For an audio version of this blog post, please click below. Happy listening!
A little while ago in my first ‘Unearthing Wellness’ post I made a point of deciding that I was going to share more of my health and wellness learning’s in real time as they unfold, so here I am! It’s a little longer between shares than I had anticipated, but I promise it’s not due to a lack of generosity and that there’s a lesson in this too.
The climb out of chronic and complex health complications such as mine is unfortunately nothing that resembles simplicity, convenience or speed. This analogy which I will share used to be one which exhausted and defeated me, and if I’m completely honest at times it still does, however these moments are thankfully now short lived as I’ve become favorably self aware and fast reacting in overcoming them. Here goes…
I’ve found that there is a horizon of mountains. I don’t have to climb all that form the retrospectively picturesque view, however regardless of what strategy I implement, I will have to climb multiple. I can only climb them myself, no one else can climb on behalf of me, and I only have the road map, sanity, and supplies to accomplish one at a time. I can influence the speed in which the climb is completed, but I cannot control it. I am only privy to which mountain is next to be conquered once the former has been mastered. Basic assumptions and predictions can be drawn, but spending too much time on that puzzle before its call can be an unnecessary expenditure of energy and resources, and even slow down my current hike.
The certainty around the commitment to the climb is reserved within the knowledge and insights acquired from each prior. This accumulation draws lines to a map, discounting some mountains and pinpointing others desperately in need of my time and love. The view from each mountain top is stunning, and they only improve. Each needs to be appreciated and not diluted by the overwhelm of those still to come, each waiting with their own cry for attention and unpredictable struggles. I won’t know that my climbs are complete until I reach the last peak from which I can see no further mountains. Whilst there will be signs and markers that my future climbs are diminishing, it is only at that last peak that I will have certainty. My trust and belief in my support crew and the existence of an end is vital. My unwavering refusal to accept the quality of life that a mid horizon mountain would provide is my ultimate fuel and always has been. Okay, so to cast some light to this analogy, let me share just the topsoil of my most demanding mountains.
My first mountain was my longest and most excruciatingly painful: Anxiety and Depression.
If I could explain the tedious nature of this climb, I would do so by suggesting that rather than locating the trail that went directly up, I spent twenty-two years winding around the outsides, unaware for the most part that I was even on the mountain. Once the process of diagnosis and incorrect treatment strategies for my personal experience were out of the way, I can’t say I felt that I was even half way up the backbreaking hill. It felt as though I may have even tumbled off the side and had to rebuild strength before even starting again. Three and a half years followed of undeniable commitment to lifestyle and relationship adjustments, routine therapy and coaching, and incorporation of mindfulness practices, all amongst more tears and darkness than I could have ever imagined in my wildest nightmares. Eventually amongst fewer bouts, the climb became increasingly peaceful and earlier this year I was on top with an unshakable strength and indescribable glistening pride. It’s a bounce in the step of everyday since.
My second mountain was ready and waiting for around nine years before it finally transpired to lines on my map: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
A sample of this character building climb would show bed bound fatigue which made showering a gold medal task, crippling muscle weakness which left me unable to lift a plate for my meal or sit upright without support, and isolating cognitive restrictions which meant an inability to read and reply to simple text messages or even watch TV before midday. The statement ‘the struggle is real’ was a factual assessment of every minute of my existence. This mountain had a pool of quicksand in which I was rapidly disappearing into with an army of onlookers who were unable to empathise with what was happening.
I’ve come to understand that for me personally, and the devastating state my health was allowed to reach, that Chronic Fatigue seems to be a severely debilitating collection of symptoms flaring from a root dis-fuction or dis-ease in my body. Although each root cause also went undetected and misread (until recently), I finally received a diagnosis and assignment of my CFS mountain after working my way through eighteen practitioners. As I began to appreciate each fragile symptom and approach it with the patience and respect it required, the excruciatingly slow wheels of progress began to creak. It took an enormous overhaul of my mindset around what it means to be lazy versus emotionally and physically intelligent. A challenge I doubt I would have overcome without the guidance and loving support of my CFS Health coaches who had previously conquered this leg of my race in their own lives.
Once atop my CFS alp, I was in a position where these once severely crippling symptoms were well understood, manageable, and no longer plummeting me down the track I’d worked so hard to move along. I had become empowered and informed around the extreme restoration requirements and just how minimal progressing forward needed to be. Essentially I achieved the climb of a foundational mountain; integral groundwork to achieve higher peaks and create treatment plans around each causal condition with significant and sustained improvements to my wellness.
The third mountain which arguably remains somewhat simultaneously complete and on hold – I could be poking holes in the framework of my analogy here – is my digestive and gut health.
So I am going to suggest that this particular mountain had a large intestine focus. On the pain and suffering scale my gut health sits second only to Anxiety and Depression, with those issues now resolved my gut health piece is the Mount Everest of mountains. This guy has compromised my life and presented as miniature inclines and tumbles on every mountain throughout the last ten years. I’ve struggled enormously, and I mean enormously, with literally endless food sensitivities, severe and painful bloating where I appear to have a pregnancy belly, and chronic constipation. The treatments, remedies, and protocols have been endless and so far not entirely successful. The last eleven months have seen my feet firmly in my boots and wholeheartedly dedicated to this mountain venture. There have absolutely been positive results and I’ve held such an open mind that my family members and friends have had the delight of learning things they may have otherwise never encountered! Early stages of one foot in front of the other (resembled as those minor inclines and tumbles on earlier mountains) saw a checklist of elimination diets including gluten, dairy, fructose, refined sugar, and eventually grains altogether. However regardless of my dedication there was only ever short term and minor relief.
