Tracey's Healing Story
"if you take one thing away from the posts that I make, it’s that healing is a process."
Looking back on the journey that led me here, I’m really drawn to the word “process”. Until recently, say the last 6 years, I really didn’t see things from that perspective; I was an all or nothing, perfect or failure, win or lose kind of girl. So, if you take one thing away from the posts that I make, it’s that healing is a process. I didn’t end up where I am now with an overnight change; it was gradual, picking one or two changes over time. Now, several changes I had to make did take place all at once because that was the way it had to be for me. I chose to be healthy and I was told what I needed to change to begin that process. You’ll see those things as you read my story. I hope that when you get to the end of this post, you’ll be encouraged to choose to make some changes to better your health. So, here is a bit of my journey.
Ben and I got married in 2007. I turned 25 and had a job working as a dental hygienist at a dental office about 30 minutes from home. A co-worker mentioned that she was taking her daughter to see an allergist and after asking her what kind of allergies her daughter had, I thought maybe seeing an allergist could work for me. I had seasonal allergies that sometimes kept me from going outside on windy spring days and I found it annoying. So, I made an appointment. I went to see him and he said my allergies were minimal and that he could help the seasonal stuff with allergy shots. I was anxious to get started in hopes that I could kick the itchy eyes and throat to the curb by spring. My arms swelled badly, were constantly bruised and hurt to be touched, but I kept going because it had to be working if it hurt, right? I did that twice a week for six months, to no avail. Things were not improving and the seasonal stuff continued with renewed vigor. Around that 6-month mark I took a job working closer to home and decided to find a different allergist. I was discussing my allergies with my new co-workers and my boss suggested I write up a food diary and take it in to my first appointment. I took his advice and spent the next two weeks documenting the foods I ate, the time I ate them, and if and when I had any symptoms. I was surprised to see that every day at 2:00 I got a patch of hives on my right arm and I realized that I was tired all the time, even after a full 8 hours of sleep. I was hopeful that this new doctor would help me make some changes and start feeling better.
The day I met her was the beginning of my healing process. I took her my current list of symptoms (fatigue, stomach pain, rash, hives, seasonal allergies…) and she said, “We’ll do some testing but you have to stop the dairy TODAY.” I did, and the following day I had no 2 o’clock hives! All of the other symptoms began to improve as well. I saw her again a couple weeks later, and with my results in hand she told me that gluten had to go too. I was willing to do that too because of how much better I felt after quitting dairy. So, I was now gluten-free and dairy-free. There were lots of gluten-free and dairy-free substitutes for all of the foods I had been eating. It was a commitment and for sure a lifestyle change, but the freedom from the itchy skin and fatigue was pushing me on even when I tried to quit (which I did a couple of times, but I went right back because when I stopped the symptoms came back). What I had yet to learn in this process was that gluten-free and dairy-free processed foods are just that, processed foods. A wise man once said: “if it was made from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”
In 2012 I had my first baby. She was beautiful, healthy, and quite a handful. People told me that having a baby would change my life forever, and that was true. Except I didn’t like the new Tracey. She was scared, scared to go to sleep at night, fearful of hurting her baby (so fearful that I wouldn’t take her outside onto our deck because I could trip and fall and she could fall over the edge). I had trouble with my vision and driving was scary. I had random heart palpitations along with uncontrollable shaking, nausea, dizziness, terrible anxiety, lightheadedness, and extreme fatigue. Things started to get worse when my daughter was 3 months old. The episodes were becoming more frequent and I was spending much of my days in bed, getting up only to feed my daughter or when Ben was home. I told him a little of what was happening, but he didn’t know what to do either. I finally ended up in the ER on Christmas Eve and left after a few hours' stay with a diagnosis of perfectly healthy. The ER staff, my family and friends all kept saying that I looked and acted fine, but I did not feel fine. I knew something was wrong and I needed to figure out what was going on. I called my OB; she said, “Drink water, you’ve got the flu." I tried that with no change. I saw a new family practice doctor; she said, “Take some B-12, you’re a little low." I tried that too, with no change. I was getting angry.
