“The greatest wealth is health.” – Virgil
Well hello again! Welcome to the gripping second chapter of my wellness saga, where I discovered a new path to wellness through real food and green living. If you just got here, take a minute to catch up on the first chapter of my story. I’ve divided this story into two epic chapters: Chapter 1 covers the first 29 years of my life, where you witness a vicious cycle of illness, pharmaceuticals and lackluster medical advice. We left off at age 29 was where I was diagnosed with a chronic illness called interstitial cystitis (IC), which marked a significant turning point in my life. Disclaimer: there is some very sensitive information in this post, so gentlemen, you may want to pass. So without further ado…
Suit up folks, we’re diving back in!
Age 30: As I reach this emotionally controversial milestone, I make a conscious effort to celebrate being exactly where I want to be in life at 30: happily married, gainfully employed and owner of two mortgages. The only place I don’t want to be? Inside my body. After developing other reproductive complications from the IC, I locate an excellent women’s health center in NYC. Based on my symptoms, they flag me for pelvic floor disorder and endometriosis, a disease that can make it extremely difficult to get pregnant. They also find I have zero testosterone in my body. I feel my spirit fall even further as we prepare for a difficult battle ahead for planning a family expansion.
My job responsibilities explode and I am run into the ground preparing for a huge presentation. A sinus infection is brewing, so to head it off I visit to our company nurse who prescribes Z-pack, an antibiotic so powerful that one course can cause long-term changes to the gut’s microbial balance. When the infection begins to wear off, I stupidly indulge in a massage; this spreads the antibiotic toxins throughout my body so rapidly that I develop vertigo while driving home. I am hospitalized and unable to return to work for 2 weeks. My physician doctor tells me Z-pack is a terrible choice for sinus infections, ironically. I resolve to break up with corporate medicine. It’s not me, it’s you.
Typical meal: A heap of whole-wheat linguine with white clam sauce, broccoli rabe sautéed in olive oil. No salt whatsoever, because I attribute my severe bloating to my salt intake.
Age 31: The women’s center takes me off The Pill in order to restore my hormone levels, citing how much damage long-term birth control can cause for women. Of course, no one tells you this when you’re 18 and desperate to feel like a normal person every month. Several months off the pill, my skin explodes into a deep dish pizza pie, to the point where coworkers ask me if everything’s alright. It’s like my hormones are saying “OH haayyyy!”
I also begin pelvic physical therapy which helps my pelvic floor pain, but inadvertently flares my interstitial cystitis. After 3 flare-free years, I suddenly realize that IC is forever, or at least my medication was just a Band-Aid and not the cure. I now have to walk a fine line to keep from falling into the painful clutches of either condition.
Typical meal: A half-homemade bowl of Annie Chun’s packaged udon noodles with tofu, mushrooms, broccoli and miso broth.
December: This is the year we begin trying to get pregnant; I start prenatal supplements and researching fertility since my optimism about my reproductive capabilities are pretty low.
After giving it a go and a round of baby-friendly acupuncture, Daring Dada, my buttery-sweet sis-in-law, her boyfriend and I shuffle off to Disneyworld for a fake “babymoon”. On the flight down I suddenly feel strange and realize I’m three days late. We buy a pile of pregnancy tests and at 4am in a tiny pirate-themed hotel room with three people and one bathroom, I find out we’re Prreeeegoooo! We are so very excited since we thought it was such a long shot. Shortly after the instant elation, it dawns on me what a terrible place Disneyworld is to be pregnant if you’re into things like roller coasters and 8-stop winery tours. Ah well.
Due to unseasonably arctic Florida weather, I catch a nasty cold on the way home and subsequently miss 2 weeks of work due to a horrendous resulting sinus infection. More antibiotics and decongestants, which I HATED taking being only three weeks pregnant. However the rest of my pregnancy is refreshingly uneventful and it becomes the healthiest time in my life, with the exception of 2 sneak-attack UTIs I wasn’t’ even aware of. Later I learn my radiant health is due to the surge in progesterone which supports the immune system, and outside of pregnancy my progesterone was nil.
September: Joy for joy! I give birth to the hefty and delicious Judgey Bear (albeit after a disappointing birth experience, and more on that in a later post). Despite delivering a rock-solid baby feeding plan to my hospital staff, I witness multiple violations (not a baby-friendly hospital, #oops). Judgey Baby Bear proceeds to consume breast milk at an exponential rate, taking scant 20-minute naps at a clip and locking his jaws onto me like a piranha. We endure the most challenging breastfeeding experience I can imagine despite help from two OBs, a midwife, six lactation consultants, a laser tongue tie and lip tie revision, and thousands of dollars spent on consultations and supplements.
December: After three months of exclusive breastfeeding, I am drastically underslept, riddled with plugged ducts and have permanent nerve damage. I make the hard decision to begin early weaning in order to regain control of my body before returning to my full-time job. This is a devastating shortcoming of my original goal of one year, and it is months before I can even think about that without breaking down.
