April 30th marked five years of chronic illness for me. I’ve improved, for sure, but I still feel like I have a long way to go. Some days, that thought gives me hope, and some days it pains me more than I can say.
I got sick when I was 35, and last September I turned 40. There is, of course, a flood of feelings about hitting that milestone regardless. For me, most of them revolve around the realization that I spent the last half of my thirties—half a decade—sick. I mourn what might have been.
Sure, I made some great memories. A lot of them, actually. I know that I am extremely blessed. And I accomplished some big things, like starting my own business. But I am also deeply saddened by the people and places I missed, either knowingly or unknowingly. I skipped parties, occasions, trips, coffee dates, and numerous other events big and small because I just wasn’t physically or emotionally up for it. I’ve spent so many hours in bed or on my couch that I sometimes joke that I should’ve created my own line of lounge wear by now. At the very least, I should’ve bought stock in Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon.
I also know that some of these feelings can be part of the territory that comes with turning 40. I am certainly not immune to the baggage that can come with turning that corner, while looking behind you. But, obviously, I have to factor in my other extenuating circumstances as well.
Spring 2012: I was under a lot of stress and working really long hours. So, I just assumed that not feeling well more frequently was due to those two things.
April 30, 2012: I finished up my big work project the week before, and was headed into the office on Monday morning. Shortly after I arrived, I realized just how bad I felt—and it was bad. Like being hit by a tsunami and a 18-wheeler at the same time. I turned around and went home immediately. That entire week I thought I had the flu. I had a lot of the signs, and was more exhausted than I knew was possible. After it didn’t get any better, I went to the doctor. Turns out I had mono, a really bad case. Adults aren’t supposed to get mono, especially a 35-year-old. I still don’t know how it happened, but sadly, it wasn’t the fun way. 😉
What I knew about mono is that it felt a lot like the flu, except for making you a lot more tired, and that it lasted for several months. So, because I’m an adult with a job and bills, I chose to work from home in May, and a good bit throughout the summer. I was just waiting for this thing to pass. Meanwhile, my symptoms improved only slightly. I still had extreme tiredness, aches, fever, and more—every day.
I just keep my routine as best I could. And I didn’t really feel like I had any options. (I only found out last fall that I could’ve applied for FMLA.)
September 12, 2012: I had a work trip to Tampa for an event with a bunch of my co-workers. It was just an overnight trip, so again, I thought I’d just tough it out. That night I began to feel pretty, well, horrible. In fact, I had to miss most of the next day due to just how bad I felt. I worked a little bit at the event the latter half of the day, and then we got back on the plane. One of my co-worker even remarked that I looked a little “green” to her. That weekend, no improvement. At this point, I knew something was wrong other than the mono, but it was the weekend and I couldn’t see my doctor. But, you know me, I waited it out.
Understand that, up until this point in my life, I’ve never really had anything wrong with me—not even a cavity. Maybe the occasional cold. So this was all uncharted territory. Monday morning I called my doctor, only to find out she was on vacation. Then I thought that maybe I should go to the ER. But again, I had no idea what it felt like to make that decision. I’d never been to the ER! However, I thought at this point I should go see exactly what’s wrong. So, I got up, grabbed my keys, and headed for the door—until I realized that I didn’t even know where an ER was. Yep, no reference. So, I Googled one nearby, and went there immediately.
I was actually pretty certain now that it was a kidney infection since I’d had those once or twice before. My back and side had really started hurting. That, on top of the mono, seemed like a bad recipe. An hour or so later they started running tests. Yes, it was a kidney infection—oh, and my gallbladder needed to come out immediately. WHAT?!?!?!
I was checked in and put on some sort of “standby” list for the operating room. They wouldn’t even let me leave to go pack a bag. Sadly, I had to wait a few days for the gallbladder surgery, but it eventually came out. I actually lost about 10 pounds that week! Not the diet I recommend, but it is extremely effective. So, my first case of mono, my first trip to the ER, and now my first surgery. That’s when I concluded that 2012 was trying to kill me.
November 16, 2012: I’d seen my naturopath, Nelli, about a year and a half before. She actually helped me with a gluten intolerance. I was gluten-free for over a year before I started seeing her, and haven’t had any problems with it since. So, now post-surgery, I wasn’t feeling a whole lot better. In fact, I was pretty much a walking zombie. I knew it was time to call her up again. She could see immediately from looking at me how bad things were. Actually, even not being an expert, you probably could have too. I kept thinking about the quote from Bilbo Baggins, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
The mono was still really bad, and now my body was coping with losing an organ, even a damaged one. And I was getting sick all the time from every little bug that floated by.
