Where to begin?
I’m the youngest of six kids, and the runt of the litter in every sense imaginable. I am the only child that my mom breast-fed, and the only one who has been in poor health their entire life. So crack that case, La Leche League. I’ve never met a germ I could fight off or a weird ailment I would turn away. I do not discriminate when it comes to freakishly odd medical conditions, such as the time I grew a football-sized dermoid cyst when I was eighteen. That bad boy took my right ovary and left me with a pretty brutal looking scar. I’ve also had periods of time when my hair would go through a MAJOR shed, drive me nuts, and then return to being just okay. I’ve had extended hospital stays for the stomach flu (more times than I can count), pneumonia, sinus infections, extreme pregnancy sickness, and, most recently, systemic hives. All of these factors led me to require infertility treatments at a very young age to have 2/3 of my children. This was not an easy path, but I am so grateful for it!
Let’s go back to January, 2010. I had had enough. I was absolutely bottomed-out energy-wise, and was sick nearly all the time. My body would just never do what it was supposed to do, at any time, and in any way. I started trying to figure out how I could change my body – perhaps grow some sort of immune system, or just be able to recover from the stomach flu in my own bed for once instead of the hospital. I wouldn’t say it was a New Year’s resolution, but I had just hit my version of rock bottom, and needed to make some changes. I saw an infomercial (I know, I know) for a souped-up blender that people were using to make fruit smoothies. I googled it and discovered that that particular blender was not very good, but there was another one that had been around 80+ years, and was supposed to be fantastic. I read everything I could about this blender (The Vitamix), and what people were doing with it. The thing that caught my eye the most were “Green Smoothies” because as someone who was never into fruits and/or vegetables, this seemed like a good fit for me. Basically, you’d put a bunch of greens in the blender (spinach, kale, lettuce, etc.), then add some fruit, water and perhaps some sort of ground up seeds for added fiber. You’d turn the Vitamix on and it would grind it to a wonderful consistency, you wouldn’t taste any of the greens, and you had a nutritional powerhouse! So, although it can be pricey, we decided to buy it and hope that this could be the answer to my prayers.
On the day it arrived, I made a green smoothie for breakfast and forever ditched my thirty year ritual of a gigantic bowl of cold cereal. Pretty soon after, I had a ton of extra energy and I seemed to enjoy long periods of good health. Of course, my husband and daughters started doing it, and everyone felt great! We started telling everyone about the amazing green smoothies. Friends and family saw me with renewed health, and everyone wanted in. People began coming over to the house for informal ‘demos’, moms asked me to bring samples to school, and people were buying them left and right. People who suffered from things like eczema, allergies and low energy seemed to thrive on the smoothies. I began branching out then and using my Vitamix for things like soups, dips, chopping vegetables, making peanut butter, and just about anything that would cross my mind.
This went on for about 10 months, and then I just bottomed out. I had no energy, my hair was coming out in clumps, and I was just a real mess. I was back to having constant pain, and was told that a hysterectomy was definitely in my future. I was in such poor shape that my husband called a masseuse friend of ours and she came over that day to work on me. It’s kind of hard to describe how amazing she is, but she also studies chiropractic and is just very in tune with the human body. She could not believe how awful I was, the amount of knots in my body, or the fact that my kidneys seemed to be barely functioning. I thought this was a stretch of a diagnosis, even for her. I asked her what she meant, and she said there was just “no movement” coming from my kidneys and that I should figure out why. Now, that would’ve been a tall order even if I were healthy and able to adequately articulate this hunch to my doctor, but given that I had trouble staying up later than my 4 year old, this was too much.