Typical meal: prenatal supplements, mixed vegetables sautéed in olive or safflower oil, brown rice or whole wheat spaghetti and marinara sauce. While nursing: eggs, cereal with milk, cheese, Orgain shakes, nuts and anything in my kitchen that’s not made of steel or wood.
This year marks the watershed moment of my entire health life, for the better. Strap on your seat belts.
January: After finally settling into mama-hood in our secret bubble of bliss, I returning to work full-time. I feel a terrible disconnect from Judgey Bear, barely able to maintain composure if I catch a whiff of his soft baby scent on my clothes. Fatigue sets in from a ninety minute commute and JB’s inability to sleep through the night until he’s 9 months old. Ironically when he does, I’ve developed permanent insomnia, waking up at least 3 times per night in a hot sweat. Trudging to work is like having daggers thrown at my body by the circus clown from “It”. This becomes the season that will forever go down in history as “The Black Winter”. With Judgey Bear now in daycare on mostly formula, our house becomes a tempest of illness, with RSV, croup, and norovirus tearing through our home. I can recall maybe 2-3 days in 5 months where I was not desperately ill.
May: After the Black Winter, juggling my commute, speaking at several industry conferences, and standard family life craziness, I develop a constant earache and I reach a point where the color has drained from my lips. I decide that Western medicine can no longer help me, and in my research I discover integrative medicine, which is an evidence-based practice that focuses on a person as an interconnected system, rather than separate parts and organs. I locate an integrative or “functional” practitioner and through a battery of blood tests, he diagnoses me with these conditions:
- Gluten intolerance (noooooooooooOOOOOOOOooooooooo!)
- Pre-diabetic (whaa??)
- Severe adrenal fatigue
- Severe Vitamin D deficiency
- Imbalanced progesterone and nonexistent testosterone
So basically, I’m a 90-year-old fast food junkie trapped in a 33-year-old organic veggie and fruit-lovin’ body. He gives a pointed look to my gallon of sugar-laden green smoothie and instructs me to trash it. He then orders me to drop the gluten and prescribes a host of supplements to detox the gluten waste, restore my Vitamin D and balance my hormones. He also prescribes a daily nasal spray with a low side effect profile to reduce my congestion, but I’m not thrilled at the idea of being on long-term medicated anything. I begin my gluten detox during an all-inclusive vacation in Punta Cana…not recommended. Deprivation central.
July: My ear pain escalates and I decide on my own to see a highly-rated ear-nose-throat doctor (ENT), and after another battery of tests he can’t find any obvious cause. He prescribes a 3-week round of Levaquin anyway, one of the strongest antibiotics available; I mention my nasal spray and he’s never heard of it. I figure, I need to get rid of this ear pain and as the doctor said, one round of little antibiotics won’t do any harm, right? The first night of taking it, I suddenly can’t sleep…the entire night…and then for an entire month. Every night is spent in a panicky sweat, and I start to question my entire life. While on a girl vacation to Boston, I catch a cold and end up with another horrific sinus infection. I come home feeling as if I am being slowly digested by a whale’s stomach. I decide to research interactions between the nasal spray and Levaquin, and learn that it has a moderate interaction flag for: severe anxiety and insomnia.
Lesson learned: Always research drug interactions before starting a new prescription, even if your prescribing doctor won’t.
October: At my checkup 5 months later, my Vitamin D has doubled but nothing else has really changed, other than feeling extremely deprived after passing up every wheat-based noodle that entices my gaze. My functional doctor points out that it can take up a year for gluten to purge from the system, so I reach down and draw upon my deepest reserves of patience which is not something I excel at.
December: I shower the Judgey Bear with educational and fun Christmas gifts, and in return he gifts me with a nasty cold. Guess what…sinus infection! I know you didn’t see THAT coming! This time I am determined to beat it without the little pink pills, and self-medicate with a of homeopathic remedies, raw apple cider vinegar, oil of oregano, and Umcka syrup. Of course, I am taking these all at arbitrary, irregular times as even my functional doctor mostly recommends pharmaceuticals. My infection worsens and I spend most of December and Christmas bed-ridden, missing work and many Judgey Bear cuddles in the process.
Then one evening, it all changed.
While researching attachment parenting online, I came across a blog post by a super-natural mama and Chinese medicine practitioner named Holistic Squid; the article was titled, “Why I Ditched Attachment Parenting“. This blogger was funny, poignant, and unapologetic about doing what was best for her family despite the gung-ho nature of attachment parenting. Another article on her blog titled “”I Eat White Rice” caught my eye, which discussed white rice is actually healthier than brown rice due to anti-nutrients present when not prepared properly. Reading that post exposed me to an entirely new universe known as the nourishing real food diet, which is modeled after the groundbreaking work of Weston A. Price. Price was an American dentist who saw a connection between failing dental health and a newly industrialized American food supply. In the 1930’s he visited traditional cultures around the world in order to understand how the ancestral, nutrient-dense diets of these peoples correlated to their radiant good health.
