Being diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune disease felt devastating to me. When I realized there was no magic pill to make my symptoms go away, I wondered if I would ever get my life back. Determined to feel better, I learned to start fighting for wellness.
If you follow me on Instagram, or have been reading my blog posts for a while, you know that while I am much healthier than I was a year ago, my health is not perfect. In fact, as I type this, I am recovering from an autoimmune flare.
I decided months ago, that I wanted to share my wellness story. As a result, I open up about the highs and lows of living with chronic illness, and I share what fighting for wellness looks like for me.
It usually is not pretty.
The Old Me
When I think back to where I was at my rock bottom, I feel sorry for that Shanna.
That Shanna was still in the phase of trying to hide her illness as much as possible, both in public and at home. She did not want her husband to think she was weak and did not want her kids to know how sick she felt. Her solution? Grin and bear it.
The “grin and bear it” worked until her body gave out. Until her body said, “enough” and refused to be pushed any further.
After hitting rock bottom, that Shanna felt a myriad of emotions:
- Fear she would never get her life back.
- Worries she would never feel well enough to take care of her family.
- Shame she could not be the Mom she wanted to be.
- Anxiety that the rest of her life would be spent resting in bed.
As scared and devastated as that Shanna was, she also felt the stirrings of something else inside of her.
She realized she was a fighter and a dreamer. She was willing to do anything she could to feel well again.
Finding Wellness Again Is Possible
Sitting here today, I can hardly believe the past year.
Part of it feels like a terrible nightmare.
Another part of it feels like a wonderful dream.
I can hardly believe how much learning and growth I experienced, and continue to experience.
I chose to:
- no longer hide my autoimmune symptoms when I do not feel well.
- overhaul my nutrition and lifestyle choices.
- adopt a growth mindset.
There is not one day that has gone by when I was not fighting for wellness. I fought so hard everyday, and continue to fight.
Even when I do not feel like it.
Even when my old friends fear, doubt, shame, and anxiety creep back in.
Regardless, I keep fighting, and I remember how all of my diligence over the past year paid off.
Feeling Worse Before Feeling Better
I feel like a completely different person in all the best ways. Inside and out.
However, here’s the cold hard truth: After my diagnosis, when I started on my wellness journey, I felt worse before I felt better.
Detoxing was part of my wellness journey, and for me, it was miserable. There were days I would get up and take a shower, only to need to lay down and rest before getting dressed again. It was humbling and I would look at myself in the mirror and wonder who I was anymore.
One of those days I remember looking across at my husband, and not recognizing my life.
How could this be MY life? How did this happen? My health decline happened so gradually over the course of years, then finally came crashing down all at once.
As I looked into my husband’s eyes, I could not stop the tears from falling. I remember vividly having thoughts of never being able to travel again, and being devastated that I could hardly function. How could I even handle a flight anywhere? Scratch that, how could I handle the 1.5 hour drive from our home to the airport?
Daring to Dream
I knew I needed to learn to turn off the negative thoughts, but it seemed impossible. So, I did something else instead.
As I looked into my husband’s eyes, with tears streaming down my face, I pictured us somewhere warm and tropical. I pictured myself healthy and well, and I pictured us playing in the waves on a beautiful beach.
My tears continued to fall, but I just kept looking in my husband’s eyes and envisioning this beach scene. I wonder if he knew what I was doing.
I held on to those pictures in my mind for months and would pull them out when my mind was filled with hopeless and discouraging thoughts.
In December, eleven months after my diagnosis and hitting rock bottom, I lived out that beach scene with my husband in Hawaii. I not only drove to the airport, I got on a plane, and flew to Hawaii and back.
The best part? What I pictured in my mind was even better in real life!
There Is Hope
If you are at your rock bottom; if you are having a hard time getting out of bed and need to rest after taking a shower, don’t you dare give up!
Don’t you dare stop fighting for wellness!
Please do not bury your frustration, loneliness, fear, and devastation in junk food. Do not eat your emotions.
Acknowledge your emotions, accept them, and then release them. Put all of your effort into adopting a positive mindset, fueling your body with nutrient dense real food, and cultivating wellness practices that work for you.
This world needs you, and needs your story. There is no replacement for you. You are beautifully one of a kind.
You keep going. There is not another you!
