My Year of Healing

I've never been one to make New Years resolution's.

My decision to do things usually comes very spontaneously or because I've decide to change my mindset around the situation, essentially "tricking" myself into just doing the damn thing. I might not make "New Years resolutions", but I'll establish goals to be reached over the course of a week, a month or year. I think about accomplishments I wish to achieve before I'm 35. 45 and 50. This allows me to decide on the destination but how I get there can change along the way. I thrive best on this kind of structure, when there's room for adjustment along the way.

The year of 2015 was a truly amazing but difficult year for me. I was awarded a diploma as a Certified Nutrition Therapy Practitioner from the Nutrition Therapy Institute, I married my best friend Corey while we were living in Denver, I backpacked 12 miles into the Grand Canyon to explore the Havasupai Indian Reservation, explored all over Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah before finally driving cross country to return to our home state of Vermont. During this entire time I was experiencing a horrible and unpredictable ulcerative colitis flare that seemed to get progressively worse. I was scared to travel, go to work, or take my dogs on a walk because I wouldn't be near a bathroom. My period had become horribly irregular to the point of non-existent, I was never able to sleep more than a couple hours straight because I had to use the bathroom and I had become anemic again (something I've struggled with in the past). As 2015 was coming near an end, I decided that enough was enough. I wanted to do whatever it took to regain my health, to trust my body function the way I needed it to and to feel like myself again. While I felt that I had a good handle on what to be practicing for nutrition, stress management, exercise, etc. I did not feel like I had the well-rounded healthcare team I so desperately needed. On December 30th, I began seeing a MD at a natural healing center and left feeling the most optimistic I had felt in months. I had finally found some of the answers I had been looking for and had the support of professionals to guide me.

Leaving that day, I knew that 2016 would be my year of healing.

In retrospect, I should have been documenting my "Year of Healing" as I was going through it but with so many other things going on during that time, I just didn't have the mental capacity to sit down and write it all out. But almost 11 months later, I truly feel like a different person. I am able to think clearer, concentrate better and interact more comfortably with people in social situations. As 2016 is coming to an end, I wanted to reflect on how far I've come in almost a year and share my story so that others can understand, relate and realize that there is still hope, even when you're feeling so defeated.

Taking the first steps

In late 2015, my flare had become so bad that I was put on Prednisone (a corticosteroid used to suppress the immune system from overreacting) in hopes that it would provide me with some relief. It did. After months of not being able to eat, get through the day or sleep through the night I was finally able to rest and enjoy a meal again. Anybody with Crohn's or colitis can understand just how draining a long, bad flare is physically, mentally and spiritually.  While Prednisone is not my ideal choice of treatment (it can have some nasty side effects), there is a time and a place for it and I was there. Instead of being bummed that I had to resort to stronger medications, I took this as an opportunity to support my body the best I could while being on Prednisone. I began to rethink my approach to healing and managing my colitis all together.

January 1st, 2016, I began following a strict Paleo diet with shades of Autoimmune Paleo and still continue to eat this way. (AIP also eliminates nightshades, nuts, seeds, eggs, alcohol and even more naturally occurring sugars).  Foods I have successfully reintroduced include eggs, nuts and seeds. During the first couple of weeks of switching to a Paleo diet, I had intense cravings for all the refined grains and sugars that had slowly been destroying my insides for so long. I desperately felt like I needed something "more filling" at my meals besides meat, greens and veggies but I powered through. I would wait 20-30 minutes after a meal to decide if I was really still hungry (I never was) and if I felt as though I just needed "something", I would make a mug of tea or have a piece of dark (and I mean dark) chocolate. I swear after just a few weeks of following a strict Paleo diet, I didn't even miss the grains or dairy, and I still don't. I'm not saying a hefty bowl of mac n cheese wouldn't be pretty damn amazing but it's just not something crave it anymore. It's actually a really cool feeling to not be controlled by your cravings. I can look at food, like a plate of cookies, that without a doubt looks delicious but feel fine passing them up.

Around the same time that I transitioned my diet, I began a protocol of supplements prescribed to me by my doctor at the natural healing center. These supplements were designed to eliminate parasites, improve liver function, support the lymphatic system, reduce inflammation and improve digestion. Every 3-4 weeks my supplements would be adjusted according to how my body was responding and how I was feeling overall. During these winter months, I also received multiple IV Iron infusions to address my anemia and return the iron levels in my blood to an optimal level. In March 2016 I finally tapered off of Prednisone, continued to take my once weekly shot of Humira (an anti-inflammatory medication I have been on since 2013) and completed the last of my iron infusions in April. 

It was around March/April, the 3-4 month mark, that I started feeling the best I had in a long time. I was so satisfied with my diet, my period had returned to normal (for a little while at least, that's another story) and I had real energy.  It felt so good to see my body begin functioning the way it was supposed to again!   In late June, I finished my last round of supplements as recommended to me by my natural healing doctor and began a simple maintenance plan of supplements which included, digestive enzymes, probiotics, L-glutamine, collagen and the occasional vitamin D. I had started trail running again, hiking, swimming, biking and paddling. It had been so long since I was able to comfortably participate in the activities I love.

Finally able to backpack and camp again.

Finally able to backpack and camp again.

Better, but still missing something..