My next step was to go to a dermatologist, as recommended by my gynecologist, to see why my hair was falling out. He did a scalp biopsy which confirmed that, yes, it was falling out, but gave me nothing else to do beyond worry. I went home and was so upset. I was trying to do everything right, and now I was in WORSE shape? Come on! That was when I remembered something. My friend had been telling me that I should go and see her “vitamin guy” for quite some time. He apparently could diagnose things just by looking in your eyelids, feeling your hands, and talking with you. The story that she had told me that made me finally want to see him was that she had been having bad stomach pain, but went to see him because she had a spot in her eye that wouldn’t go away. When she asked him what she could take to heal her eye, he immediately said “your eye is not the problem. We must heal your stomach”. Well, heal it he did, and she was just amazed. I was at the end of my rope, western medicine had not done much for me lately, so I drove there to see him. I am not kidding when I tell you I was so weak that I almost pulled over to rest on the way there (it is a 5 minute drive from my house). Anyway, I spoke to him for a few minutes and he asked to feel my hand. He pressed a few spots and said “your kidneys are shot”. I could not believe that. I asked him to elaborate and he said that my adrenal glands (which sit on top of the kidneys), were depleted. This can result from long periods of stress, which I had definitely endured with my daughter’s health problems as well as my horrendous pregnancies. I would need to rebuild my adrenals and work on reducing stress. He also asked if I had fertility issues, specifically cysts. I was shocked. I asked him how he knew that and he said that my body was reacting like a body under total stress, and those were signs. He went on to say that hair is the least essential thing on our bodies, and so since my health was so poor, my body was focusing on saving the important stuff, like my organs, and completely letting the hair go. I left with a bunch of vitamins and a little bit of hope. That was on a Friday.
By the following Tuesday, I had all my old energy back, and then some! I could chase my kids around, stay up late with my husband, and was just so excited! Better yet, each day after that I felt stronger and stronger. For two weeks. And then – “it” happened. I woke up and noticed what I thought were bug bites on the hip that was touching the bed. Somehow, I went back to sleep, which as a bed-bug survivor (laugh if you will but they are horrific) was quite amazing. When I woke up, I had the bites on the other hip, which I was sleeping on at that time. That is when I went crazy. I tore all our bedding off, took it to a laundromat (to do about 9 loads), and when I came home, all the grandparents were over for Mary’s b-day. My mother-in-law looked at them and said she thought they were hives, not bites. My dad joked and said “well, hives are probably the one thing you’re never had”, and we all laughed. Within a few hours, my body was covered, and it was back to my old hang-out – the ER.
When we arrived, the doctor said it is either hives from touching something I was allergic to (I had no known allergies), or something called Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Thank GOD that I did not google that, because it is a potentially deadly skin disease (that’s how crazy-covered in these things I was), that is incredibly painful. Anyway, I responded to the prednisone, and was told that I should be completely better within two days. None of the doctors or nurses thought the hives were caused by the vitamins, which I was concerned about, even though I’d been on them for two weeks. I felt awful because my entire body was fighting a war, and I just wanted a hug, but everywhere that I got touched turned to hives. Good times. I went back to the vitamin guy at this point to see if he’d ever had anyone react to vitamins in this way. He looked at my hives and said they were from food allergies. I told him that I did not have any food allergies, so that was impossible. He asserted that I should not be eating dairy or gluten, but I thought that was crazy-talk. He said that when you begin to get healthy your body will no longer tolerate what it considers to be junk (ie allergens). He even suggested that my smoothies had too much sugar (natural sugar from the fruit) and that that was bad for my adrenals. Fine. Question my pizza-eating, but put my green smoothies in the cross-hairs? That was too much for me!
Two days later, the hives were worse. They now covered every part of my body from the soles of my feet to the top of my head, my lips were swollen and my body temperature got down to 95 degrees. I went back to the ER, and luckily got the same doctor. He couldn’t believe what had happened to me and said that things were serious now, and that I would need to be admitted while we figured things out. I stayed for a couple days, was given a ton of prednisone, and was sent on my way with absolutely no plan. One doctor told me it was probably food allergies, and another told me that pursuing food allergies was just a waste of time that would likely produce no results. I felt so hopeless. I had lost about eight pounds in as many days, and I was just wasting away with no real plan. I weighed less than I did going in to high school and I looked like death.
