Thanks for meeting me here. Like you, I have a personal story that brought me to this place where I believe that food is very important to my health. But the details are many and the story is long... I have attempted to make it readable so you will understand that I have paid my dues (still paying) and I understand some of what you may be going through now.
I've been interested in better health since I was a child. I was in a serious sledding accident when I was 11. My spleen ruptured and I lost a lot of blood. The strep infections I developed after my spleen was removed were treated with many courses of antibiotics, and each infection seemed worse than the last. As a teenager, I had chronic mononucleosis, and in my 20's I tested positive for the Epstein Barr virus and was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, all while building a career as a chef and working some very challenging jobs.
I read every health magazine I could get my hands on, sought out alternative therapies of all sorts and shopped at the "health food store" but could not break the cycle of sickness and poor health. My symptoms confounded my doctors and led me to believe I might always be sick. I believed the "healthy whole grain" marketing mantra and devoutly practiced what I believed was righteous eating. I tried juicing, fasting and a vegetarian diet but never experienced long term positive results.
The good news was that I came to appreciate the impact that emotional stress had on my health and once I changed jobs (and husbands) I felt a measure of improvement in my health. In my 30's, my career and personal life blossomed while another health crisis brewed beneath the surface, a flashback to earlier days.
I was bit by my first "Lyme" tick in 1996. (I've had dozens more since - they seem to love me!) A friend spotted it on my abdomen while we were sailing in Connecticut. It was tiny and came out easily. I vaguely remember being warned to look for a bull's eye rash but it was such a glorious day so the incident seemed minor. I had what I thought were hives a couple days later, but no "bull's-eye" so I figured it was the stress of returning to work or too much sun or something I ate that caused the rash running down the fronts of my legs. I felt "off" but so often did, I just ignored it. My marriage was difficult, my job very demanding and my erratic symptoms had merely become a nuisance.
When I became very sick with a high fever and the worst headache of my life I had forgotten all about the tick. Three days of profound head pain, delirium and profuse sweating did not set off any Lyme Disease alarms in the ER or my doctor's office. That was nearly 20 years ago. The episode was diagnosed as "idiopathic encephalomyelitis" which sounded like I was an idiot with a swollen brain but actually meant that there was swelling in my brain and spinal cord but they did not know why. I was told that it was like due to "exhaustion" but I was only 26 years old. My GP at that time suggested that I see a psychiatrist. A side note: he is now a functional medicine doctor with a NY times bestselling book about finding the root cause of disease and treating it comprehensively. I'm glad he figured things out but not so glad I was one of the early failures that motivated him to rethink his practice of medicine. Anyway, back to the psychiatrist he recommended: she prescribed 10 mg of Paxil, new to the market "with no known side effects" - which really meant that the side effects were not yet known. I reluctantly took it but the drug only complicated my life with insomnia and feelings of euphoria (not as great as it sounds - there were several speeding tickets). I stopped taking it and experienced visual disturbances and paranoia, despite being told there were "no withdrawal symptoms". My pharmacist (the same guy who rolled his eyes when I first filled the Rx) showed me how to use a pill cutter and wean myself from what he called "a dangerous drug that every bored housewife in town is taking"...
It took me 3 months to clear 3 weeks' worth of Paxil from my system. That is when I could safely go in the sun without breaking out in hives. This is not what everyone experiences but it underscores that fact that just because prescription drugs are legal and common it does not mean that they are safe or harmless. Years later there would be a class action suit against the makers of Paxil for the very same neurological complications I experienced. I was awarded $.67.
I was finally diagnosed with Lyme Disease 10 years after that first tick bite, the one that caused the terrible headache episode that put me in the hospital. That original bite remained visible and "active" for more than ten years. I unconsciously scratched at it when I was feeling stressed and it flared up whenever I had an infection. My fancy, expensive, cash-only Lyme specialist doctor told me that was impossible because he had never seen that before. "Take a look", I said, "you're seeing it now." I have refused a lot of stupid ideas, drug samples and offers of exploratory surgery over the years in my quest for better health.
Finally, through a friend and serendipity, I found a wonderfully caring doctor who treated me with herbal tisanes and daily medical massage (every day at 7am for many months), time-honored practical wisdom and love. She saw me through thyroid failure, pancreatitis and gall stones. She encouraged me every day to think that I could be healthy.
She saved my life by insisting that I have my chronically infected tonsils removed. She explained that the cardiac symptoms and headaches I had were a result of a steady flow of bacteria to the heart and brain from this infection. No one had ever mentioned that to me even though I often had strep throat and the glands in my neck were usually swollen. The tonsil surgery was torture but she promised me that I would "be like new" once those germ factories were gone. She was right! I felt more improvement after that surgery** than I ever imagined possible.
Dr. Maggie is from the Republic of Georgia and trained as a pediatric physician under the Communist government, which insisted on getting people well quick (and back to work) so she knows her stuff. She said in her country whenever a child has a spleen removed, they carefully watch for chronic tonsil infection because it can be deadly. She understands the body like no other practitioner I have known. She became a beloved friend and mentor to me. What she did not know (neither did I, to be fair) was that...