By January of this year I was assigned this mountain in isolation. I’d come across and researched the GAPS Diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) and spent three months attempting to move my way through the ‘Intro Diet’ – again with little to no reprieve from my pain. In immersing myself in the GAPS world, my mountain map then sent me exploring an expansive six month gut healing and detoxification program. Significant tracks were made up this mountain with the heaviest pack I’d carried yet; multiple daily coffee enemas, a ketogenic puree diet, loads of fermented and probiotic foods, herbal and oil based antimicrobials, and a worsening or introduction of new symptoms before small improvements were sustained. It was an amazing show of my mental and emotional resilience, and armed me with an abundance of practical and effective functional medicine regimes that still form parts of my treatment currently. My treatment and coaching on this program was tailored to my Bioscreen Test results showing a high Streptococcus load and extremely depleted essential bacteria. We also treated Leaky Gut Syndrome, Candida, and Parasites on a symptom-presenting basis.
After connecting to what was true to my body and its slowing response I looked up to realize that I was circling what I can only believe was the highest point of that mountain, alongside a calculated visual of where I was next to be. Since shifting my footing to the base of a new mountain I have not looked backwards. As my most dominant symptoms remained, this mountain has a sister with my name all over it.
My fourth project of Mother Nature became apparent whilst working with a Chiropractic, Nutrition, and Naturopath team at Vida Lifestyles. This mountain is Hypothyroidism.
Whilst I can’t be entirely sure that conventional medicine put their line through this one (due to monotonous years of monthly blood tests and a loss of all belief and interest) I feel quite certain that this was in fact the case on more than one occasion. I found this podcast a fantastic educational tool in understanding the distinct differences between conventional and functional medicine testing for thyroid disorders, which is also detailed in my resources list below this post. Another helpful hint is that given the length of my medical history, I have it compiled in one succinct spreadsheet that I send ahead of my initial consults. This makes my time and energy in front of practitioners highly productive and in this instance, a lift up the first stage of the mountain. By my second consultation my Hypothyroidism had been tested and diagnosed and we were already moving through my nutrition and supplementation treatment plan. Since starting this treatment I have travelled interstate independently with ease, increased my work hours, and more than doubled my social activity. With my gut symptoms relentlessly remaining and the naturopathic strategy of always looking to uncover and treat the root cause of a dis-ease in the body, we have since shifted to uncover what may have led to the dysfunction of my thyroid. Enter mountain five!
Trek number five is my newest and (so far) most optimistic mountain; a couple of weeks ago I was finally diagnosed with methane dominant SIBO (small intestine bacteria overgrowth).
Whilst I’m quietly hopeful that this mountain combined with my Hypothyroidism is the last to my life changing journey, I’m also finding balance and remaining honest to the rules of this analogy that I won’t know that my climbs are complete until I reach the last peak from which I can see no further mountains. I do feel with confidence however, that the team I have around me is limitless in their capabilities and commitment to my recovery. These final two diagnoses’ that have taken place only in the last couple of months ring so true to my body and are also documented causes of Chronic Fatigue. My SIBO treatment kick starts this week after six hours testing, more than nine hours personal research, and jumping for joy at a positive result! I have found this podcast an amazing resource, (also listed below) as well as the superstar commitment from my Naturopath in sourcing multiple opinions on my case.
As I’m coming to what I feel is a lengthy tail end of my healing, these final puzzle pieces seem so blaringly obvious – or at least should have been to those who suggested they held expertise in these areas. In saying this and despite years and tens of thousands of dollars around misdiagnosis, I also believe there is a combination of events that need to transpire for the boulders to stop rolling down each mountain. Firstly, I need to be ready with an open mind, trust, and the ownership of self-education that places me in a position to make an informed commitment or dismissal. Secondly, the timing must be appropriate for my body with prior mountains conquered and less congestion or confusion of overlapping conditions. For example, I truly believe that if I didn’t tackle my mental health and stress levels as my starting race, no other treatment would have gained the same level of traction as my body was stubbornly locked in sympathetic nervous system mode. And thirdly, it requires practitioners who have connected intuitively and chosen exposure to learning and expertise that goes beyond surface level diagnosis and treatment methods. Practitioners who are prepared to treat subjectively and with no end. I’m literally overflowing with gratitude for the coaches and functional medicine doctors who are changing my life.
So, the technique to ensure that each masterpiece of a climb isn’t tarnished or undone with the hopelessness of what remains ahead is this: a resilient mindset and drive to remain informed. Building this for my current Hypothyroidism and SIBO climbs has heavily attributed to the time lapsed between my shares of unearthed wellness, (as well as my pure joy in having more energy to be amongst normal life – yay!). I’ve needed to spend my precious time and energy processing via research, education, contemplation, and connecting with what feels and resonates as true for me. It’s the grunt work to confirm that this is the right climb for me towards overflowing vitality, not just the opinion of my practitioner based on what they know and how well I’ve managed to communicate my mountains of history. My ownership of research and self-education is imperative in dissolving the natural overwhelm that comes with the cold slap of a new diagnosis. It’s so pleasing to be this far into my journey where that slap is less severe and my arms and heart are positioned to offer a warm welcome. It’s vital to continue growing the perspective that test results and diagnoses’ provide a foundation to end the plummet and leverage a strategic bounce.
Only in this most recent instance with my SIBO results have I had the 100% crystal clear realisation that it’s a lack of understanding around my new mountain that allows the overwhelm to surge and swell. At the start of each climb I find myself in a foreign environment where I’m on the back foot all over again allowing the practitioner to handle the map and assume the role of navigator. Whilst there are absolutely times where I do need to resign to being the token tourist, I wouldn’t be as far progressed in my recovery today if I always allowed every doctor to hold my map and direct my climbs.
SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth):