Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired...and How I Finally Started Feeling Better

For the past several years, I haven't felt well. Let's rephrase that.  I was born with a kidney problem that left me very sick as an infant, and was sick with every cold, flu, croup, bronchitis, and creeping crud throughout my childhood.  I can pinpoint milestones in my younger years with "Oh, that's the vacation I got croup" or "That was right before I was in the hospital for strep" or "That's when I missed all those events and school from mono".  But, for the past several years, my health has been slipping from it's already compromised state.  I would have days that were better than others, but I can't say that I ever had a day where I felt good, let alone felt great. I've gone to multiple doctors and specialists who hadn't been able to find anything wrong with me. My symptoms were so varied and so unrelated, that there was no definitive answer saying what I had, let alone knowing what to look for. I was always tired. No, exhausted.  My joints and muscles ached. Bad headaches. Severe heartburn. Nausea and vomiting.  Inability to concentrate. The list went on and on.

In 2005, after many months of tests and appointments, it wasn't good news.  You have lots wrong.  I was told I probably had fibromyalgia. I had an anxiety/panic disorder.  I was clinically depressed.  I was even accused of being bulimic.  I was given pills to cure me of my pain, my anxiety, my depression, and was sent on my way. 

Over the next few months, I thought I was getting better, but that could be that the pills I was given made me sleep all the time (up to 18 hours a day). The medication also had a really bad side effect:  it caused me to gain a lot weight really quickly. I eventually stopped taking the pills and suffered such horrible withdrawals that had some people thinking I was addicted to drugs. After I got the medications out of my system, I was still sick. Sicker than ever, in fact.  Then a new doctor ran a bunch of tests (which were all negative), and said that all my problems were probably just caused because of my weight. I was so frustrated with this answer becuase I was having the problems before I gained all the weight, and had only gained all the weight recently on the last medication that was supposed to cure me. She said that regardless of that, the only cure was to lose weight.

For the next few years I started really watching what I ate. I did weight watchers and it was a fabulous program. I learned about portion sizes, drinking lots of water, getting healthy fats in my diet every day, eating my fruits and veggies. I did everything I was supposed to. Breakfasts of egg white omelets with fat free cheese and chopped up veggies and high fiber toast. Lunches of high fiber bread or tortillas with fat free condiments, lean lunch-meat, lots of crisp veggies with fat free ranch, and baked chips on the side. Snacks of a piece of fruit or veggie sticks, a 100 calorie pack, sugar free yogurt, or string cheese. Dinner of a lean protein, veggies, a small portion of brown rice or high fiber pasta. I counted every point that went in my mouth. I found Hungry Girl and cooked her yummy weight watchers friendly recipes. I would lose 5 lbs and then plateau. I went to the gym and walked on the treadmill and nothing. Worked out with a trainer. Still no weight loss. I would get frustrated after a few weeks and give up. Then I would start over again. And the cycle kept repeating.  Plus, I was still having all my other symptoms...nausea, exhaustion, vomiting, body aches, heartburn, foggy brain....

In 2010, my cousin suggested that I try a gluten free diet. She had tried it, and she felt better and noticed that whenever she ate bread, she went back to feeling bad. I gave it a try, and I started to feel a little better. My stomach stopped hurting as much all the time, my heartburn wasn't as severe, and I could actually keep food down sometimes. I went back to my doctor and asked to be tested for celiacs. After a bit of an argument, I convinced the doctor to just "rule it out" got the blood test done,  

It was positive.  

It was on the lower end of being positive (because I had already been GF for several months) which she interpreted as a false positive.  She also tested for general inflammation and that test was off the charts, and said that I had something going on, but didn't know what and left it at that. I eventually got a referral to a GI, who confirmed that I had a minor wheat intolerance/allergy. I had many more tests done, including an endoscopy, and they all came back normal. Once again was told, "Avoid wheat if it makes you feel better, but it's only a mild intolerance, so it's nothing to worry about, you're fine." FINE? Um, no, not fine. I still have all these problems.  This is NOT NORMAL.  

Over the next few months, I kept wheat out of my diet most of the time. I could definitely tell a difference when I cheated and ate a cupcake or a piece of french bread. But even when I would go for days or even weeks and didn't cheat, I still was feeling bad.  Even though I had initially felt a little bit better for a while,  I eventually started feeling bad all over again. 