So, I began regular biofeedback treatments with her, accompanied by supplements. To be completely honest, I think she and biofeedback saved me. Biofeedback is utterly amazing. I’m such an advocate for it. The healing progress was incredibly slow, but it wasn’t getting worse, and I believe it totally could have. I have read horror stories about people becoming bedridden over similar conditions.
My primary doctor was also supportive of the process because she knew that there was no magic pill for me. There is actually no pill at all. So she encouraged me to do whatever I could that might help—and she knew it wasn’t going to be her. (Side note: Emory is now starting to look into biofeedback. My doctor is a part of the Emory system.)
I also learned about adrenal fatigue at this time. It was actually the “egg” to my mono “chicken.” Adrenal fatigue isn’t recognized in traditional medicine. But I am a big fan of natural medicine, and with some of the things I’ve dealt with, alternative medicine was the only thing that could explain, and treat, them. Anyway, I learned that severe adrenal fatigue had already set in early in the year from the stress and long work hours, so that’s what opened the door for mono. And it’s the reason that I still felt as bad as I did months later.
Everything in my life had changed at this point. I rarely left the house unless I had to, because I was so tired all the time, and also usually felt bad. I went into work late, left early, took a nap, and continued working as much as I could. I was like a toddler who couldn’t make it through a day without a nap at this point—sometimes two per day.
September 2013: After seeing Nelli for almost a year, I was still seeing only incremental progress. That wasn’t due to her expertise, it was due to what my body was dealing with and other life conditions. However, naively, I just kept thinking I had to push through and time would heal the wounds.
It was this month that I developed a thyroid problem. Yay—now, I’m a triple threat! I gained about 50 pounds in a little over four months. Again, my body was revolting against me. And I could feel the additional strain. I was still taking daily naps, and though, not feeling like as much of a zombie now, still dealing with how badly I felt on a daily basis. I was also still getting every virus, cold, and infection that came along. And, of course, with the weight gain, my self-esteem took a big hit. In researching mono, as I have done all these years, one of the bad “side effects” is that it can lead to depression (something I already struggled with) because you just feel so useless and unable to live a regular life. But again, I did what I always do, and just plugged along.
(Side note: I never took thyroid meds for two reasons. First, I absolutely refuse to take a pill for the rest of my life. Second, the meds would stimulate my adrenals, making them work even harder, thereby potentially causing even more harm than good.)
I also had some conversations with co-workers around this time who knew of people with, not exactly similar, but not completely dissimilar conditions to me. And, sadly, I learned from them that with the hits my immune system had taken in those long months during 2012, it could take me years to rebuild it. I was devastated by this news, but it also made sense. I had obliterated my immune system in three, huge stages, and now, despite the time that had already passed, I was still looking at a very long road ahead.
January 27, 2015: Nelli moved to a new clinic now, which was a good move for her because she’d been practicing solo the last few years. So, now she’d be working with a team of holistic practitioners. In my first few visits with them, they told me the same thing Nelli had been telling me. They were all shocked that I’d been able to carry on as much of a normal life as I had until this point with how sick I was. In fact, they were surprised I was still able to work full-time. I don’t believe that’s any real kudos to me, but a nod to how remarkable and adaptable the human body can be.
I also started using an essential oil brand, doTerra, at this time. I loved the ability to live even more naturally. I’m a big fan, and use them daily for all kinds of things.
Over the next two years, I saw my team of naturopaths frequently. (Yes, it is extremely expensive because it’s not covered by insurance. My health is the reason I’m still in debt, but it’s also the thing I can’t afford to lose.) We slowed the biofeedback down in favor of some of their other techniques, to see if we could get different (better) results.
I was still napping almost daily, sometimes just for 15 minutes, and sometimes for up to two hours depending on how strenuous my week had been. I love traveling so much, but it was/is very hard on my system. So, effort like that or a really busy work week would take a lot out of me, and it could take me a week or more to return to my new “normal.” Everything was a battle between me and my immune system, because we certainly didn’t seem to be working in tandem.
In seeing them, Nelli, and my primary care doc, one consistency kept coming up in every conversation. My job circumstances had to change. I had a fairly demanding job, as is the nature of marketing and sales. And I wasn’t the same person who’d started that job only seven months prior to acquiring mono. My capacity had changed drastically and I was fighting to keep my head above water, despite the fact that the events I was responsible for marketing were all doing great and growing. But it was taking a bigger, personal toll. And, you know the effort that it takes you to get ready for the day when you have something like the flu? I felt that every single morning. I woke up every day like I hadn’t slept. Between the severe adrenal fatigue, mono (my levels were still insanely high), and the thyroid issues, my body was so worn out, and worn down.
