For those of you who have read my previous blogs you will know I have been on this journey of trying to get my health back for almost 3 years now.
This is the blog that at so many points in my journey I thought I would never get to write. It took me the best part of 2 years to actually figure out what was going on with me, why I had no energy, why I had chronic pain, why I had digestive issues and severe bloating, why my hair was falling out, why I was no longer able to do the things I used to do… especially running which I loved so much and why I had fallen into a massive heap. After finally getting a diagnosis in November last year with adrenal fatigue and hormone imbalances I was further diagnosed with a thyroid disorder in January this year. Finally getting these answers was exciting because it meant that now I knew exactly what I was dealing with and that there was now a way forward. The way forward certainly hasn’t been easy, there is no quick fix, no magic pill, there have been so many ups and downs and lessons learned. In saying that there is no such thing as quick fix or magic pill, I never wanted one, I wanted to figure out how and why I got there and I wanted to make the changes necessary to get myself out of there and back on track to prevent myself from falling into the same trap again. I believe there is always a reason why we get symptoms and that they are our body’s way of telling us that something isn’t working or needs to change. After originally being prescribed medication (12 months worth of antibiotics after I broke out in hormonal acne and the contraceptive pill to help clear the acne... which made things 10 times worse) I was adamant that being in my early 30’s I didn’t want to be put on medication if there was another way, especially thyroid medication which I would likely have to take for the rest of my life... so I chose the natural therapies path, it seemed more sustainable long term to make the changes rather than taking medication to manage it while never really solving the issue. I understand that sometimes medication can be the best and only way, and it can save lives in some situations but in my situation I couldn’t justify taking medication and not addressing the reason why I was in this position. There was always a chance that it might not work out for me but my gut feeling was that this was my best shot and I felt I had to at least give it a go because I would rather have tried and failed knowing that I had done everything I could and taken the path that felt right for me. I think in these situations we need to do what works best for us and what feels right for us as individuals.
So I had reached my first goal of figuring out what was going on with me after feeling like I had lost a couple of years of my life feeling chronically unwell. Now the next goal was to find out just how I got there and the advice that I was given is that the road in is usually the road out. In my last blog I spoke about my experiences in 2013, tracking back to how I felt I got to this point. It was the year I first started running a lot, I was in a very stressful work situation where I felt trapped which ripped away so much of my self-confidence and my emotional health. Back then running was one of my major coping mechanisms, a way to get away from it all and I was running too hard too often using the endorphins from running to try and numb the pain with no focus on recovery or slowing down. I was so overcommitted in all aspects of my life, always rushing around and trying to pack way too much in each and every day. Back then my body was in a constant state of stress and I didn’t even know it… until all of a sudden I came crashing down, things that used to be easy became really hard and for so long I had no idea and no answers as to why I felt like that and even though I kept seeing doctors they had no answers either. I can remember at the time when I was constantly in a state of rush the feeling of adrenaline rushing through my body, I thrived off it… rushing from task to task and I remember how good it felt for a while until my body got to a point where it could no longer keep up with this and started to fail me... when I tried to run I felt like I was wading through mud and could barely lift my legs off the ground. I had lost my health completely and couldn't even use the only coping strategy I had at the time which was running. My perception of stress has changed so much since then, I had no idea that all of this constant rushing around was so stressful for my body. I had no idea back then that running is a physical stress on the body and that using running as the only method to de-stress could be so counter productive in the long term. I now realise the importance of using other activities that are truly relaxing to the body. In terms of running and performance, stress is a necessary part of the process... running raises our cortisol, this allows adaptions to be made in our recovery as our cortisol levels then lower, these important adaptations don't actually happen if we are in a constant state of stress or fight or flight and the more we are in that state the more our stress response lowers and it becomes a vicious cycle. It all comes back to balance and taking the time to focus on true recovery.
