It seems as though most of us in alternative health arrived on the other side of the fence because of a personal battle with illness that wasn’t able to be remedied by traditional medicine. My story is no different. Therefore, for my first blog post I thought it fitting to share how I arrived here.
This post will be longer than most, so please bear with me.
Let’s start with the basics:
I have 3 children, 2 dogs, and 1 amazing husband (even ask him, he’ll tell you!) Initially, I got into therapy like most people – because I enjoyed helping others. What I love about being a therapist is that I am able to connect with people at a deeper level. Strangers trust me with their story and allow themselves to be vulnerable and real, which allows them to do the hard work that results in meaningful change and improvement.
My first experience as a therapist was during my internship at the Stillwater prison. I had the privilege of working with men who were incarcerated for various crimes from DWI to homicide. While working there I spent some time in the chemical dependency unit and found I really enjoyed my time there, so I pursued an additional licensure as a drug and alcohol counselor.
I then moved on to an employee assistance program before coming back to the prison system. This time I chose to work with female offenders. There I met some very strong women who had endured years of pain and trauma. There I learned that everyone has a story, and that if you knew that story you would be inclined to suspend judgment and instead employ empathy.
I loved working with the women at the prison, but decided I needed a change of pace and transitioned to working on the insurance side of behavioral health. There I spent 2 years getting to know thousands more stories. Although I continued to grow and sharpen my skills as a clinician, I missed that connection that you can only get by sitting down and hearing someone’s story. That brings me to today and why I started life support.
Here is my story:
After completing graduate school I began working full time for the first time in my life (lucky, I know!) At that time I was also singing in a band every Friday and Saturday night late into the morning and began dating my now husband, who had 5-year old twins. The composition of my life drastically changed, as did the perceived demands.
Shortly thereafter I got my first migraine.
It was a 3-day long headache that felt like a mix of the flu and a bad hangover, minus the fun from the night before! The next one came a few weeks later. After the third migraine I sought professional help. My family doctor gave me an official diagnosis, prescribed a medication, and referred me to a neurologist. Thankfully the neurologist was able to rule out any serious medical conditions and encouraged me to continue with the medication. At my follow-up appointment I remember asking various questions in hopes of getting to the bottom of why these were happening so I could go back to not having migraines. That didn’t happen.
My memory of that conversation consisted of the neurologist basically telling me “the medication works, why are you still in my office” and ending the visit.
I accepted this for a short time, but eventually my stubbornness won out. It won out because even though I had medication to relieve the migraines it didn’t prevent them from happening. It often triggered a rebound headache and each migraine episode still took a solid 2 days out of my life at a minimum.
This led me down the road of research (God bless the internet!) and various attempts to find healing.
Here’s the list I’ve compiled of what I tried…
- essential oils
- Novocain in my neck by a kind dentist (in an attempt to determine if the migraines were muscular)
- massage (literally got a massage once a week to try and relieve the tension in my neck that I thought could be causing the headaches)
- no alcohol for 1 month with increased water intake
- ice pack on my neck
- ice pack on my neck combined with running hot water over my wrists (or maybe my feet, I can’t remember)
My next attempt at healing was going to be some type of physical therapy to see if sitting at a desk for 40 hours a week could have been the cause of my migraines. The woman I consulted suggested I try food sensitivity testing. While I knew nothing about the testing I vaguely remembered a previous chiropractor also suggesting this, so I made an appointment and spent a great deal of money (IMO) on a blood test.
The results indicated I had leaky gut, as grains were found in my bloodstream. The chiropractor suggested an elimination diet to both repair my gut and reset my system. This meant no processed food, no sugar, no dairy, no gluten, no nothing basically!
Did I mention I didn’t really cook? My husband cooked for our family because he made things the kids liked and it was easier for me to just eat what they were eating. Therefore, my diet consisted of chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese with hot dogs, pizza, spaghetti…you get the idea. While we had corn and peas occasionally, plants were definitely not a major part of our meals.
I decided to start slow – first I was going to just eliminate gluten. Sadly, that plan was thwarted by another migraine.
At that time they were coming every 7-10 days and I was miserable.
So…March 1, 2015 I got out my pen and paper, made a list of allowed foods, scoured Pinterest, and suited up for battle!
Previously my husband joked that I was in the kitchen once a year and now I spent every night either making my dinner or making food for the following day. It took a lot of time and energy on my part, but to me it was much better than the time/energy my migraines took from me.
My experience on the diet was definitely interesting. I never considered myself a sugar person – I would always go for a double helping of pasta instead of desert. Now that I couldn’t have sugar, though, I found that I desperately craved it, mostly in the afternoons. I kept reminding myself that if I “cheated” on my diet it could affect my little experiment and may result in needing to start all over – something I did NOT want to do! Therefore, I religiously stuck to the diet.
After the first week I was without a migraine. Day 10 came and went and I was symptom free. It was a miracle! During this time I learned about a naturopathic doctor that was helping a coworker with some issues. While I was mostly symptom free I still experienced a migraine at least once a month (any guesses as to why??), so I contacted her. After some time and testing we learned that my hormones were out of balance. When she suggested this I literally cried. It felt like for the first time in 4.5 years someone had an answer as to WHY!
After a few months of taking natural supplements and continuing with my diet/lifestyle changes I was completely migraine free – something I wasn’t sure would ever happen. I slowly added in nuts and eggs and had my hand at cheese without any digestive issues, but for the most part I stuck with my new way of eating. I would have sugar or gluten on occasion but I never liked how I felt afterward, so those stayed out. Honestly, it was so nice to be so in tune with my body that I had no problem maintaining the diet.
Not only did my migraines disappear, but I also experienced other improvements…
- No more neck/shoulder pain (still worked at my desk job)
- Improved digestion
- Decreased anxiety
- I felt better able to cope with stress/emotions
- Decreased irritability
- Improved mood stability
- No more brittle nails (huge for me, as I was a nail biter ALL my life)
- My hairdresser noted my hair felt thicker and healthier (with no prompting from myself)
- And the list goes on…
Since my recovery, as I like to call it, I haven’t been able to keep quiet about my story.
- I learned firsthand how the foods I ate and my stressful lifestyle literally caused my health issues.
- I learned that my migraines weren’t actually a disease, but instead were my body’s way of trying to tell me that it was hurting and off balance. (thus the phrase “listen to your body”)
- I learned that the traditional healthcare system is great at acute car (think car accident or broken leg) but not so great for chronic conditions.
- I learned that throwing a pill at my migraines was akin to taking an aspirin for a nail in your foot. You first need to take out the nail otherwise you’ll need pain relievers for the rest of your life. In addition, you’ll probably develop other illnesses due to the continual use of pain relievers and the rusty nail in your foot!
- Biggest of all – I learned that what I was taught about mental illness may be completely backwards. Basically – in my profession as a counselor I was just as guilty as the doctors that weren’t looking for the underlying cause of my migraines.
This is why I am here, sharing my story and using my experiences to help others. This knowledge is not common knowledge, but the army of healthcare professionals looking for the WHY is growing! Here are some tidbits that I would like to leave with you…
- “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” ~Michael Pollan
- Food is medicine – it can either keep you healthy or make you sick
- Your genetics don’t determine your destiny – “Genetics load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.” ~Dr. Mark Hyman
- The best thing you can do for yourself is ask “Why.” If a healthcare professional recommends a certain regimen ask “why.” If you receive a diagnosis, ask “why.” Why do I have schizophrenia? diabetes? cancer? depression? If the person you are working with cannot answer, deflects, or plays the blame game and says your fate is sealed then I urge you to close the conversation and work to find someone that will get you the answers!