Here is a really important guest post from Cathy.
What struck me the most about this post was how Cathy has had to be her own advocate for her health. I am so glad she has the means and support to do this, yet how many people in Canada are not able to do what she has done; how many people are dismissed by the health care system when things aren’t clear and obvious?
I am so glad to be able to publish this.
Last summer, my long time friend, Finola, blogged about our spa weekend in celebration of our 40th birthdays. My birthday was in February, hers more recently in July. We talked, we ate, we relaxed and pampered ourselves and then we went on the vigorous guided hike. Finola, marathon runner that she is, soared to the top of the hill with grace and ease despite her caffeine and chocolate habits while I trudged along, pushing myself to keep up. Something was wrong. I lead a healthy lifestyle, eating wholesome foods and avoiding the things we are told to avoid, exercising frequently etc. etc. The walk was not that onerous and I wasn’t that old. I should have had no problem keeping up.
Over the past year I had noticed strange symptoms creeping up which I brushed off as the natural aging process. Months later I remarked that though I’d turned 40 I felt and looked more like 85. My skin had become dry and thin and itchy. I suffered short term memory problems – going into the next room to do something or get something and forgetting what I was there for when I arrived. I had trouble recalling the names of everyday items. My hair thinned. I had headaches and migraines (though these I’d had for some time.) My feet and hands were always cold and I needed a heating pad at night to warm them before I could fall asleep. (This had been going on for years as well.) I had cravings for sugar and high fat dairy foods as well as salt. Formerly a morning person, I just could not get out of bed before 10 am or noon or afternoon and I felt awful all day long. After dinner though, I’d perk up and be unable to sleep until 2 am. My muscles became extremely weak and I had recurring knee problems as a result though the knee had been injured – and healed – years ago. I had chronic yeast infections, bladder and bowel issues. I had two gall bladder attacks and it is a pain so intense I would not wish it on anyone. Yet I needed only an incredibly small dose of morphine and the nurses were convinced beyond a doubt that I was not drug seeking. Apparently addicts looking for their next hit are known to fake abdominal pain because it is hard to test for.
I had other drug sensitivities, too. Whenever someone in the house got ill, I did too but it took me twice as long to overcome the illness. I became light headed and suffered low blood pressure whenever I stood up. My heartbeat was so faint it could scarcely be heard with a stethoscope. I suffered unexplained and overwhelming allergic reactions. I lost the ability to cope with any kind of stress and would retreat whenever there was the least hint of conflict. I had to stop all of my activities and exercise and, by December, was bedridden. My children’s lives, my husband’s life and my own life were turned upside down and placed on hold. It was devastating.
We sought help from nannies and babysitters, electronic babysitters like television and computer included. We arranged bussing for the children as well as school lunches (though I seriously question the nutritional value of them). We cut back on the children’s activities as well my husband’s and resolved not to take on additional commitments. We called in favours and begged others until people started getting annoyed and saying no. We gave away our theater tickets – Fiddler on the Roof would have to play for someone else.
My husband, a doctor himself and highly skeptical of naturopathic medicine and alternative medicines nevertheless urged me to try anything we thought might help. Conventional medicine did not have a name for what I seemed to be suffering, let alone a treatment but we arranged consultations with every specialist that might have an idea on what plagued me: internists, gynecologists, allergists, endocrinologists etc. etc. My blood work all seemed normal. There was nothing wrong with me – on paper. My husband being a respected member of the profession in our community leant a certain amount of credibility to my story. Had he not corroborated my story, I wonder how many doctors would write me off as a neurotic housewife like so many before me. I was beginning to wonder if I was crazy myself.
We scoured the internet for credible, science based sources as well as information about anyone who seemed to suffer the same symptoms I had. We felt confident that it was not depression. While sharing enough in common to be called chronic fatigue, it encompassed more than that. I did not seem to have the usual markers for fibromyalgia. With a strong family history of autoimmune disorders, it was a distinct possibility however none of these conditions seemed to be a match either. Eventually, we stumbled upon information about adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion. Medicine recognizes the complete failure of the adrenal glands and they call it Addison’s Disease but anything else is considered not to exist – you can check for yourself on the website for the renowned Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/adrenal-fatigue/AN01583
You might have learned about your adrenal glands in your middle school sex education classes but, like me, you were probably more interested in other glands to remember much about the adrenals. In short, the adrenal glands are responsible for adrenaline and cortisol – the stress and anti-stress hormones involved in the fight or flight response – and they are intricately connected with the regulation of sex hormones and thyroid hormones. In short, they are critical for the functioning of every system in your body – as my symptoms eloquently and loudly attested.
Dr. Wilson is an individual with a particular interest in adrenal fatigue and several PhDs in useful fields for investigating the topic (though not a medical doctor per se). His website and companion book entitled Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome proved most helpful for me. His online self-diagnostic questionnaire described me to a T and I scored at the most severe end of the spectrum for adrenal exhaustion. http://www.adrenalfatigue.org/take-the-adrenal-fatigue-quiz We ordered the supplements and vitamins he designed and waited anxiously for them to arrive. They were not all that different from what I was already taking (I was gagging on over 20 vitamins and minerals daily on the recommendation of other practitioners) but at least there were only 4 things to take on this plan. I was game and I had nothing to lose.
Contemporaneously, with nothing beyond lying in bed being within my capacity, I discovered the movie Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead – the self produced documentary of an overweight Aussie and his quest for health via green juice fasting. http://www.fatsickandnearlydead.com/ He cured himself of an autoimmune condition (urticaria) as well as other people’s various health complaints when he convinced them to try out drinking nothing but freshly squeezed vegetable and fruit juices, too. We ordered a juicer.
After 2 weeks of juicing (and eating other foods – at the extreme low end of a healthy BMI I cannot afford to lose any more weight) and following the vitamin and supplement regime my husband asserts the improvement in my health has been miraculous. His words, not mine. I’m still sick. I still have to rest a lot and some days I don’t get out of bed but there is no question that I’m healthier and more resilient than I was. My face is less gaunt. The shadows under my eyes are less noticeable. My skin is more youthful in appearance and my muscles are stronger. I have less dizziness and more vitality. I am beginning to be able to cope. That old toast, drink l’chaim, to life! has a new and more profound meaning than ever before. L’chaim!