Sometimes I get too big for my britches (as my grandmother would say) and forget that I need to take care of myself. I oftentimes fathom that I'm (medically) normal. I've come so far in the last 10 years I think I take the journey for granted.
10 years ago I had chronic low back pain and nobody knew why. I believe I had IBS-D but just didn't ever get it diagnosed, I took 3 prescription medications for allergies (yet still HAD allergies) and got about 3 (bad) sinus infections per year.
8 years ago I started playing with elimination diets and detoxes. I started using my knowledge about functional medicine to heal myself and my mom, who has Hashimoto's. My back pain went away, my sinuses cleared, and I was able to get off of all of my prescriptions. It was at this time that I found out I had the antibodies for both Celiac Disease and type 1.5 diabetes (AKA Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults).
6ish years ago my progress plateaued and went backward. I was eating ridiculously clean (AIP before it was a thing) but my gut was the worst it had ever been. Looking back I realize I probably had SIBO but just didn't know it was a thing yet. I started worrying that my crazy roommate was sneaking gluten into my food- I remember even water making me bloat. It took me another few years to get my gut to where I wanted it to be. I lived on leaky gut healing supplements for the better part of a year, did many poop tests and blood draws, and took a million supplements and herbs. I tested positive for H Pylori, candida, and a parasite and treated those. Around when we moved to NC (fall 2014) I felt like I could finally say my gut was normal.
Goal achieved: game won.
Except, that's not how life works. You don't achieve a goal and sit on it- life changes, you change, and shit happens. I may have (mostly) won that battle, but I will always be an autoimmune person/patient, and I will always have my nutty health history. I can't erase the many surgeries I've had, the antibiotics I've taken, the Lyme Disease I had, or the concussions I've had. I'm also (like all people) not immune to stress..
Back to 2017
I've been under more stress than usual since April of this year. The move into the new office was kind of a train wreck (6 weeks of chaos), we found out that our dog Clyde has inoperable bladder cancer in early May, and one of our cars went to the big scrap yard in the sky in July. Luckily, we live so close I've been able to ride my bike to and from work and get a bit of exercise. This went pretty well (even in the NC humidity) up until it didn't...
Seven weeks ago something acutely scary happened- I was chased by two large dogs while riding my bike home from the office. Thankfully I was able to out-run them, but they came very close to biting my leg and knocking me off of my bike on a busy road. I don't think I'd ever been truly scared for my life before that, but I was then. Sometimes I still play the "what if" game when I think about it- "what would have hurt me more, the dogs, falling off my bike (and hitting my head?), or the cars?" I don't let my mind wander further than that.
Since then, I've been reminded what stress does to the human body: namely the immune system and the brain. Two days after the incident I developed a weird throat thing. Not sore, per say- it felt like a pill was stuck in my throat. I figured it was my old pal EBV who got reactivated from the stress, but I didn't act on it as quickly as I should have. Slowly, more fatigue crept in and my mental sharpness became less sharp. "Optional" things started to fall by the wayside (many emails, finishing charts, blogging, YouTube videos), I was in a noticeable funk, and the throat thing persisted....
Finally, in my brain-fogginess, I decided to do what everyone does when they don't feel well- I hit some Facebook Forums. I polled my friends in an integrative medicine group asking if I should be more concerned about the throat thing that had now been bothering me for 6 weeks. I got a range of responses but one really resonated with me- plum pit qi (read more here). Plum pit qi is a Chinese medicine diagnosis for stagnant qi (energy) that results from a stressful event or trauma. In other words: something that's figuratively hard to swallow. Leave it to Chinese medicine to shine an obscure but accurate light on things! Energetically this made perfect sense. Biochemistry and physiology-wise I still chalk this up to stress induced immune suppression and TH2 shift leading to an EBV flare. Either way it translated the same: take care of yourself, girl. On an airplane they tell you to put your own mask on first before you save anyone else... which I know- I tell that to patients all the time! I guess it just took this to get me to listen to my own advice.
The next day was a Sunday, which I happily slept away (well, until 1:00 PM). And you know what? I haven't had the weird sore throat since. (Oh, and I'm taking a boatload of pills again)
The Learning Experience
So, what did I take away from this mess? Well, several things:
I learned the importance of adaptogenic herbs, which I will now take indefinitely. These herbs are known to help the body adapt to stress, but they do much, much more than that. Many of these herbs have anti-inflammatory, nourishing, and otherwise balancing properties to them, too. I would say that they help treat "adrenal fatigue," but that's another topic all in itself.
This recent hoorah made me explore my own health history as never before. I started asking myself "how long have I had chronic EBV?" and was surprised to find that it's been a while. As far back as 2010 (maybe further, I'm still looking for older labs) my WBC look like they're fighting something viral. At this time I believe this dates back to summer of 2004 when my health took a noticeable nosedive after a bad concussion. I had already figured out the mechanism for this setting Celiac Disease and leaky gut into motion, but the viral piece of the puzzle is newer.
Setting realistic expectations is important and I try to talk to all of my patients about it. I tell folks the longer you've been sick and the sicker you've been, the more likely it is that you need to 1. make big changes and big sacrifices to feel better and 2. stay on some amount of support to maintain health. Looking at my case more objectively, I (doctor me) can now tell myself (patient me) that I need to stay on some amount of support indefinitely. Yes, it's expensive, and yes, it's a pain in the butt, but I'd rather take a hand full of pills each day than let my health snowball out of control again. This isn't to say that I will be sick forever or that I believe that the body isn't capable of healing... but I think it's fair to cut myself some slack and be realistic.
Self-care is so important, but it's easy to feel like it's "lazy" or not a good use of your time (especially when you're a business owner and/or a mom and have a million things to do all the time). I have some fun stuff planned for the next two months, though:
My best friend is coming to visit for a 3 day weekend in December
Mike and I are taking Jess to Buffalo for two weeks for Christmas and New Year. In addition to seeing my awesome in-laws and family this will include visiting many friends, adorable toddler play dates, and numerous trips to Wegmans. Don't worry, we're getting one in Chapel Hill, soon!
I'm so thankful that I got into this profession. Sure, the stress of business ownership is part of my problem and my student loan debt is terrifying, but I'm so grateful to have been able to figure all this out. I have so many EBV patients who believe they've had chronic viral infections for 10, 20 or 30 years- thank goodness I've been able to catch mine at least this quickly.
Finally, I learned that biking to work isn't the best option for me. Our road is too busy and the shoulder is too non-existent for me to ride a mountain bike. Also: winter is coming (#GOT). Since I don't want to buy another car just yet, I did the next best and clearly cooler thing: I bought a scooter ;) I even had a dream that I joined a biker gang and rode my scooter with them, so there's that.
I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving,