Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How Did I Get Here?

Disclaimer: this post contains boring analysis of my health conditions and what they mean to me. And the journey I've been on. May not be interesting to anybody. Read at your own risk.

It's hard to know where to start. I think I'll start with the turning point that occurred about 13 or 14 years ago. Most of my life before that did not involve the intensity of health problems that came after. (I did have an abundance of health issues before that, which I'm sure all contributed to the turning point, but I can't recount my entire life story here.)

So in the winter of that year (around 2000 or maybe it was 1999--possibly even earlier or later), I had a very bad case of the flu. Probably the worst flu I've ever had. I remember it well. I was flat on my back for about 12 days. I lost about 20 pounds because I didn't really eat or drink anything. I became dehydrated like I never have before. I was really sick. It took a few weeks to feel normal again.

By that time, I developed what seemed to be a bladder infection, but turned out to be a kidney stone (probably induced by being severely dehydrated), although we didn't get that diagnosis for a couple of months. The stone was lodged in my ureter and was not moving and being passed. It took several different diagnostic tests of varying levels of humiliation before the urologist finally found where the bloody little thing was. Then I got to have a  procedure called lithotripsy, in which you are put under and sound waves are aimed at the blockage to break it into pieces so it will move. After that, you still get to pass the stone like usual. So I got to be sick with the stupid thing for three months, and as a bonus, I still got to pass the stone in the end. So fun.

To sum up--basically sick and miserable for about four months. This led to several things, some of which I didn't understand or realize for a very long time. The most outward and obvious one was that I sank further into the chronic depressive state that required medication. I'd been teetering on the edge of that cliff for decades, managing to function, but not necessarily well. (That's an entire book of analysis all on its own. It took at least a year to get stable.) Also, my body physically responded to this extended period of illness by interpreting it as an emergency of top priority, leading to my adrenals and thyroid becoming drained and failing to do their job, try as they might. You've probably heard of adrenal exhaustion. That.

Thus began an ordeal of doctor visits to see what could be done. Because I am more of an alternative medicine kind of gal, that's the route I took. I saw a homeopathic doctor for a while. She tried several remedies that didn't seem to be doing the trick. In hindsight, I realize two things. First, I didn't take my conditions seriously enough, resulting in not taking the remedies as thoroughly as possible. Second, I and the doc were too impatient for results to appear, so we moved on probably too soon to other options.

Frustrated with no progress there, I found an osteopath who treated thyroid condition known as Wilson's Thyroid Syndrome. This is a fun time that involves taking your temp three times a day at precise times and eating at precise times. If you know me, you know precise timing is not my thing. I struggled to adhere to the treatment, but it was causing more stress that probably taxed my poor adrenals even further. I ended up taking thyroid meds. I am not sure they ever really did me any good. Maybe they did. I can't tell. I took them for years.

For years, I underwent blood analysis and a barrage of supplements and yeast cleanses and foot detoxing and bioidentical hormone therapy.

On top of all that, the illnesses, shutdown of my adrenals, and antidepressants caused me to gain about 100 pounds. Which didn't do much for my personal self-esteem and well-being. Even when I weighed 110 pounds in college, I thought I was fat. So this wasn't helping my body image at all.

Then they decided to treat my cholesterol, which is extremely high. I took statins for years, which did help the cholesterol, but then I read that they had some causal links to diabetes, which puts you at higher risk for heart disease, which is the whole reason to reduce your cholesterol in the first place. I don't take those meds anymore.

One doc decided I needed more D3. On and on. I tried everything they made me do. I even tried to lose the weight. I managed to lose about 30 pounds, then plateaued and never got any further with that endeavor. (Later, through some intense reading, I learned that people with adrenal exhaustion create more exhaustion when trying to lose weight, because the body interprets the weight loss as a crisis and jumps in to stop it. Thus making it nearly impossible to lose weight.)

Which brings me approximately to 2013. The antidepressants I had been taking for about ten years and which had kept me stable and functional that whole time began to "poop out," as they say in the psychiatric world. At the same time, I began consulting with my chiropractor on some of these issues--like cholesterol, blood sugar, adrenal fatigue, thyroid, and digestive absorption. I started reading a whole bunch of books and articles about the lies of the medical "research" over the past several decades and the wrongness of much of the advice that is commonly  handed out by doctors.

