I'm coming out of 6 years of extreme health challenges, capped off by a severe illness, two surgeries, and now a pregnancy. So when I tell you I've used stress management (diet, exercise, alternative health methods, removing myself from stressful people and situations, etc.) to save my life, I MEAN IT.
I've always preferred a fairly healthy diet. I did grow up on S.A.D.--the Standard American Diet (processed foods, white flour, refined sugar, fast food, etc.), but I never really cared for baked goods and loved veggies. It was interspersed with nutritious, from the farm food from my grandparents' farms. Granted, they were not organic farms...they didn't really need to be back then as much as they do now.
Fast forward to college...and coming home to dig into the snack cabinet only to find that my mom had replaced it with puffed millet and walnuts. Hey MA! Where's the food!? Granted, my all time favorite snack in high school was...wait for it...feta wrapped in raw spinach. So I was kinda all over the place for a bit.
Eating super healthy can be expensive for a college kid. There was a farming coop in my college town, and I would pick what I could afford and buy conventional for the rest. I knew about the dirty dozen, but my bank account didn't care.
Kept up with fairly healthy eating--still hated sweets, didn't drink much, still loved my spinach and feta. Played with vegetarianism and veganism for a bit, but it was (poorly) timed with my stint as a cyclist going through fairly rigorous training. I needed protein. I tried to fill the gap with things like nuts and tofu, but no dice. So I went back to meat and the difference for me (and my times) was immediate. Meat it shall be, then. One of my first and most valuable dietary lessons for my individual needs. Yours may be different.
My next light bulb moment was that I do, in fact, need GOOD FATS. I was always tall and thin, so fat never worried me so much as I didn't really care for it. Found my salvation after being a patient at Dr. Mercola's clinic--BUTTER! I figured out I was a "protein type", one of three designations in Mercola's program, and that accordingly I needed eat my meals with meat and a veggie and fat. A reasonable portion of dark meat (ground beef, chicken thigh, steak) with green beans soaked in butter (eaten in that particular order) became an ingrained habit for me, and I never felt better.
Shortly after that revelation was that I need BREAKFAST DAILY. I'd often do my meat/veg/butter combo, toss on a fried egg, add a small chunk of cheese or avocado, side of herbal tea and call it good. I spent about a decade not eating pork, so regular breakfast meats were out for me.
I've always been fairly active (before I got sick, anyway), and the types of food above served to bolster my already active lifestyle. I've always been a healthy eater too, and at my strongest--when I was a cyclist the day before my last big race, I was a whopping 142 pounds. Seems like a lot, but I'm 5'10", and at that point I could cycle easily for 35+miles, eat, and go for another 35 or so miles. You get the picture. What I'm saying is my weight reflected my health, as did my bloodwork. My cholesterol was (and is) spot on--something that makes people nervous when they see how much butter I use.
The dark years, as I call them, were a 4 year period of intense personal stress. I hated my job, was in a horrible relationship, and even though I was active and ate well, my body was showing signs of that stress. I got sick often, easily, and it took ages to get well again. I knew that, until I could remove myself from the situation, I had to give my body the nutrients it needed or I would collapse like a house of cards.
Finally, in late 2008, I threw in my notice and quit my job. I couldn't get out of my relationship legally yet (long, long story), so I decided to at least change the dead end job. I struggled along for a few months, paying my bills with money made babysitting. And then I found a "position open" ad on Craigslist...Honolulu. I sent in my resume and an e-cover letter and went to clean my bathroom. I had no money, and it was time to go "balls through the wall", as my old cycling team used to say.
I moved to Hawaii in 2009. Minus a minor freakout after I landed and my ride was NOWHERE TO BE FOUND, the change in me was immediate. It was a BIG year. I moved from Chicago to Honolulu, started a new job, moved 8 times in 8 months on island, got divorced, lost two family members, reunited with "the one who got away (or I got away from, depending on who you ask)", got engaged, married, pregnant, and moved from Hawaii to Canada. In less than one year. I've since learned that there are different kinds of stress and they have very different effects on the body.
