Hey guys! I hope your summer’s off to a great start, we’ve had some awesome weather out here in Oakville!
My summer has also been great because I have found an amazing naturopathic doctor who is helping me restore my health. I wanted to write a post that really explained what I’ve experienced these last two and half years suffering from chronic illness as I only ever told my friends and family. Now that I can see an end in sight I feel really good about sharing my story and I hope that somewhere out there someone will benefit from it.
I could write a book with everything I have to say but I’ll stick to the main points (basically my spiel every time I’ve seen a new doctor/ someone I hoped could help me!)
It was around December 2012, when I started to get really bad headaches that would last days. I remember New Years Eve, taking Advil because I didn’t want to ruin my night, which seemed to work, for a couple hours but the headaches returned. Consulting with Dr. Google, I figured I had iron deficiency. My family doctor did regular blood work and told me my hemoglobin was great and I was super healthy (even had the highest kidney function she’d ever seen, just sayin’). I left feeling pretty good about my health- after all, I’d always eaten ‘healthy’ and worked out, maybe the headaches would just pass. Surprise! They didn’t, and the following months I started to get debilitating fatigue. Up until this point, I’d always been someone with lots of energy, even when I would wake up at 5am for school and clinic (shout out to all the dental hygiene students, I feel you), I would be well awake without any coffee by the time I caught my train.
The fatigue got so bad, that on my days off from work I would wake up, eat breakfast and go back to bed. At night, I would have to crawl up the stairs because I didn’t have the energy to walk- there was a point that it got so bad I honestly thought I was going to die before doctors figured out what was wrong. It was a scary time. I decided to cut out gluten (it was starting to become “the it thing to do” and matched my symptoms) and I felt slightly better but still horribly ill. I decided to see a nutritionist in the hopes that she would help me figure this thing out!
Note: I had already seen my family doctor a handful of times, and was told to “sleep more if you’re so tired” and my personal favourite- “but you don’t look sick” needless to say I need a new family doctor. I hadn’t had trouble falling asleep, however my body would wake up anywhere from 3-7x a night, which I’m sure is actually many more times, these are just the ones I’m cognitively aware of. It didn’t matter what time I went to bed and how late I could sleep in, my body wasn’t able to sleep restfully. After consistently hounding her I was given a referral to a doctor of internal medicine (more specialized than my family MD, narrows down which part of the body the problem is originating from and may refer to additional subspecialists). I was thrilled to see a specialist, he would understand me and find my problem, I had one! I didn’t know what yet but I was tired of being written off by my doctor. The internist asked me a ton of questions, told me we would do tests (everything from parasite to HIV- yes I was as scared as you would think).
My health is the most important thing to me and unfortunately is takes having it stripped from you for your gratitude to really kick in. Because I’m impatient and type A, and needed this solved now, I continued my research.
The nutritionist put me back on gluten but made sure I ate only organic foods and handed me a ton of herbs and supplements to take- seriously at one point when I wasn’t getting better she put me on 27 pills a day! After shelling out a bunch of money with no improvement in my health, I stopped seeing the nutritionist.
Through my own research I tried many different “diets” from vegan (maybe meats the problem!), back to gluten free (didn’t even know what gluten was yet). Nothing was working, sure eating real whole foods was great but I still felt horrible every time I ate. I felt best when I was at work and didn’t get to eat for 6+ hours, starving yet had more energy. I knew it had to be food, but what? That’s when, in June of 2013, I found the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, a diet for people with severe digestive issues like Crohn’s and Colitis. Reading the stories, I knew I didn’t have either of these diseases (TMI but these people had bowel movements 10x a day! I definitely did not) but with nothing to lose I tried the intro diet consisting of bake/broiled chicken, over-steamed carrots and zuchinni and a few other easily digestible foods. Overnight I went from looking 4 months pregnant and feeling exhausted to noticeably more energy and less bloating. I had finally found something that helped!
My test results from the internist all came back negative, thank goodness! The internist wanted to do an additional test for Celiac disease, 2 weeks after I had finally found that cutting out all grains/sugar/dairy was the only thing that helped. The catch? I would have to go back on gluten for at least 6 weeks for the test to be accurate. I knew it myself, I didn’t need a test to prove it and wasn’t willing to start suffering again. The internist didn’t believe me when I told him about how much this new way of eating had helped me, he said “you’ve been on it 2 weeks? Could be the placebo effect” (you’re starting to see why I tend to deal with naturopathic/functional medicine doctors only now). He then referred me to a gastroenterologist after diagnosing me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a.k.a. ‘we can’t find anything wrong with you but you won’t quit, so here’.
I continued with my grain free diet for months, slowly making some improvements as my gut healed. I started researching leaky gut, candida, adrenal fatigue. All alternative medicine diagnoses, because as far as I was concerned, traditional medicine had failed me (it’s not at all the doctor’s fault, traditional medicine is taught by diagnosis and treatment with a corresponding medication, which is something the internist fully admitted to me and told me he had only a few hours of nutrition courses under his belt and couldn’t advise me on what to eat). If you haven’t heard of the microbiome, I urge you to check it out here. Your gut is everything! I can only hope they will start recognising it within the traditional medical community in North America. When I had switched my diet I decided to come off of the birth control pill, which I had been on multiple times for my acne throughout my teen years as a total band aid solution, I would later learn. Finally in November I saw my family doctor again because my period hadn’t returned in my 5 months off of the pill. I lost about 15 pounds switching my diet and was under 100 pounds at my lightest, even for my 5’3 frame I knew this was unhealthy but I also knew I’d gain it back once my gut healed more and my food options expanded. I knew periods could go missing if you gain/lose a lot of weight quickly, which is why I hadn’t had it checked out sooner. She did more blood work and told me I probably wasn’t ovulating and to see a naturopath because “if it’s your hormones, I can’t help you”. I appreciated the honesty and the suggestion.
