerance – literally.

The night of my bachelorette, I was too sick to go out – so all my friends came over in their little black dresses and sexy makeup to watch Tangled with me. The night of my wedding, I kept dragging my sister to the bathroom with me to loosen my corset as I was sick again, until I finally just had to take the whole thing off and hope my dress contained me for the rest of the reception!

I had no idea that gluten was even the issue until a trip to the doctor a few months later. Basically, he gave me a script for antacids, and recommended a gluten free diet. The pills did nothing for me, so after a hysterical breakdown about never eating bread or pasta or cookies or anything good in life again – not even COMMUNION – I gave up the mainstay of my diet.

For a while, I was able to get away with “just a bite” of glutenous (yes, I made that a word) indulgences without the miserable nausea that wouldn’t just end with a simple puke…but that didn’t last long. Soon, I was that annoying girl at the restaurant asking if something contains gluten, then having to explain what it was, and then hearing, “No, I don’t think the fried chickpeas have any of that”… think being the operative word here that drove me CRAZY. So you’re hanging the likelihood of my hanging over a toilet half the night on your desire to avoid checking with the chef? Thanks, I appreciate your ignorance…I mean assurance.

Luckily, Austin became a safe haven for us, the gluten challenged. Eventually everything from gluten free fried chicken to gluten free donuts appeared on store aisles and restaurant menus.

But it did not protect me from the next wave of symptoms. The encircled GF by entrees and products did not mean healthy, so neither was I.

Finally, at some point a few years ago, I couldn’t eat anything without fear of nausea, or the kind of bloating that makes you want to stab your bursting belly with an ice pick. I remember eating a paleo, whole 30, #alltherestrictions meal of chicken, spinach, and sweet potato, then being in so much pain I may have cried. I felt completely defeated.

After researching for hours upon hours, I found the GAPS diet, or Gut And Psychology Syndrome. It was created by a neurologist with a masters in nutrition who created this way of eating for her clients, whose disorders ranged from ADHD to autism, depressed to schizophrenic. She found they all had something in common – unhealthy digestive systems. While my mental state was not my primary issue (despite recurring depression), it was obvious my gut was unhealthy.

The first week was TERRIBLE. Like, can’t get out of bed terrible. But I finally, finally, had relief. It resolved my food intolerances to eggs, chicken, and nightshades, and eventually I could eat anything except gluten without reactions! It was my miracle diet.

These days, my chronic fatigue continues to hang over my life like a dark cloud, but when I’m watching my nutrition, I can celebrate being the healthiest I’ve ever been. I haven’t given up on finding total healing, but now I just focus on generally making healthy choices. I used to be obsessed with which diet is best, which food groups are evil, and which of the thousands of supplements I should take (you should see my collection!). It got to the point where it affected most of my close relationships because of arguments I would get into about drugs versus alternative medicine, whether my current diet was healthy or just a fad, or if it mattered using Tilex to clean the shower versus Mrs. Meyers. It had to end.

Now, I’m a lot better at picking my battles, finding that happy space between short term sanity and long term health. I try to choose 90% whole, unprocessed foods for my family (when my picky toddler lets me!), I work to use natural cleaning products in most areas, and I experiment with various natural and/or homemade beauty products. But! I don’t insist on primarily organic food, I had a hospital birth with an epidural, we give our daughter Motrin when she’s visibly in pain, and yes, I let my husband use Comet to clean the INSIDE of the toilet. That’s not how I wanted any of those things to go, but the stress of trying to control everything just isn’t worth it anymore. At what point is it too costly for my relationships and my sanity when I’m fighting tooth and nail for every health decision in our family? We had to meet in the middle.

That’s where I try to live now, finding what healthy feels like in my own body, and in our home. I let God and my husband help me figure out what that looks like. And praise Jesus, every year I get just a little closer.

