The Perfect Storm - Setting the Stage for Illness
In 1997, as a young bride of three months and embroiled in a stressful student-teaching experience, I began experiencing horrific migraine headaches, widespread muscle pain, lowered immunity, and recurring low-grade fevers.
One November morning of that same year, I woke up with swelling in my lips, tongue, and throat. Giant, wheel-shaped hives made tracks across my body. I collapsed in the shower and went into full-blown anaphylactic shock—the first of many episodes that required hospitalization and an arsenal of daily prescription drugs. Little did I know that this was only the beginning of a long and hellish life-altering journey. I had fallen down a rabbit hole that would take years to find my way out of.
Between 1997 and 2005, I consulted with countless medical specialists and followed a barrage of prescription drug protocols. Yet, with each passing year, I continued to spiral downward, and the list of debilitating symptoms grew longer. The names alone of these dire diagnoses made me feel completely helpless and hopeless: Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria/Angioedema Swelling with Anaphylaxis, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome, and more.
Anxiety, Depression, and Suicidal Thoughts
In 2005, to add fuel to the fire, I developed a bladder condition known as interstitial cystitis. The all-encompassing and incapacitating pain of this condition sent me spiraling into the depths of depression and anxiety. I thought to myself, “I am in living hell! What next? How will I ever escape from this nightmare?”.
The list and severity of symptoms were growing at exponential rates despite trying many different protocols and consulting with myriads of practitioners across all specialties. I was consumed by hopelessness and despair. I felt alone, unsupported, and invalidated by doctors, family, friends, and work colleagues. I wanted to die not because I didn't want to live but because I had lost hope and thought it was my only way to end the pain and suffering. I spent nights crying myself to sleep and often researched ways to end my life.
Lyme, Parasites, and More Oh MY!
In 2005, I consulted with an integrative medical doctor who diagnosed me with Chronic, Neurological Lyme Disease and Company and (CIRS) Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome. The treatments for this condition, which I endured for four years, led to random bouts of improvement but never fully restored my health.
In 2011, I underwent liver resection surgery to remove a melon-sized, complicated cyst. This cyst was initially discovered on a CT Scan many years earlier when it was only 2 cm and deemed “simple and benign”. The cyst turned out to be a calcified infestation due to a Central American parasite, to which I had been exposed while living abroad.
While removal of the parasitic cyst resolved some of my health challenges—most notably the recurring hives and anaphylactic episodes—I still suffered severe, chronic fatigue, immune deficiency, and the accompanying challenges. The physical, emotional, and mental stress of the years leading up to the surgery had drained most of my vital reserves. I was operating on sheer will to survive each day.
Hitting Rock Bottom!
After 18 years of high stress as a teacher while managing ongoing, serious health challenges, my mind and body delivered a profound message: I had a nervous breakdown and collapsed into severe burnout syndrome that forced me to walk away from my career.
My inner critic screamed, “Don’t be weak! You are crazy if you walk away! What will people think?
I had reached my threshold! This profesora de Español had no más to give to anything or anybody. My body was sick, broken and in horrific pain 24/7.
The part of my mind, which had supplied me with endless creativity throughout my years in the classroom, went into offline mode. Meanwhile, my fight or flight center remained online and engaged at all times. I also developed severe anhedonia, which caused me to lose the ability to feel or anticipate any pleasure or joy.
As difficult and scary as my crash into burnout syndrome was, I feel it was a necessary wakeup call from the universe. It was my catalyst for deep healing and transformation.
Hidden Attic Mold Was Sabotaging My Health!
I need to also mention that during this time, my husband and I discovered a significant, hidden mold issue in our attic caused by faulty construction. While this mold did not seem to outwardly affect my husband, it had been sabotaging my health for many years, unbeknownst to me.
This was evident by increasing blood, inflammatory markers specific to mold illness; particularly C4a levels. C4a is part of the complement immune system and while elevated values can be correlated with other conditions, it is highly correlated with mold illness.
So, not only had I worked in a water damaged school building for 18 years, but I was also being exposed to toxic mycotoxins in my own home.
Time to Take Charge of My Own Health and Well-Being
Now it was time to take charge of my life, to engage in extreme self-care, and connect to my body. I would apply the principles of functional medicine to correctly identify and remove the physiological stressors that were blocking health. This included labs to assess gut pathogens, intestinal permeability, detoxification status, oxidative stress, methylation, and much more.
I would come to shine a light on my long-suppressed emotions. I would cultivate awareness of mind stories that no longer served me.
Healing from past traumas, I worked toward creating healthier boundaries and funneled my experience to build a wellness coaching practice—and I would come to do the work in the world that I am meant to do.
No words can accurately describe the lengths I have gone to unravel the complex web of health challenges that I have experienced. In my quest for wellness, I have learned so much about the foundations of good health and the factors that prime a person for illness.
The Winds of Change, Transformation, and Deep Healing
While medical diagnoses served a useful purpose for me at one time, I have since gained new perspectives. I now view illness—regardless of the diagnosis—as a state of dis-ease. When the mind-body system falls out of balance, a person can no longer adapt to and overcome physical, physiological, emotional, mental, or spiritual stressors.
My soil scientist father, David Eames Ellis, always said, “Create the correct environment and health will follow.” These words of wisdom are now the backbone for how I live my life and how I help my clients heal theirs.
How Do You Create the Correct Environment?
Creating the correct environment for healing goes way beyond running labs and taking supplements to address the findings. I spent many years resisting the notion that I had to change my thinking and behavior along with addressing physiological imbalances. As I look back on my journey, I now see that I was very much "stuck" in a mind-story that supported illness and blocked me from healing. With this being said, these are the steps that I believe to play an integral role in restoring one's health and reclaiming one's life from the grips of chronic health challenges.
- Stop chasing diagnoses and buying into "Magic Bullet" protocols
- Cultivate a mindset for healing and transformation
- Establish a nourishing lifestyle and optimize nutrition
- Minimize the toxic burden on the body by eliminating as many environmental stressors as possible
- Identify and remove the body’s hidden, physiological stressors(Note: using the right labs and doing things in the correct order is very important)
- Detox and Heal the Cells
- Engage in self-kindness and extreme self-care
- Learn to feel and process emotions rather then resist or stuff them so they don't become trapped energy in the body
- Break destructive mental patterns that hijack the present moment and trigger the stress response
- Establish and maintain healthy boundaries
Amidst my personal healing journey, I learned that magic bullet; “fast-fix” protocols do not exist. While addressing physiological imbalances is absolutely imperative to recovery, deep healing is a process that transcends physiological systems. It requires time, active participation, willingness, and courage to address all aspects of our being.