Lessons Learned Healing from Autoimmune Disease
The road to recovery from autoimmune disease is an exciting one, and there are many lessons to learn along the path.
Last month my granddaughter Jana and I embarked on our first, real vacation since I started on my healing journey from seven autoimmune diseases. We hadn't ever taken a real vacation in her 14 years of life.
I never realized when I planned this vacation that God would show me so much about the process of healing -- physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
I believe in being totally transparent to help ourselves and others around us to grow and thrive, so here's the whole story... the good, the bad, the embarrassing, and the powerful lessons learned.
To be quite honest, I was doing waaaay too much before the vacation. Achieving 90-95% healing from disabling autoimmune disease is a powerful motivator, and my typical type A personality was overjoyed when God showed me my mission to help others do the same.
So for about 1.5 years, I poured my heart and soul into teaching the science that brought my own healing. I was literally heading up three separate start-up ventures:
1) My company True Wellness Today with my Facebook Group, Heal Autoimmune Disease Now;
2) The Functional Forum San Diego, which is part of the international Evolution of Medicine organization which trains doctors how to apply Functional Medicine in their practices; and
3) Helping two local rheumatologist's offices to integrate functional nutrition into their practices by working in their offices a few hours each week.
All while raising a teenager by myself.
Right. I hear you. A bit crazy.
I guess I figured that after 17 years of being ill and unable to work, I had a lot of productivity to make up! :)
Truthfully, I am just gung-ho excited about the latest advances in medicine, and how well they work. As a scientist, I couldn't wait to join the avalanche of other health professionals who are helping others with functional medicine. I want everyone to enjoy the thriving health that I've attained, get up off the couch, and get their lives back!
But just like other functional medicine practitioners who have overcome their own illnesses have learned, it's easy to get carried away before you are completely healed.
After all, what is happening in medicine today is so very mind-blowing; it's changing our world. So it's easy to be excited!
In my own experience, one often doesn't realize that there is still healing to do during the normal day to day routine, when you are feeling mostly well again.
Yup, that's me. I feel awesome every day now. Really awesome. So I thought I could do anything.
Even though I know by my testing that my heavy metals are still higher than they should be, and there's still Klebsiella in my gut to deal with. I've done a lot of work in these areas and it is getting much better over time, but there is still work to do. I know these issues take time, and I've read that people are still getting better and better after 3, 5, and even 7 years out. So I'm content to keep working.
But when you feel awesome every day, it's easy to forget--you aren't all the way well just yet.
And it just makes sense that if you push yourself to the limit, and then add something extra, say, like a vacation to the mix, there's bound to be some trouble.
I knew I was pushing myself too hard before the vacation... hence the plan for the vacation! I could feel the level of stress, the pressures mounting. Knowing stress causes inflammation in real time, and inflammation causes tissue damage and disease, I knew it was time to take a break.
So the vacation was planned with a lovely stay at our friend Tina's lake house in Texas. Tina was our neighbor for many years, and is like a second mother to Jana. She recently relocated to Texas, so we hadn't seen her in many months. This would be a very special trip.
Tina's place is a 20 hour drive from us here in San Diego. I was never a good long-distance driver so I was concerned about my ability to handle such a long trip. But Tina decided to fly out and help me drive, and we made it to Texas in two days without a problem.
The week at the lake house was wonderful. The internet and phone service was spotty at best, so no chance of work getting in the way! We saw lots of sights in the area and had fun things to do every day... go go go. Every evening I was overly tired from all the fun. But that's what you do on vacation, right? Hmmmm.
I stayed on my gluten-free nutritional and supplement protocol, but I added non-organic restaurant food daily, played with a little dairy and excess sugar, and strayed from my normal "clean" organic diet. My vegetable and fruit content went from about 12 cups each day down to about 4. I didn't get all my water in, and I didn't take time out to exercise.
I started noticing some very mild changes in symptoms -- a little headache, a little gastrointestinal trouble, a little swelling and aches. But I thought, "I can handle this for a short time -- after all, I am on vacation".
After a week at the lake house, I could definitely feel a big difference. I was really tired. Not the exhaustion one feels in a true flare up, but definitely run down. So I wisely took a day to rest.
Because the next day, Jana and I were embarking on the hardest part of our vacation... the drive back to San Diego, with a camping stop at Bryce Canyon -- all by ourselves. With no one to help me drive, and feeling as tired as I was, I was honestly a bit nervous about whether I would be able to accomplish this task.