I have had to make some big lifestyle changes particularly since the start of this year and while at times it has felt like there was no progress or very slow progress I can finally say that I am starting to see some big changes! I am fortunate to have a great team on board including a Clinical Nutritionist who specialises in women’s health, thyroid and hormones, a Naturopath, a supportive husband and family and a few great friends who have been there for me. My program has consisted of eating a nutrient dense wholefood diet where I have had to figure out what foods were further triggering my symptoms and then remove them from my diet. This was a challenge at first considering many of them are all such common foods but after removing them and noticing how much better I felt and watching many of my symptoms disappear and my body start to heal it has all been worth it and it has allowed me to get creative with preparing nutritious food. I have also used nutritional supplements as directed by my naturopath and nutritionist focussed around supporting my adrenals, thyroid, hormones and digestion. I have had a 10 month break from running and cardio based activities as well while I have worked on building up my health again, I have really enjoyed Body Balance classes during this time as well as some weights and walking my dog. I was told that exercise is very important for my recovery but I was told not to overdo it as it would be further detrimental to my health at this point, I really need to give my body the chance to build back up reserves. I had my first run a couple of weeks ago, I ran a slow jog with my 5 year old son Beau at parkrun and it felt great to be running. In terms of lifestyle changes, I have had to learn to say no more often, focus on being around positive people and keep my distance from negative people, for the first 6 months of this year I had to put off further building my Graphic Design business while I focussed on my health and I have had to take more time out for myself to relax and find other activities that I love that are a bit more relaxing and not as stressful on the body as running. I have basically had to put myself first more often and not feel guilty for doing so. I don’t regret a thing, I have plenty of years ahead of me to focus on other things and right now there has been a big focus on myself and my family and the things that are truly important to me. Sometimes it takes a health crisis for us to put in perspective our priorities, It has changed a lot for me and in many ways I feel blessed to have had this wake-up call.
The last month has seen a huge set of improvements in my symptoms, they are not all completely gone but I can honestly say that I am starting to feel great, in fact better than I have in years. I can see my vitality creeping back in, my energy has increased, I am no longer getting bloated, I am feeling stronger and have started to feel much better about myself too… I am starting to get all of those things back that I missed so much and I am feeling much happier than I have been for a long time! There were definitely some dark times in the last few years but I am so happy to say that I think I am finally coming out the other side and that all of the effort and sacrifice has been worth it… I am proud that I have been able to get myself out of that. I haven’t done any testing lately so it will be interesting to see the improvements in my next round of testing… In saying that, this journey has been all about feeling good again and while testing is important I try not to get too caught up in the numbers, how I am actually feeling speaks volumes and if I am feeling good and functioning at a reasonable level then I am achieving my goals.
A lot of people have asked me why I have been so open about my experience and the truth is I have found it has helped, it has helped other people support me and I have been contacted by so many people who are in a similar position to me and it has allowed me to connect with others… knowing you are not alone and being able to share experiences certainly helps. I am not ashamed in any way and am happy to have been able to reach out to others through sharing, I think it’s ok to be able to share real things and not just the highlight reels of our lives because lets face it everyone has their own struggles and vulnerabilities… we are all human.
I am not going to be rushing out and starting running again just yet (apart from running with my kids at parkrun, which I am really enjoying), the advice that I have been given is that I need to be very careful when I start feeling good not to go out and overdo it too quickly as I could quite quickly end up back to square one, I need more time to repair my body before slowly easing back into things and then taking a more balanced and intuitive approach to my running. In the last month when I have been walking and in Body Balance classes I have started to feel so much stronger and have noticed changes in my body. For so long when I was walking I felt so sluggish that I couldn’t even possibly imagine being able to take a single step running, I honestly thought that there was a possibility that I may never run again… Now when I walk I feel like running is possible, I feel like I actually want to run for a bit and that is a massive step forward for me and I know that when the time is right I will be able to run properly again. I have made a lot of progress in getting my heart rate down while walking after it being dangerously high for so long for the type of exercise I was doing but even with the progress for now it is still too high while I am running even at a very slow pace so I have a little progress to make there before I am allowed to run properly. Again I am not focussing too much on the numbers here, I only test my heart rate every now and then as a guide to gauge progress but its not the only factor that I am looking at, how I am feeling during exercise and how I recover afterwards is big indicator of where I am at. Its just a matter of keeping on being patient, progress is progress and there has been a lot of that lately which is very promising.
This situation has taught me so much about my body and not to take it for granted, health is the most important thing you can have as its really hard to enjoy anything else without it. Now when symptoms appear I can pretty much pinpoint why and it’s usually because I have done too much (it can be a hard habit to break!) but I am learning how to become more intuitive with my body and managing it before it accumulates and becomes a problem again. I have learned to take more time to stop and enjoy the moment and to focus on what is important and let go of what’s not. I have also learned that anything is possible if you want it enough no matter how many setbacks you have or how long it takes, you just have to be patient and pick yourself up and keep going. It’s being consistent with the little things each and every day that count, because all of those little 1%er’s start to add up day after day, week after week and month after month and all of a sudden it just gets easier : )