You feel like hell. Your pelvis feels like one huge, palpable, purple bruise in the depth of your being. You can barely drag yourself out of bed. And the thought of what your day will bring fills you with dread as you contemplate what will be expected of you. You want to run away.
But you don’t have the energy.
I was diagnosed with endometriosis when I was 25. That was over twenty years ago. Too. Many. Years.
The cause is still officially unknown and treatments still patchy and of dubious efficacy despite the passing of two decades.
I’ve experienced the pain, the exhaustion, the short cycles. Infertility, acne and depression. The caffeine and sugar binges, grasping at some pseudo-energy to get me through the basics of my day.
There’s a huge, mostly hidden cost accompanying these conditions – the lost earnings, the broken relationships, the blighted years of life. Young, female life.
Endometriosis and its’ cousin polycystic ovarian syndrome disrupt lives and we seem to be no further forward in dealing with them than we were when I was diagnosed. Except we are. But it’s a secret.
My approach to deal with my endo was to a) put up with it, b) manage it, c) get around it and d) deal with it. I’ve worked on solutions for the past twenty-three years, most recently and most successfully using the paleo approach.
And I am now symptom-free.
I’ve crossed continents looking for solutions to my health problem. I’ve spent thousands of dollars over the years. I’ve tried unconventional treatments. And sunk enough drugs to medicate whole armies.
I spent years and years in this mode.
And if I have learned anything from this saga over the past thirty years, if I have one regret in my life, one legacy besides my children I would like to leave with you, it is this:
If you have any kind of illness – mental or physical –
The first thing to do is change your diet.
No matter what other tricks and stunts you attempt, it is a fact that unless you change your diet, your good health will only partially realized. This has been a lesson bitterly won on my part.
I can’t tell you how I resisted the connection between food and the problems I was having.
Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there wasn’t a lot of data connecting food and hormone imbalance, but what there was I read. And just as easily as I read it, I dismissed it. It didn’t fit my paradigm.
In my mind, restricting and eliminating certain food from your diet was what you did if you were overweight – I was thin. Or had allergies – I had none.
I grew up with what I thought was a healthy diet – meat, eggs, cheese, veg, fruits, bread and pastry. With a light serving of cake. Oh, and tea. Of course, the tea.
I carried this ‘healthy’ food mentality into adulthood and didn’t think anything of it. But I wish I’d learned about food and how it affects our hormones. I wish I’d taken steps to identify my personal perpetrators and eliminate them back in my twenties.
Heck, even doing so in my thirties would have saved me a lot of pain.
I wish it hadn’t taken several crises experienced by both my children for me to look at my genetic profile, review my medical history and finally reject the best medical advice I was getting at the time – ‘you’re just unlucky.’
No-one’s that unlucky.
I’ve written on my other blog about my battles with food.
Those days are over but the potential for them to return is always present. I have to be vigilant. In the past, I’ve been told by people, I was ‘too sensitive’ but one misstep and my body lets me know it. Yeah, I’m sensitive, alright. To food.
Let me say now, I am not against medication. Doctors have helped me enormously. I’ve met men and women who genuinely wanted to reduce my pain, enable me to have children, make my life better. Who used their expertise and the tools at their disposal to achieve that.
They couldn’t fix me, so they eliminated my symptoms. By shutting down my fertility altogether. I became a 25 year-old using powerful synthetic hormones to prevent a process as ancient and natural as life itself.
When that wasn’t enough, they cut me open with a knife to remove the offenders that were giving me such trouble.
Cutting became a way of life. Casual. Like a form of socially acceptable self-abuse sanctioned by some of the most respected leaders in our highly developed society – doctors.
And when surgery couldn’t unlock the secret to vibrant health, (sheesh, I would have settled for a life that was simply pain-free,) we went back to drugs again, working around the problem and all the while never getting to the bottom of it.
And when my attention turned to resolving my health issues instead of merely managing or ignoring them because I didn’t know what else to do, I came upon courageous doctors who risked the censure, derision and downright nastiness of their fellow practitioners by daring to challenge the norms and conventional wisdom.
These were doctors who taught me mental illness can have a physical basis. Doctors who taught me bacteria and viruses secretly harbor in the cells of our bodies without making their presence known on the outside for years.
I learned about epigenetics and genetic polymorphisms (mutations) that can prevent our bodies from working optimally. I learned that our bodies in these circumstances, like fragile machines, can break if overloaded with more work than they can bear. Causing them finally to succumb to illness and disease.
And like a scientist, I noted the reaction.
But I still ignored the strongest, most fundamental chemicals of all.
These science experiments halved my symptoms. Yet I was still trying to live a life in spite of significant pain and fatigue.
By now I had a bad case of Epstein Barr I just wasn’t licking, plus endometriosis, as well as a host of other afflictions. I had a genetic makeup that wasn’t well suited to disposing of these buggers swiftly and cleanly in a ninja-like fashion. I was sinking as my body struggled to deal with a load it simply wasn’t designed for.
I needed a Hummer and I had…a Toyota.
As so often happens with innovation and change, I chanced on the solution while searching elsewhere. As I worked on a diet to soothe my son, it struck me just how powerful food is. It affects all parts of our life – mentally, physically, socially.
Frankly, I became obsessed. I wince when I think of that phase now. People saw me coming and ducked behind lampposts. I couldn’t talk about anything else.
Over the years I’ve experimented some more. But this time with food. I’ve refined, tweaked, restricted my diet. I’ve cut out foods, I’ve added foods. I’ve fallen off the wagon. I’ve got back on. I’ve given into impulse, I’ve reined myself in. It’s been a process.
Finally, finally, I solved the puzzle with paleo. My body doesn’t feel a buzzing, a toxic, radioactive waste dump any longer. My symptoms are gone.
I’m pain-free, full of energy. I eat meat and veggies. Take fish oil. Not much else. I am strict, relieving my body to heal itself back into balance, better able to vanquish those enemies lurking within. This is what I need.
I aligned my diet with my unique body design.
But I am angry. It shouldn’t have been this way. Or taken this long. But it did. And now I’m here. And shouting what I’ve learned.
So if you are a woman, or mother of a daughter, or a son – boys are not immune – look for the signs – weight changes, cycle irregularities, skin problems, overwhelming fatigue, digestion issues, infertility, pain. These symptoms are not normal. They are not natural.
For inspiration, read Peggy’s story , or Alison’s (not me) success. Or download Dr. Loren Cordain’s paper on acne. Read up on the role of diet in this kind of picture. Accept for yourself only a thriving, vibrant, healthy life, full of energy, joy and pain-free.
I know it’s hard to imagine from under the blankets, swathed in the fuzz of ibruprofen or maybe Vicodin. Or maybe you get tantalizing glimpses of great health on your good days as you hope, yet again, this month it will be different. But then it’s not.
But instead of crying with pain, ingesting drugs or avoiding situations due to embarrassment, cut out the processed crap. Cut the sugar. Cut the grains, dairy, snacks. You might not have to do all these things but keep going until balance is restored.
I was like Santiago in ‘The Alchemist’ searching the desert for treasure. Only, ultimately, to find it right on my doorstep.
Accept only an optimal life for yourself. It’s the only one you have. Your life does not deserve to be experienced through the dark shroud of pain or a fog of despair. You do not have to live with pain, depression, weight gain and related heath issues. Not when the answer may be at your fingertips.
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