Ever since my illness took over, 6 years ago, surely Jeremy’s friends and family have marveled over my ‘delicate health’. For most of my life I’ve lived in a new age spiritual community in south Iowa. There I’ve had a number of friends with substantial health issues (mostly gut related) that restrict their diets, energy levels, and lifestyles in many ways. One may ask why all these people eating organic food, eliminating chemicals from their toiletries and households, avoiding sugar and fried foods, etc. are turning up with limiting and sickly conditions. Having always been a sojourner for quality multivitamins, regular exercise, and organic whole foods, I find it rather embarrassing that I’m the only person in my immediate friend group who’s arthritic, or otherwise suffering from a debilitating autoimmune disease. What does that communicate to others about my legacy of good health practices??
In the health food movement’s defense, I want to address this in a couple of ways. First of all, people who bother to spend the extra money, time, and educational effort on healthy habits, often have very strong motivation to do so. This probably means they came in with health issues, like I did, and/or they have relatives with problems they don’t wish to ever develop. These are what I call GAPS people: people who don’t have the kind of ideal gut environment that’s going to protect them from the failings of their genetics, unless they take exceptional care of themselves. You see lots of GAPS people who have embraced healthy diets and practices but are still unable to avoid the extra challenges their bodies continually throw at them.
Secondly, ‘health nuts’ tend to have a high standard of living, and often seem extra tuned in to their body’s needs. It can be said that I’m a combination of both these things. I have perhaps an abnormally large number of challenges, but I also consider things like estrogen dominance, fatigue, and insomnia to be unacceptable conditions that must be troubleshot and overcome whenever possible. Most people live with those symptoms for decades, medicating them with caffeine and drugs. And according to my particular body type, natural stamina, disposition, etc., if I don’t feel invigorated during and after workouts or if my libido is mild…there’s something that needs to be addressed.
I did have the good fortune of growing up in a smart and health conscious household…Just think how I would have turned out had that not been the case! My stomach ulcers first appeared as incredible pain when I was 12 years old. By the time I was 14, I had severe hypoglycemia. When I was 16 a Chinese doctor told me I had the liver of an alcoholic, and put me on some herbs that finally dissipated the excruciating gut pains I’d been doubling over with for a decade.
At the age of 20 my insulin response was so exaggerated that my resting heart rate was consistently around 120/bpm, and my friends started calling me ‘hummingbird heart’. After a year of this I found out I had ‘pre-diabetic hypoglycemia’, and my amazing nutritionist put me onto the Zone diet. My maternal grandfather and two of my maternal aunts and uncles have type 2 diabetes. I took the diet seriously.
After mononucleosis, at age 21, my adrenals and thyroid went kaput. The Zone diet cured me of binge eating disorder, regulated my weight within a 15 lb range in spite of my thyroid, corrected my heart rate by normalizing my insulin, and managed my hypoglycemia. Slowly I began rebuilding my adrenals and thyroid. By age 27 I appeared to be doing quite well.
You’re probably wanting to ask…just how much drinking and drugs did this poor child do during her teens and twenties?! The answer is: none. I had my first beer when I was 26 and have never tried a hard drug in my life. One can only wonder what would have become of me if I’d indulged in the habits of a typical teenager. With my daily adrenal exhaustion-induced panic attacks, nervous breakdowns, and suicidal depression, alcoholism would have been second nature. Struggling with my weight in spite of cooking healthy, balanced meals, cocaine was a concept I was tempted to explore. Luckily for me, I rarely ran in the social circles that made such things available. Considering I’d had binge eating disorder severely between the ages of 20 to 23, how easily would I have become addicted to any sort of abusable substances had I been foolish enough to try them?
I am most fortunate to have a ‘light on’ somewhere deep within me, that has steered me towards the best decisions during even my darkest times. I was always subtly aware, yet still in denial, that I wasn’t able to enjoy ‘days in the sun’ like most people. I never had a life of daily pasta, pizza, bread, sweets, bags of chips, or glasses of wine, followed by sleepless nights of partying with beer. My awareness was…I chose a healthier life because I wanted to look and feel my best and age without a host of degenerative conditions. But my denial was that I couldn’t admit I never even had the option to live like others. I would have at least become a fully exhausted diabetic burnout in my early twenties, had I not chosen to adopt a health conscious lifestyle.
By my late 20’s and 30’s, there were scarcely any remnants of my old binge eating disorder. At age 33 I had my first experience of not only making it home from the store with an uneaten chocolate bar, but stashing it in the cupboard and then completely forgetting it was there. A couple weeks later I stumbled upon it and was like…oh goody, a chocolate bar. After over ten years of eating ‘in the zone’, my brain was fully rewired in its relationship to food. I’ve now been eating in the zone for 22 years, and am still enjoying full liberation from the hellacious constant need for sugar and salt that I once suffered.
After half a lifetime of pain and diligence…does it seem unfair that I, of all people, should develop a crippling autoimmune disease? Why yes, it most certainly does. In my 30’s the last remaining traces of my health problems were IBD, occasional colitis symptoms, and intermittent Estrogen Dominance. AS took me by surprise.
However, I now have a much greater understanding of how those remaining conditions could tailspin me into autoimmunity. Four months after my diagnosis I would read the GAPS Diet book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, and gain a certain deep gratification by finally being able to conclude, beyond the shadow of doubt, that there are others like me and that we most definitely cannot do the things that ‘normal’ people get to enjoy. We are GAPS people and we either take great care of ourselves or dearly suffer the consequences, and all too often…both.