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A Health Story: Fatigue, Food Allergies, Inability to Gain Weight

Me and AlyssaToday, I’m sharing the health story of my friend Alyssa. Alyssa is one of my oldest friends… we met nearly twenty years ago at church and we were 2 of just 16 in our graduating high school class. I’m so thankful for Alyssa’s friendship over the years.  She is one of the strongest women I know; her optimism and endurance in the midst of suffering is inspiring and truly displays a joy that only God can give.  

As we have both struggled with different health issues for many years, I’ve been grateful for someone to share ideas & recipes with as we try new diets and attempts at natural healing.  She’s the friend that introduced me to essential oils, which have been so life-changing for me. And, as I’ve become a mom, she is an even more valued resource.  Here’s her story:

Hi, I’m Alyssa. I’m married to my high school sweetheart and we have four kids, ages 9, 6, 5 and 2. When I’m not spending time with my family I enjoy DIY projects at home or working part-time at Board and Brush creative studio.  I’m also passionate about natural health and wellness.

Growing up, my family was close-knit, but my mom struggled with health problems her whole life – depression, gut issues and back problems.  While we did things together as a family, we were limited by her condition  I remember her being in bed a lot. She would try to have a good meal for us on the table every night, but I still ate a lot of junk and processed food when a home cooked meal wasn’t an option.  We weren’t aware of all the short and long-term effects that food has on the body.

In middle school, I started getting made fun of for being so thin, which really affected me.  I had always been slender and unable to put on much weight, but when others started noticing, it made me really insecure.  That continued well into high school.  In high school, I also remember being pretty tired and not having a ton of energy.  My sleep consisted of: going to bed late, getting up early for school, falling asleep on my bed doing homework and going to bed late again.

Fast forward several years after having my first few kids.. just a few sleep deprived nights… my exhaustion and fatigue were much worse.  Not taking care of myself the right way put me in a bad state.  I was having gut issues and I was frequently getting sick and littlest virus would keep me down for a week or two.  

My mom had passed away in 2008 after I had had my first child, from an accidental overdose (the combination of a pain patch on her back and a heating pad).  After that, I began to think about my health in a new light; I knew I needed to figure out what was going on with myself, but I had a bad taste from conventional doctors and medicine after everything that happened with my mom.  

I discovered I had a gluten intolerance via trial and error after a doctor misdiagnosed me with acid re-flux.  I saw a string of natural doctors trying to figure out what was now lack of energy, anxiety, thinning hair, continued inability to gain weight along with some gut issues.  I saw at least 5 different doctors who all saw I had a problem going on with the symptoms and various lab results, but were unable to figure out what it all meant or what the cause was. I started eating healthier, in addition to being gluten-free, and begun researching more about natural remedies.  

When anything came up with our family, from colds and ear infections to strep throat, I tried to find a natural remedy for it. When my oldest was five, she had 5 rounds of strep throat and antibiotics to go with them, but was still sick. I was so frustrated and felt helpless; I came across a remedy of cayenne + honey + garlic and made her try it.  To my surprise, it worked! I had been able to treat her strep naturally without the use of antibiotics and she’s never had strep again. It’s like her body needed just a little natural help to fight it off on it’s own.

I continued seeking out natural remedies for ailments and dabbled in essential oils, not seeing much impact from the ones I had bought from the grocery store.  I didn’t think much of it until I was introduced to Young Living essential oils at a class. I was educated on the difference between store-grade oils vs pure, therapeutic grade oils and how they could help enhance a natural lifestyle. My husband thought I was nuts for being so excited about oils, but he’s now completely on-board and embraced my “crunchy” tendencies of tackling pretty much anything naturally.

As for my health problems, I’m still continuing to sift through the details of understanding what’s going on with my body. I found that following an AIP diet helps with a lot of my gut issues.  When I eat something I shouldn’t, I can recognize it quickly. My blood work still shows off levels and indicates potential thyroid and hormone issues, but the doctor I was seeing was somewhat perplexed by it. I’m currently waiting to see a new functional medicine doctor that a friend with Hashimoto’s recommended. She’s seen drastic improvement with her health over the last 6 months, so I am hopeful for similar results. In the meantime, I take each day as it comes. I am super aware of what I eat, what I use on my body and the products I use in my home. The journey to health and wellness seems to be an ongoing one. It can be so discouraging at times but I know that God has me in this journey for a reason and I’m trusting in His plan.

