I just want to preface this by saying this has been my personal experience – in no way am I giving any medical advice, and I think that any lifestyle, supplement or diet change should be monitored by a doctor. I actually wish I took this advice sooner, because I spent so much time guessing on my own!
For those who haven’t been following, I have suffered from stomach and fatigue issues since I was little. I actually put “go to the doctor and get better” on one of my Christmas lists when I was a kid (I know, sad right) and that’s what really showed my parents that I wasn’t feeling well. I went to a doctor, and they ran a few different tests, including blood work and an ultrasound. I remember being so excited to finally have an answer and feel better, so when the doctor said that they didn’t find anything, that I most likely had IBS (in my opinion, a catchall diagnosis for when they can’t find anything wrong) and that there was nothing that they could do, I was devastated. This is actually one of my clearest memories as a child because for me it was a turning point – to be completely honest I lost trust in medicine and felt like this was something that I was going to live with forever.
I had bad days and good days. There were so many times that I would be sick after eating at a restaurant (my grandpa one time sent a waitress in to check on me and I was mortified). I decided the best thing for me to do was to hide that I was sick at all. Most people didn’t know, because I didn’t want them to. Looking back this is silly, because I know know that everyone would have been supportive, but at the time this was how I felt.
After college, things got really bad for me. Looking back it makes a lot of sense. Just about everything you do in college is a recipe for poor health (junk food, staying up late, frequent illness). I avoided social events because I never knew when I would get sick, which also gave me serious FOMO because I felt like I couldn’t enjoy life like a normal person. I started suffering from relatively frequent panic attacks (the shaky, heart racing kind that make you feel like you’re having a heart attack kind of panic attacks). I felt like no one wanted to hang out with me because I couldn’t be fun anymore, although looking back I know this was in my head. I think this is actually a reality that I created for myself. I had to give up working out (which was one of my biggest passions) because it was just too hard for me. I was scared to get on planes and travel because I had one of my worst panic attacks on a plane. Basically, I fell into kind of an isolation and self pity. I look back on this time with a lot of regret, simply for not taking matters into my own hands sooner. I also feel like I burned a lot of bridges with friends for no reason, because I canceled pretty much all my plans without explaining.
At the end of 2017, the winter after I graduated college, I decided to try and find a new doctor and give healing another shot. This time I went in with more information and a lot of questions. I told her about my panic attacks, my stomach issues and my fatigue, and when I asked to have my thyroid tested she rolled her eyes at me. A clear, visible eye roll. Now let it just be known, it took a lot for me to go to this doctor after the experience I had as a kid. And by the way, this is not to say anything against doctors or modern medicine. I have so much respect and admiration for doctors and how much hard work they do. I just had a bad experience, and hadn’t found the right fit for me personally.
Despite the eye roll, I got a thyroid test, which came back negative. This time I was diagnosed with IBS and anxiety, and sent to a therapist. I actually loved my therapist, and I think talking to a therapist is a great thing for everyone to do. However, this was not the root of my issue and I knew it. I actually did get something major out of it though, because she suggested I try an elimination diet. This is when I gave up gluten, which changed my life big time. I tried gluten after a short break and had major bloating, fatigue and brain fog, and that’s when I realized it was a problem.
Giving up gluten didn’t improve things 100%, but it certainly made them better. I could make it through days without falling asleep, and I began to ease out of my fear of getting sick. However, I started to get some new symptoms – my eyes starting swelling up when I would wake up, I would get really dizzy, and I would still get bloated and tired after eating certain foods.
Some google searching led me to believe I had histamine intolerance, and I decided to try oil of oregano pills just as a shot in the dark to see if it would treat some kind of underlying issue. I definitely don’t want to recommend this because it can seriously mess up your microbiome balance, and I really wish I had seen a naturopath to help guide me at this point. With that being said, this made me a lot better. But I didn’t want to settle for a lot. Now that I realized maybe there really was hope, I wanted to be 100%. I was still having bad days.
Visiting a Naturopath
The whole process between going gluten free and finally facing my fear to see the naturopath took about 2 years. Another honest moment – getting my blood taken is one of my biggest fears (I had passed out once and hit my head) and this is something that really held me back. I was also avoiding making the appointment because it felt like my last hope, and I was scared that I would get told I was making it up again. But I decided all of this would be worth it if I really started feeling better. I did some research and found a naturopath in my area with incredible reviews, and I was so excited to finally make the appointment with her. We sat down and talked for over two hours, and it was so refreshing. She listened to everything, had a super detailed questionnaire, and most importantly to me, did not eye roll at anything. She actually believed me.
She said that it was really up to me how wide I wanted to “cast the net”, and the more we tested for, the more we might find. To start, I went with a test for adrenal fatigue, and a pretty broad blood test. She also started me off with a few supplements (I will do a detailed list at the end), suggested I start drinking green tea every morning because it has amazing benefits, and put me on a no raw/cold food diet (veggies and fruits were okay as long as they were cooked, juiced or blended).
I don’t know if this is in my head, but days after starting the supplements I started feeling better. My stomach was definitely flatter, and I had more energy. Unfortunately, this only lasted about a week, and after that I had another rough week with fatigue. It did get better after that bad week, and I met with her for a follow up appointment after about a month from the first appointment.
