Karen's Healing Story
One of my childhood nicknames was Princess and the Pea, after the children's story character. As a little kid, I wanted sunglasses because sunlight hurt my eyes. If my sock had a wrinkle in it I had to have it fixed, because the sensation was too strong. Same with my bedsheets. My mom tells me I never crawled, just went from sitting to standing and walking. She remembers when I would try to crawl, it looked like it hurt.
I was sick frequently, and suffered from allergies, both sinus and skin. As a young teenager, I remember having days that just felt bad, as well as pretty deep depression. I was diagnosed at 13 with scoliosis and wore a Milwaukee Brace for 3 years. Throughout High school, I was in a lot of pain. I would have extreme stomachaches and my body and back hurt constantly-I would describe it as though something were trying to take over my body. My menstrual cycles were excruciatingly painful. I was tired all the time and had chronic joint pain. I also had acne and issues with my weight, constantly feeling bloated and depressed. Much of how I felt was blamed on my scoliosis- it seems like an obvious answer, but I knew within myself it wasn’t the complete answer. At 14 I had adopted a vegetarian diet, at the time for ethical reasons, and this choice also created a strong desire to learn more about food and medicine. (At the end of my story I have included a paragraph reflecting on this dietary choice and my symptoms) On my own in my teenage years, I would spend hours in the Health and New Age and Natural Medicine sections at the bookstore, learning all I could about the amazing world of natural medicine. As a result of this self-study, I quit eating fast food and soda at 19. However my symptoms were still growing worse. At this time I was also seeing doctors and running lab tests, convinced my thyroid was problematic (it probably was, just sub clinical). This was when I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue.
Although there was a level of satisfaction in receiving a diagnosis, it still didn’t sit right with me. I knew the symptoms of both these disorders, as I was in Nursing school at the time, but I just felt so much worse than either of those. I always has this feeling like something had taken over my body and was running me down. I was relentless in my attempt to understand how to heal, how to stop the pain and myriad of other symptoms I was having. This pursuit is what drove me to study and earn my Masters degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. My symptoms continued to worsen throughout my schooling, although working with the incredible herbalists and doctors I had the pleasure of knowing without a doubt bought me more time and absolutely kept me more comfortable. The immense stress during my academic studies and subsequent internship and board exams took their toll and my symptoms worsened. Two of my friends were medical doctors, and both informed me all of my symptoms pointed toward Multiple Sclerosis. I chose not to have an MRI or spinal tap. As someone who had worked in the medical profession my entire career I knew the ramifications that can come from diagnosis. I also knew I was not interested in taking medications and was concerned if I was formally diagnosed and refused treatment I ran the risk of becoming labeled as a "noncompliant patient".
I finished school and opened my own practice, and continued my struggle with my health. It was now 2012, and I had been engaged in this battle for over 20 years. I had recently resumed my main passion, horseback riding. Although riding hurt tremendously and I would have to rest for hours afterward, I had to fight my depression and fear with something positive. In September of 2012, I experienced a hallmark of secondary progressive Multiple Sclerosis- I lost complete use of my legs for about 15 minutes. I had been cantering my horse, and suddenly, I just had no legs. I would usually tell people my back hurt if was going through a particularly bad moment- very few people actually knew what I dealt with on a daily basis- so I pulled my horse up and blamed my need to stop the lesson on a back spasm. I couldn’t dismount though. It felt as though I had no brain connection to my legs. I was absolutely terrified. Finally after about 15 minutes I became able to swing my leg over and gently dismount, but my legs felt thick and heavy. It took at least an hour before my legs felt somewhat normal and the sensation of weakness lasted throughout the day. When I arrived home, I knew I was reaching a critical moment in the progression of my illness.
The reality of a life without horses was my last straw. That life was absolutely not an option. By this time I had tried many, many different modalities to heal myself- from herbs and acupuncture to Yoga, Sufi healing, massage and Chiropractic, meditation, food combining, the list just goes on and on. I asked myself, what haven’t I tried?
Two answers came to me: Western drugs, and radically changing my diet.