The beautiful house I lived in during my recovery had toxic black mold lurking behind the sheet rock. Despite my best efforts to eat well, exercise and manage my stress, I could not seem to break the cycle of chronic illness. I used an infrared sauna, ate organic food, took a sabbatical from work, spent time in my garden and swimming pool... but as long as I lived in that house, I would go to bed 39 years old and wake up feeling 89: achey, stiff, tired and weak. Incidentally, we moved that year from Connecticut to New York (where we are now) and after sleeping that first night in the new place, I felt the veil lifting, even though we slept uncomfortably on an air mattress on the floor and had been schlepping boxes all day. I figured that it must be my excitement for the change or some other coincidence but I gained strength every single day that I was away from the moldy house*** and within a few weeks felt like myself again. It was remarkable.
My next breakthrough came when I took a Chiropractor-friend's advice to "get off grain"! He challenged my assumptions about healthy whole grains and a plant-based diet and introduced me to the Paleo concepts. It was 2008 and what he said still sounded like the Atkins' Diet to me. But I accepted the challenge to eliminate all grain for a few weeks, which for me meant no more organic sourdough baguettes and breaking up with my beloved brown rice. It was a big adjustment at first and I started to realize how much grain we were really eating, especially when I came clean about our pasta habit! But here's what happened: my brain fog cleared, my belly bulge flattened and my skin improved.
It was the first grip on vibrant health and sustained energy that I could remember. After the initial challenge to eliminate all grain, I dabbled for a while: an occasional tomato sandwich on organic whole grain bread, homemade pasta or one of my sister's exceptional cookies. The trouble was that each "treat" brought back symptoms I did not miss. So I figured out that it wasn't worth it and within a few months I became more indifferent to the temptations.
Each day since has been an awakening of new insights into the power of the food I eat and has gone far beyond avoiding grain. I am not symptom-free but I manage my health with better information and more confidence than ever.
I used to believe that my compromised immune system destined me to a life of poor health but now I choose to think of it as a sophisticated early detection system. While others obliviously spend hours in toxic environments like a shopping malls (off-gassing formaldehyde and fragrances) eating genetically modified foods loaded with pesticides and preservatives, I carefully limit my exposures. My body alerts me with uncomfortable warning signals like brain fog and heart palpitations so I am spared the silent but cumulative damage that becomes cancer. I buy as much as I can online, and have become a very efficient shopper: no more than 15 minutes in a store. I use essential oils medicinally and for making my personal care products and I have avoided all pharmaceutical antibiotics for more than 10 years.
I rely on top quality supplements and very good food to combat the toxic burdens I cannot avoid. Perhaps the least healthy practice in my life is my computer use, but I offset that with lots of earthing - walking barefoot on the natural ground to restore the electrons to my body - and I still read actual books to limit screen time.
I use pEMF, medical massage, adaptogenic herbs, essential oil therapy, EFT tapping, targeted supplementation and other biohacking techniques to manage pain, deal with stress and get good sleep. I maintain a spiritual practice which keeps me grounded and in contact with good ideas and good people. Eating the best quality food I can afford to me means buying directly from the farmers and ordering online, keeping meal planning simple and clean and not being wasteful.
The work I do to help others make better food choices keeps me true to the principles I believe in and motivated to do all I can to maintain and treasure my good health. I'd love to hear your story. You can contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org
*I was diagnosed with endocarditis (bacterial infection in the heart) by a skeptical cardiologist who reminded me that the old people I saw in the waiting room "had real health problems". Another idiot. Now Lyme carditis is well documented.
**After the surgery, the young doctor who operated on me apologized for being dismissive when I first came to him with the request to remove my tonsils. He said mine were "the ugliest ones he had ever seen". I took that to mean that he now understood how sick I really was so there was some satisfaction in that. Prior to that he seemed more interested in his idea that I looked like the actress on his favorite crime show.
More on my tonsil surgery for the not-too-squeamish: I refused a blood transfusion for religious reasons so he carefully used an electro-cauterization technique to burn and seal the tissue simultaneously. As you might imagine, the recovery was brutal. I cannot tolerate narcotics at all so I never filled the Percocet prescription and opted for extra strength liquid Tylenol instead, which kept the pain at an 8. And a half. Most of the time. That was me playing it safe although now I wouldn't go near Tylenol if I could help it. The anesthesiologist warned me that the slightest tear (swallowing) and I risked hemorrhage, which would be bad. There was no swallowing. There was only trickling of water and puréed food. The scabs that form in your throat look and feel like melted candle wax and the info I was given said they would be uncomfortable and break off within ten days. I had a lot of time lying there imagining how I might shorten the agony and I came up with an idea to add the propolis from raw honey to the water I was syringing into my mouth. In 3 days those hideous scabs were gone! My surgeon was amazed.
***I didn't realize that we had a mold problem when we lived there. We rented that house for two years and it had been renovated just before we moved in so everything looked very nice. When we moved out it was just as lovely but it was a rainy, humid August and the landlords were on vacation so we locked everything up when we left and never thought about it again until they called us when they returned from Europe. To our surprise, they wanted to know why the paint had blown off the walls! There was a painted stone fireplace in the center of the house and while most of it was open to the stairway, one side was behind the bedroom wall. Apparently there was a small gap in the metal flashing where the chimney and the roof meet which was letting moisture in when it rained. The two weeks after we moved out (and locked the windows and doors) it was rainy and humid, so the mold that had been there all along "bloomed" which blew the white paint off of the wet stone chimney and exposed toxic black mold, the sort of thing that keeps your immune system at full throttle and causes asthma, headaches, brain fog and systemic inflammation.
See MoldyMovie.com form more about the harmful effects of mold exposure. Here are my strategies for coping with Mold Illness.