December 7, 2015: It was on this morning, over breakfast with my mentor, that I decided to leave my job. (I chronicled a bit of that, and the impact of planning a personal retreat, in this guest post for the Yellow Conference.) I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired, and my job was one thing I had control over. And that’s when I started making big plans to launch my own business. If you’re still hanging with me, some of you may be thinking that there is still a ton of work and stress involved in starting your own business.
While that’s true, I also have the ability to tailor it to my own needs. I don’t have to get dressed and go into an office. I can work during the hours I feel best. And I can take off on the days/hours I feel really bad. And I desperately needed those things.
May 25, 2016: This was my last day as a full-time employee. I even took off during the month of June to rest. I had never taken that much time off before, and hadn’t even had an unplugged vacation in over six years! Yes, it has definitely had it’s challenges, but I wouldn’t trade them. I’ve seen the greatest leaps in my health, for the better, since making this change.
Up until this date, I’d only gone two stretches of seven days without having to take a nap. Two weeks out of four years! I’d get maybe up to three or even four days at a time now and again, but really infrequently. Most every day required a nap, and yes, some of them still required two. Unless you have dealt with something similar, you cannot begin to imagine the toll this kind of sickness and tiredness can take on your life.
May 13, 2017: I now rarely need naps, at least by my previous standard. But I still haven’t had a single day where I felt normal. I wake up every morning feeling the symptoms of my sickness.
I’m also still a virus magnet since the mono is remains at abnormal levels, but it’s much better than it used to be. I’ve had mostly minor, but a few major cases, of the flu every other month for the past 16 months. Luckily, I am able to treat it solely with essential oils, and sometimes over the counter meds.
Being able to work from home, and set my own guidelines has allowed me to get more rest (a key to my three ailments), sleep longer at night (when those three said ailments aren’t cause insomnia, as they do), and exert less effort each day by not having to get dressed and made up. There’s still a lot of stress, and a whole lot of work, but the tradeoff for my health improvements has been totally worth it. And I love working with a variety of amazing clients who are improving the world.
I’m still friends with a lot of my co-workers, and my old job still hires me for contract work now and again. I love the work they do. I absolutely support the work they do. But I needed the change.
After leaving a full-time job (hear: full-time salary with benefits), I had to slow working with my naturopaths due to the cost. I still take supplements daily, but less of them. And I only see Nelli and the naturopaths every couple of months. However, due to the other big changes, it seems to be ok for now.
Another change I made last December that I know has made a positive impact is that I started taking doTerra‘s Life Long Vitality Pack daily. I also internally take a few additional immunity boosting oils, including Melissa, every morning. These, coupled with the other supplements, have made a difference.
As I mentioned in the beginning (and thanks for hanging with me), I am not out of the woods yet. I still wake up with the weight of this three issues every day. I feel them throughout the day. I fight their urges. But I do know how far I’ve come over the past five years. With the distance I still have to go, it is unimaginable to think of how bad things might be if I hadn’t walked into Nelli’s office, and started using natural treatments. There are still no real answers in traditional medicine, and I could’ve very well ended up one of those bedridden individuals otherwise. I thank God for Nelli!
You can see that the progress has largely been slow and incremental. It’s like mono, adrenal fatigue, and thyroid issues are all a Catch 22 for each other. And the learning curve never ends.
I hope that I write another post before too long about my first symptom-free day. I hope shortly after that I write a post about complete healing. I don’t know how long either of those things will take, but they are much closer than they used to be. And I cling to that hope.
I don’t have a lot of answers. I still have a lot of questions. One thing I can tell you is that, if you’re dealing with chronic health issues, you’re not alone. And that both saddens and comforts me, as I’m sure it does you. I have a friend who dealt with mono and a few other things for 15 years before she found healing. But, she has.
It’s not the most fun club to be a part of, but it is a reminder how connected we all are. If chronic illness doesn’t effect you personally, you probably know someone who struggles. Show them kindness, grace, and love. Be someone who improves their lives.
But if you are suffering from a chronic illness or long-term health issue, and you care to leave a comment about your situation, I will be more than happy to say a prayer for your healing as well. I hear you. I empathize with you. I am one of you.