Health Challenges + How to Handle Them

health challenge and how to handle them

A few months ago I opened up about my struggle with unexpected weight gain and work-related stress. I outlined what I was planning to do in order to feel better and regain control over my health and happiness.

I promptly got to making a plan, completed a round of The Simple Cleanse, and made my mental health a priority. But despite my best efforts and a typical healthy diet, I still felt really out of it. The insomnia and exhaustion continued, and most days I felt like I was dragging my body through mud. I attributed a lot of symptoms to the ole holiday season and a heavy workload. I’ll feel better in January.

But then new symptoms came up, and these were different than anything I’d experienced. I had strong chest pains throughout the day, and horrible night terrors and night sweats. The fatigue became so severe, I would press the snooze button for at least an hour. There were days I felt so down, most of the time I never really wanted to leave the house. I had this constant brain fog and my capacity for getting work done became incredibly low, which was frustrating because I had so much to do, so I was constantly anxious.

A few months ago a friend reached out and said she was struggling with similar feelings, and recommended a naturopathic doctor. It was the only thing that had helped her. So in December, I finally took her up on it and made an appointment. I was tired of feeling horrible and frustrated.

To make a long story short, I finally found a doctor who understood what I was going through and looked at the whole picture. I wish I had looked for a functional medicine doctor sooner. She ran a bunch of tests and I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease (which I likely contracted last Spring after I moved to Connecticut, so it went undiagnosed and untreated for the better part of a year). This caused my thyroid to go haywire and destroyed my gut health. It also activated dormant Epstein Barr Virus antibodies (I had mono years ago in college). Fun stuff, eh?

It’s been an emotional few weeks, and trying to understand the best route of treatment has been overwhelming as each doctor I’ve talked to has contradicting options. Lyme is a controversial disease and while it’s extremely common (especially in the Northeast), it’s also often misdiagnosed. I never had the typical bullseye rash, and when I was tested at the first sign of symptoms last summer my initial screening was positive, but my blood test was negative – and thus, ruled out.

Here’s the upside!

I recently started treatment and have a game plan for how to improve. I’m psyched about this because it means I’m closer to feeling like myself again after what’s been a difficult year. What’s also cool is that I’m treating this as one big health experiment and can report back to you on all my findings. Content galore! I’ve gotten insatiably curious about Lyme, gut health and thyroid health, so I can understand the root cause of what’s going on and how to get back to optimal health. My hope is that it’s all helpful for anyone struggling with similar symptoms or diagnoses.

Here’s a look at my protocol for the next 30 days. I feel like a 90-year-old lady taking supplements on a schedule.

  • To kill the Lyme: At least one month of antibiotics (doxycycline). I could write a whole post on my thoughts around antibiotics. Let’s put it this way: it took a lot of convincing from doctors and family to start them, but I do think it’s ultimately the right decision for me. From what I’ve read, it feels pretty awful to initially kill off the bacteria but from there it’s generally successful. I’m also taking a teasel root supplement.
  • Naturopathy for immune support and inflammation: probiotic, vitamin B complex, Fish oil, vitamin D, minerals and trace elements supplement.
  • Thyroid support: L-Tyrosine supplement. More to come on the thyroid front. While my TSH level is high at a 4.8 (jumped from a 1.6 in six months), my T3 and T4 hormones are normal and the jump could be a result of the Lyme. So my doctors and I have decided not to treat it immediately and will test the hormones again in three months.
  • Leaky gut support: UNDA compounds (#3, #50, #243).
  • To kill Epstein Barr Virus: Vrl-Gen supplement.
  • Diet: Cutting gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, alcohol (all the usual inflammatory suspects which affect thyroid health) for at least 30 days. The diet’s not so bad, but I’ve never cut out my nightly vino for an extended period of time so that should be interesting. I have to say I’m already sleeping better four days in, and I started drinking seltzer out of a wine glass (Dana recommended this during her 90 day booze-free experiment) which does help with the mental side of it.
  • Lifestyle: no working past 7:30 pm, regular meditation, and light exercise (walking, yoga), using castor oil to move out toxins and support the lymphatic system, and dry brushing. Just ordered myself a dry brush and I’ve always been meaning to get into this, so I’m looking forward to giving that puppy a test drive.

Some of this stuff is a little woo-woo even for me, but if any of it will get me feeling better than it’s fair game.

Perhaps most importantly, this has forced me to slow the hell down and take a look at the big picture. I’m making my health #1 because I think it’s the most important thing we can do. Life’s just way too short to feel crappy all the time. While I can’t control getting bit by a tick, I can certainly make every effort to get better and prioritize my health. 

So what does this mean? I think there are a few big things we can do to handle any health challenges. 

Rest + recovery.

If I sleep very poorly and wake up feeling exhausted (to the point of feeling sick), I go back to sleep for a couple hours. I don’t force myself to get up and start working immediately, because I know it won’t be quality work anyway.

Guarding personal time closely.

If a client asks if I can do a quick unscheduled call, I don’t automatically say “yes” and push a yoga class or whatever else I have scheduled that is important for my health.

Understanding the symptoms and root cause.

This is a tricky one. Because on the one hand, there is so much (contradicting) information available that it’s overwhelming to try to make sense of. There are many qualified professionals with diametrically opposed views. On the other hand, I’m really curious about all this stuff, and want to understand the root cause of each symptom and how they’re all connected. I know the gut is connected to the thyroid, and the Lyme has caused a lot of disruption. But how does it all impact my nervous system? What does it mean for my diet and lifestyle going forward? Are there certain steps to take in order to prevent further damage?

These are some of the questions I’ll be exploring, and hope to shed some light and simplify it all for anyone else who’s curious about these conditions, and how to prevent and manage them.

If you’ve ever been diagnosed with Lyme, a thyroid disorder, or struggled with any of related symptoms, I’d love to hear from you! What sort of treatment has worked for you? What would you like to learn more about?

Photography by Blair Badenhop

Also published on Medium.