Sure enough, 3 hours out on the road, I got my first sign of a major problem... and I had to face the very humiliating fact that my body was stopping me from going further on my own. We rested up for the night, and headed back to Tina's.
I cannot tell you how upsetting this was to me, after three years of healing, to be stopped from doing something I planned by physical symptoms, and the anxiety that brought. It taught me a profound lesson.
I am a strong-willed, can-do woman. I believe "I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me!". But the utter terror of being out on a desolate West Texas highway, feeling physically symptomatic and alone, was frightening. Truthfully, it was overwhelming.
Well, feeling sick and unable to drive, when you are expected to drive 20 hours, is enough to make anyone nervous. Right?
But I was to discover that past traumatic events, which are a major instigator in the pathogenic inflammation and development of autoimmune disease, were at play here. Way more than I realized at the time.
Back at Tina's house in Texas, we made a plan to help Jana and I get home. Thank God for the blessing of awesome friends! Actually, Tina was planning her own road trip to Disneyland the following week, so we would take a week to rest up, and then caravan together back to California.
But my thoughts were still concerned. Would I be able to pull my share of the driving weight? I wasn't sure, and knowing how our bodies can be extremely unpredictable with autoimmune disease, i.e., dizziness, bathroom malfunctions, etc., I was considering flying Jana and I home and hiring someone to drive our van back.
The thought of slowing my friends down on their vacation with my physical issues was worse than the illness itself. It meant, "I wasn't as well as I thought I was". It meant, "I'm not perfect". In my mind, this meant failure.
Silly, right? Yet, it was a very real feeling. Seemingly in every cell in my body.
The Bible calls it, "Fear of Man". Secular psychologists call it perfectionism, and it involves an inner need to be "perfect" so others will think highly of you. Therefore, others will love you. You will not be rejected, alone, or abandoned, if you are simply "perfect".
Deep, I know. I speak about it transparently here because many, many people have been traumatized by circumstances in their lives that were not their fault, and I am no different. Childhood and life traumas can linger in your head, and your cells, and cause background problems we aren't even aware of.
In my case, the traumas I suffered were extensive, and I was left with an underlying root of the fear of being rejected. Of not measuring up. Of being unloved, abandoned, and alone. But I thought I had worked on this enough and I had overcome (for the most part).
In Functional Medicine, we talk about getting to the "root cause" of your illness, and trauma is one of those root causes. Trauma causes biophysical changes in our bodies, not just emotional ones. Psychologists are realizing that traumatic events make literal changes in our cells, and there is a type of "memory", such that a triggering event can bring on powerful feelings.
I realized on my trip that I had, unbeknownst to me, placed myself in a situation where traumatic events that were not completely healed could resurface and cause trouble.
I had put Jana and I in a position where we were alone, I was the only one who could be responsible, and I was feeling sick and physically incapable of handling the expectations. The expectations I put on myself by biting off a bit more than I could chew. Can anyone say, TRIGGER?
Wow. What a learning experience about the necessity to 1) take care of ourselves, and 2) work diligently on our traumas, and heal them.
The next week of our trip was a crazy ride. Jana and I both made the best of our situation, but Jana described it quite bluntly later by saying, "it sucked". When I made a face she said, "It didn't all suck, but it was so stressful and hard". She was right.
Since our friend's lake house was already rented out, and we wanted to do some camping, we decided to stay at a campground near her home. It was a very nice place, right next to a lovely river, so I thought it was a great idea! At the time.
Let's just say that tent camping, even with all of the modern amenities, is not for us. For one, it's a lot of hard work, constantly. Just making sure you have a place to use the bathroom is an adventure and takes planning and foresight! Meals take about 4 times longer to prepare. Ice chests need to be constantly rearranged and loaded, and there's no locks on tent doors to protect women alone at night (yikes!). Then the humidity, the heat, the constant flies and mosquito bites... and then, the rain.
More like the thunderstorms from hell. Two of them.
The first one hit on our first night in the campground. There was intense wind, lightening all around us, and about an hour of heavy rain. Amazingly, we came through it intact, with only two small leaks and a bundle of nerves. I love a good storm, but poor Jana hates them and so this was not a good experience for her.
The second storm hit the very next night. We had just spent the day out on the river, and I was overtired. I couldn't wait to just lay down and rest.
All of a sudden the wind picked up and the sky got very dark. Then cracks of very loud thunder, constant flashes of lightening all around us, and torrential rain. I'm not exaggerating... it was really scary being in a tent in the middle of that. It was so intense that it tore the roofs and siding off a couple of storefronts in the town. So I guess you could say we were blessed and protected.
