How I Deal With Autoimmune Disease

I’m supposed to go to a cookie exchange in a few hours. Which means that, right now, I should be in the kitchen making cookies, or in the shower, washing my hair.

But instead, I’m sitting here, on my yoga mat, in a wide legged fold in front of my laptop, listening to Butch Walker, and wondering if I can pull myself together enough to get dressed and drive myself to her house, with or without cookies.

My autoimmune thyroid disease has reared it’s ugly head again today, and it’s taking everything I’ve got, just to get through the day. My eyes are puffy, my head hurts, I had to take a nap this afternoon, and I really want to crawl back under the covers again right now.

I don’t talk about my autoimmune thyroid disease with most people because my mama always told me that, if you don’t have anything good to say, then don’t say anything at all.

It’s hard to think of something good to say about this struggle, but I think it’s about time I told you a little about it.

I have fought this battle for at least five years, maybe longer. I’ve learned a lot, but I still wonder: how do we make sense of the fact that our bodies attack themselves?

For me, it’s an internal battle steals my energy, and makes it hard to get the simplest things done.

Especially on days like today, when I am expected at this party, that is being hosted by someone who is really important to me. Missy is a good friend, and someone I care about a lot. I know she has gone to a lot of trouble to open her home to her friends, and in my heart I want to show up tonight.

It’s just that the divide between what my heart wants, and what my body is willing to do, is seeming too big to cross right now. I know, however, that this is an illusion, so I am going to get past it.

First, I am going to stop telling myself that I can’t, and believe that I can.

Next, I am going to spend 45 minutes on my yoga mat, working as vigorously as I can manage, to burn off the brain fog and joint pain. I’ll wrap it all up with a 5 minute meditation at the end.

Afterwards, a cup of green tea, and a green juice will help ease some of the inflammation and boost my energy.

A whole body coconut oil massage (abhyangha, as the yogis call it), followed by a hot and cold shower (5 minutes hot, 30 seconds cold, three times) will give me energy and help my liver detox more efficiently.

And then I will put on my sassiest holiday outfit, pull my hair into a ponytail, apply a little bit of makeup, and walk out the door, whether I feel like it, or not. I’ll buy cookies on the way to the party, because I decided to get healthy instead of bake, and I’m sure Missy will understand.

Because the truth is that I can make it to this party. And it’s what I really want, even though it might not feel like it right now.

In the end, I refuse to succumb to autoimmune disease. I am stronger than this disease will ever be. I have beaten it before, and I can do it again. All it takes is a little bit of intention, and a whole lotta crazy healthy.

Wish me luck.

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Photo: http://www.yoga-online.ca

Aside

How I Finally Cured My Headaches

headacheI was interviewed by Good Housekeeping magazine, for an article in the July 2103 issue, entitled “How I Finally Cured My Headaches”. They only used a snippet of the interview for the article, so I thought I should share the full story here, with you.

I battled chronic pain for over twenty years. I had a headache almost every day, took a lot of medication, and did the best I could to deal with the pain. Prescriptions helped alleviate me get through the days…but, in hindsight, I think they ultimately made things worse.

I knew it was a mistake, taking all of those drugs, but I felt like I didn’t have a choice. Deep down, however, I knew that there had to be a root cause, and a holistic approach to prevent the pain.

But, try as I did, I never found what I was looking for. Not in the doctor’s office. Not in chiropractic care and massage. And certainly not in a pill bottle. But I kept repeating the same behaviors, year after year…and, as a result, I spent a lot of my life dependent on medications. These drugs damaged my gut, weakened my organs, and made me feel powerless against the pain.

I had a migraine almost every day, and I tried everything to make them go away. First it was Advil and Tylenol (which never really worked). Then it was anti-seizure medications. After that it was self-administered intramuscular shots of ergotamines (which hurt like hell and made me nauseous). And finally it was barbiturates.

In my twenties, I took Fioricet, a combination of Tylenol, caffeine, and butalbitol (and also a controlled substance) almost every day for ten years. My doctor said it was ok to take Fioricet daily, and I wanted to believe him, because I felt like I had no other choice.

As I popped all of those pills, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing to my health. I didn’t understand that the human body works synergistically. That taking a pill to relieve a headache would weaken my liver, kidneys, and digestive system. Which would, in turn, make me more susceptible to another headache, and another, and another. I was in denial about a very basic fact that, deep in our hearts, we all know to be true: everything we put in out body either fortifies, or destroys, our health.

