Time for a New Year

2015 was a tough one for our planet and for many of its inhabitants. For me, it was no different. Four days into the new year, I was hit with the worst stomach bug of my life. This virus weakened me so much that my eye was infected and remained so for weeks. At the same time, I was dealing with chronic gut issues and a very painful torn meniscus. I had knee surgery the second week of February and worked very hard to regain flexibility and strength in that leg over the next couple of months. To the surprise of my surgeon and physical therapist, I was still feeling a sharp pain that was similar to the one I felt pre-surgery weeks later. By mid-April, when I returned to yoga, I was struck with a new (and very scary) problem. Two days after my period ended, I began to bleed heavily every day for the next 10 weeks. (The doctor made me wait 6 weeks before he would perform a simple 10 minute test). In May, while I waited, I started experiencing debilitating migraines for the first time in my life, frequent nausea for no reason (making it very hard to try to do yoga), abdominal pain, and loss of energy. By early July, my body completely ran out of energy. I felt like I was dying. I couldn’t stay awake for more than 5 hours per day. I didn’t have the energy to say hello to a clerk or person on the street. It took me 3 and a half days to collect enough energy to go out and get groceries, after which I immediately had to go back to bed. I didn’t know what was happening to me. But I knew I didn’t want to live that way. I was ready to die.
At the end of July, I had my second surgery of the year. I had a polyp removed and the insides of my uterus blasted with microwave radiation to burn and destroy the lining. I woke up crying and confused. Part of me had thought that if they gave me anesthesia, I wouldn’t wake up. My body was too tired.
I anticipated that my energy would gradually return in the following weeks, but it did not. One night, while looking up the typical recovery time for my procedure, I read a long list of complaints from women who wished they had never had it. Many suffered from painful abscesses from pooled blood that could now not escape. I began to regret my decision.
By the end of August, I figured out that I was suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Luckily, after posting this finding on Facebook, a fellow long distance hiker wrote to me about her own experience of contracting this disease when she was 27. It was one of the best letters I had received in my life. It reaffirmed some of the things I had been learning myself. By this time, I had occasionally tried doing some yoga at home with the result of rendering myself bedridden for the next several days or week. My body had completely lost its ability to recover. I had lost the ability to access my strength in the only way I previously had been able to access it. A simple flat walk on the beach would send me straight back to bed. I had a few remaining talks scheduled, but didn’t know how I would manage to even drive over two hours to give them. At the same time, my brain was paralyzed with a fog that I had never experienced before. I couldn’t read or write. I couldn’t even reach out for help.
By the end of October, I knew that I had to drastically change my diet in order to even have a chance at healing. I had to give up coffee, sugar, all grains, all beans, all dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, and nightshade vegetables. Two months into the diet, I was beginning to see some improvements in my digestive tract and brain fog, but I was disappointed with my lack of progress in regaining energy or my body’s ability to recover.
I have never been this sick for such a prolonged period of time. In many ways, having a chronic illness is similar to suffering from the flu every day consecutively for six months or years. It renders your body so weak that you are largely confined to bed. There was not one day this year (or in the last 2.7 years) where I felt healthy.
I also learned that very, very few people try to understand or sympathize with someone suffering from a chronic autoimmune illness, while they¬† become VERY responsive to those who have received a diagnosis of cancer. Cancer has been very well studied, funded, and publicized, whereas chronic “mystery” illnesses have not- even though more than 5 times the number of people have an autoimmune disease than have cancer and even though those who have been diagnosed with cancer are often able to live a much higher quality of life than someone with a chronic autoimmune disease.
I wondered throughout the year if I was experiencing the worst year of my life, but the truth is, I can’t remember when I haven’t had a very tough, challenging, and sorrow filled year. Some people’s lives are filled with an exorbitant amount of tragedy and strife. The playing field is most definitely not level. On the other hand, the human spirit is capable of tremendous resilience. I feel like this illness is giving me the opportunity to turn my life around. Not only am I learning to change my thoughts, perceptions, and therefore experience in life, I am learning that good things can be found in the most difficult places. I am learning that one’s biology and early life does not determine one’s destiny- that everything in life, including the expression of our genes can change when provided with the right environment.
In this past year alone, I spent many weeks unable to see, unable to walk, and unable to move my body at all (another name for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is System Exertion Intolerance Disease). I know very well that there can be no “shoulds” in life. Exercising (or doing yoga) is NOT good for everyone. Being a vegetarian (or any other lifestyle of eating) is NOT right for everyone. Walking or reading or engaging with others is not possible for everyone. We all have different chemistries, abilities, injuries, and illnesses which determine what is possible for us. Only we, ourselves, know what is best for us. Our own intuitions and experiences are our greatest authorities.
I am hopeful that in this coming year, I will continue to heal, to learn more about autoimmune diseases and their causes, and to use my knowledge to help others. It is projected that the number of people who suffer with an autoimmune or other chronic “mystery” illness will double or triple with every decade to come. What I have been going through is not without purpose. Neither is anyone else’s suffering.
I wish everyone good health,  hope, and an abundance of courage in the new year. And thank you to everyone who has shown me support in this past one!!

