My journey back to health

(Edited to add: I’ve had quite a few people ask me for a more detailed description of signs and symptoms. I’ve written that here.)

I’ve been unwell. For a long time. There – I said it. ((whew!))

I haven’t mentioned this in my blog because… well, I’m not sure why. My life has always been pretty much an open book, but this one took the wind out of my sails. After all, I am the woman who rode a heavy bike from Alaska to Argentina! I am Wonder Woman! I am strong!

ushuaia argentina

And yet, now, I’m not.

Now, I’m in pain and growing weaker by the day. Life happened. I’ve always said I wanted to do the things I did when I was young and strong because the day would come when I would no longer be able to do them. That day has come.

I am hopeful this is not a permanent state of being and that I’ll regain my strength, but I’m honestly not sure exactly what’s going to happen. I guess that’s what this journey around the sun is all about.


How it all began

guanacoIt was only 2 ½ years ago that we finished our PanAm journey. Thirty months ago, I was pedaling a 150-pound bicycle fifty miles or more per day. In the Patagonian winds. I could pedal over mountain passes and deal with long, long distances of nothing but grasses blowing in the wind and guanacos running free.

I was strong. I was invincible. I was competent and confident.

We arrived in Boise in April, 2011 to uncertainty. We didn’t know if we would stay or go. We had no idea where we would live.

Plans shaped up quickly and, in July 2011, we bought a small house and started remodeling. We moved in in November 2011 – two years ago yesterday.

I’m not exactly sure when this all started, but certainly by the summer of 2012 I was feeling weak. We hatched a plan to hike the 500-mile Colorado Trail, but ended up bailing. My hip couldn’t handle the stress of the hike. John and the boys bailed 150 miles later – they didn’t want to continue without me.

hiking the colorado trail


It progesses

By fall, a year ago, I was fairly certain something was going on in my body. My energy level had plummeted. I was sore and achy. I’ve always been a big believer in food as medicine, so I cleaned up my diet, started juicing in earnest, and tried to exercise.

But I hurt. And not in a good way.

It seemed like no matter what I tried, it just didn’t work. I pushed through and was determined not to be one of “those people,” who give up because of the pain. But it hurt – it really, really hurt.

As the year moved on, I found myself becoming more and more stationary. Getting out of my computer chair was painful, so I sent my boys to the kitchen to get me water. Cooking dinner was, many evenings, more than I could manage so we declared it ‘fend for yourself” night.

I was confused. What happened to me? It wasn’t all that long ago that I was healthy and strong. How did this happen to ME?


Superhuman effort

Sometimes, I think I’m too stubborn. Even though my body was telling me to stop, I couldn’t accept that. We spent the summer at the cottage, and were determined to get a lot of work done. John and the boys dug out a platform for the holding tank and a trench for a retaining wall. I couldn’t help. I tried, but I just couldn’t handle the shovel.

What I COULD do, however, was direct the building of retaining walls. Lifting heavy bags of cement or big rocks was too much, so I called on my sons to do that part. Even so, building stone walls is hard work. I woke up in the morning, determined to do it no matter how much it hurt. I called upon every ounce of resolve I had within, took a deep breath, and dove in.

I paid the price, for sure, but I managed to get two pretty darn cool walls built.

stone retaining wall


The collapse

In late-August, I drove back to Idaho with the boys; John stayed in Connecticut. I think everything finally caught up to me.

September is little more than a blur. I set the alarm every morning to get the boys up for school, but I rarely climbed out of bed before 9. I sat, staring at my computer in a stupor. Even the basics didn’t get done.

Occasionally I would force myself up and over to my bead table, but I couldn’t focus on anything other than quick projects.

I mentally created a list of essentials/nonessentials and, if a task was not critical, it didn’t get done.

My whole body ached. I felt like I was wandering around in a dense fog. My brain didn’t seem to function; my body had betrayed me.

And then my shoulder started hurting.


The last straw

I somehow knew, even in my fog, that my shoulder was just one more piece in this ever-more-complicated puzzle. I had no idea how it was related, but I knew it had to be. I hadn’t done anything to injure it. My body was falling apart.

I called a naturopath.


The journey back

Some might ask why I chose a naturopath over a doctor. I knew even then that a doctor would simply prescribe drugs to mask the symptoms. I wanted to find out what was causing the problem.

After talking with the naturopath for a couple hours, she sat down and created a list of possibilities.

list of causes of fatigue and joint pain

“Let’s tackle the easiest first,” she said. “With any luck, the problem is something relatively simple and you can take care of it pretty easily. If we don’t find anything there, we’ll move on to the more complicated.”

