My own healing adventure
If someone would have asked me if I thought it was possible to get so sick at age 23, I would have laughed in their face. I was in the best shape of my life, training for a triathlon, and my life was heading upwards: graduate school was set to begin in a matter of weeks, I had a partner and a home that I loved, and all was well. Yet, I had no idea the kind of destruction that was lurking under the surface...until it all exploded on July 16, 2009.
I had a childhood like most other average, white, middle-class Americans. I did well in school, played outside, ate the usual chicken nuggets and chocolate milk, and only got sick every now and then. Overall, I was a happy and healthy kid, content to read books, annoy my little brother, and wander the backyard in search for cool bugs. I remember catching a pretty severe bout of mononucleosis in my teens that wiped me out for weeks, but I had no idea it would, or even could, resurface many years down the road.
In the years leading up that hot July day, I’d noticed a few twinges off and on, inklings of something going wrong. But it wasn’t severe enough to truly catch my attention. I was busy excelling in my coursework, running 10Ks, and taking road trips, after all! The occasional dizziness and fatigue was written off as normal college-student overwork. I was told to rest more, and so I slowed things down a bit. And nothing worse happened. Until, of course, it did.
The mystery illness that derailed my life has taken many names over the years. After seeing dozens of doctors and specialists, I have been diagnosed with Lyme Disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS), Adrenal Fatigue, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Fibromyalgia, even Lupus! Nobody really seemed to understand what was wrong with me, and so I was left in charge of my own care. My partner at the time did her best to support us, bringing home food and helping with chores, as much of my time was spent wandering around the house in a daze.
Putting my research science background to good use (when the brain fog momentarily let up, of course), I scoured the internet for case studies and clinical trials. I read everything that I could, and ordered every pill and powder under the sun. For a while there, it really felt like I was making progress. I filled up on medications and supplements, and only devoted the minimal amount of energy to my meals...meaning, lots of processed, convenience foods. After a few months of suffering and self-experimentation, I was able to return to my laboratory job part time. But the fight was far from over.
While I attempted to piece back together what was left of my social life, self-esteem, and academic career, my body still struggled. Violent dizzy spells, muscle and joint pain, brain fog, and headaches were a daily occurrence. I no longer had the energy to exercise, and I struggled to get any amount of restorative sleep. Every doctor I went to couldn’t find anything wrong with me, and with each “normal” test result, my hope began to fade. Perhaps I really was cursed to live a sort of half life from now on?
Just when I thought I had reached a new normal, just when I was about to re-enroll in grad school, just when I figured I had my symptoms (mostly) under control, I was suddenly thrown back to square one. The dreaded relapse. Within 24 hours, I was reduced to a shaky, nauseated heap- a shell of myself once again. And thus, my quest for answers started over, as I was referred to a dozen different specialists, therapists, and technicians. I received another handful of meaningless diagnoses, and even more prescriptions that only provided temporary relief, if any. I sunk into a serious depression that stretched for months.
Looking back, I can see that that relapse was a much-needed wake up call. I had been eating so much junk food, taking so many medications, and not investing at all in my mental, emotional, or spiritual self-care. I started seeking holistic practitioners and taking more herbal remedies. I swapped out the gluten and artificial additives, and replaced them with veggies and grass-fed meats. I even remember my first bite of steak, after being a (junk-food-loving) vegan for over 3 years: I felt a rush of energy and clarity unlike anything I could remember! I took it as a sign that I was finally on the right track.
I began eating a modified paleo diet, and I’ve experimented with many variations over the years, to find what feels best for my body. After reading the work of Anthony William (aka the Medical Medium), I made even more changes, bringing in more fresh fruits and veggies, herbs and spices, and wild foods, and cutting out eggs and dairy. As the months went on, I could feel myself getting stronger. And I knew I had to share my story with other people like me, so I became a certified health coach!
This was just a year or so after becoming a certified Reiki master/teacher, and these days, I love to combine this ancient energy healing modality into my coaching practice. I first discovered the transformative power of Reiki from a friend who referred me to a woman who would later become my teacher. By this point, I had been to acupuncturists, herbalists, massage therapists, and other holistic healers, so it wasn’t all that big of a stretch for me. Granted, I still went in with a healthy dose of skepticism, but that initial session was so powerful, I knew I had stumbled upon true magic. Thus, over the following year or so, I studied and practiced, slowly gaining my level 1, 2, 3, and master certifications.
Nutrition, herbal medicine, and Reiki were only a few of the things that I incorporated into my daily routine. Over the course of my illness, I morphed into a “radical self-care” junkie. I learned all about sleep hygiene, detoxifying my environment, and all types of yoga and meditation. I practiced setting healthy boundaries for myself, so I could save my inner resources for healing, instead of depleting myself over and over again. I spent more time outside in the fresh air and sunshine, putting my bare feet in the earth. I devoted myself to spiritual growth, mindfulness practices, and truly working through my grief over the life I thought I had lost. I’m so thankful that I took the time to develop my self-care when I did, because I was going to need it more than ever come the summer of 2015.
Divorce was never something I thought I would have to endure, especially before the age of 30. And yet, I watched my relationship dissolve into a mess of betrayal, anger, and hostility. My then-wife had decided to move on, and I needed a way to get out- out of that house and away from that bad energy that was stressing my system. Thankfully, my family lived only an hour away, and were willing to take me in. The following months were fraught with fear, rage, denial, frustration, and many other difficult emotions, and I leaned heavily into my healing diet and meditation practice. Without a penny to my name, and 6 figures of debt, I had to file for bankruptcy and apply for government assistance. I can’t begin to describe the anguish, shame, and hopelessness that arose during this period of time. However, in the end, this horrific experience ended up being one of the biggest blessings in my life, and I’ve grown tremendously since then. I came to embrace this time to go within, deepen my practice, and recommit myself to getting better.
Through all of the challenges that my life has presented thus far- serious illness, divorce, bankruptcy- somehow my faith remained intact. The faith that I could get better, that healing was possible, and that I had something valuable to share with the world. Now, as a coach, I help others reclaim their power after struggles like mine, and guide them towards what I call “full spectrum living.” Because, no matter how gray and cloudy life may seem at times, we can make the choice to step into the sunshine again.
These days, I am happier and stronger than I have been in nearly a decade! I’ve transitioned to mostly holistic and self-guided medicine, to continue my journey, and place my trust in my own intuition and my body’s signals, to tell me when I need to re-adjust. For me, endless test results, scans, and exams were only muddying the waters, especially since the medical world has a lot to learn about chronic, mystery illnesses like mine! I find my hope and guidance in nature, and in others along this healing path.
I could never have predicted being where I am today, especially from my vantage point several years ago. I’m in a happy, healthy relationship. I feel supported by my friends, family, and a vibrant online community. I’ve built a business that I love, where I can serve as a healing guide for others. Waking up each day and prepping my fresh fruits and veggies is a joy, not a burden. I know that I still have plenty of healing left to do, but I can’t wait to see where the next few years take me.
As they say, after the storm, comes the rainbow. And I’m living life in full color again!
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