Let me preface what I am about to say with another disclaimer. I have always been on the "other" side of much of what the medical establishment touts as the best thing. I never vaccinated my children because I did a lot of reading about vaccines--from all points of view--and decided they couldn't answer all my questions satisfactorily. I had two babies at home, despite the common looks of horror that many people gave me, thinking I was putting myself and the babies in grave danger. I don't do antibiotics and never allowed them to be given to my children. You get the picture. So I, more than the average person, am already halfway there when someone tells me the medical establishment has been lying to me. (As with cholesterol lowering meds, for example.)

Throughout this intense period of reading, which I continue to do a lot still, I made some discoveries that have impacted the way I look at my health and how I should approach it. I'm not saying these strategies are the ones everyone should use, but they are where I have come down on certain thoughts about health. I'm going to list them in no particular order.

1. I have realized that you can consume all the supplements you want, but if they're not being absorbed because you have digestive concerns, then they're doing you no good.

2. Healing the digestive system is a long process requiring a lot of patience.

3. Cholesterol is not the enemy. We need it for our bodies and brains to function. Focusing too much on that number is not that useful.

4. Saturated fat is not the enemy. Hydrogenated and trans fats--abundant in processed foods--are the enemy.

5. Carbs are not the enemy. Refined sugar and processed foods are.

6. Adrenal exhaustion requires a unique approach that most practitioners really don't understand. It involves sleeping a lot, eating really really good foods, and not over-exercising (which the body interprets as a stressor and thus creates more exhaustion).

7. My own personal timetable is very slow. I think of it as glacial. One healer said it's like a mountain. In other words, I may be at this for a very long time before I am at the state of wellness I'd like to achieve.

There are many other insights and details of how I look at things at this point. But my story in ongoing. Last summer I began experiencing frequent headaches of random duration. Headaches that worried me quite a bit. At first I thought it was from my new antidepressants. Then I thought it might be from eye strain. Or not getting enough water. Or too much sugar. After months of keeping a headache journal along with a food diary and an assessment of possible triggers, I still have no concrete answers as to what is causing these headaches or what I can do to prevent them. I am beginning to think they are caused by the random and strange fluctuations of hormones as I go through menopause.

Here's what I HAVE learned, though. The headaches came so that I would pay attention. So that I would search out the best health I can. And that has been a useful journey, which I continue on and will for the rest of my life. It starts with me, with paying attention to my body, its responses, and its intuitive knowing.

Now, I am sure that if any of my friends and family read this, you will undoubtedly want to share with me the miracles you have found for yourselves. Whether it's eating raw food, gluten free, paleo, vegetarian, or whatever. Please don't. I'm aware of the benefits of all those strategies, and I am actually following many of them in my own stew of strategies.

Where I have come down at this point is that I should be eating high quality foods, unprocessed foods, lots of water, plenty of good fats like butter/meat/coconut oil/etc, plenty of high quality protein, and as little sugar as I can. And I know that because change comes to me at a glacial pace, I can't be in a hurry. Therefore, I am tending to avoid looking at numbers like weight, cholesterol levels, and such. I will look at those numbers some, when it seems right. But I am looking inward more for the understanding I need. I am reading a ton of information, so if you have a good source and want to share it, feel free. Mostly I have learned that one thing that might be healthy for one person might not be healthy for me. I have learned that my weight has been a physical response to perceived crises, and that it may never go back to normal. Or after glacial years of taking the best possible care, my body might decide it is safe to let go of the weight. I can't afford to focus on the number right now.

It's a journey I've been on for all my life. I am realizing now that each step has taught me something of value. It's very hard to focus on how to get well when there are so many systems that are in need of healing: the digestion, the adrenals, the thyroid, the liver, the brain, the blood, etc. I find myself at this point open to what I can learn and do in order to restore and renew what I am able to. So, no specific answers and lots of questions, but an openness to seeing things differently. Not a bad place to be.