While in Hawaii, I still had plenty of stress, as you can see. I worked long hours at a new job. But I had more of the good kind compared to the bad kind of stress (distress vs. eustress). I took my solo nightly meals either at Lanikai Beach or Ala Moana Beach Park, when I wasn't out with my new, amazing, very supportive local friends. I ran up and down the hills of Kailua and Honolulu, or on the beach for exercise. I caught sunrises on my way to work, sunsets after my dinners or nightly workouts. Salt water and sunshine has always been super beneficial specifically to me, and I was in it at least 3x a week. I thrived, and I looked it.
These last couple of of paragraphs seem fluffy, right? Not related to much of anything? I added them in for two reasons: #1, to show how important stress management is, and #2, to explain that Hawaii, in fact, saved my life.
Which is partially why I love it so very, very much.
So, you might be wondering about these last 5 or so years of ill health. During my first pregnancy, I was diagnosed through a routine blood test of a fairly severe immune globulin deficiency. I worked in medicine for several years, along with having been premed in college for two years. I started getting sick all the time, way more than the "all the time" of before. And the infections would get horrible and painful in a hurry, often ending in ruptured ear drums.
I cleaned up my diet further. I went to many, many medical appointments. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the only "standard" treatment for this condition was one I was allergic to. But it pushed me to keep digging, to keep changing things, to keep researching. I'd known about CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) for many years, and was taking a butt load of supplements, doing regular chiropractic adjustments and so on.
Over the course of those five years, I discovered an allergy to both casein and gluten and removed them from my diet (have since reintroduced some grassfed butter and cheese in small amounts). I learned about leaky gut, which I most certainly had due to repeated rounds of antibiotics. I also learned how to repair it. I learned about food sensitivities. Already doing a fair amount of supplementation, I added and subtracted. I learned to listen to my body.
I researched energy healing, chiropractics, kinesiology, acupuncture, aromatherapy, holistic medicine, naturopathic medicine, and on and on. I never bought the party line that this was incurable. Never.
I struggled along with my health until late 2014/early 2015. I had an early stage miscarriage and I guess that was the final blow. I landed in the hospital (my first hospitalization for anything other than childbirth) in March of 2015, presenting to the ER septic with bacterial meningitis. Mercifully, I don't know how close I came (within a few hours I'm told) of not making it because I was out cold for a day and a half. I went through a surgery to relieve the fluid behind my ear which led to the infection on the 6th morning in the hospital...and was released later that day.
I had suspected for a while that I had an antibiotic resistant type of infection that would keep recurring because I had no way to fight it off. The running guess is that I had it for around 2 years before finally succumbing to it. They were never able to get a final word on the specific bacteria.
Three weeks after I went into the hospital, my husband deployed. My mom came to live with me and help care for me and my two sons, who were all of 2 and 4 years old. She has a very similar diet to me, and we overloaded organic salads, smoothies, fresh juice from the citrus in my yard, and organic fruits. I kept a very strict diet, and my recovery was remarkable.
Three months of eating like this, slowly building up my stamina with gentle workouts at home, I went in for another surgery: this time, it was a brain surgery to patch the hole between my mastoid and brain through which the infection had traveled. So, a minor type of a major surgery. I did this during the deployment.
As you can imagine, I spent the night in the post-surgical ICU. I was home not even 24 hours after my surgery. Two days after the surgery, I stopped all pain meds--including over the counter meds. I had no pain. I was up and about, and my mom would crack jokes about having to strap me down because, by all accounts, I shouldn't be feeling that good.
This is the power of eating right and taking care of yourself.
By this point I was finally on the monthly IV treatments for my immune system. The doctors had figured out a combo of premedications that keep me from massively reacting to the IVIG, albeit not completely. I was still not convinced that my body would react so strongly against something I supposedly needed.
