“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome. “
Hello Friends, today’s post is going to be a bit more personal than my previous posts. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if a very long health journey hadn’t led me here. Some of you already know some of this, but I have included things that I haven’t mentioned before. We all have a unique story, and sometimes one person sharing can lead to many others opening up. I hope that through my story you learn to never settle for mediocre health. We all deserve to live a healthy life.
This is before diagnosis. I didn’t even know I was sick. I had always been thin, and at fifteen years old it didn’t seem strange to me to be underweight. Around the time of this photo my symptoms started. It was like a switch had been flipped. Overnight, I became exhausted and depressed. The world that had always looked full of possibility now looked dark and empty. I felt nothing while wanting to feel something so badly. The only emotion that came through was a deep sadness, like being just below the surface of the water gasping for air, but unable to will myself to swim up out of it. Physically I felt weak. In the mornings I would have to lie in bed for 10-15 minutes before I had enough energy to sit up. Just getting through the day took every ounce of energy. I considered self harm just to feel something. Thankfully my parents kept a close eye on me and made themselves available for me to talk to at anytime. My dad was always a shoulder to cry on. When he had his big arms wrapped around my I felt safe. My mom was my health advocate. I would not have the health I have today if she had not been so persistent in finding answers. I could write a book on how much my parents did for me during these years, but if you know them you know that’s not their style. During this time my digestion acted up. Everything I ate hurt my stomach and would pass through me within 30 minutes. Along with this came some bad acne…every teenagers worst nightmare.
I don’t have a picture from these two years, I didn’t like having my photo taken because I knew how sick I looked. I knew I resembled a drug addict. In 2008, I made frequent visits to my doctor begging him to help me. He would prescribe anti-depressants, but I never filled the prescription. I knew depression was a symptom and not a cause. During one of my visits, he prescribed anti-depressants again, and in a louder than necessary voice I said “I am depressed because no one will help me! I am depressed because I am too sick to live my life!” That was the day he scheduled me for other tests. Shortly after, a Celiac disease diagnosis was given. My mom had already suggested Celiac disease as a possible diagnosis, and I had been on a gluten-free diet for a very short amount of time. At this point, I had went a whole year with symptoms and no diagnosis. The damage was done… to this day it has not been fully reversed. At this time, I was also having really bad periods, and would lie on the couch groaning in pain. My doctor suggested a birth control pill to lessen the symptoms,so I accepted without asking about side effects, and started the pill immediately. My symptoms did lessen, but years later the side effects would show themselves.
In 2010, I walked on to the Lake Superior State University cross country team. They offered me a scholarship, and I welcomed the extra money. the stress of the long runs was too much for my body and only made me more sick. I had so hoped that this would be something I could do pain-free. I decided not to run after that first year of cross country. My body couldn’t handle the stress I was putting on it by running two hours a day, six days a week. My stomach was slowly healing, but I wasn’t gaining weight. I could eat all day long and still feel like I was starving when I went to bed. A natural path suggested I had absorption problems and had me start a diet specific to my symptoms. I would try a couple different diets over the years. I was in my second year of the Exercise Science Program. I had always been interested in exercise, and loved learning about the human body and what it was capable of. A year prior I had found Catalyst Fitness, and fell in love with CrossFit and Weightlifting.
Even though my stomach was slowly on the mend, I was still not absorbing the nutrients I needed. This led to anemia, low vitamin D, low calcium, and the list goes on. Those years were very fuzzy for me. I was determined to get healthy, but I was so tired everything was a blur. I would force myself to go to the gym because I knew it was good for me. I would force myself to swallow massive pills because I knew I needed the nutrients. I forced myself to do whatever I needed to do in order to regain my health. Some days it felt like I was stuck, like things would never get better. I still had bouts of depression and anxiety that would set me back, but thanks to the encouragement from my parents and boyfriend I kept pursuing better health. I also struggled with brain fog, which made it difficult for me to get through my classes at school, so I had to spend hours of relearning at home.
I would call this my turn around year. My body made some gains. I was finally able to gain some weight! I was about 140 lbs, which was a huge improvement on the 110 lbs that I had been stuck at for years. I experimented with cutting out other foods that could be allergens, and really focused on not only keeping gluten out of my diet but also dairy. With the good also came some more bad: I had intense cravings. Sometimes it was ice cream, sometimes it was french fries. It would hit me so hard I would drop whatever I was doing to get what I wanted. I was actually able to tan. The previous summers it was like my skin couldn’t absorb anything. It didn’t matter if I was out in the sun for long periods of time. I regained a bit of colour in the summers, but was still ghostly pale in the winter. Dan (my boyfriend, now husband) proposed to me, and we set the wedding date for June 2013. He was and is such a light in my life. I don’t know if I would be here without him. He stuck by me through things that most people would bail on, and proved he would never leave me.
