You feel like hell.
Your pelvis feels like one huge, palpable, purple bruise in the depth of your being.
You can barely drag yourself out of bed.
The thought of what your day will bring fills you with dread as you contemplate what will be expected of you.
You’d run away if you had the energy.
In the part of the blogosphere I inhabit, there has been a lot of talk recently about polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS,) a hormonal condition where women don’t ovulate regularly, if at all.
The talk has been about resolving it using diet and often diet alone.
Some of these diets are extreme by everyday measures.
But the proponents make compelling arguments for the return of their health and quality of life on the back of these food strategies.
And who can argue with that?
I have not had PCOS but endured its’ cousin, endometriosis, for years.
Too. Many. Years.
I’ve experienced the pain, the exhaustion, the short cycles.
Infertility, acne and depression.
The caffeine and sugar binges, grasping at some pseudo-energy to get me through the basics of my day.
There’s a huge, mostly hidden cost accompanying these conditions – the lost earnings, the broken relationships, the blighted years of life.
Young, female life.
My approach to all this was to a) put up with it, b) manage it, c) get around it and d) deal with it.
Now that I’m in the ‘deal with it’ phase, I’ve worked on solutions for the past six years and am nearly symptom-free.
I’ve crossed continents looking for solutions to my health problem. I’ve spent thousands of dollars over the years. I’ve tried unconventional treatments. And sunk enough drugs to medicate whole armies.
I spent years and years in this mode.
And if I have learned anything from this saga over the past thirty years, if I have one regret in my life, one legacy besides my children I would like to leave with you, it is this:
If you have any kind of illness – mental or physical –
The first thing to do is change your diet.
No matter what other tricks and stunts you attempt, unless you change your diet your good health will only partially realized.
This has been a lesson bitterly won on my part.
I can’t tell you how I resisted the connection between food and the problems I was having.
Granted back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there wasn’t a lot of data connecting food and hormone imbalances, but what there was I read.
And just as easily as I read it, I dismissed it.
It didn’t fit my paradigm.
In my mind, restricting and eliminating certain food from your diet was what you did if you were overweight.
Or had allergies. I had none.
I grew up with what I thought was a healthy diet followed by the vast majority of my compatriots – meat, eggs, cheese, veg, fruits, bread and pastry.
With a light serving of cake.
Oh, and tea. Of course, the tea.
I carried this ‘healthy’ food mentality into adulthood and didn’t think anything of it.
But I wish I’d learned about food and how it can affect our hormones.
Even food we think of as healthy such as wholewheat bread, brown rice, milk.
I wish I’d taken steps to identify my personal perpetrators and eliminate them back in my twenties.
Heck, even doing so in my thirties would have saved me a lot of pain.
I wish it hadn’t taken several crises experienced by different members of my family for me to look at my genetic profile, review my medical history and finally reject the best medical advice I got at the time – ‘you’re just unlucky.’
No-one’s that unlucky.
I’ve written before about my battles with food.
I am still battling (although not so much – I will write an update) but today my diet and my food behavior is 90% ‘clean.’
Not all my symptoms have been eliminated – I still have brain fog for part of each day during half the month and some pain for three or four days – but compared to where I was with pain and fatigue six years ago when 75% of my time and health was impaired, I have come a long way.
Let me say now, I am not against medication.
I recently had a skirmish with a tick and when my lyme disease test came back indeterminate, I wolfed those doxy puppies down like sweeties.
Doctors have helped me enormously.
I’ve met men and women who genuinely wanted to reduce my pain, enable me to have children, make my life better.
Who used their expertise and the tools at their disposal to achieve that.
They couldn’t fix me, so they eliminated my symptoms by shutting down my fertility altogether.
I became a 25 year-old using powerful synthetic hormones to prevent a process as ancient and natural as life itself.
When that wasn’t enough, they cut me open with a knife to remove the offenders that were giving me such trouble.
Cutting almost became a way of life.
And when surgery couldn’t unlock the secret to vibrant health, (sheesh, I would have settled for a life that was simply pain-free,) we went back to drugs again, working around the problem and all the while never getting to the bottom of it.