At the beginning of February 2013, I had another episode that forced me back into the ER. I was sure that they’d figure it out this time. I was a mess, it was 2:00 in the morning, and I was not fine. I told the ER doctor everything that was going on and I’ll never forget what he said to me: “Your tests are fine; you’re a new mom; you’re tired. There’s not a lot of people that can do what I do; I work day and night shifts without any real effect on my mental health. New moms just act crazy due to the lack of sleep." So, I’m crazy? That was my takeaway. As disheartened as I felt leaving that ER, I was determined to prove that doctor wrong. He hadn’t asked me anything about my life as a new mom; he didn’t know that my now 5-month-old daughter was sleeping through the night and it was just ME who wasn’t sleeping.
I had one last glimmer of hope. A friend who was in medical school had mentioned that she knew a doctor that was “a little bit out there.” He knew a lot about nutrition and might be able to help me. I contacted this friend and she got me in to see him just a few days after that last ER visit. I was determined. I had my list of symptoms and I was going to make him listen to me. Friends, this wonderful healer came into the room with a warm smile and a notebook--gasp! He started writing down what I was saying. He was listening--and then he stopped. He rolled his chair closer to mine, picked up my hand and said, “You’re going to be okay.” I was stunned.
He looked at my skin, my hair, and my face; then he started asking me questions about my past, my family, my daughter, and what foods I ate. He talked to me about real food and essential nutrients. That day was another big day in my process. I left his office with hope and a plan. No more “gluten-free, dairy-free” processed food. REAL FOOD, a list of supplements, and an appointment to see him again in 6 weeks. I clung to that plan because my life depended on it, and things got better. Three days later, I began to notice a difference: the fear was less, I was sleeping better, I had energy, my vision was improving, the nausea was going away. By the time I saw him 6 weeks later, my life was different. I came away from that second appointment with a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and an MTHFR mutation (my body doesn’t break down synthetic substances very well). He gave me several more supplements and told me to keep eating real food. By this time my daughter was 6 months old. I continued down this real food path and things just kept getting better. Problems that I didn’t even know I had were improving. For example, my hair had always been thick and wavy, and it had become dry and limp after pregnancy. The girl that cuts my hair had said it was normal; it turns out it’s not, as it can be a sign of vitamin deficiency or thyroid problems.
When my baby turned one, I realized that I’d begun a different way of living; I had turned a corner. There was a time when I thought I wouldn’t live to see her first birthday (the day I kissed her goodbye to go to the ER the first time), but I had! I saw her turn one, and then had two more babies after that. After my second baby girl, things were much better but I realized around the time she turned 5 months old that I’d been experiencing lots of energy, my heart was racing, and I required little sleep. My lab results showed Graves' disease. I was scared and a little angry. I’d been so careful with food and lifestyle. Why was this happening? Well, it’s a process; things are always changing, and my body needed different things now that I had two kids. So, I made more changes, cleaned things up a bit, and my thyroid bounced back. I was back to feeling like myself by the time she was 7 months old. Going into my third pregnancy I was anxious to avoid the thyroid problems of the past two babies and I kept diligent with food and lifestyle again. I had some struggles with anemia, but no more thyroid trouble.
It’s been more than 10 years since I turned that first corner in my health process. I’m still making changes, still learning new things, still getting better. I have accidentally eaten gluten and had to recover from that, but I had the knowledge to do it. The severity of my reactions when I eat something I shouldn’t have (at a friend’s house, a holiday party, or when I’m distracted at the store and don’t read the ingredients) has decreased significantly. My seasonal allergies are minimal, I haven’t had hives in years, and I don’t struggle with fatigue like I used to.
Eating real food doesn’t solve all of life’s problems. We’ve all got different stressors and lifestyle factors that make the journey a challenge. However, it’s a process. We can learn and adapt and equip ourselves to better handle the things that come our way. This blog is a space for you to come and get ideas and information on how to do that. We’re here to help you, friend. Welcome! I’m happy that you’ve allowed me to be a part of your journey.