A few years ago, Lo's mom had talked to me and said she thought I might have candida and that I should go get checked out by a natural doctor. At the time, I didn't have the extra money since natural doctors aren't covered by my medical insurance. Now I was ready. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired all the time. Not being able to lose weight. Feeling like my life was slipping away and I was going to be sick for the rest of it and never be able to enjoy all the wonderful experiences out there. I was terrified I wasn't ever going to get better.  I honestly felt like the next random test that I would be subjected to would end up reveling some horrific disease that had been "missed" and I would be getting the "I'm sorry, but it's terminal and you have days/weeks/months left, you need to get your affairs in order" call from the doctor.  It was so scary to have so much wrong with me, and be told I was fine, it's just all in your head.  So hubby and I agreed that we would come up with the money so that I could try out this natural doctor and see what they said and see if they could help.

I nervously went to my first appointment and met the natural doctor. She was a licensed Doctor of Natropathic Medicine (ND) and works under a licensed medical doctor (MD) who specializes in functional medicine.  She was very nice and I talked, and she listened. Never before had a doctor listened to me. She would ask me questions and she would listen, type out notes, stop me and ask for clarification, and just let me talk. It was amazing to finally have a medical professional not shoo me out of the office after 5 minutes and tell me to stop stressing out and hand me a stack of prescriptions. After what seemed like a very long interview, she said that she was pretty sure what was wrong with me, but it would take a blood test to confirm and would that be something I would want to do since I would have to pay for it out of pocket and it was kind of expensive. 


She said that it was very possible that I had multiple food allergies and sensitivities and wanted to do a an IgG blood test that would test for delayed reactions to 154 different foods. She also said that my long history of heavy antibiotic use throughout my entire childhood and adult life has left me lacking the beneficial bacterias that are supposed to live in your digestive tract (AKA candida). Finally, she noticed that some of my levels from previous blood tests were out of whack and that I could possibly also be suffering from adrenal fatigue. She said that she first wanted to start working on getting probiotics back into my body, because 70% of your immune system is your digestive system. You need to get your digestive system back in shape and then start healing the rest of your body.  Then I would need to do an elimination diet based on the results of my allergy test, to allow my body to heal and the inflammation go down. Finally, one the other stuff was under control, we would work on getting my hormone levels back in balance. Eventually, after 6 months of the elimination diet, I could slowly add back foods, one at a time to see if I could tolerate them again or not.  She warned me that it was going to be a tough road ahead, but if I was committed, I would start feeling better in a few weeks.

I got my blood work done and started taking a very strong pro-biotic. The first week that I took it, I felt very sick, like I had the flu.  I was experiencing die-off symptoms.  The battle of good and evil, restoring the balance of the good and bad bacteria, was going on in my body.  I had to wait three weeks for the results of my blood test and when I got it back, I was SHOCKED. I was allergic to EVERYTHING. I was tested for over 150 foods and tested positive to about a third of them. The next step was the hardest of all. I needed to completely eliminate all of these foods from my diet for the next few months. I could not have any of them, even in small amounts. I needed to give my body a rest, let the inflammation in my digestive track go down, and allow my body to heal. I also needed to start taking a digestive enzyme to help my body digest my food properly, and also take a supplement to help heal my digestive tract.

So I went home shocked, excited, overwhelmed, and an emotional mess.  I had to attempt to tackle the new challenge placed in front of me. I was excited because I finally had an answer. A wreck, because I was allergic to almost everything I eat on a daily basis. I needed to eliminate all these foods from my diet:

Mace (the spice, not pepper spray)
All my favorite spices and seasonings had to go
Bay leaf
Egg whites
Mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese
Cottage cheese
Swiss cheese
Cows milk
Baker's Yeast
Brewer's Yeast
Foods I could no longer eat...but hubby could.
Peas (See, mom, I really AM allergic to peas)
American cheese
Mahi Mahi
Kidney beans
Goats milk

Not only could I not eat those foods individually, many of these foods are the basis of other foods, so I also had to eliminate the foods that contain these things as well. Bay leaves are used in stocks, soups, and tomato sauces. Yeast is the start of most breads and alcohols. Wheat and soy are in almost every packaged product. And all the one gives up their secret seasoning blend, it's just listed as "spices" on the ingredient lists, so to err on the side of caution, I had to eliminate my beloved seasonings. I cleaned out my pantry and found there were only a few things left that I could still eat. I had to learn how to cook all over again. I was devastated. 

