Updated: Jun 14, 2019
*DISCLAIMER - TMI*
The more I've learned through my work in Holistic Nutrition, Yoga & Mindfulness, the more I believe that I; my thoughts, emotions & feelings, played a large role in the developing of dis-ease in my body. The way I thought & felt about myself, the decisions I made in my life, the relationships I invested in, many of which were toxic and destructive at some level, not to mention the food I ate. It is no wonder to me now, that when my world started to truly unravel, dis-ease began the early stages of its development. Although it is impossible for me to cover all of the important details in one blog post, this is a brief snap shot of my health story.
My symptoms began in the gut with indigestion, bloating, gas, and fluctuation between diarrhea and constipation. I sort of thought it was normal for the most part until I started to really experience discomfort and distention of the belly in my late teenage years. I would experience sharp pains in my abdomen from time to time which became constant and normal after a while. I couldn't sleep on my stomach or even cross my arms without feeling discomfort. Over the years my appetite eventually disappeared and I lost 20 lbs in a month. I felt swollen from the inside out. I was in a constant state of inflammation. Anything I ate would either come right back up or go through me. A friend approached me at one point concerned that I had an eating disorder, she knew my family history. And while I was beginning to display patterns of disordered eating, I didn't begin to purge until the follow year. I felt pretty hopeless for a long time and depression was always looming, often completely engulfing me for months at a time. I bounced around a bit, moved to different provinces, different countries, taking my symptoms with me. Anything I could find on Dr. Google told me that I was really sick, but I couldn't find an actual Doctor who would run the right tests, and when I finally did the wait lists were long and the results were "within normal range".
Eventually I started taking an interest in researching alternative methods for relieving my symptoms. I would self-diagnose and then follow any online protocol I could find for that condition. I became obsessive, bouncing between these ultra "healthy" diets and when those diets would fail to offer any positive change in health, I would resort to the vicious cycle of binge eating and purging fast food, refined carbs and sugar. This became a horrible habit for many years and manifested into secretive eating and purging. Because I couldn't find any answers, I didn't have much faith in anything I was trying. I was so used to feeling this way it was normal. I had begun practicing Yoga somewhere along the way which had helped to manage the symptoms of indigestion and it felt amazing to move my body again. Eventually I decided to study Yoga and become a teacher and through my teacher training I was introduced to a Holistic Nutritionist & Yoga Teacher who I did a consult with. She opened my mind to many concepts about nutrition that I hadn't ever considered. I went on to suffer for several years, but became very inspired to learn more about whole foods which is eventually what led me to study Holistic Nutrition in 2015, as my health continued to deteriorate.
I developed horrible allergies over the years to more things than I could count. It felt like I was always on the edge of a cold or flu. I had been getting canker sores my whole life, which got worse and worse, often resulting in clusters of painful ulcers in my mouth at one time. I suffered from occasional hemorrhoids and frequent bouts of rectal bleeding, which possibly stemmed from an anal tear I had sustained at 18 years old as a result of prolonged constipation. I started developing horrible boils or what appeared to resemble acne on my back. My scalp and what used to present as dandruff turned into awful scabby sores on my head and in my eyebrows. The fatigue, irritability and brain fog were overwhelming and often as debilitating as the insomnia. I was constantly freezing cold and exhausted, yet I would toss and turn most nights after going from cold to hot in my sleep with the inability to cool down. For the most part I felt like I was a young person trapped in an old decrepit body that was constantly aching and throbbing in the muscles and joints. I was depressed, anxious, and completely disconnected from my body, and yet I was a yoga teacher trying to teach others to connect with their own bodies in a way I wasn't able to do myself. In 2017 I finally got some answers when I got a job at a non-profit Naturopathic foundation in Calgary, AB (Pure North S'Energy Foundation) where part of the on-boarding process was to draw blood for an extensive panel far above and beyond what is covered by Health Canada during a routine check up. The ND that was assigned to me knew that I had a diploma in Holistic Nutrition and assumed that I was aware of the autoimmune disease my blood work was showing and asked me how long I had Hashimotos Thyroiditis, the condition I had been trying to have diagnosed for years. At that time I was also undergoing holistic therapy for adrenal fatigue, and very low levels of vitamin B12 and D3.