I started building muscle. My body was able to absorb enough nutrients to make some gains. It kept me motivated to keep pushing forward. Right before my wedding I weighed 155 lbs and felt great about it. I looked healthier than I ever had. I didn’t realize how much further I still had to go. Dan and I got married and went to Chicago for our honeymoon. We came back to very busy work schedules. Because my job had varying hours I would come home in-between clients and take naps. Almost everyday I went home, even if it was just for 20 minutes, I would go to sleep. I would wake up feeling just as tired as before. The problem with chronic fatigue is you’re too tired to do anything about it. At first I thought I must just be a bad wife because I didn’t have the energy to cook or clean. Dan fended for himself a lot, and NOT ONCE did he complain. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t have more energy when I was working so hard to be healthy.
I still struggled on and off with fatigue. Fall and Spring were really rough for me. My whole body seemed to turn on me for 4-6 weeks during both seasons, and I would struggle with various health issues. In December and January I would often struggle with depression. I would cry at night on Dan’s shoulder. I would tell him how badly I wanted to feel normal, and how hard it was to not put a smile on everyday when on the inside I was sad. He would comfort me and tell me it was going to get better. He was right. I started to struggle with water retention. I could look like I gained 10 lbs over night. It was so strange to go from being underweight to having days where I felt uncomfortably overweight. I wasn’t overweight by any means, but anyone who has experienced water retention knows that it feels like a lot of weight.
My struggles with water retention continued, which sometimes caused me to weigh 15 lbs more than normal. I could not figure out why. I tried different supplements and diets, but nothing worked long-term. I reached a point where I just accepted that this was part of me, and so I tried to focus on other things. I also started experiencing hair loss. I would find it on my pillow, my clothes, in my food, it was everywhere. When I would wash my hair there would be tons of hair going down the drain. I was also struggling with sugar cravings, abnormally intense sugar cravings. I would eat whole containers of Häagen Dazs in one sitting. At the same time I was having lots of unexplained nerve pain. Shooting pain in my lower back and my feet would go numb when I was running. The gym I attend has an excellent Athletic Therapist names Michelle Young. One of the great things about Michelle is she loves to learn, if she can’t tell you what wrong with you she will do research until she can. After a few different assessments and treatments we were both confused, nothing was working. Michelle did research on her own time and suggested I have my B12 tested. Little did I know how life changing that suggestion would be. This led to another amazing person entering my life. I scheduled an appointment with Terry Lutes hoping she could send me for blood work. She is a natural path in Sault Ste. Marie, ON. I knew as soon as I met her that she could be trusted and would not take my story lightly. She gave me a ton of great health advice. After our consultation she sent me for blood work at life labs. Within a few days she called me to tell me I had severely low vitamin B12 levels. A quick google and I found some answers. I learned that people with Celiac disease often have impaired ability to absorb B12, but it usually repairs itself when they’ve been on a gluten-free diet. Low B12 can lead to exhaustion, anxiety, depression, hair loss, cravings and nerve damage. Almost all of my existing symptoms could be linked to low vitamin B12. What frustrated me about this was that not once did my doctor notice this.
I started getting regular B12 shots. At first I went every week, because if I tried to go longer my symptoms would return. My body just couldn’t absorb vitamin B12 on its own. It was a mystery. I had been gluten-free for 8 years. My body should have healed and been restored of its ability to absorb nutrients again. I started researching again. I came to the conclusion that I needed to get off the birth control I had been put on years before. I can’t remember exactly what gave me the idea to research the birth control pill, but once I started I was shocked at what I found. When birth control pills were first invented they couldn’t find people to test them because the side effects were so severe. They had considered making the pill for men, but any man they gave it to couldn’t handle the side effects. Prolonged use of most birth control pills is linked to malabsorption of many nutrients including iron, B12, and Vitamin D. The list of side effects is endless, and if you search online you will find forums of women sharing lists of side effects not even listed on the box. I stopped taking the pill at the beginning of October. The first month was rough. It was like being on a hormone roller coaster. After the first month I started to see improvements.
I have now been off birth control for six months, and cannot believe the difference. I feel like a completely different person. If you look in the picture below you will notice my skin has more of an olive tone. I have no tan right now. This is my natural colour returning to me, as my health returns. I still get a regular vitamin B shot, but only have to get it once every three weeks. The water retention is gone, and I am back at a healthy and comfortable weight. My emotions are what surprise me the most. I have not had any issues with depression or anxiety as long as I eat healthy and exercise regularly. Fall and Spring are still rough seasons for me, but are now perfectly manageable and do not disrupt my life like they used to. Through this whole experience it would have been so easy to lose hope and just accept the health issues that I had. As a Christian I knew that good would one day come from the suffering and placed my hope in God knowing he never disappoints. My journey has led me to want to help other people with their health journey. No one should have to live with sub-par health. If you are struggling with your health or maybe you’ve just accepted certain aspects of your health as permanent, I want to encourage you to keep fighting, and keep looking for answers. Seek out alternative health professionals if your current ones aren’t taking you seriously. You know your body better than anyone, and you deserve good health!
If you have a story about your health I would love to hear it. Feel free to post in the comments below or on Facebook. If you’d rather privately message me, I would be more the happy to listen and encourage you.
Eat your veggies!