Depression is Not Always a “Bad” Thing

I’ve been suffering both physically and mentally these past few days. I think I was infected with another stomach bug the Monday before Christmas and for the past nine days, I lost all progress that I had been making with my digestive system in the last 2 months. The intense abdominal pain and diarrhea that I had suffered for the last 2.5 years returned. (The fact that I ingested several things on Christmas that are not Autoimmune Paleo approved didn’t help either, and left me feeling like I still have a very long way to go in terms of healing my digestive system alone). And yesterday, my visit with a new primary care physician left me feeling very depressed. She was no more sympathetic or compassionate than the last one. She did not want to repeat any blood work “because nothing would be different than it was in August”. She blamed the massive amount of hair I have been losing for the past 2 months on my new diet and did not want to have my T3 tested like the last doctor. “Why do you want that?” she asked.
“Because sometimes, T4 is not converted to T3,” I said. I told her I wanted to have a full thyroid panel done (free T3, reverse T3, etc), but she said insurance would not cover those tests.
She asked me if I was working and when I said no, asked “Why not?”. I realize that very few people can understand what it is like to have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome if they have not experienced it themselves, but I would hope that a doctor would at least be able to listen compassionately and try to understand. I had explained that I was sleeping 19 hours per day in the summer, that I was not able to even say “hello” to someone, that my brain fog was so strong that I could not read or reach out to anyone for help. “I felt paralyzed,” I told her. “I felt like I was dying.”
She had NOTHING to offer me. Her only suggestion was to see a GI and get a colonoscopy (which I do not want). I asked to see an infectious disease specialist, as I know that viruses are responsible for the onset of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She did not think that was necessary. She denied I had any problems with my adrenals and instead tried to make me feel like I had an eating disorder. “Have you been losing weight? Do you think you need to lose any more weight? What is your ideal weight?”. When I showed her the list of lab tests from the book the nutritionist I follow in California wrote, and asked her if she would consider taking any of them, she flipped to the cover, saw “The Loving Diet” and smiled dismissively. I quickly tried to defend the author, but realized neither I nor she had any power in this place. She asked what medications I was taking and I told her none- only vitamins. She wanted to know where I got these vitamins and what they were. I started to list some off the top of my head: Astragalus, Ashwaganda, Cat’s Claw, Vitamin B12, L-Glutamine…
“What are they for? I don’t know anything about these.”
I asked if there was anyone in the network who knew anything about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She said she didn’t know- that she would have to ask and get back to me later.
I went downstairs to register and wait to have my blood drawn. An anger rose in me about the medical establishment as a whole. More than 50 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune disorder and an estimated 2.5 million have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Western Medicine has NOTHING to offer these people. NOTHING. They are left to fend for themselves, are forgotten, and left to live the remainder of their lives in pain and an unfunctional state. I am grateful that I have found some resources that have started to help me, but I can’t help thinking about all those who haven’t. From my experience, I have learned that anything that falls outside of the standard training that doctors have received is immediately dismissed. Patients are not being listened to, and resources that they have discovered are rejected and actually blamed for their symptoms! (My first doctor tried to blame my vitamins and the second one tried to blame my diet! For the record, I have never eaten this many vegetables in my life and I have cut out many of the harmful foods I had been eating!). This kind of attitude is not only an unfortunate consequence, it is unacceptable and harmful. I have been learning a lot of science in these past couple of months, and most of it I hear about from a nutritionist who stays on top of all the latest research, works with people who suffer from autoimmune diseases, and who regularly attends trainings by knowledgeable doctors in the field. Had I not started the AutoImmune Paleo Diet, my brain would not be working well enough for me to write this now. While I still have a long way to go, I have brought my sleeping hours down to 12-14 hours per day from 16-19, cleared a great deal of my paralyzing brain fog, and started to heal my intestines. During this time, I have also read books that dispute much of what doctors have been taught. Most of the bloodwork that they are performing is completely meaningless. Private companies are now offering much more accurate tests in a number of areas, but these tests are not covered by insurance, are very expensive, and they are not testing what the doctors have been trained to look for. This doctor asked me why I wanted to be tested for Epstein Barr and not Lyme. “You were in areas with ticks. It is more likely you have that.” I simply told her that according to the research I had done, I was not worried about having Lyme. (Besides the fact that I did not have those particular symptoms, I now know that Lyme is also caused by viruses [not bacteria!], and is not even caused by ticks!).