How to Fight for Wellness:
Seek Medical Advice
Find a doctor or a naturopath who will help you discover and address your root causes, and who will find your diagnosis.
Fair warning: it may take time, and it may be frustrating. You may have to visit multiple doctors before finding one who helps you find answers.
Learn about your diagnosis yourself. Read all the books you can. Do not take one or two doctors’ words for it. Do not give up.
Still not have a diagnosis? Do not give up searching for answers. It may take several different doctors and countless tests to figure things out. It took me experiencing symptoms for over a decade and over four years of asking for medical tests to get an answer.
I went to my doctor with my symptoms once or twice a year, where he ran routine labs, and reported the “good news” that I was fine. In reality, I was many things, but “fine” was not one of them.
Listen to Your Body
Learn to listen to your body. Try to identify what your unique body needs, and how you can help it heal. Everybody is different. What helps me feel well may look a bit different than what helps you feel well. Invest in your health. Put in the hard work, study, and do your homework.
Find a way of eating that works for your body, give it an honest try, and stick to what works. Eat a variety of nutrient dense, real foods. Make adjustments as needed. I found incredible success with the autoimmune protocol (AIP).
If you are looking for more information on the autoimmune protocol, Autoimmune Wellness has an amazing guide.
Get moving. Even if it is a .25 mile snail’s pace walk where you have to take breaks (speaking from experience).
Even if you start out on a walk, then feel so exhausted .2 miles later that you literally need your husband to come pick you up in the car to take you back home. Also speaking from experience.
“Exercise is potent at reducing and normalizing cortisol levels, which can help reduce inflammation and promote healing.”Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, Paleo Principles pg. 351
Stress has such a negative impact on health. Do all you can to manage stress, and cut down on stress in your life.
Identify what you need to remove from your life if necessary. Identify toxic relationships, and work on setting boundaries. Practice yoga or meditation if you cannot remove yourself from a stressful situation.
“Whether or not you are aware of the negative consequences of stress on your body, managing it is absolutely essential to improving your health, especially for those suffering from chronic illness.”The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook, pg. 113
Do not let your illness steal your laughter. Draw the line. Hold on to your laugh, and unleash it every chance you get. I speak from experience here, and you can read all about it HERE.
Make sleep a priority, and allow your body all the rest it needs.
Healing takes time and rest.
You most likely did not get sick overnight, and you most likely will not get better overnight.
Find a Fight Song
Yes, you heard me right. You will have days where you want to give up your clean eating, quit meditating, and cancel naturopath appointments. When those days come, turn on your fight song, and keep going. Dig deep. Know that it is okay if it feels too hard some days. It feels too hard for me some days too.
On the days it feels too hard, I turn on Christina Aguilara’s “Fighter,” and shout the words out to my Hashimoto’s. Okay, I shadow box while singing too. My backup fight song? Carrie Underwood’s “Champion.”
My trip to Hawaii a few months ago, living out the vacation I pictured in my mind’s eye when I was at my rock bottom, only happened because I stopped and invested the time to feel well again. I learned what my body needed, allowed my body time to rest, and kept fighting for wellness when I felt like giving up.
My health is not perfect even now. I still have days every month and sometimes every week where I need to rest and cut back on activities.
I also have days every month and every week where I feel well and forget I have an autoimmune disease. Healing is not linear. Embrace the ups and downs, and hang on for the ride. Make it the most beautiful ride of your life.
I am filled with gratitude that I fulfilled my dream beach scene, but the truth is I have more dreams now that seem as impossible to me now as that dream seemed to me then.
My kids’ school is taking a humanitarian trip to the Philippines this summer. The trip would involve flying half way around the world, and days filled with service opportunities. I would love to go!
The truth is flying is hard on my body, and it’s only been months since learning to travel well on the autoimmune protocol. I am also still finding wellness, and learning more with each autoimmune flare I experience.
Even though where I sit now, I cannot imagine being able to participate in the trip, I am going to dream away anyway.
I am going to picture myself well, and able to fly halfway around the world, and able to help others for days. It is okay if I am not up to it this year, but I will keep dreaming and keep fighting for wellness, and I will get there.
I hope that whatever dreams you have for your life; however impossible those dreams seem, you keep dreaming.
You keep learning, growing, healing, and fighting for wellness.
You are not alone. I am right there with you, daring to figure out to live well with an incurable disease and daring to dream.