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In order to change we must be sick and tired of being sick and tired.
The Back Story
For as long as I can remember, I have been plagued with many physical difficulties that have often interfered with my keeping up with a “normal” lifestyle. Constant exhaustion and fatigue, muscle pain, “irritable bowel syndrome” symptoms (especially after eating), sleep problems, headaches, problems with appetite (varying from constant hunger to being completely unable to eat), and anxiety–to name a few.
My mother (who has been clinically diagnosed with severe fibromyalgia) raised me with a good knowledge of how the body works, good nutrition, and has had me in chiropractic and kinesiological care since I was a child. She took me to many different doctors (both “mainstream” medical doctors, and naturopathic doctors) over the years for my different conditions, and always got different answers. In 2006 after going through a very stressful time in my life, a natural doctor ran some rather unconventional tests, told me that I had the body of a 50-year-old, put me on a strict diet and so many supplements I took more capsules than I could count in a day. I found this to be helpful, but hard to live with. After a year of gagging down supplements and feeling like I couldn’t eat ANYTHING, I just decided I just couldn’t do it anymore. I took the “I’m just going to enjoy my life and deal with feeling like crap” approach because I felt like it was either all or nothing.
I maintained a fairly healthy stress level over the next few years (long distance relationship, new marriage, miscarriage, deployment, reintegration), but my symptoms were fairly manageable if I got enough rest. I came to the conclusion (after working full-time for six months during my husband’s first deployment), that I am physically unable to hold a job and remain sane, and I feel much better when I can be a stay-at-home wife.
In 2009, I started having a weird thing happen when I ate fresh fruit. My tongue and lips would get tingly and my ears and throat would get itchy. I learned later that this is a condition known as Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) which is related to pollen allergies and hay fever.
When I got pregnant with Ezra, my health problems got worse. I gained 100 pounds within a year and a half, my IBS symptoms greatly increased, my pain level during pregnancy was high, I couldn’t sleep well, and I became extremely lethargic because I was so uncomfortable. I figured that it was “just the pregnancy,” and that I would return to my “normal” once Ezra was born.
Ezra’s birth and my recovery proved to be much more difficult than I expected. It took me about 4-8 weeks to begin to feel remotely normal, but my stress level was still high as I was managing a newborn on top of preparing for my husband’s deployment to Afghanistan.
During the past year while my husband was gone, my IBS symptoms got even worse than they were during pregnancy, and rare was the day I wouldn’t end up running to the bathroom at some point. I began to notice trigger foods, like anything with tomato, blueberries, tuna–even french onion soup would make me sick! I was also struggling with sleep as Ezra still hasn’t figured out how to sleep through the night consistently (at 17 months!), and was often waking up every 2 hours or so. I was exhausted and sick a lot, but would still get up at random hours to talk to my husband, or just stay up late because the time after Ezra went to bed was sometimes the only “me time” I got in the day. I was running on fumes, and coffee.
Progress and Answers
I was seeing a chiropractor and having massage therapy done on my neck (for headaches) every few weeks. In doing some research on digestion during the summer months, I was reminded of the importance of probiotics and I learned that abdominal massage can be helpful for digestive problems. The therapists at my chiropractors office were not trained in abdominal massage, but he gave me the name of someone who could. Brenda is trained in massage and reflexology, but after looking over my medical history and my first treatment in August, she told me “I will continue to treat you, but you NEED to see a MEDICAL doctor for the problems that you are having. Your symptoms are consistent with Chron’s disease.”
Needless to say I was a little bit taken back. Here was a natural therapist telling me to see a medical doctor! I think I should! I saw my primary care medical practitioner and she ran a lot of tests – tested me for Chrons, blood in the stool, took blood work to test for Celiac disease and bacterial infections, and scheduled a CT scan of the abdomen for the end of September. When all the results were in, I was disheartened–medically there was absolutely nothing wrong with me!! While I was relieved to not have Chrons or Celiac, I still knew there was something more going on as my symptoms were getting worse. My PCM put in a referral to see a gastroenterologist.
Throughout the fall months, my seasonal/fall allergies were absolutely horrible. I had every allergy symptom in the book and was taking Benadryl and Claritin like it was candy, with little-to-no improvement.