I returned home three hours later feeling defeated, powerless, and no better off than I went in. I sunk back into a tired depression. Later that night, I listened to Marianne Williamson’s latest lecture. To my surprise, she was much softer and more empathetic than usual. In response to someone’s question about constantly feeling depressed and anxious, she mentioned a study by an anthropologist on depressed chimpanzees. As in humans, a similar percentage of chimpanzees display characteristics of depression such as social withdrawal, hyper-vigilence, trouble sleeping, etc.. In this study, the chimpanzees who displayed depressed qualities were physical removed from their tribe. Marianne asked the audience what they thought happened to the remaining chimps when no longer around their depressed members after the researchers returned within a year.

It turned out that all of the remaining chimps were found dead! It was hypothesized that the depressed chimps served as a warning system to the others! They were the ones who were watching for predators, who stayed up and were more vigilant. Without them, there was no one to sound an alarm!
This story instantly perked me up and reminded me that my feelings were valid. There was a good reason I was feeling this way! I also remembered a similar story that Glennon Doyle Melton talks about: canaries in the coal mines. In the old days, miners used to take caged canaries down with them in the mines. When the canaries stopped singing, the miners knew the air was getting too toxic to breathe and that they would die if they didn’t get out.
Sensitive people who easily get depressed are the world’s alarm system! We know when something is wrong. There are a lot of harmful things happening on the earth right now, and one of them is the lack of attention being paid to the toxins in our environment and in our food, as well as the propagation and mutation of viruses that are making us sick. Right now, 1 in 50 children are autistic. It is projected that in the year 2030, which is only 15 short years away, 1 in 2 children will be autistic! This is a staggering figure! The children are warning us. We NEED to listen. Women have also been historically dismissed and labeled crazy for their physical symptoms. 70 years ago, women did not suffer from the menopause systems they do today. The problem is NOT women’s hormones. The problem is the radiation and toxicity that our earth is filled with today. Today, 20 and 30 year old women are experiencing the symptoms of menopause! We can no longer ignore these warnings!

The first thing that we need to do to begin to address these issues is to actually hear one another with complete openness and a beginner’s mind in order to gain an understanding of the root causes behind these diseases. There is no room for ego, no room for an “I know more than you because I hold an MD and you do not.” We must listen to those who are presently struggling with chronic illnesses, to stay on top of the latest research studies, to hear what those who are working with chronically ill patients are learning from the use of supplements, nutrition, and perception changes. The only way that we can begin to heal the earth and ourselves is to open our hearts fully so we can learn from one another and make changes to reverse the harm that has been done. Our emotions are valid. They are telling us very important things.