I think this is why, as I got into my late twenties, the headaches got worse, and the painkillers stopped working. I grew desperate, and was willing to try anything.

When I finally reached the end of my rope, in 2003, I reluctantly let my yogi friend, Charlie, lead me through an elimination diet, of just bananas and water, for five days. And of course, being the stubborn person that I am, I fought him tooth and nail on all of it:

Why can’t I have fish? Fish is healthy.

Just one cup of coffee shouldn’t matter. What if it’s decaf?

What about milk? Everyone knows we need calcium.

I can’t get through the day without my medication…why can’t I have it?

These are the questions I asked, even though I already knew the answers, as Charlie patiently encouraged me to keep eating my bananas. The more patient he was, the more cranky I became. I just didn’t want to do it.

I wanted him to be wrong. How could food be the problem? I didn’t want to find out that I was allergic to bread, or cheese or (God help me) hamburgers. And who has the willpower to give up foods they love, just because they cause pain?

But Charlie was right, and I was wrong. The only way to identify allergies and sensitivities, was to clear my body of all potentially allergenic foods, and experiment afterward through trial and error.

As I slowly added foods back into my diet, I discovered that I had a lot of allergies. It was clear that food was causing my migraines. Surprisingly, it wasn’t just one food causing my pain, it was a lot of foods:

  • EVERYTHING that contains chemicals, additives, and preservatives gives me a migraine within a matter of minutes.
  • The same is true for most meats.
  • I can handle small amounts of organic dairy, but non-organic dairy gives me migraines.
  • Gluten gives me sinus headaches and makes my stomach hurt. I also find it hard to breathe after an exposure (I now know that some allergies present a day or more after exposure), and often end up with a sinus infection.
  • Sugar gives me PMS and migraines.
  • Alcohol makes me headachy and depressed for two days after the buzz wears off.

It took several months of trial and error to figure all of this out, and it felt like I was allergic to more foods than not. But that wasn’t really the truth.

The truth is that there are a lot of really delicious foods that I had never tasted before the elimination diet. Once I started exploring the grocery store with new eyes, and getting creative in the kitchen, it was actually fun. A lot of fun. And since my taste buds were no longer dulled by the processed, fake foods of my past, everything tasted richer, and more amazing than ever before.

I also found a book called Eat To Live, by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, which became my bible during the transition (if you haven’t read it, you must!). It all started to click, as I learned about the power of phytonutrients, realized that animal products inhibit our health more than they help, and accepted that food affects everything about my life.

My tastes changed over time, and I began craving healthy foods I never would have eaten before, like homemade guacamole, and roasted brussel sprouts. I ate a lot of veggies, fresh fruit, humus, trail mixes, and beans and rice. Whole Foods became my happy place, and I grew more excited about eating at home, than eating out.

Best of all, my energy was through the roof. I felt amazing. My skin was glowing, my hair was shinier, and I lost weight. I didn’t know it was possible to feel that good, because I had never had a day, for as long as I could remember, without pain.

I never thought I would become a vegetarian or completely give up my favorite foods, even after the elimination diet, but every time I experimented with animal products and processed foods, I felt awful. Eventually I stopped wanting these trigger foods all together.

Thankfully, eating clean got easier and easier, as the months went on, and I learned how to prepare foods from the earth. The changes in my health were unbelievable: I slept better, got more done, and almost never needed medication of any kind. Best of all, I felt happier than I had ever been in my life.

I have followed a mostly vegetarian diet ever since, and I absolutely love it. Food is my fuel, and my medicine. The brilliant, beautiful foods I bring home from the farmer’s market nourish my body, and I find them much more satisfying than any hamburger could ever be!

Similarly, the fake, processed foods of my past life seem boring and toxic to me now. It doesn’t bother me if other people eat them, I just usually don’t want them for myself, because I know they will make me feel bad. Eating clean has empowered me to control my health, so I honestly can’t imagine ever going back to my old ways.

The bottom line is that I finally solved the greatest mystery of my life, and cured my headaches forever, through an elimination diet. After all of the time, effort and money I spent on doctor visits, I figured out, on my own, that food allergies caused my migraines. It was such a relief to cure my headaches myself, without doctors, and without medicines.

I hope that by sharing my story, you, or someone you love, might also be inspired to seek a holistic cure for their migraines. Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures, so if nothing else is working, allergy testing and an elimination diet might just be the thing that finally cures your migraines forever.

Please feel free to email any questions you might have about my blog, either through this site, or the My Crazy Healthy Life Facebook page. I always reply to inquiries!

Photo: http://www.health-advisors.org