The ragweed started dying, but my OAS symptoms were still there. And the weirdest thing of all is that I was starting to get OAS-like symptoms to foods other than fruits and vegetables! (Goldfish and cereal broke me out in a rash on my neck!)
When I saw the GI doctor in November, he told me that I just had “irritable bowel syndrome” and that the only other answer he could give me was to see an allergist. I really did NOT believe that I could have food allergies because with both the IBS and OAS symptoms it happen all of the time when I eat the trigger foods. Why can I eat these foods sometimes with no reaction and other times get a bad reaction? If I am allergic wouldn’t I get sick every time?
I got in to see the allergist in mid-December. She did skin testing on my back for all of the environmental/airborne allergens, as well as a handful of the most-allergy-prone foods. My reaction was horrific. I had a “Christmas tree reaction” (as in bright red skin and HUGE bumps) to ALL (as in every. single. one) of the trees, grasses, and weeds. I also tested positive for allergies to wheat, soy, corn, tomato, and egg, along with several other fruit and vegetables that have similar protein structures to certain pollens. I was pretty much in shock. I knew that allergies ran in my family, but I never imagined that allergies could be the problem.
The recommended treatment for environmental allergens is allergy shots, which I will beginning this month. (It’s a very extensive process requiring shots twice a week for 4-6 months). For the food allergies, I am on an elimination diet. Since working to eliminate food allergens I have seen about an 80% decrease in the IBS and OAS symptoms. And when I DO get sick or have a reaction I can almost always pinpoint something that I’ve eaten where an allergen slipped in unnoticed! I am amazed.
Over the course of this process, in doing a lot of research into food sensitivities and digestive problems, I have become 100% convinced that this is further indication and proof that I suffer from fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, as there is a well-known link between the two. While I have not been officially diagnosed, the symptoms are all there, as well as the family disposition.
All that being said, along with the elimination diet and allergy shots, I am working on lifestyle changes in an attempt to look and feel healthier. I’ve joined up at a local gym that has childcare in an attempt to be able to exercise more regularly. I can’t do much, but I can do some (walking, elliptical, and some machines).
Most wheat-free products are by default organic, so I’m finding myself shopping in the organic section at Kroger more and more. I am finding this “diet” much easier to deal with than the one I followed in 2006. Because of the rise of Celiac disease and food-allergy awareness there is a much broader selection of wheat-free products available! (Breads, waffles, pastas, cookies, cake and baking mixes, etc). Sometimes it’s hard to eliminate all of the allergens at the same time – for instance some of the wheat-free products still contain corn or soy, but I am trying to eliminate wheat the most, and then make sure that soy and corn are not main ingredients.
My over-all food plan is this: 1) eliminate or decrease food allergens 2) increase protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats 3) decrease processed foods, refined white sugars, and empty carbs 4) buy organic as much as our budget can afford and 5) increase water intake.
I’ve also become religious about daily taking 5htp (which is an amino acid that helps with sleep and a plethora of other fibro symptoms), calcium/magnesium supplements, and probiotics/digestive enzymes. While I know there are many supplements I have and could take (and do occasionally), I get stressed out thinking about a bunch of pills, so these are the ones I am most concerned about and feel like I can manage taking on a regular basis.
I realize that this has been lengthly and detailed, and if you are still reading then kudos to you. I have written this because many of my Facebook friends have expressed concern and asked about my new dietary restrictions. I’ve also been in the midst of a bad flareup over the past few weeks as far as the fatigue and fibro symptoms, so I wanted to explain that that’s normal for me. As I mentioned before, the past year I ran on fumes and now that Russ is home and able to help, my body is going into recuperation mode and letting itself down. I’m so incredibly exhausted most afternoon I am in tears, but I am just trying to rest as much as possible.
All of this has been difficult, but relieving. It’s much easier to rest without feeling guilty about just being lazy or selfish, unable to “keep up” with all of the “normal” women out there who can manage work, kids, Pinterest, and housework and still seem to flourish! I am who I am, and I am coming to a point of acceptance that my “normal” will just look different from most people’s.