At this point I had been vegetarian, often vegan, for 22 years. I had been hearing and learning about the Paleo diet for about 2 years and was familiar with its success stories. However, it was in contrast to my ethics. The reality of taking Western drugs didn’t seem appealing either, with side-effects being worse than the symptoms, along with the possibility they just wouldn’t work. I very much wanted to stay with natural medicine. I decided I would make the switch to the Paleo diet for 3 months. If there was no improvement, I would switch back to my veg/vegan diet and try the drugs. Progress in the arena of animal welfare had made pastured and grass- fed meats a reality, so I vowed to only consume meat and animal fats from these sources.
On the morning of October 28, I made myself a breakfast of steamed kale and ground bison. After about 2 weeks, I was generally feeling better. After 3 weeks I could climb a flight of stairs without stopping halfway up from pain and weakness. My symptoms continued to vanish, like switches were being flipped off. I had my first asymptomatic menstrual cycle of my life. Three months later I had lost over 20 pounds, and my symptoms were simply gone.
It is extraordinary to feel good every day! At this time of article update, I have been well for 8 years. Over the first 4 years I had two minor remissions due to major life changes, but I was able to recognize the contributors and get healthy again with my diet. I horseback ride regularly, work out with Kettlebells, run, hike, whatever I want. I stay very clean with my diet. My symptoms of "Fibromyalgia", "Chronic Fatigue" and "Multiple Sclerosis" are firmly in remission due to my diet and lifestyle. I am free from a horrible, long struggle. I would love to help you be set free of yours!
About the dietary correlation: Vegetarian/Vegan and Grain Free Paleo/Primal
A few of my symptoms were present since early childhood, before I became vegetarian. I believe this was due to an early injury of antibiotics. I was treated as a 2 year old with Penicillin to which I had a near fatal allergic reaction. My Standard American Diet of high grain, cereal, sugar (think: breakfast cereal) and dairy consumption did nothing to heal my gut biome. Not to mention the candy, artificial flavorings, and other junk food (Doritos, ice cream, cakes, pastas, etc). When I became vegetarian, my protein levels plummeted. When I became vegan I was no longer consuming a useful level of saturated fat for my brain and nervous system. All of these factors contributed to my failing health. Early blood work showed slight anemia, which I took supplements for and never tested "anemic" again, although I surely was. Any source of iron that is not from heme (blood) does not assist the red blood cells to be healthy and carry oxygen. So, not only was I consuming grains and legumes as the bulk of my food which were creating high levels of systemic inflammation, I was also extremely deficient in protein/amino acids, heme iron and saturated fats. My blood was essentially "toxic" (my C-reactive proteins were very high, not to mention a host of other blood markers) while simultaneously deficient in necessary nutrients for proper nerve health. I want to make a bold statement: I did not have "Chronic Fatigue" or "Fibromyalgia" or "Multiple Sclerosis". These words are just a collection of names used to condense a long list of symptoms into a singular short hand of a title or name. What I had was a sick, toxic blood chemistry that was continually degrading and undermining the health of my body. Our blood chemistry is informed primarily by what we put into our mouths and take into our body. The age-old adage "We are what we eat" still stands true. And I want to rephrase that to state: "We should eat what we are."
(No, not eat people lol...eat muscle, fat, tendon, connective tissue, organs)
My Auto-Immune Symptoms:
Skin pain- pressure against my skin felt like being cut
Full body pain, heat. Like lava pouring through my body
Feeling as though my bones were breaking from the inside
Tremors, teeth chatter (especially at night)
Numbness, arms and legs
Intense abdominal pain- High school, and at night during grad school
Steady weight gain
Weakness, especially in hands
Extreme Pain beginning of period
Discoordination/ no balance
During grad school: (All of the above plus)
Significant Hair loss
Eyelashes fell out
Back breaking pain (laying on floor during classes due to inability to sit)
Liquid fire through nerves
Chronic sore throat
Weakness/ burning sensations in legs
Heart Palpitations and chronic flutters
After Grad school: (All of the above plus)
Periodic episodes of loss of function/feeling of my legs