But it sure didn't seem that way in the moment. Just when I was about to pack Jana and I up in the car and get to someplace safer, part of the tent collapsed on us from the weight of the water, and part of our set up was completely destroyed. We spent 20 minutes in the downpour, holding up parts of the tent in a desperate effort to keep everything as dry as possible. But by the end of it we were soaking wet and covered with mud.
It was all I could do to keep from collapsing into tears in that muddy mess... but I had to stay strong for Jana. She held it together well, but she was very frightened.
So there we were, a grandmother and a teenager soaking wet and covered in mud, alone in a campground, far from home. We must have looked like a couple of lonely drowned rats.
There were people around, but they all stayed in their RV's. No one came out to help us. So we wrestled the huge mess on our own. A security guard came, gave some advice about a safer place to pitch the tent, and then went on his way without offering any real physical help. By this time, I was more than exhausted, but there was still the job of fixing the tent, and it was now 8:00pm. I called Tina and like the trooper that she is, she rushed to help. We managed to get the tent back up again under a shelter with a lot of rope and nails and rigging, and then Jana and I both collapsed from stress and exhaustion. Worried another storm would come, we didn't sleep much.
The next day, we cleaned and rested, and tried to make sense of what had happened. Ever try to to do a ton of laundry at a campsite? It's no fun.
Now at this point in the story you are probably thinking, "Why didn't you just get a hotel, book a flight, and go home?" Yes, that would have been the logical thing to do. But I was determined to make the best of this for Jana.
And for the remainder of the week, we did have some good times. It was terribly hot and uncomfortable at the campsite in the afternoons, and we were stressed wondering if another storm would hit, but we had a back up plan at a hotel nearby, and fun outings.
We went to an amazing animal park where a loving giraffe ate right out of my hands and stared into my eyes. We rafted down a lazy river at a dinosaur park, played at the lake, went shopping, had some really nice meals, and made some nice memories with Tina and her family.
We even went to a prophesy meeting at her church, where I was told by a woman that I had the spirit of Esther on me -- that I was born for such a time as this to help others -- because I was a "healer". She didn't know anything about me, she just walked up to pray with me and said it. THAT was interesting... to say the least. When I get to Heaven I'm going to ask God about THAT!
But you guessed it, by the end of the week, I was getting worse instead of better. Disaster struck again the day we left to drive home, and my body simply gave out.
The first leg of the trip was a 10 hour drive that turned into about 13 hours for a lot of what I call "evil" reasons. In other words, lots of different circumstances occurred that were against us having a good trip, most of which I'll leave in the past, as it was a grueling, terrible day. I even wondered if I had accidently been exposed to gluten at one of the restaurants, as I became so very ill.
When we finally got to our hotel at 9:30pm, I could barely walk. My body was shaking all over. It was all I could do to get to the room, only to open the door to a powerful odor of animals and vomit. As I slid down the wall in the hotel hallway and sat waiting, Jana ran back down to get us a different room. Apparently the previous guest had been in that room for a month with several animals. Just one of the many little messed up circumstances that came against us that day.
So there I was in a full blown autoimmune flare, possibly exposed to gluten, in a hotel room in the middle of Nowhere, New Mexico. My entire body was wracked with pain and swelling. I had that sickening exhaustion that won't let you sleep, with the restless leg syndrome that I hadn't felt in years. I had severe brain fog, nausea and over the top gastrointestinal issues. I was a complete literal mess.
Panic set in. I was expected to drive the next two days, and there was no way that was even possible now. The thought that I had utterly failed my friend, my granddaughter, and myself, was the worst, so I pushed it out. But that past trauma triggered this, and I couldn't shake it.
I drew a bath, prayed, and listened to scripture on YouTube all night. Truthfully, it was one of the worse nights I've spent in many years, both physically and emotionally.
And I wouldn't wish this on anyone. Which is why I'm being so candid now.
The next morning, all my fears were relieved. Yes, I was still a complete mess physically, but my fears of failure and rejection, brought about from triggering past trauma, were completely unfounded now in my present reality.
Because in my hour of desperate need, I was deeply loved.
I called my roommate Kristen, and she instantly said, "Dori, don't worry. I'm coming to get you. I've been praying for you all week, and God told me I'd need to help you".
She called Tina and while I laid in bed feeling like death warmed over, together they came up with a rescue plan.