I started seeing a naturopath in the new year, when still by March 2014 I hadn’t had a period but had gained all the weight back, plus more. I went in with a list a mile long of my symptoms and said “I think I have Adrenal Fatigue, Candida, and secondary amenorrhea caused by severe hormonal imbalances” I’ll never forget when she looked at me and said “I think you’re right, we’re going to run tests to find out and help you fix it.” I wanted to cry, in fact, I may have. After over a year of being told I was fine, I was “too young” to be sick, and there was nothing anyone could do for me, someone believed me. They immediately gave me Vitex (a herb that tastes horrible but is great for increasing progesterone and estrogen naturally). I was on the road to health! Little did I know the struggle would continue and actually get more difficult. I was told hormonal imbalance usually takes 3 months to fix and because I was young, things should speed along. So I had expectations, and after summer came and went and I had now reached a weight close to 140 -I don’t weigh myself unless medically necessary because it really doesn’t mean anything, but was so uncomfortable with this weight that I had not had before and it was definitely not muscle mass. When I was in high school and put on the pill I hit almost 130, 20 pounds heavier than my regular weight of 110 every time I’d come off the pill. I was told my liver needed help to metabolize the estrogens my body was now making (excess estrogen = excess fat).
I was so upset in September that I still had secondary Amenorrhea (when you’ve had a period before but go without one for at least 3 consecutive months) after doing and taking so many things that were supposed to work. The naturopath recommended I see my family doctor and take 10 days of progesterone pills in hopes of getting a period, and then hopefully my body would be able to continue a cycle from there. I got my period September 6th 2014 (yeah, I know, girls hate their periods but when you go without one for a year and 3 months you want your freakin’ period. I also remember the date because my birthday is September 10th and all I wanted was for the progesterone to work!). I was thrilled, until it didn’t come back the next month. In November I started taking Estrosmart on my own (a natural product that helps your body metabolise estrogen) and I got a period! Since then it has been irregular and I needed a break from my doctor’s appointments. In February of 2015 I stopped seeing the naturopath because I was driving an hour each way to the Naturopathic school in Toronto and although they were great I wasn’t getting the results I needed.
Aside from the hormonal imbalances, my acne was worse than ever and I still was sensitive to my limited diet of organic meats, eggs, a few veggies and fruits. Feeling alone and unsure why I wasn’t healing, I began searching for a new doctor. Dr. Jason Lee was recommended to me by multiple people at my yoga studio, I had nothing to lose (except money, but after these 2 years and thousands of dollars, what’s a few more?).
Last month I had my first appointment with him and wrote everything I knew about my body on my intake sheet- grain/dairy/sugar intolerance and carb sensitive with hormonal imbalances. That hour was the best hour of my life, maybe a little dramatic but this guy is AWESOME. I said “okay everything that is wrong, stems from my gut” he said I was absolutely right, and I finished with “but I don’t know how else to fix it!” Instead of being a test tool (I was actually told by my student doctor at the college that I had helped him learn so much, we laughed as I told him “you’re welcome that I’m so complicated”), Dr. Lee said he sees people with what I have every other day and was impressed with all that I knew and how much I had already done. He confirmed my grain intolerance and helped me understand that my body wasn’t breaking down ANY carbohydrates which of course are the fruits and veggies I was eating. So the food was heading undigested into my microbiome, feeding the Candida and also making my blood sugar wacky. Once I told him I was on the Estrosmart and it helped, he suggested I may not be able to metabolize estrogen on my own, and that it wasn’t just a sluggish liver as I had been previously informed. That was then confirmed with testing.
So far, I have had 3 appointments with Dr. Lee. He has cleared my candida- the original cause of my acne, along with the hormonal imbalances, thanks to years of an imbalanced gut microflora (I was born by C-section, have taken many rounds of antibiotics, and been on and off the pill. All of which have a negative impact on the bacteria in your gut). I’ve been fixed for the carbohydrate intolerance and he’s also helping me mentally, because I’ve spent the last few years sick every time I eat, I’ve programmed myself to believe I still get sick every time I eat. Mind-body connection is crazy y’all. I still have more appointments to fix the estrogen metabolism and grain intolerance but couldn’t be happier with the road I’m on. I am sure that I will soon be able to sleep through the night for the first time in 2.5 years!
This has been the hardest, most isolating, scary journey of my life, but I wouldn’t change a damn thing. I have learned more about myself in the last 2.5 years than I ever had before. I had no idea how strong I am, how determined and willing to fight for one of the most amazing gifts we will ever experience- health.
If you are struggling right now with your health in any way, I urge you to not give up hope. I know it gets so hard when no one believes you, none of your friends are going through the same thing (although always supportive!), and you can’t find a doctor to help you, keep searching, I promise you will find your way but you have to be your own advocate!
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or think I could give you any information that would help.