At this point, I had what I like to refer to as my “Jerry Maguire – Mission Statement Writing Night”. If you’ve seen the movie, you get the reference, but if not (why?), it just means I had a crazy sleepless epiphany-filled night. I was covered in awful hives, I was freezing, my joints were swollen, my hands were stiff and I was crying to God, asking Him why this was happening. I had never had any such conversation with God prior to this, so that in itself was unusual. All of a sudden, I was just picturing Belle, and that this experience was somehow going to help her. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of being loved so much that He would show me how to help my child. It made no sense because hives had NOTHING to do with her, but I was just convinced after this that she was going to be okay. I like to think of this as the start of my relationship with God as an adult. While reading her story, you can see how this does in fact end up being the thing that brings us our “True Belle”. You can decide yourself if this was sleep-deprived psychosis, or a wonderful moment, but I think you know how I feel!
Anyway, back to the story. I figured that the root of this problem was my adrenals so I typed “adrenal fatigue doctor saved my life” into google. Luckily someone had written that exact statement about a doctor not too far from my house, Dr. Hauser at Caring Medical. His website is bursting with information, and he pretty standardly tests for hidden food allergies that are causing undesirable consequences in his patients. I called right then and made an appointment. In the meantime, I decided to eat gluten free. It was Halloween morning when I made myself some steel-cut oats. About 4 bites in, my stomach filled with air, the room started spinning and I got sick. I quickly discovered that oats can never be 100% guaranteed gluten free, and those with an intolerance have to avoid it. I missed trick-or-treating, and was dizzy the entire day. It seemed like gluten was, in fact, a problem.
Wow. This is getting long, I’ll try to be more concise! When I went to see Dr. Hauser, I was amazed at how different his clinic was to any medical office I had previously visited (and you know I am quite the connoisseur)! They are very much a team there, and you feel as though everyone really is collaborating to get you as healthy as you can be, as fast as humanly possible. He tested me for food allergies, performed diet typing to see what kind of foods would best fuel my particular body, tested me for adrenal fatigue, and a few other things. I think it is important to note that at this point, I was on 80 mg of prednisone to control my hives which is a VERY high amount. It kept me awake at night, and I hadn’t slept past midnight in over two weeks. I am just pointing this out because when these people met me, I was about seven different kinds of crazy, and they just could not have been kinder to me.
I would have to wait about three weeks for the allergy testing, but the diet typing showed that I was eating absolutely the wrong way for my body. I was consuming lots of fruits, veggies, and carbs, but my body was craving protein. Switching to eating this way stopped my weight from free-falling, and made me feel so much stronger. When my allergy tests came back, it showed I was, in fact, allergic to dairy, gluten, and a bunch of other things. When you constantly eat foods you are allergic to, your body’s immune system works toward fighting off these “invaders” and does not have the strength to perform as an immune system should, therefore you get sick – a LOT. Sound familiar?! I also had adrenal fatigue, as well as candida. Candida is a systemic yeast infection that you can get from being on antibiotics even once in your life. It can manifest itself by showing obvious symptoms, or just by slowly robbing you of energy. Candida is fed by sugar, so I was once again told to knock it off with the green smoothies. He treated me for all of these conditions, and slowly put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
All of these experiences made me really question everything that I was putting in my body (because nearly everything was causing a reaction). I found that eating homemade meals was easier because I could be in control of the ingredients. Too many ingredients is bad news for a highly allergic person. Then, one night I was putting my night cream on, and I got a look at the four-inch ingredient list. I started wondering if the same thing wasn’t true about the products I used on my body and around my house. By and far, I’ve discovered that by using simple homemade formulas, I could have a far less reactive body and far less potentially toxic home. My skin has responded by being its calmest and clearest in my history as a human being. My kids love helping me make our new shampoos, disinfectants and deodorizers. I love that I am teaching them to be aware as consumers, not from a place of fear, but from experimenting and finding healthier, simpler alternatives. My husband jokes that I’m going to have us living on a prairie within the month. I don’t think it’ll come to that, but I’ve learned to never say never!