Of course the worst part of all this for me was the need to be rescued in the first place. I'm usually the rescuer. But Tina came and gave me a good pep talk, telling me about the time she was very ill and embarrassed on a long trip.
She said, "No one expects you to be perfect and not have times of weakness."
Just what I needed to hear.
So Tina and her daughter drove us to another very nice hotel in Arizona about 5 hours from home. She prayed powerfully over me, while I rested, tears flowing.
And while we were making our way to Arizona, Kristen was organizing the rescue party on her end. Many people at church were involved by praying, and being on standby in case more troops were needed. In an interesting turn of events, Kristen's brother offered to make the trip with her, completely unexpected.
The next morning with another day and night of rest I was starting to rally physically, but still weak and unable to drive far. I offered to drive part of the way, but Kristen wanted me to stay put. So she and her brother drove the 5 hours to pick Jana and I up. We had a nice lunch and I offered to put everyone up on a hotel for the night, but they choose to make the trip in one day. So we arrived home the same day -- which was a 10 hour round trip for them.
The next day I learned that God had other plans in the works. He used my weakness to work another little miracle in the lives of Kristen and her brother. During their long drive to rescue us, Kristen was able to speak to her brother, and a very special healing took place that she had prayed for all her life.
And of course, I was delivered from that old fear of rejection and abandonment in my time of desperate need -- by the power of my friends' love and sacrifice.
God never wastes a trial.
What I want all of us to learn from my mistake is this:
Reversing autoimmune disease is a daily walk in a diligent healthy lifestyle, and not to be taken lightly. Neglect your nutrition, overwork yourself, let go of your healthy routine, and trigger trauma, and you can cause extreme, intense inflammation that can knock you flat on your back -- just like that.
After all the healing work I have done, I thought I was well enough to push the boundaries and break the rules.
I was wrong.
I may feel 95% well, but pushing the boundaries is, in the words of a Texan I know, "just plain stuuuupid".
Because I have read many stories of other practitioners who have reversed their illnesses, only to go through another crisis by pushing the boundaries. Even Mark Hyman has a story such as this. So I knew better.
An autoimmune flare up doesn't come from out of nowhere. There are reasons: Lack of proper nutrition, lack of sleep, working ourselves too hard, neglecting our exercise and daily detoxing, stress and unresolved trauma -- We cause our own illness in many ways.
I caused myself a perfect little storm.
Kind of like that perfect little storm that destroyed our tent. It came and went quickly, but I learned a lot from it.
But knowing that we have the power and control over causing our own symptoms means we have the power and control to correct them.
Because I've been working diligently on my health for 3 years now, I was able to bounce back quickly. I knew what I needed to do. The next day after returning home, I did a Trinity Smoothie fast to build up the nutrients in my body. The following day, I did a water fast for 36 hours to increase stem cell production. Then back to extra smoothies and my daily walks. By the third day, I felt my strength returning. By the fourth day, the flare was gone.
This is a true testament to the power and control we have to reverse illness and keep ourselves well.
Now I know, our next vacation will be much different.
First, I will not overwork myself to the point of needing it! I'm scaling back work projects, and letting others take some of the load. My clients know that I have set work hours with protected family and rest times.
Jana and I will plan our vacation around health priorities and ease. The time away from home will be much shorter, we will have good nutrition, exercise and rest built into each day, and if it's far from home, we will fly.
No stuuuupid boundary pushing. No road trips. And absolutely, positively NO TENT CAMPING! Ever. In a million years.
Most importantly, I talked with our Christian counselor about further EMDR therapy. I learned on this trip that the trauma triggers are still there, so obviously, there's still work to be done.
I also ordered Dr. David Jeremiah's latest work, "Slaying the Giants In Your Life" and started reading it. I'm halfway through and I recommend it highly for the spiritual aspects of healing emotional wounds.
Healing autoimmune disease and chronic illness, as well as emotional trauma that is often a part of the cause, is absolutely possible -- so long as we are diligent to do the work.
I want my best health, so I can be all God created me to be and do in my time here on earth. So I am going to be diligent.
How about you?
If you need help learning the latest medical science to reverse autoimmune disease, and you'd like someone to guide you through the healing process, please visit my website at www.truewellnesstoday.net, and join my facebook group, Heal Autoimmune Disease Now.
You can choose either small group or private consultations, designed after the Cleveland Clinic's and the Institute for Functional Medicine's model of care.
Blessings to You for Ultimate Health!
Dorinda Smith, MS
Autoimmune Research Scientist
Functional Medicine Nutritionist
True Wellness Today