And when my attention turned to resolving my health issues instead of merely managing or ignoring them because I didn’t know what else to do, I came upon courageous doctors who risked the censure, derision and downright nastiness of their fellow practitioners (doctors can be really mean to one another) by daring to challenge the norms and conventional wisdom.
These were doctors who taught me mental illness can have a physical basis.
Doctors who taught me about bacteria and viruses that secretly harbor in the cells of our bodies without making their presence known on the surface for years.
I learned about epigenetics and genetic polymorphisms (mutations) that can prevent our bodies from working optimally.
I learned that our bodies in these circumstances, like fragile machines, can break if overloaded with more work than they can bear.
Finally succumbing to illness and disease.
During this phase, I took more drugs. I took supplements. I took saunas.
I treated my body like a test tube into which I dropped all manner of chemicals.
And subjected it to various experiments.
And like a scientist, I noted the reaction.
But I still ignored the strongest, most fundamental chemicals of all.
These science experiments halved my symptoms.
But I was still trying to live a life in spite of significant pain and fatigue.
By now I knew I had a bad case of the Epstein Barr virus, the cause of mono (glandular fever,) that I just wasn’t licking, plus the endometriosis, as well as a host of other afflictions.
I also had a genetic makeup that wasn’t well suited to disposing of these buggers swiftly and cleanly in a ninja-like fashion.
I was sinking as my body struggled to do a job it simply wasn’t designed for.
I needed a Hummer and I had…a Toyota.
As so often happens with innovation and change, I chanced on the solution for this problem as I was trying to solve another.
While working on an elimination diet to improve my son’s extreme behavior, it struck me just how powerful food is.
Mentally, physically, socially.
Frankly, I became obsessed.
I wince when I think of that phase now.
People must have seen me coming and ducked behind lampposts.
I couldn’t talk about anything else.
Over the years I’ve experimented some more.
I’ve refined, tweaked, restricted my diet.
I’ve cut out foods, I’ve added foods.
I’ve fallen off the wagon. I’ve got back on.
I’ve given into impulse, I’ve reined myself in.
It’s been a process.
I’m not quite where I want to be yet.
But I’m 80% there, only losing one day to fatigue, the odd day to depression, I have very mild pain two or three days a month.
My body certainly doesn’t feel it’s buzzing like a toxic, radioactive waste dump any longer.
Changing my diet has brought me a long way.
I eat meat, eggs, veggies, occasional fruit and nuts, yogurt and milk with my tea.
I don’t take any medication, supplements or powders.
I’ve relieved my body of a major burden, leaving it free to heal itself back into balance, better able to vanquish those enemies lurking within.
I’ve aligned my diet with my body design.
So if you are a woman, or mother of a daughter, or a son for that matter – boys are not immune to diet-related hormonal imbalance – look out for the signs – weight changes, cycle irregularities, skin problems, overwhelming fatigue, digestion issues, infertility, pain.
These symptoms are not normal. They are not natural.
Or download Dr. Loren Cordain’s paper in which he reports how he found acne completely absent in non-westernized populations that have no access to western foods such as refined sugars, dairy products, cereal grains, vegetable oils or processed foods while in the US, between 79 % to 95% of all teenagers between 16 and 18 years of age have acne.
Read up about the role of diet in this kind of picture.
Accept for yourself only a thriving, vibrant, healthy life, full of energy, joy and pain-free.
I know it’s hard to imagine from under the blankets, swathed in the fuzz of ibruprofen or maybe Vicodin.
Or maybe you get tantalizing glimpses of great health on your good days as you hope, yet again, that maybe this month it will be different.
And then it’s not.
But instead of crying with pain, ingesting drugs or avoiding situations due to embarrassment.
Cut out the processed crap.
Cut the sugar.
Experiment with cutting the grains, the dairy, the snacks.
Keep cutting until balance is restored.
And, remember this.
Don’t be like me.
I was like Santiago in ‘The Alchemist’ searching in the desert for treasure.
Only, ultimately, to find it right on my doorstep.
Accept only an optimal life for yourself. It’s the only one you have.
Your life does not deserve to be experienced through the dark shroud of pain or a fog of despair.
You do not have to live with pain, depression, weight gain and related heath issues.
Not when the answer may be at your fingertips.