When I first saw my blood results, I was a little worried. I had low platelets, low potassium, low carbon dioxide, high blood sugar, high ALT (which has to do with your liver), and two markers for Lyme Disease. Luckily, she wasn’t too worried about most of these things. You need 5 markers to be diagnosed with Lyme disease, and although it’s still kind of weird that two showed up, I am grateful to not be positive. The rest she thought were most likely due to the conditions at the time (overhydrating, and for the ALT, she said something as small as smelling paint fumes could have elevated the levels, or my liver could have just been overworked and not processing things correctly). She said there was nothing else in my results that coincided with damage, so she wasn’t worried.
The thing that did come up abnormal was my cortisol (adrenal fatigue) test. I’m aware that the first thing that comes up when you google adrenal fatigue is that it’s fake. But I also ordered and read this book about it, which I think had a lot of good, eye opening information (it also had some very interesting insights as to why it may not be recognized medically – lets just say, it’s money related). Basically, if you spend too long experiencing chronic stress (or just face one traumatic stressful event), your adrenal glands produce too much of the stress hormone called cortisol, and eventually become fatigued and unable to regulate the cortisol levels you need for every day life. The cure for adrenal fatigue? This is where I was frustrated – be less stressed. After all this, and my solution was to be less stressed?! But I’ve been willing to trust the process, and the changes have been huge.
I also started on a hormone called DHEA (which is produced by your adrenal gland), and since starting on this and making the changes detailed below, I think I feel the absolute best I ever have in my life. I had gotten to a point where I was afraid to eat pretty much anything, and after about a month, I’m eating just about anything I want (minus gluten, and I’m vegan so I don’t have any meat or dairy). I haven’t fallen asleep a single day, or gotten that mid-afternoon fatigue. I went on 4 planes without any anxiety. I went hiking in the Rockies (I used to get such bad altitude sickness and this time, nothing). I eat normal dinners at restaurants without panic that I will get sick. My stomach consistently feels flat every single day. I never realized how hard it was for me to just make it through a work day until I started feeling better. Literally, I feel like I have a new life.
I did also want to note that the Naturopath is a “real” certified doctor, but she does not qualify as a PCP and nothing (aside from the blood test) was covered under my insurance. I am frustrated that I didn’t feel I could get an answer by going the traditional route, but grateful that I was able to afford these appointments and tests, because to be honest, they weren’t cheap.
Again, these were all prescribed for me by my doctor, based on my blood results, for certain amounts of time and in certain amounts. I am not suggesting or recommending these things, only sharing my journey.
Vitamin D – I use drops, once a day with food.
Solid Licorice Extract – I have a drop first thing in the morning. This helps with digestion, although I know most people hate the taste. I’m lucky in the fact that I like black licorice 🙂
Multivitamin – I take one in the morning and one at night. My doctor’s advice was to avoid hard pressed vitamins, because they are harder for your body to absorb.
DHEA – This is the hormone I mentioned above that I think really changed things for me. Again, please do not try this without being tested and consulting with your doctor. I am linking the one that helped me only for informational purposes. This is a hormone and will alter your body. Side note – I have had to switch shampoos since I started this because my hair now gets greasy faster, and I have also had some breakouts since starting.
Probiotic – this probiotic is insanely pricey, and I don’t think I’ll stay on it long term, but it’s definitely helped me in my efforts to build my body back up. If you are looking for a good probiotic, look for a powder that has to be kept cold.
Digestive Enzymes – I don’t take these regularly, only when I feel like I’m having an unusual or big meal.
Food – as I mentioned, I gave up raw and cold foods (realistically it was mostly just frozen, refrigerated was okay for me) when I first started. This seemed odd to me, especially as a vegan who basically lives off salads, but I have to say, it worked. The reason is because these foods take more energy to digest, and this was extra energy that I didn’t have at the time. This is partially why I would get so tired after eating, even if it was just a salad. Now that my body is much more healed, I’ve been working these foods back in, and so far, so good. I’ve also added much more salt into my diet. We always hear that salt is bad and low blood pressure is good, but if it’s too low, that’s not good either. Getting dizzy when you stand up (which always happened to me) is a sign that your blood pressure may be low.
Exercise – I was feeling burnt out before my doctor even told me to ease up on exercise. I knew I was doing too much. I ran the marathon in 2020, and went right into intense HIIT style workouts. To be honest, I dreaded them, and they made me feel exhausted (not in a good way). I switched to walking, stretching and yoga, and felt more “fit” than I did with the intense workouts. I am gradually easing back into weight lifting now that I feel ready, but I really try to focus on what feels good. I can get obsessive with having to finish a program and always giving 110%, so it’s been difficult to let that go, but it’s also been amazing for me.
Mindset – Getting my stress level down was one of the hardest parts of the whole process. You can check out my whole Morning Routine here, but some of the most important things I do are keeping a gratitude journal, starting my day with plenty of water and green tea, stretching, and using my lunch breaks to go on walks. I’ve realized that working from home has caused me to go a bit more stir crazy than I really recognized, so I try to get outdoors whenever I can. The book on adrenal fatigue that I mentioned above also helped me a lot, and I highly recommend it just to see what stress can do to your body and ways to help counteract it! I also think the stress of being sick made me even more sick. Mindset is a powerful thing, and knowing I can get better has definitely helped big time.
I am so excited to be in a place where I am able to write this post, because I wasn’t sure I ever would be. I have already connected with some people who have had similar issues, and I wanted to share my story just to say to never give up, no matter what you are going through, and keep advocating for yourself ❤ You can always reach out to me if you have gone or are going through anything similar, I would love to hear from you!