That sounded more than reasonable to me.

Given the fact that our cottage is only 50 miles from Lyme, where Lyme Disease was discovered, that was a very likely culprit. However, after Daryl was diagnosed with Lyme this summer, I realized I had all the symptoms and had taken the medicine as well – to no avail. “There’s still a chance it’s chronic Lyme,” the naturopath said, “but let’s put that on the back burner for now since the antibiotic made no difference.”

We came up with a plan:

  • Get a blood test to see about Vitamin D deficiency, and my numbers came back very, very low. I am now on 5000IU/day
  • Go through the Elimination Diet to see if I had developed food sensitivities
  • Read a book about Adrenal Fatigue to see if that makes sense for me

Food sensitivities

What an eye opener!

Basically, the gist of this process is to remove ALL common allergens from your diet – soy, corn, gluten, eggs, dairy, nightshades… In essence, I ate only meat, veggies, and fruit for a couple weeks to clean all the allergens out of my body.

For the first time in ages, I felt good! The brain fog cleared up, my join and muscle pain was GREATLY diminished. I could finally see that maybe there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

As tempted as I was to just accept that I would eat nothing but meat, veggies, and fruit for the rest of my life, I decided it was worth it to find out more. And find out I did! The day I added milk into my diet, I felt like I had been run over by a Mac truck. The brain fog was back. My joints were killing me. I had found one food sensitivity.

Last night, I intended to eat only the apple pie filling, but some of the crust got mixed with it. Now, my hands and shoulders are extraordinarily painful. I will have to do an official wheat test, but I suspect this pain now is due to gluten.

I still have quite a few foods I need to test, so I don’t yet have a complete list of which foods I’m sensitive to, but I have a plan. And having a plan is better than having no clue what to do.


Iodine – and its connection to the thyroid gland

Shortly after visiting the naturopath, I started treatment by a chiropractor for my shoulder. As far as he can tell, my shoulder issue started with the inflammation of the bursa, and then it all snowballed from there. He’s working on getting it back where it needs to be and my range of motion has greatly increased in the past month.

But yesterday, I asked him about Adrenal Fatigue and it turns out that he is quite knowledgeable about it. He recommended Drenamin to support my adrenal glands, but then he went on to talk about thyroid issues…

He pulled out a bottle of iodine and spread a big patch on my wrist. “That should stay there for at least 12 hours,” he said. “If your body absorbs it before that, it means your body needs the iodine. Iodine is necessary for proper functioning of the thyroid gland.”

So I don’t know much more than that yet, but my body had completely absorbed the iodine within three hours. I will talk with him more about this when I go in tonight.


Adrenal Fatigue

adrenal fatigueI’ve been reading Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome, and it’s looking more and more likely that adrenal fatigue might be basis of all my issues.

The idea behind adrenal fatigue is that your adrenal glands – which produce cortisol in response to stress – get overworked and fatigued after long periods of stress. Once they are fatigued, it’s difficult (but not impossible) to get them functioning properly again.

As I look back upon the past three years, I can very clearly see what happened:

  • Three years ago, we were grounded due to my pneumonia. I was hospitalized for a week, then we spent another two weeks in Cafayate waiting for me to recover. Three weeks after falling ill, we were back on our bikes…
  • …battling high winds, enormous climbs, and long distances with little water. My body was under enormous stress with the pneumonia, and the stress continued with the biking. Add to that the idea that my wheel was breaking one or two spokes every day and I wasn’t sure that it was going to make it to Ushuaia…
  • In February 2011, my tooth fell out and I needed to get a new crown. As it happened, the crown didn’t fit well, and I spent the next 6 months with a chronic infection in my mouth. That was more stress…
  • We finished our journey in March 2011 and came back to Idaho having absolutely no clue what our future plans were. We ended up buying a house and remodeling it, but that was another 6 or 7 months of stress before all was settled.

I *thought* that I was handling all that just fine. I didn’t see any outward signs that would indicate that my body was not dealing well with the stress. Nobody (including me) would have identified that I was under a lot of stress and taxing my adrenal glands more than they could handle.

And yet, shortly after that is when I started to notice the downward slide.


The light at the end of the tunnel

The upshot of all this is that I now feel that the power is in my hands. Knowledge is power. I’ve been researching and learning, and the more I research and the more I learn, the more I figure out what I need to do to regain my health.