At this point, I was already a Holistic Nutritionist and a Yoga Teacher. I was physically active and I had tried multiple protocols and diets trying to fix what was clearly going wrong in my body. All the while, stress was the main staple in my life. I was newly married and we were beyond broke, we were bankrupt. Everything that could go wrong was going wrong week after week for years. I would give complimentary nutrition lectures at the gym I worked at for free with food donations that I would later pick through myself, keeping what was somewhat healthy and donating the rest. How could I focus on my health when we had so many other things to deal with? Even then, all the diets and supplements I had tried were not working. I had to take many steps back. I began referring back to the principals I had learned in yoga philosophy and nutrition and how they seemed to be entangled in all that is holistic. In the practice of Holistic Nutrition, we look at the person as a whole; mind, body, spirit. We recognize that the body is not separate from the mind or spirit and that we must support all levels of well-being in order to bring balance back into the body. In order to understand the progression of dis-ease we must have a well-rounded idea of the bigger picture. Nature and Nurture. Our environments, relationships, thoughts & feelings. We must consider the concept of epigenetics; the science that proves our genes are not single-handedly responsible for our state of health and that genes can be turned on or off through external factors like diet & lifestyle. One of my favourite college professors described it this way: He said that our genetics are what load the gun, but our environment (aka diet & lifestyle, thoughts & feelings) is what pull the trigger.
I grew up in a strict Christian home with incredibly loving parents. My Mother had very high expectations and wanted to raise us to be hard workers who could achieve great success in life. I am the oldest of 4 girls, the youngest of which has Autism. If you've ever had an encounter with someone who is Autistic, you can understand how the behaviours can be very difficult to manage and "normal" life ceases to exist. To sum it up, my sisters and I grew up in a home with a considerable amount of daily stress, tension, sleepless nights, short tempers, and chaos. My parents did a great job of making sure we didn't miss out on anything as a result of the needs of our youngest sister, but it impacted us all in different ways. In addition to all of the stress and trauma I lived with over the years, I also developed an awful diet. At home, my Mom always cooked from scratch and we weren't allowed to have white bread, sugary cereals or soda in the house. She followed the Canada food guide (which has changed many times since then) for the most part in preparing balanced meals for the family, but I had my first real job at 13 and my own money to spend and I was a junk food junkie at heart. I was pretty athletic in elementary school and dabbled in a lot of different sports teams, gymnastic, and horseback riding but I became incredibly insecure in high school. I didn't have the confidence to try out for any of the teams at my school, and my activity level dropped dramatically. My first real boyfriend in high school cheated on me early into our toxic 2 year relationship. This began a whole new level of emotional manipulation, distorting my perception of self even further. I began to put a lot of effort into the way I looked and dressed, seeking any male attention to validate my sense of worthiness. Seeking this type of attention led to the terribly painful experience of being raped by a man twice my age. An incident I blamed myself for, for many years.
I was 18 when my Dad left my Mom, he told us on the same day I had my first abortion. He kind of dropped off the face of the earth for a while and none of us really saw him much for the first few years. I didn't realize then the trauma that would result from the separation of my family, or that I would lose my mother for many years to a deep and dark depression. At the age of 18 I had also ended that toxic and emotionally abusive relationship with my first boyfriend, which had left me with a completely distorted sense of self, and no confidence or self-esteem. My Mother was bed-ridden for the first several months after the separation so I started working 3 jobs and driving my sisters to different schools in the morning and picking them up at the end of the day. At this time I drove a dodge caravan that had no heat in the winter, a resident mouse, and a leaky gas tank I had to fill every 2 days. Stress, as I'm sure we all know by now, is the leading trigger or cause of most dis-ease.