Like Alyssa, I know that so many of us are still in the thick of it- trying to figure out what’s causing issues and doing all we can to address the symptoms in the meantime.  I hope to someday share the answers Alyssa has discovered and the healing that she’s found.  I’m always comforted to know I’m not the only one still looking for answers, even though it is such a frustrating & discouraging place to be.

If you want to share your story, I would love to feature it on my blog to encourage others- please reach out to me at healthyhopefulblog(at)gmail.com. 

A Story On Antidepressant Withdrawal

Let's Talk WithdrawalMy good friend, Megan, has been such a blessing to our family during this newborn stage. She brought us several meals, is always eager to hold the baby even when she’s crying, change her diaper and rock her to sleep. When they say “it takes a village,” she is the kind of community and generousity you want in your life. 

Anyway, I have been wanting to share more personal stories of health on this blog. As anyone who has been through chronic pain or unexplained illness or battled continuously against health issues knows, it’s crucial to hear that you are not alone. It is so encouraging to know others in a similar spot and be able to work through it together, even virtually. 

Megan recently shared her health story on a podcast interview.  Once I heard it, I knew I had to share it with you.  While this story is specifically focused on her experience taking antidepressants, I related to it in so many ways- being so desperate to feel better and believing the doctors knew best, trusting that the pills they were giving me would be safe and healing, only to end up worse.
Megan’s story is full of the range of emotions that any of us go through when dealing with chronic pain or an unexplained illness: one day hopeful and the next filled with hopelessness.  If you are in that place and looking for some encouragement today, or if you are on or considering taking antidepressants, you must listen to Megan’s story.  Here’s a summary of what they discuss (from James Moore at Let’s Talk Withdrawal):

  • How Megan had sleep difficulties and how her doctor prescribed an antidepressant for insomnia
  • That Megan didn’t even know what she was taking was an antidepressant
  • After 2 years, Megan started to think about coming off her medication. Her doctor at the time advised her to withdraw over 2 weeks after Megan had been taking the antidepressant for 2 years
  • How Megan found the increase in suicidal thinking the most frightening effect of withdrawal but that she did not realise at the time that this was caused by stopping the drug
  • How no one understood that what Megan was experiencing was caused by antidepressant withdrawal
  • How doctors prescribed more medication to try and counter the symptoms of withdrawal
  • How Megan had to go back on her antidepressant and double the dose to remove the withdrawal effects
  • That the prospect of starting a family led Megan to consider stopping again and she then found an entire community of others who were struggling with the drugs themselves
  • How, having realised that her initial attempt to stop was too fast, Megan then decided to change to a different anti anxiety medication
  • How Megan planned to take four months to withdraw but still found this too fast and she experienced a wide range withdrawal effects
  • How a doctor prescribed an additional three medications on top of the antidepressant and anti anxiety medication
  • How those withdrawal effects forced Megan to go back up to 20mg of her antidepressant, meaning that Megan felt trapped
  • How the website survivingantidepressants.org was a major resource that Megan used to help her maker her tapering plan
  • That Megan used a compounding pharmacy to help her taper but it was expensive
  • How sometimes withdrawal effects can recur years after someone has stopped an antidepressant
  • How people should be very careful to recognize that suicidal thinking can arise from starting, changing dose or stopping an antidepressant

Listen to it at Let’s Talk Withdrawal or on iTunes.

I’m so proud of Megan for being so vulnerable in sharing her story and for her persistence to trust God in finding healing someday.  I hope you will also be encouraged by her outlook and reminded of how important it is to always do your own research before taking pharmaceuticals- they all have side effects.