Many years age my father and brother died 3 days apart. Both of them suffered a heart attack and neither of them knew the other had died. It was a strange set of circumstances, and a time of immense change for my mother and I. I was living in Perth at the time, and my mother was in Canberra. After the funerals were over I went back to Perth with my husband and children. I was ‘surviving’ and ‘coping’ day to day. It took a long time for the initial shock to start to wear off. Later in that year, during the winter I had a virus. I felt really tired and unwell for a few days so I rested as often as possible, and took a course of anti-biotics. However with two babies to look after it was almost impossible to give my body the rest it needed.
I recovered, and yet I had a sense of not feeling quite as well as I had in the past. I gradually became quite a nervous person and didn’t want to be by myself during the day. Although I hadn’t changed my eating habits, my weight was increasing, and over the next few months I hit 13 stone. Being 5 feet tall, I was looking as bad as I was feeling.
As the months progressed I started to get many strange and varied symptoms. Headaches became a regular part of my day, different parts of my body would ache and my digestive system started to become unsettled. At this point we moved to Canberra to support my mother whom I was sure needed my help (little did I realise that it was me that was going to need her help).
During the next few weeks the symptoms that I was experiencing became worse. A day did not go by without my having a headache. At least once a week I would get a migraine headache. My sinuses became completely blocked and sometimes I would experience ringing in my ears which was so loud I could hardly hear people talking to me. I was becoming more and more fatigued. I was experiencing bouts of depression. Mood swings were becoming the normal behaviour for me. My husband started calling me “Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde”.
My throat was constantly sore, yet never developed into anything more. My body always ached and felt like it was burning. Frequently I would have a raised temperature that would go away as quickly and as unexpectedly as it came.
I started to suffer with panic attacks, and I was becoming overly anxious all the time. I couldn’t read a newspaper without getting a severe headache and feeling extremely ill. On several occasions when in a shopping centre I would suffer chest pains and breathing difficulties and ended up being taken by ambulance to hospital in a state of collapse. You can’t imagine how stupid I felt lying on the floor in a shopping centre, and then I was even more humiliated at the hospital when the doctors could find nothing wrong with me!
My digestive system constantly swung between diarrhoea and constipation, and I continually felt nauseous. I started to spend more time needing to rest and less time looking after my children and home. At this point my mother came to my rescue and decided to live with us to help with the children. I think this decision helped her as much as it did me.
And so began a most interesting journey. I started searching for an answer to what was happening to my body. I went from doctor to doctor, specialist to specialist, each one doing all they could think of. All the tests I had would come back negative (and I had plenty of tests). So most of the doctors would, without exception, give me a prescription for an anti-depressant. Having a nursing background I was determined not to take any anti-depressants and go down that one-way street! I had seen too much prescription drug dependence in my childhood and in my psychiatric nursing experience to start that journey. I must have seen at least 20 different doctors and many specialists, who had me undergo so many different tests, all of which came up with negative results – no answers at all.
My symptoms were becoming more and more debilitating and often there were days when I could not get out of bed. I had become claustrophobic and agoraphobic. I had developed an OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). I couldn’t stay home by myself and I couldn’t go anywhere by myself. I spent much of my time washing my hands and making sure all the power points were turned off and unplugged. Often, we would be two or three blocks from home and I’d insist my husband return home – I had to check the plugs again! I was beginning to think the doctors must be right after all, that it was all in my mind.
So I found a counsellor and had many months of counselling and assertiveness training, and although it was extremely beneficial, I still had all the physical and mental symptoms that I had started with. Now I really felt panicky, if it wasn’t physical and it wasn’t mental, what was it? There were certainly times when I felt totally defeated.
Having had such a strong belief in modern medicine it was difficult for me to admit that there was nothing that modern medicine could do to help me. I had become very disillusioned with doctors and their hastiness to write a prescription for antibiotics ‘just in case’ or anti-depressants, and their willingness to believe only the test results and not want to hear what I was saying. It seemed to me that they were saying if the test was negative then I was not ill and it was all in my mind!
That answer was never acceptable to me. As I look back at how I would have presented myself to the doctors I saw, I do understand how they would come to those conclusions, particularly when you consider the narrow (drug) way a lot of doctors look at health! However at the time I knew they were wrong, and that somehow the tests that were available weren’t able to pick up what was happening in my body (mind you the medical tests available now, 30+ years later, don’t seem to be much better!). I hadn’t always been like this. I also knew there was an answer somewhere. I was determined to find it.
Still not fully accepting that an ‘alternative’ practitioner could help me, I decided that perhaps there was a nerve pinched in my back and I needed to see a chiropractor. My mother saw a chiropractor regularly, so I felt safe with that decision. I found a local female chiropractor and headed off to see her. She spent a lot of time initially in massaging my back and talking to me. As she worked on my back she made a comment that was to change my life forever… “I think you’re allergic to wheat”.