At 19, a year after my parent's separation, I was kicked out of the house and was responsible for myself from then on. The stress in my life persisted in the form of many emotionally & eventually physically abusive relationships, a destructive self-image, disordered eating and excessive partying or escapism. One of the first thing that happens in the presence of stress is that our body stops producing HCl (stomach acid) which presents problems for digestion. When digestion is impaired, our bodies ability to extract nutrients from the food we eat is minimized, assuming that our diet is nutrient dense to begin with, which for most of us it isn't. Nutrient deficiencies take a long time to start showing up in the body in the form of imbalances, symptoms, or chronic conditions. Many common diseases can be brought into remission through nutrient dense therapies and diets. Depression and anxiety are very common symptoms of nutrient deficiency, although we produce 80% of the happy hormone serotonin in our guts if they are healthy. We are continuing to learn through on-going peer reviewed scientific research that the gut is in fact our second brain, and contains a very delicate ecosystem that needs to be nourished appropriately.
I think it's important to paint the picture of my diet & lifestyle prior to my diagnosis as it becomes very difficult to deny that there is no correlation in the connection of all aspects; mind, body, and spirit. I encounter many people who are skeptical about diving into emotional well-being in order to support physical well-being. Many people view their physical body as completely separate from their minds, and in some ways they are correct. But we've got it backwards if we believe that our bodies are running the show and that we are helpless victims along for the ride. Our minds are incredibly powerful and are responsible for providing feedback to the body to let it know the type of environment it is living in. Perception is reality so if we perceive that there is stress, the body responds by producing and releasing the stress hormone cortisol which then triggers a cascade of physiological reactions. The body is living in the minds world.
“But we've got it backwards if we believe that our bodies are running the show and that we are helpless victims along for the ride... The body is living in the minds world.”
My health continued to worsen and my life, although sprinkled with good experiences and fond memories, continued to get harder. I allowed myself to become a victim in my own life story. I maintained toxic abusive relationships for years, one after the next. So caught up in the drama with long periods of estrangement from my parents and siblings, on and off fights, stress and tension. I had been in and out of hospitals and seen different doctors for digestive related issues and trouble with elimination, bloody stool, etc. Most of the Doctors I saw either wrote it off as IBS and tried to prescribe something to ease the symptoms, or they told me everything was normal and it was likely stress related (or all in my head, as most of them implied). I had one Doctor who actually prescribed me with anti-depressants in hope that they would constipate me, his way of dealing with chronic diarrhea. I didn't want a band-aid, I wanted a real solution. I couldn't really come to terms with the fact that my body was responding to stress, I didn't really understand stress then the way I do today.
I had hoped that at least one of the diets I tried along the way would finally make me well, but even after graduating with a diploma in the study of Holistic Nutrition, I continued to suffer. Approaching our health in a natural way is a slow process. We begin to uncover many different layers on our way to finding the root cause. Even post-diagnosis as a Holistic Practitioner, the path forward has been anything but straight forward. I've given up many times on this journey. Lost motivation, accepted defeat. I've quit and I've started again over and over and over again. My poor husband has watched me try one thing after another after another. He's also watched me self-sabotage during times I would give up or convince myself that it's not the right time to start a new protocol for one reason or another.
The truth is, my health journey is still unfolding. I am finally in a place where I have a much clearer connection with myself in mind, body & spirit. Health has become a sacred practice for me and I am using the principals of Yoga and Holistic Living to bring myself back to life. My health is improving every single day and my condition has continued to get better after a week-long holistic juice cleanse & detox retreat I went to in June 2018 at Moinhos Velhos, in Lagos, Portugal. . If you are someone who has suffered with your health, I want to invite you to join me on this journey. I want to inspire you to turn self-care into a ritual and put yourself first, possibly for the first time in your life. I am incredibly passionate about teaching others how to get to know themselves, to understand the many ways the body tries to communicate with us, and to start making the intentional choice to nourish our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. A diet consists of everything we consume which includes the thoughts we think, the feelings we feel and the beliefs we choose to feed. Join me on this journey and together we can move from surviving to truly thriving in this life.