I began to discover a network of holistic wellness and real food bloggers that all had one mission: to help blow the lid off of commonly held conventions about food, medicine and parenting in this country and empower families to take the reigns of their wellness destinies. I. am. HOOKED.
January: I methodically begin cleansing our food and home of toxins, adapting our diet to incorporate the pillars of real food such as fermented vegetables, grass-fed meats, pastured eggs, bone broths and the real healthy fats sourced from coconuts and…animals. Yes, I just said animal fats are healthy. More to come on that. I overhaul all of our skincare and cleaning products with as-effective homemade versions using vinegars, water and essential oils.
Upon making these changes, I notice a dramatic shift in the health of everyone in my home: one mild cold and a 2-hour stint of stomach flu. The Judgey Bear even escapes a full-blown bout of cocksackie despite his entire class staying out of daycare for a week. On cleaning day, our home smells like a spa instead of a paint factory. But my greatest achievement? I beat my first cold…without a sinus infection or antibiotics. That is NOTHING to sneeze at (see what I did there? hyuk.)
Typical meal: Grass-fed meat or pastured chicken, pastured eggs cooked in lard, fermented sauerkraut, roasted beets in coconut oil.
March: To hit the refresh button on my interstitial cystitis and pelvic issues, I find a urogynocologist who is also a Doctor of Osteopathy. I am refreshed by Dr. Down-There’s balanced and thorough approach, a rare find in this field. A culture revearls I have a ureaplasm infection and…yeast. (I know, TMI). A round of doxycycline and Diflucan later, the ureaplasm is gone, but the yeast is not. I suspect I’ve had it since JB was born, and that I likely have a systemic Candida overgrowth. Dr. Down-There recommends a painful Botox procedure to alleviate my pelvic pain and bladder distension to help my IC pain, both of which sound SO fun. However, these procedures do come with risk, AND they require the yeast to take a hike. These developments shake my confidence in my new wellness campaign, and I begin to wonder if I’ll ever overcome these setbacks.
June: This marks my 1-year anniversary of gluten-freedom, and on the whole I know I am so much better for it. But after hitting a plateau with my chronic candida and immune system issues, my integrative doctor & I decide to approach a major dietary shift: The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) to heal my gut, with FODMAP restrictions to counter the yeast. It is super restrictive (no garlic or mushrooms, waaah!) and a LOT of work, but it is what I’m willing to sacrifice for one or two months to achieve a complete cleansing and healing of my gut. I’ll be heavily relying on the AIP online community for support and recipe ideas, so c0mment away fellow AIP folk!
Typical meal: A very simple formula: meat or fish, greens and squash with solid fat. No eggs, nuts, legumes, nightshades. No takeout, no cheating. Every. single. meal.
I have begun seeing a naturopath, a functional specialist who truly looks at the human mind-body connection. She suspects I have severe thyroid impairment which explains my Arctic hands and feet, dizziness upon standing and frequent blood sugar crashes. She also suspects heavy metal toxicity and/or pyroluria (KPU) based upon my severe magnesium and vitamin B deficiency, despite religiously supplementing both since before pregnancy. Both of those conditions are major contributors to chronic yeast. This is the key however: she refuses to test for and treat all of these conditions at once; rather her approach is grounded in the Klinghardt 5 Stages of Healing, where conditions are treated in succession to safely bring the physical, emotional and spiritual body back into balance.
She also believes the scar from my C-Section holds a lot of grief, resentment and inflammation, and is a core impediment to my healing. And, she’s right. I have a lot of work to do in making peace with my scar, as it represents a failure to achieve the birth I’d hoped for. More on that in a later post…
So there you have it: 34 years of medical turmoil, giving rise to a new path and passion in life. Chronicling my life events this way was an incredibly enlightening exercise for me, and how my perspective on health has drastically evolved. But this blog is not the place to wallow or beg for sympathy. This blog is my battle cry, not declaring war with my body, but war on lack of information and resources to get those with failing health the help they need. I am trading in the helpless victim act for a gig as champion for those who suffer similarly. Readers in pain, you will always have a home here.
With that, I offer you my very first (but not last)…
Maverick Mama Manifesto:
- From this day forward, I will no longer wallow in my past health saga, but will march forth in a healing wellness journey.
- I will no longer self-medicate and treat my conditions as separate, but work with professionally trained functional and naturopathic practitioners to decipher my body’s mysteries and heal them as a single interconnected system.
- I will question and challenge Western medical advice when it appears to contradict logic, is not based in research and conflicts with my wellness goals.
- I will greet each new day as an opportunity to feel well, feel happy and let my radiance shine upon my loved ones.
- I will end each new day with the following mantra: “I deserve to be well.” I will not pessimistically snicker under my breath while doing so.
- I will not take the easy way out of anything if it means compromising my family’s well-being.
These words are the charter of my healing expedition, and I will write them across my heart every day even when it feels like an uphill battle. To paraphrase someone very wise, I now do take the road less traveled, and it truly has made all the difference.
How you would use The Maverick Mama Manifesto to take back control of your health?
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