And so I kept on digging. I somehow had picked a pediatrician whose daughter had the same condition I do. Her daughter's, and now my, subsequent diagnosis? Congenital Lyme/TBD--tick borne disease. Her case is proven, mine is not. I was shocked when she started tossing out the symptoms, which includes immune system decimation and autoimmunity, which explains why I suddenly became sensitive to gluten after the age of 30. I'd had nearly every single symptom over the course of my life and NO ONE had picked up on it.
Lyme has a lot of buzz these days. It was actually tossed out as a possibility while I was laying in the hospital looking at a literal team of docs as they tried to figure out what had struck me down so dramatically. It was quickly tossed out, because Lyme would never show up on a blood test for me since I don't have immune globulins. SO WHAT IF IT DOESN'T SHOW UP, it doesn't mean I don't have it! But that's conventional medicine for you, treats symptoms and doesn't dig for the root cause in most cases.
Again with the digging. Lyme can be transferred from mother to baby in utero. It can also be transmitted sexually, and by mosquitoes. All things I feel like the general public should know. So why didn't I get sicker earlier?? My best guess is that I was blessed enough to have my mom bring me to a naturopathic/holistic chiropractor when I was 18 months old. I stayed in his care until I moved away...to Hawaii. I have been plagued by allergies since I was little, and there are so few things I'm allergic to in Hawaii (vog notwithstanding), that I think the combo of that with healthy eating, working out, so much LESS (di)stress than I was used to, kept me healthy.
That doctor, by the way, I still see every single time I get back to that area. He has treated me long distance several times. I owe him my life several times over. I asked him about Lyme the last time I saw him, which was about 6 months ago. He checked me for the 2 types of Lyme he has in his office but told me it's almost useless for him to check since there's over 80 kinds of lyme/tick borne diseases--which is one of the same reasons a lyme test in a hospital is rarely of use. He also told me it could easily be the reason for all of my immune issues.
I'm now about 10 months out of my hospital stay. I'm getting over a cold--the first time I've been sick since "the big one". I still do the IVIG, albeit seldomly, because I'm about 22 weeks along in my third pregnancy and IVIG and all of the premedications I'm required to use are class c drugs. Interestingly, while they've told me that this is life long, my numbers are higher than they "should" be, according to conventional medicine. Especially at a time when the immune system is notoriously repressed in the mother: pregnancy.
So what does that mean? It means that my immune system is coming back, something I've been told repeatedly that isn't possible.
I've made my peace with one more IVIG during my pregnancy. No, I'm not happy about it, but having spent so many years sick and then getting laid up with meningitis, I'm more than determined to get through the birth as healthy as I can. My philosophy has long been that sometimes unnatural solutions are needed for unnatural situations. I'm alive because of the massive amounts of pharmaceutical antibiotics they used on me 10 months ago, as well as an exceedingly perceptive ER doc.
Ideally, I'd go in for a blood test prior and learn that it isn't needed. But if that doesn't happen the next time I go in, I still know that my immune system will come back. I'm 35 years old and my body has been through hell and back this past year in particular, so if it needs a bit more time to come back, I'm okay with it.
In the meantime, I'm keeping on with my system health and stress management, including:
of eating right, exercise, supplementation, spiritual practice, and all around stress management and reduction. Chronic diseases can be very misleading--I guarantee if you looked at me right now you'd never know what I've been through. If you'd looked at me a few hours after my brain surgery (other than the frankenstein stitches), you'd never, ever know either; we don't always look "sick". A lot of people suffer daily but are trying so hard with diet and exercise they look a hell of a lot healthier than the average, overweight, stressed person on the street.
*NOTE: This story is a big part of why Hawaii is so important to me. I'm sure I don't need to say it, but my health and medical information and story is my own: I am not a professional, and what works for me may not work for you. If you have any health issues, please find a caring, compassionate, competent health care provider!
**Another NOTE: I had no intention of putting this story on this site, but it has badgered me relentlessly for the past several months. I sat down this morning (is 4 AM considered morning?!) to write a post on how my pregnancy is affecting my Hawaii plans (in the interest of transparency and honesty with my "audience"...all 3 of you), and this came tumbling out. I decided to file it under the "ABOUT ME" section for myself if for no one else.