My new pantry of "safe" foods
It was a challenge. Over the next few days, I had a tough time adjusting and I had many breakdowns. Thankfully, I had a wonderful friends who supported me during my temper tantrums. One of my friends lovingly reminded me that this is what I had asked for: I wanted answers and I got them. I finally came to realize, while talking to Lo, that I was upset over FOOD? Really? I have friends that are dying from Batten Disease (, there are people dying from cancer, kids in Africa have no food or shoes, and I'm upset about not being able to eat a cookie for the next few months. I needed to get over myself and stop acting like a spoiled brat and suck it up. I needed to focus on what I could eat. I started looking for recipes online and just ate as simply as possible.

At my next appointment, two weeks into the elimination diet, I had good news for the doctor. Many of my symptoms had lessened, and some of them had disappeared completely. I was still having some problems, but they were so mild compared to what I had been experiencing. The doctor then said to look at what I had been eating and find out if there was a common food(s) that was causing my symptoms to get worse. Over the next couple days, I was able to identify and eliminate a few more foods:

Nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc)

After a couple days of making those eliminations, I woke up one morning with the weirdest feeling, almost in a panic, like something was wrong. I thought in my half asleep state, what's different? Then it hit me: no heartburn and no stomach pain. I haven't experienced a heartburn free day in probably 6 years.

A few weeks in to my elimination diet and I was doing much better. I still hadn't thrown up, and it used to be almost every day. I rarely had heartburn anymore, and it was almost never bad enough to take medication. The pain and swelling in my muscles and joints were going down. I was still very tired but I knew that this cure isn't overnight.  I had to stay the course. It took me my entire lifetime to get to the point where I was at, and it will take me a while to get back to feeling like I should. I felt like I was becoming a new person. I was so excited and so grateful for the path I'm on. 

I went back to see the ND again, and then we discussed my progress and also my extreme fatigue.  My blood work had almost normalized.  My hormone levels were stabilized and my inflammation levels had gone down dramatically.  She said that I was suffering from adrenal fatigue, a syndrome that's caused by intense or prolonged periods of stress. She asked if I had any stress in my life.  HA!  Stress?  Um, do you have time to listen to the past 22 years of my life since my dad died, and including the time since the Great Depression, v2.0 started, and I got a pay-cut, got furloughed, lost a house, and my hubby lost his job?   Of course I have way too much stress.  She had me start on a couple more supplements, specifically targeted at adrenal support.  After a couple of weeks, I had more energy than ever.  I was keeping busy for an entire weekend, never stopping to take a long nap.  I was staying up way past my "bedtime."  I was waking up feeling rested, not like I ran a marathon in my sleep.

Now I'm over 4 months in, and feeling better than ever.  The weight is melting off, slowly and steadily.  I can walk up a flight of stairs without much pain, and can run down them like a kid.  I can go for a walk without extreme pain and without becoming extremely exhausted after a few steps.  I can work a 10 hour day and not feel like I need a nap 3 hours into my shift.

I still have a long way to go.  I'm to the point where it's not just the light at the end of the tunnel I can see.  I can feel the warm sunshine on my face.  I know I'm gonna be ok.  I'm gonna finish getting better.  I'm going to get to do all the things I thought I would never be able to do.  There is hope in sight. 

Last Sunday was my 34th birthday.  I felt so good that morning that I went with Lo to Mellow Flow Hot Yoga.  I finished the entire class and felt good.  I then went home and sent this email to my doctor.

Thank you so much for making this the start of the best year of my life. I don't think I can ever tell you how much I appreciate you getting things figured out for me and setting me out on the path to finally feeling healthy. I feel like I'm getting my life back and able to do things I never imagined possible. Thank you so much for everything.  ~Mel


***This is not intended to treat or diagnose anyone.  This is just my personal experience.  If you are having health problems, please see your doctor.  I  see an ND who practices functional medicine, which is not generally recognized by mainstream doctors.  Please don't attempt to self-diagnose, self-medicate, or treat yourself.  Always seek a trained, medical professional's advise before starting or stopping any medication, elimination diets, or supplements. If you aren't getting the care you need, don't hesitate to ask for a new doctor.  Never give up on you and your well-being.

1 comment:

  1. Just went through and read this again...excellent, excellent writing!!!