I haven’t always been as healthy as I am now. In fact, twice in my lifetime, I have suffered serious illness and I understand first hand, the feeling of being caught in a maze of mainstream medicine and the effort it takes to return to health. As a child, I developed a cardiac disorder (more about that here) and more recently an autoimmune thyroid disorder. I thought I’d share my story….
In May of 2004, my beautiful baby girl was born. I’m not exaggerating when I say she was the calmest, most easy going baby ever. She breastfed well, slept through the night from around 4 weeks of age, rarely screamed, spewed or became agitated. As a result, I didn’t really feel that adjustment that parenting brings – at least not right away. But this isn’t a story about babies and for the record my calm baby developed into the most ferociously strong willed toddler (and now a child)- so every rose has a thorn!
However this idyllic child made it very easy for me to fulfil a kind of ‘super mum’ fantasy – and for a while, I pulled it off. I took maternity leave from my naturopathic practice the week before she was due and because she was a great sleeper, I was back at work again when she was just 5 weeks old (pumping breast milk in my lunch break and between patients). ‘My patients need me, rely on me’ I told myself. You see, I am a very committed and loyal person, often to my own detriment. I was also mindful that, like many young families, we were struggling financially and needed my wage to pay the bills. My husband was working in a car yard 6 days (and almost 70 hours) a week and so wasn’t home much to help with raising our new bub. In hindsight, we were on a fast train to disaster (couldn’t see it then, but certainly do now).
Not long before my daughter turned two, I got sick with a nasty virus called cytomegalovirus. I was still breastfeeding, working, mothering and doing everything I could do to hold it together. I dealt with the virus herbally and got better quickly, but I didn’t change my crazy lifestyle or consider what made me vulnerable to infection in the first place. As a result, soon after my health really fell apart. I felt exhausted, yet I couldn’t sleep. My heart was racing and I was so anxious all of the time. I managed to keep my focus at work but outside of that, my brain was in pieces. I felt apathetic and lost all motivation to keep going. I was losing weight but couldn’t stop eating. Most of all I felt intense shame and embarrassment- I was a naturopath, ‘we don’t get sick.’ I ate well, exercised regularly but I was still unwell and holding on desperately to my ‘healthy’ image. When I could no longer ignore the way I felt, I sought help.
Dealing with Graves
I had a heap of tests and discovered that I had an overactive thyroid, later diagnosed as an autoimmune disease called Graves Disease. My fast paced life had firmly bitten me on my butt and I was forced to come to a grinding halt. Now I’ve always maintained in life we are given warnings – illness is the greatest warning of all that we need to take stock of our lives, make necessary changes. So I really needed to sort my lifestyle out!
My husband had been offered a job with fewer hours, good pay but (here’s the catch) on the other side of the country. I had absolutely resisted the move, until my Grave’s diagnosis. You see I loved my work, friends and family, I really didn’t want to move. But I just knew I couldn’t keep up the pace and this move would mean I could focus on getting myself well. Without my health, my business, the money, friends, and family meant nothing anyway.
So first off I saw a specialist, had heaps of tests and sorted through my options. I weaned my daughter, started beta blockers (my heart rate and a history of a heart disorder) were of real concern in the short term I then sought the opinion of my close friend (a naturopath). With all of my options explored, I made an informed decision to attempt to deal with my condition without thyroid medication and I cut a deal with my slightly miffed endocrinologist. We agreed I would do my thing, have blood tests every few months and, as long as my condition trended in the right direction, I would not start medication or any of the radical treatments he was advising I undertake. He told me that given the aggressive nature of my condition, the likelihood of me resolving it (without medication) was highly unlikely. But I had a goal and my main driving force was that I really wanted to have another baby and I wasn’t keen to risk taking any medication whilst pregnant. He had said that given my age and condition, having another child would be unlikely and that even if I did conceive, the pregnancy would tip me back into hyperthyroid. So it was really important to me that I got myself well – fast and permanently! I am a very determined person and I truly believe in the body’s ability to heal. Working with many chronically unwell patients over the years has taught me that the body can and does heal, given the right support.
Long story short…
We moved to QLD (from Perth) and it was a tough road of managing my illness whilst mothering a now determined little girl without any family support. My holistic treatment plan evolved as the months ticked by and included herbal medicine (tailored to my unique body), reiki, kinesiology and daily meditation. I tried to be kinder to myself.
A holistic treatment plan involves tailoring herbs and supplements to the individual and adjusting it through the various stages of healing – it is NOT a one size fits all treatment so what worked for me, won’t necessarily work for you. Even though I am a Naturopath, I consulted with a Naturopath for my ongoing treatment (even for a practitioner it’s impossible to be objective enough to formulate an effective treatment plan). Many systems of the body need to be addressed besides the thyroid, in my case a lot if work was done on supporting my nervous system, adrenals and liver. My treatment plan was tweaked each and every month. If you feel a holistic health plan is for you, please find a clinician to support you.
Each blood test revealed a slow but steady improvement and my endocrinologist had no choice but to accept that I was remitting (though each visit he reminded me it wouldn’t last). About a year later I was back to normal. I conceived and carried my son without event and for the second time in my life, proved the medical establishment very wrong (I’ve written about my past heart condition here).
The monkey on my shoulder
It’s been almost 8 years since being diagnosed and I never want to go back to that place, even though I learned so much about myself and my body during that period of illness. When my stress levels elevate, I occasionally feel myself sliding or standing on that precipice. It will always be a monkey on my shoulder but one I’m willing to bear. It has ultimately shaped me professionally and personally, without a doubt, for the better.