Where did this all begin?
My gut problems began at the age of 17 when I developed a severe week long sickness with constant diarrhoea leaving me so weak I was unable to move. The resulting effect of this was that my mum took me to hospital where the doctor advised I took some Imodium and had a plain diet for the coming days and then sent me on my way. This did the trick in the short-term, but little did myself or my family know the long term damage this was going to do to my health in the years to come.
In the coming years I suffered from chronic IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) symptoms and had repeated visits to my GP and to a variety of hospital specialists trying to find the answers as to why I was getting these problems. I had test after test including a colonoscopy, dairy and coeliac checks and innumerable blood tests.
Repeatedly the tests came back as normal and therefore they put it down to IBS and recommended a Low-FODMAP diet (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols) and Buscopan. Unfortunately, none of this worked for me and so I just lived with the pain day in, day out, week in and week out.
It was the same routine everyday wake up and go to the toilet up to five times in the first hour, a feeling of constantly being empty and weak. Then I would not want to eat in fear of making my tummy flare up so I may have had a banana or something just as plain to get me through till lunch. Sadly, lunch itself would trigger cramps and stitches that continued for the whole afternoon and sometimes they would be so bad I could barely stand up. This is how I lived and was my normal for about five years until it all came to a head.
In August 2015 my illness reached a turning point as I hit rock bottom. It felt as if I had woken up and my body had stopped working. I went from running 5Km a day, six times a week, to bed bound in the blink of an eye. My legs internally felt like they were on fire and I had chronic pain in my right-hand side, back and front. My muscles felt so weak I could barely lift a glass of water. My brain was a cloud of fog and every time I stood up I was dizzy and had debilitating fatigue. I felt like an 80 year old woman and I was scared, confused and in pain.
I headed straight to the doctors. For the record I think doctors are fantastic for dealing with defined diseases, illnesses and injuries but in my case with its complex mix of issues they struggled to reach a diagnosis and to provide an effective treatment plan. They continued to run blood tests and stool samples on me which all came back as normal and I was eventually referred me to a rheumatologist who concluded that I had no physical symptoms and that the issues were “in my head”. His recommendation was that I saw a counsellor as I was potentially suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and stress. Sadly, despite it being useful in some respects to see a counsellor they did not solve the physical pain and issues I continued to suffer from.
By October 2015 the symptoms had worsened, and I was suffering from anxiety and a really itchy head like dandruff. I was signed off work and so I took matters into my own hands and headed to Google! The research I did led me back to a book I had purchased by Louise Hay called 'You Can Heal Yourself' that had sat on my shelf for a while but that I had never got round to reading - as they say things will come to you when you most need them. This is really where my quest began to find answers as it opened my eyes to the fact that I could take control of my pain and issues rather than suppressing symptoms through medication.
I started mindfulness meditation and read Jon Kabat Zim’s ' Wherever you go there you are'. Meditation was always a strange concept to me as I was generally a worrier and not in the present moment a lot of the time. I started doing a guided meditation for 20 minutes twice a day, the hardest part of it was being patient with it as you do not get instant results but you start to see progress over time in your day to day habits.
I read a lot about the benefits of smoothies and the NutriBullet craze was in full swing at the time, so that is exactly where I started. I started making smoothies with vegetables and fruit - far too much fruit to start with but it was all a learning curve. I introduced all the superfood powders, which at the time I did not know the benefits of, but I was prepared to give everything a try.
As I had a stomach problem for years I thought something must be irritating the system so I started with a York Food Test, which tests your IgG (Immunoglobin G) levels, from my experience I now know you should also be looking for IgE (Immunoglobin E) levels, but I wasn’t yet at the right place in my journey at that time. The test result came back that I was sensitive to Yeast, Cows Milk, Egg Yolk, Egg White, Mushrooms and Coconut. So I cut the above foods out of my diet as well as coffee and alcohol - not that I had felt like drinking for a long time.
Over the coming weeks my goal was to try and get out of the house walking, bearing in mind at the beginning of this process I could barely walk 4 metres from my bed to the sofa. My first walk was a quarter of a mile to the end of my road, I built it up to 20 minutes then 30 minutes etc. I pushed myself and some days I cried through the pain as I knew I had to listen to my body but at the same time push myself slightly to enable improvement, as I wanted to get back to work. After two months off work I went back for 4 hours a day 4 times a week. It started off positive as I felt I had some purpose back in my life but the effort involved in a physically demanding sales role drained my energy and it only lasted 3 months before I had to change roles to find something where I was not on my feet as much nor under the same intense emotional and physical stress.
I believe the universe always puts things in your path when you most need them most and one day I walked passed a health food shop that had been in the village for years and I went in to see if they had anything that could help me with my recovery. This is where I discovered a lovely man who practiced Kinesiology, where they identify problems with the body through muscle testing. I ended up seeing this man for nine months and slowly he unravelled that my body wasn't breaking down meat and carbohydrates efficiently and I was deficient in many things and had even more food intolerances than originally identified. I was now supporting my recovery by meditating for 15 minutes every morning, avoiding an even wider range of foods, cutting out gluten and dairy products and going organic wherever I could, I was on a strict diet, reading to relax, having a bath every night and keeping an emotional journal, and trying to hold down a full time job as much as I could. After 9 months I still felt there was a piece of the puzzle missing after doing all of this therefore I continued my quest for answers.
Someone had recommended a Functional Medicine Doctor to me at an Allergy Clinic so I decided to follow that path and went to see the doctor (who is a fully qualified medical doctor specialising in complex gastro issues like my own). I felt like I wanted hard facts and the science behind why I was feeling like I was, I wanted answers.
After my initial 90 minute consultation we concluded that I needed to have a wide range of very specific tests that would not be requested normally by NHS doctors including an ATP profile, DNA Adducts, Lymphocyte Sensitivity, Vitamin D, Urinary Iodine and a comprehensive parasitology.
Results day was a relief as the doctor said to me 'this is not all in your head, why you have been feeling how you have is in black and white in front of us', for anyone living with a long term condition you will know how this made me feel. It was a mix of utter relief and also vindication that my physical symptoms were just that, physical and not imaginary.
I had a parasite in my gut, my mitochondria levels were out of sync and not converting energy how they should, zinc levels were low, vitamin D levels low, iodine levels were low, nickel levels were sky high and the doctor felt a lot of it could be to do with food intolerances. He set out a supplementation plan for me and a very specific diet plan which I followed vigorously. I saw improvement for a long time so much so that I wanted to get back to being active everyday. By this time we were now approaching the end of May 2017.
I met a rehabilitation coach to try and get me back to being as active as I had been previously and by the Summer of 2017 I had a confirmed place for London Marathon in April 2018. This had been a life-long goal I wanted to achieve and it triggered a burst of energy and focused activities designed to get me ready for this epic experience including a detailed training program a strict eating plan (still cutting out gluten and dairy products) and a programme of targeted supplements with the practitioner. Through this I am pleased to say I ran the London Marathon and have the medal to prove it achieving an admirable time of ~5 hours, a massive step forward considering how tired, ill and weak I had been only a matter of months before.
So that is it! I still balance my life through supplements, a gluten and dairy free, low sugar diet coupled with meditation and exercise, but I would say I am now in remission. I have missed out a lot of minor details such as specific foods and supplements, exercises and the abundance of books and articles I have read as well as the alternative healing methods I have tried, but my knowledge of these will come up in my blogs. My reason for setting up Gut Chat is simple, I want to pass on my knowledge to anyone who needs it whether you have suffered from gut problems, long term illness or just want to improve your health. I hope that my story inspires people to take control over their health and find the answers they are seeking.
Wishing you health and healing.