While I felt so much healthier, loved my healing diet and was so proud of myself for how far I'd come in under a year through hard work, dedication and determination, there was still something that wasn't quite right. I'm very in tune with my body and how it reacts to food, environment, stress, etc. I was noticing that I was still very sensitive to fermented foods such pickled veggies, coconut yogurt or kombucha, any alcohol or wine and sugars, even just from fruits (which is where a majority of my sugars come from). I also woke up far too often with a feeling of being hungover (even after eliminating alcohol completely from my diet). I knew something was still a little off and I wanted to figure out why. I began searching my area again for a reputable doctor that would work with me in the way I needed. In September I found an integrative functional medicine doctor in South Burlington, VT and set up an appointment. After filling him in on my lengthy health history, he recommended that I have a comprehensive stool analysis done through Genova Diagnostics. While my GI doctor has run stool analysis in the past for parasites, infections, etc. Genova's stool analysis delves a little deeper. Their tests determine how well you're digesting and absorbing your food, levels of inflammation, the health of your microbiome, possible parasites and intensity of immune reactions. I was more than eager to take this test and find out what was going on in my body that I could not otherwise determine (plus who doesn't love to collect their poop for 3 days?!) After a few weeks, early October,  I met with my doctor again to go over the results of my analysis and was given fantastic news...I had a yeast overgrowth!

You're probably thinking "a yeast overgrowth is fantastic news? That sounds horrible!" Nope. For me, knowing that my intuition was right and gaining the knowledge of knowing there was something else going in my body, that had yet to be officially determined, was a huge victory. You might be confused as to what a "yeast overgrowth" even means. As described by Dr. Amy Meyers, author of "The Thyroid Connection" and "The Autoimmune Solution":

"Candida is a fungus, which is a form of yeast, a very small amount of which lives in your mouth and intestines. Its job is to aid with digestion and nutrient absorption, but when it is overproduced it breaks down the wall of the intestine and penetrates the bloodstream, releasing toxic byproducts into your body and causing leaky gut. This can lead to many different health problems ranging from digestive issues to depression."

I happened to have very high levels of Candida and another strain called saccharomyces cerevisae.  Now that I knew exactly what was going on, I could begin treating it with the correct supplements and adjust my diet accordingly.

While I had already been eating a pretty low-carb/Paleo diet, I further restricted my intake of carbohydrates, fruits in particular, as well as eliminated fermented foods, mushrooms, sugars and alcohol. I have been focusing primarily on eating copious amounts of leafy greens, herbs and non-starchy veggies like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.  In addition to lots of veggies, I eat moderate portions of protein and fat at every meal and for snacks. The proteins and fats I eat come primarily from homemade bone broth, wild-caught salmon and shrimp, pastured chicken (including the skin), pastured eggs, grass-fed/finished beef, pastured bacon, pastured liver, nuts, seeds, coconut in any form, olive oil and avocados. While it's easy for some people to not eat fruit, I love fruit and still wanted some in my life so I restricted myself to about 1/4-1/2 cup per day. I eliminated my beloved plantains for the time being but still allow myself to have other complex carbohydrates like acorn, butternut or spaghetti squash when I want too. I tend to still avoid squashes though as I honestly feel better not eating them (at least for now).  As prescribed by my functional medicine doctor, I take various, natural, anti-fungal and anti-viral supplements everyday, that reduce my yeast overgrowth, while continuing to support and balance the ecology of my gut flora. Additionally, I have been focusing on getting enough deep sleep, spending as much time in nature as possible and strength training regularly again.

Be in the present but expect the future

As of right now (when this was published) I have been following my anti-yeast protocol for a little over two weeks. In the beginning of the second week, I had about a 4-5 day stretch where I believe I experienced a Herxheimer reaction (commonly referred to as "die-off" or a "healing crisis"). I was able to get through my days well enough but my digestion and bowel movements were off, I experienced nausea, headaches, a painful, but short lived sore throat and acne breakouts. Then one day I woke up at 7am and felt amazing. So amazing that I physically got out of bed and started my day at 7am...(Corey will tell you, I DO NOT get up early). I didn't feel hungover like I normally do. I didn't feel groggy, cranky or exhausted even after 8+ hours of sleep. It wasn't a fluke either, I got up the next day at 7am, and the next day, still feeling amazing. My bowel movements were becoming more normal and I felt energetic throughout the day. I know it's still early in my treatment but I can feel the difference in my body already and I know that everything I'm doing is right. I'm headed in the right direction to further heal my body, improve my health and foster happiness throughout my life.

Good health is a never ending journey. I know that the supplements I'm taking now won't be the same supplements I take in 8 weeks. The variety of foods and methodology of eating I practice now will change again in a few months and then a few months after that and a few months after that.  Life is dynamic, ever ebbing and flowing, which is what makes it so exciting right? We can thrive, have love and be happy if we just learn to roll with the punches.

As I approach 2017 and celebrate what I now consider to be my "healing anniversary", I've been thinking about what other aspects of my health I'd like to focus on going into this new rotation around the sun.  I've been contemplating the world we live in today, abundant in technology and social media but people seem to actually be less social.  I'm definitely not innocent here, I think we're all guilty to some extent.  But I'd like to push my introverted comfort zone, get out from behind a screen and put myself physically out into the world more. I'd like to meet like minded individuals, share ideas and discuss how together we can not only save our world, but make it a better place for future generations. Especially in light of the recent election and the uncertain future of our earth, now more than ever we need to rekindle our sense of community, respect, love and relationship to nature.

I'm scared but I'm ready, 2017 will be my "Year of Connection".  I'll see you out there ;)