The only allergies I had come across were drug related or environmental allergens that affected asthmatics, so to consider foods as being my problem seemed a bit alien. I was really beginning to feel desperate by this time, so decided to take her advice and see a naturopath in Sydney that she had recommended. After a one hour consultation I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and severe Candidiasis (although I had never suffered from vaginal thrush). With a box full of vitamins that cost $260.00 (in 1981 that meant a lot of pills!) I left the clinic in a dazed state of wondering how I would survive his suggestions… the only food I was to eat were carrots, lettuce, cucumber, celery, fish, rice and water… pure water only.
Wasn’t our tap water pure? I had a lot to learn! I was heartened by the fact that it was never considered that what I was experiencing was “all in my mind”. There was a label for my symptoms! I really wasn’t going mad. I knew I was on the road home!
For the first two weeks after starting on the vitamins and restrictive diet I felt worse than I ever had. I was told that I might feel unwell for a week or so, and just to persevere. I wasn’t prepared for how ill I would feel. My symptoms seemed even worse than before and I spent most of that first two weeks in bed.
However I pushed on and as I completed the fourth month I knew I was going to make it. There were more and more moments of feeling really well and completely balanced with no panic attacks, headaches or any other symptoms at all. Those fleeting moments lengthened into half and hour, then one hour, then two hours and then eventually I would have a completely ‘normal’ day, although it would always be followed by several low days again.
After four months of eating only those 6 foods, I was feeling very hungry and eager to eat normally, yet there was no way I was going to jeopardise all the good work I had done. I was having one or two good days each week. I reached a point where all the vitamins were actually making me sick, and so over a period of time I worked out what my body really needed and could tolerate, and which ones I could eliminate. I was taking about one fifth of what had originally been prescribed for me, and yet I was still getting better. My family thought I still looked unwell, and I was still suffering with many symptoms, although as each week passed they were becoming less severe. I started to reintroduce different foods and very quickly knew what I could and couldn’t eat. My excess weight had finally started to shift (even being on such a restricted diet it still took several months for any weight loss to begin. My poor old body was so out of balance – like a six cylinder car trying to run on three cylinders. Doesn’t work too well!).
During the next four years, I remained on a very strict eating regime and had a very limited range of foods that I could actually tolerate, however I was eating a much broader range of food than during that four month period, and as I was feeling so much better I was prepared to keep going.
Not only had I become very obviously sensitive to a huge range of foods, there were the usual environmental allergens affecting me. The dust and dust mite, pollens and animal hair. Feathers and moulds made my head ache and my sinus block almost immediately.
I had become chemically sensitive as well. Food that was coloured, flavoured or preserved and all canned and pre-packed foods affected me. Fluorescent lights in shopping centres were a problem. Newspapers, freshly photocopied paper affected me, food in plastic containers or covered in cling wrap made me feel sick, perfumes and most cosmetics instantly seemed to give me a headache. Even certain clothing made me feel ill. If the local council sprayed for weeds in our area, or neighbours sprayed their gardens and fruit trees, I would relapse for several days. It took about another three years before I could shop in the large shopping centres or go into a supermarket for more than a few minutes. Petrol fumes gave me a headache and it was impossible for me to use any household cleaning products. As I was getting better, I was becoming more obviously affected by any substance that my body was sensitive to. My body was now able to give me accurate reactions, or messages, so I knew exactly what to avoid.
Changing my lifestyle as dramatically as I had to, and learning so much about foods and the environment, I made a decision to study nutrition and to work in this ‘alternative’ healing area. At that point in time I felt I couldn’t return to modern medical practices unless absolutely necessary, and nursing, sadly was a part of that field.
Having detoxified my body fully over the years, and returning to a relatively normal lifestyle today, I do however still have to watch what I do. In December 1992 I decided to experiment and see how much wheat and dairy produce I could eat. I also ate chocolate occasionally and drank tea as often as I chose to.
It took about eight months for me to become aware of my body being adversely affected. I started to regain weight and my sinus started to block. Arthritis type pain affected one finger and the base of my spine, and the odd headache and feelings of fatigue would return. Thankfully none of the panic attacks, agoraphobia, claustrophobia or the OCD ever returned. Perhaps if I continued on a ‘normal’ eating regime these symptoms too would return. I didn’t plan to find out!
Today I eat a reasonably normal diet. At home my family and I have no dairy products, wheat, yeast or sugar. However, when we dine out we all eat normally and enjoy the usual foods and drinks.
Unfortunately, my weak link to illness seems to remain with me, and I soon know if I have overdone it with any particular food or if I have been exposed to an excess of chemicals. The difference now is that I know exactly what to do about it before I can be adversely affected.
I experienced a journey of frustration, humiliation, anger, fear and incredible pain. A journey I choose never to re-experience, however I will be eternally grateful for having been through all of this, as the work that I now do helps so many people who have often also been searching for answers and feeling completely helpless and frustrated. So often in my clinic I hear the same stories… had all these tests, seen X number of practitioners, tried almost everything possible in an attempt to find good health. There is an answer, and a big part of it is in your diet. Remember… Everything you put into or onto your body has the potential to either keep you healthy or make you ill.
Take control of your health now. Cleanse, detox and support your body, and allow yourself to have vibrant health. It’s worth the effort!