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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Back at it…

Wow… somehow it’s been almost 4 months since I’ve blogged.  It’s hard to find time for hobbies lately that aren’t just zoning out after bedtime with a glass of wine and Netflix.  I do have several posts scheduled you can look forward to, but thought I would do a quick catch up on life lately.

Last Fall, the stress of trying to work full time with a baby caught up to me.  I was working from home two days a week, but it was hard. I wanted more time to play with her beyond evenings and the weekend.  Honestly, I’m not someone who loves to work or enjoys that time away from home… I don’t say that to guilt those that do, but I say it because I’ve felt out-of-the-norm as a working mom who doesn’t feel that way.   I’m thankful that my work supported my need for flexibility and allowed me to go part-time. I’m still in the office three days a week, but my days at home can be focused on my girl as well as giving me time to run errands, get groceries, meal prep, exercise and clean house.  And I’m actually able to enjoy my weekends with my family.  I feel grateful for a schedule that gives a whole lot more balance to my life and that’s allowed me to focus on my health again, as well as precious time my girl.

In other news… this Spring, I weaned my daughter.  I shared about our many struggles with breastfeeding in the early months, but honestly it was never easy. We were never on a schedule, never able to wean from the nipple shield, pumping at work and after bedtime was annoying and I always struggled with / stressed about supply.  Plus, breastfeeding seemed to have the opposite effect on me that it does on others and made me gain 20 pounds; I couldn’t cut down on calories because it would affect my supply and I was ready to lose the extra weight.

While I never “loved” nursing like some women do, I was so thankful for the ability to provide a strong foundation for my daughter’s health, giving her the best nutrition possible.  I did love the bond it created.

When she reached her first birthday, I was ready to start the process. She got sick with RSV right after that and I didn’t want to stop then as her immune system recovered.  I hoped it would happen naturally, but of course it didn’t.  It was really tough on me emotionally (ok, likely hormones had a lot to do with it) to intentionally stop because I had worked SO hard to make it happen in the first place. Eventually, I convinced myself that I needed to do it for me and started decreasing one session per day each week.  We just kept busy or got out of the house to distract her.  We couldn’t do a bottle replacement because she wouldn’t drink milk.  We tried all kinds of milk, but she didn’t like any of it.  She still eats yogurt every morning and loves cheese at mealtime. She loves her sippy cup of water and drinks more than any kid I know. The process took about 6 weeks, but she handled it really well and I was thankful it was easy in that way. IMG_7547

These days, I’m chasing a 17-month old toddler.  She’s been walking since 10 months, so she’s runner and climber now, constantly on the move.  She’s outgoing and says + waves hi and bye to everyone we see at the grocery store. She loves her dog “Belle-y” and feeds her as many snacks (aka “nacks”) as she can sneak. If you ask her what sound an animal makes that she doesn’t know, she’ll scrunch her nose and sniff like a bunny because that’s her favorite. She loves to dance and clap her hands and stomp her feet with joy.  She gives the best hugs with a pat on the back and always blows kisses when saying bye-bye. Her favorite foods are blueberries, bananas, applesauce, yogurt, chicken, cheese, ice cream and whatever we’re eating. And she’s absolutely loving the pool this Summer, already swimming like a champ.  These are truly the best days.