It can be hard to keep hope in your heart, a vision of wellness in your mind and ease in your spirit when you are in pain, sick or physically unwell. When you have to give up your favorite activities, like hiking, hunting, or riding your bike, having a moment without pain seems more important than healing. When you can’t brush your hair or roll over in bed without an audible groan wellness can seem a long distance away. I know. I know, because this is how I spent the summer.
The past 6 months I have been without my beloved biking. It is something that I love and a place where I feel calm and free. Instead of riding my bike all summer I winced every time I raised my arm above horizontal and I limped around on a swollen knee. Being in that much pain challenged my philosophies on health and equally strengthening my belief in chiropractic and holistic healing. It has continued to teach me to trust the human body’s capacity for recovery and its innate ability to restore balance and homeostasis. And, no lie, it has been HARD.
It started with food poisoning from an unnamed local food mart. The next 6 weeks I had persistent, unpleasant gut symptoms. Then, came knee swelling and the development of a Bakers cyst. The swelling got more severe, my knee got hotter and the pain became constant. Every leg movement hurt. I had to sleep propped up with pillows. I slept only an hour or two at a time because rolling over took two hands to move and re-position my leg.
After about 8 weeks of hobbling around and treatment in my own office and with other local practitioners the knee pain began to improve. Unfortunately, the inflammatory response started in other joints. My neck was so stiff I could barely turn my head in the morning. My right shoulder developed bursitis and my left shoulder was stiff and only a little more functional than the right. Pain and swelling started to take over my right thumb. More than 20 minutes of driving caused pain to shoot down my leg. To say the least, practicing chiropractic and teaching yoga became more of a mind over matter practice than it has ever been.
I began to recruit colleagues. I started having regular chiropractic care, physical therapy, massage and acupuncture. I re-tested my food allergies with my naturopath. Interestingly, I had some new food allergies and was eating those foods daily. I had blood tests done which were all within normal limits. Except my vitamin D status which was dismal. The pain was relentless. I couldn’t get ahead of it.
I have been experiencing this health crisis as a patient but have been able to think it through like a physician. I was suffering-physically, emotionally and spiritually. How could this be happening? Even my best efforts couldn’t change it fast enough. Did I believe in a quick fix of steroids and medication or could I see the path leading to this health crisis and take a more proactive broad scope approach to my health recovery?
Despite my care and the efforts of my team I was only making small gains and then having setbacks. After weeks of testing, trying and suffering I decided to do more. I continued to see my providers and became diligent with an anti-inflammatory approach. For lack of other wording my approach had to expand to more fully include my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual care. I had to approach this from every angle, even ways I wasn’t knowledgeable about. I am not opposed to allopathic medicine and often work with medical physicians. I consulted several who reviewed my tests and encouraged me to stay the natural course and if things didn’t improve to do more testing.
When I am completely honest with myself I can look back and see the amount of stress I was under. I can see how I had undercut and abandoned my spirit. What else do you call it when you compromise your feelings, intuition, instinct, integrity or principals? Spirit and emotion have the power to trump or highjack your physical body, your immune system, your sleep, your diet and general self-care.
Stress, of all kinds, combined with a compromised immune system affected my coping skills and diminished my self-discipline. My diet is generally good because I eat gluten free and have food knowledge but it had been sloppy. I had been eating out more than usual and had too much cross contamination. I assumed I was outdoors enough and taking enough vitamin D, but in fact I was not. I had giardia last year and that caused gut damage even after a course of treatment. Like I tell my patients, “It is often not the one thing that is the problem, it is the cumulative total of many things.” For me, it was that, and a case of the straw that broke the camel’s back.
My aggressive self-prescribed treatment plan started with rest. No late nights and lots of naps. I committed to meditation every day. Clearing my mind of worry and improving my clarity and energy. I had several vitamin D and B-12 shots. I began a regime of vitamins for healing the gut and reducing inflammation. Give or take a total of 25 supplements day and night. I gave up sugar, dairy, and alcohol. I kept walking in the woods and practicing yoga.
I am still receiving chiropractic, physical therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture and naturopathy. But mostly, I am minding my stress. All of it. I am in the process of becoming more aware and clearer about things. I am in the mode of self-care and wellness. I am making and taking time for the things I enjoy. I am keeping a good attitude about the possibility of a complete recovery.
I am also not naïve about science and disease but I choose to follow the philosophy that I have followed throughout my chiropractic career, and that is the concept of innate intelligence, the understanding that the body knows how to heal itself. I believe it does. Better than we do. I do not know how to be a liver or a muscle or an eyeball or control my blood sugar or do protein synthesis, but, I can provide those tissues with as good of an environment as possible to do their jobs, including repair and healing. I can get out of the way and align with wellness practices and conscious living. That requires awareness and effort to change my mind and my lifestyle.
Two weeks after eliminating almonds, sugar, alcohol, gluten, corn and dairy I started to feel the difference in my muscles and joints and each day I notice incremental improvements. I can straighten my knee and the swelling is down. I can raise my arm and put on my deodorant. I can turn my head and back up my car. It is slow, but it is happening. Healing is happening.
I believe that if I didn’t understand the body, understand inflammation, understand differential diagnosis I would be taking prednisone and I would be perpetuating the nosedive I was in. I would not have been as diligent about the rest, the supplements, the GI health, the pursuit of testing. I would not have said no to invitations and environments that would give me stress and make me question my relationship with myself. I would not have made some hard decisions that needed to be made. I would not be meditating with the understanding of its value on cellular construct. A course in medication to stop the pain and swelling would have had an immediate effect but the dosages would eventually needed to be higher. I would have gotten sicker, not better.
I have more compassion about the importance of healing, especially when healing feels like too big of a concept because the pain is at its worst. I also understand the importance of how a little relief is important and can go a long ways towards recovery. My experience has sharpened my connection with self, body, mind and spirit. I intend to stay focused on having good moments, good days, good habits and daily wellness practices. I trust the healing will follow. With awareness, commitment and change I am already happier and healthier for it.
I believe it is possible to reverse disease or at least influence or change its course. If it wasn’t happening to me, I would not believe how bad it can be or how good it can get. It has been a long summer but I am willing to keep hope in my heart, a vision of wellness in my mind and peace in my spirit in order to heal and recover if that’s what it takes to feel better, be better and peddle with glee up Going to the Sun road next spring.
If you have a chronic condition or are having a health crisis I hope you have a supportive team and can journey towards wellness too. The voices of reason, support and caring have been invaluable. If I can help, please reach out.
My appreciation and heartfelt gratitude to these health care professionals.
- Dr. Tara Wilcox, ND
- PJ McCracken, DPT
- Dr. Pam Albiero, DC
- Dr. Jennifer Dorn, DC
- Emily Herbst, L.Ac. MSOM
- Eliza Clayton, LMT
- Nancy Ellis, CAP, LMT, RYT
- Brooke Cone, LMT
- Jessica Gutierrez, LMT
- Patti Kaszuba, LMT
And, deep gratitude to my friends, family and co-workers that have encouraged, supported and held me in their thoughts and hearts.