In the mid to late ’90s I went through a health ordeal that changed me forever. It changed the course of my life, it changed my approach to health, it led me to study natural medicine and become a certified herbalist. It changed my approach to food and to living.
In the late 70’s I had gotten Lymes Disease when I was a 3 or 4. At the time it wasn’t really known and it took nearly five years before a doctor recognized the symptoms listed on my medical records with the symptoms I sometimes showed several years later. This was before Lymes disease was considered possible to contract west of the Rockies. This was before there was treatment. By the time there was a treatment, if you want to call living on anti-biotics a treatment, the damage in my body was already done. The beginning of many auto-immune conditions began to play out in my system and I was treated in the typical Western medicine way, harsh drugs and anti-biotics. Lots and lots of anti-biotics. Which over time made things much worse. Until I was a freshman in college and became so ill I had to quit school.
It was within the next couple years that I started to take my health into my own hands and started working with Naturopathic doctors and those that took a more whole approach to health without using harsh chemicals and drugs. By then I had several conditions that all made true and full wellness seem impossible to achieve. I studied herbal medicine at a small school in Oregon and started to eat more organic foods little by little. I was determined to do what needed to be done to get better and maybe even use that education and experience to help others someday. My health was awful and eventually I was diagnosed with systemic Candida. An overgrowth of yeast that had spread to my bloodstream and was causing hell in nearly every part of my body. I went on a strict diet to starve and get rid of the excess yeast and restore my internal flora to a proper balance. It lasted over a year. No sugar of any sort, including nearly all fruit. And the list of what I could eat was much shorter than the list of what I couldn’t. I got a little better. My symptoms of the various auto-immune conditions settled down with only the occasional problem. I began to think about going back to school or doing an organic farming training program and any other number of things. For the first time in a long time I was starting to think about my future like I could have one, a real one.
Then in 2001 I moved to Washington State and got married. I was taking time off from working, thinking about what I wanted to do and enjoying my new life with a wonderful man in a beautiful place. I eventually took a job at a plant nursery, something I had done for several years in the past. I was enjoying having a part time job and keeping a bit of my independence, ‘cus I was an independent kind of girl. I started to relax a little. Then I started having signs of some of my health issues flaring up again. Before I knew it I was sick again. I had to quit my job. Some days I didn’t have the strength to lift my head from my pillow, let alone walk. It came and went in bouts as auto-immune things tend to do. Sometimes I was doing ok and I tried to live the active life I loved, hiking, snowshoeing, backpacking, but it was all slipping away from me again little by little.
I was very lucky to have incredible health insurance at the time that covered natural medicine. I settled in to a weekly visit to a wonderful doctor with lots of experience dealing with my kind of issues. We worked together and again I slowly began to get better. I learned more about other aspects of natural medicine during this time and eventually was able to take complete charge of my health on my own, and just in time as my husband’s job ended and the insurance with it.
We eventually moved away from Seattle to Olympia where my husband’s new job was. It was during this time that we got involved with some organized religion and with that came all sorts of social eating situations where I was regularly compromising my health needs to be polite and have a social life. And it wasn’t long before I started to get very ill again. The pattern repeating. Four years of this and I had flare ups of various levels, sometimes making it hard for me to walk, sometimes I was ok. We were also going through some situations that were high stress and everything we had started to believe was challenged, head on. We were at a place of reassessing everything about our lives, our beliefs, everything. Then my husband lost his job, we moved again, back to Seattle, stress ensued as we tried to keep a roof over our heads, with no way for me to take a job because we had learned by then that taking care of myself so I could function at least somewhat was a full time job itself. My husband just barely got another job, right before we would have been homeless.
I became less strict again with my eating when I was outside my own home. And my health yo-yo’d along with my yo-yoing commitment to do what I needed to do. Eventually I realized I had to be fully committed to doing what I needed to for my health, no matter the cost. I stopped eating meat which always made me sick afterwards and eventually became painful for me to digest to where I was doubled over. I became a vegetarian, with the very rare local seafood a few times a year. I stopped eating out except where I could find out every ingredient of every item I was eating. We stopped eating with friends and family. And as all this was happening I also noticed an increase in my chemical sensitivity to things outside of food – going a lot of places became out of the question. I couldn’t even be around my nephews without getting really sick, due to detergent and fabric softeners. It was heart-breaking and frustrating and I felt like a royal pain in the ass sister-in-law and daughter-in-law and friend. In a culture where chemicals abound and social activities are almost always centered around food and beverages and rarely around food and beverages that are organic and chemical free, eating the way I need to can be very isolating. But being as ill as I can get is worse than feeling isolated. It was a hard choice to finally commit fully to no longer making exceptions. At the same time it was easy. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.
But I wasn’t getting all better. My mind was starting to cause me problems. I couldn’t remember things short term, I couldn’t find words for things, even simple things. I kept breaking out in rashes and hives and any other number of seriously debilitating symptoms began to appear more regularly. I was getting more and more depressed. I was trying so hard and I began to despair. Then one morning it became clear. All the symptoms all the situations that were happening with my health, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t recognized it sooner, but then my brain was so often fuzzy I suppose it made sense that it took me so long. The Candida was back. I may have been eating healthier than most Americans but I still was having the occasional sugary things and with an immune system on the fritz it was enough to have everything slip out of balance.
So here I am again. But now, more is known about things that feed or worsen Candida than it was the first time I went through this. Now the diet is even stricter. Now I will have to be not only sugar and fruit and yeast and so-many- other-things-free, I will have to be gluten-free as well. And this time, I’m a vegetarian. This time the challenge is bigger, but I’m a lot more knowledgeable this time round and I am more determined than ever to finally be well. I finally have hope for it. I know I can thrive and ANYTHING is worth my finally being able to thrive in my health, in my body, in my mind and in my spirit.