I will continue with the food sensitivity test to identify which foods I’ve developed sensitivities to. I will continue to take the Vitamin D drops. I’ll learn more about the iodine/thyroid connection. I’ll support my adrenal glands.

It’s been a long road, but I can see that it’s possible to get out of this tunnel.

One day – in the not-too-distant-future – I hope to get back on my bike and feel the joy again. I think it will happen.

***Edit: click here for a one-year update on how I’m doing.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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53 Responses to My journey back to health

  1. Brenda November 12, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    wow! what a rollercoaster ride you have been on Nancy. you are such an inspiration. I have been on a health roller coaster since 2009 and it hasnt been easy. I have eliminated a lot of foods due to my auto immune disease ulcerative colitis. I have tried juice fasting and the raw food diet to no avail. I almmost died in October of last year.I was down to 70lbs and very ill. I spent a week in the hospital and when I was released I went on the paleo diet. That has helped me a lot but I still flare with stress. I am grateful to be alive and avoided surgery and a colostomy bag. Because of income at the moment I cant afford naturalpath. We are moving in the spring for work and will be able to afford one then and im so excited for that.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 12, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

      @Brenda, I couldn’t afford the naturopath either, but decided I had no choice. I would strongly encourage you to find one. What I really appreciate about her is that she’s actively wanting to get rid of me! I love that she wants to find the root cause of my problems and get me healthy again – not put me on medicines that tie me to her office for years and years. It’s such a rollercoaster, but I’m so glad I’ve taken steps to get better!

      • Brenda November 12, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

        @Nancy Sathre-Vogel, You have encouraged me to find one. Thank you! I am so glad you took the journey to find the cause and get better.

  2. InACents November 12, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    So good to have you back on the road to recovery. Not only was your original biking adventure inspiring, but so was your health past, as I learned quite a bit just reading this article alone. Keep up the good work on the path to success!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 12, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

      @InACents, I am hoping that someone will read this and say, “That’s me!” and have some clues of what to do. I so wish I had found that article a year or 6 months ago!

  3. Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 12, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    @Rilla, I’m sure you can. You’ve been an inspiration to me.

  4. Doug D November 12, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    As far as I can tell, you are a superwoman. Too bad about the kriptonite.

    I am glad that you are recovering.

  5. Angela White November 12, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    Thank you Nancy! So good to hear your personal story, when these days so many of us are suffering from illnesses pertaining to our (usually) toxic western diets and lifestyles! More people need to be talking about this, Doctors need to start believing it too!
    I have a similar story myself, I am still on that learning journey, but once you start, a whole new world of truth opens up to you.

  6. Judy Blanc November 12, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    As for the iodine, I got diagnosed with a multi-nodular goiter a few years back. It was about a year or two after we bought one of those salt grinders with Mediterranean sea salt – so maybe there is something good to say about regular old Morton’s salt.

  7. Kim November 12, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    I would suggest also a test for b12/intrinsic factor. Pernicious anaemia can also have these symptoms and is easy to treat with a regular injection, but left untreated can cause long-term neurological damage.

    I have been on a similar journey – I regularly played contact sport for years until after a series of concussions in 2011 I could no longer walk off the pitch. I was considered psychosomatic by top neurologists but eventually a chiropractor got me walking again – 6 weeks later!

    I then gradually worsened over the next year until in late 2012 another neurologist tested my blood for everything – and found I had massive folate and vit d deficiencies. I have been taking vit D and folic acid for a year (folate deficiency should not be possible in the US as I believe it is added to flour) and my new doctor has just refused to give me more folate as my levels are high and it is unethical to take it when you don’t need it.
    Unfortunately it and b12 act on the same system in the body and deficiencies/sufficiencies of one can mask a problem with the other. Pernicious anaemia, thyroid trouble and coeliac run in my family but because they won’t show up in my blood tests, I am stuck taking folate against the advice of my dr, as a day without it leaves me in a fog, lethargic, unable to see clearly and in pain. Interestingly, within a week of starting to take it last year, my optometrist recorded a reduction in my astigmatism levels!

    I have now passed two years since I was carried off the sports field and still have not been able to exercise seriously – with all the weight gain and health implications that has! The only good part has been giving my sport-battered body a break and allowing my chiropractor to do some intensive long-term work on my mobility and fixing 10 years of damage!

    Wishing you all the best and hoping that you find a solution and keep us posted on how you get on. These kinds of illnesses are the worst as often folk think you are just lazy or that you aren’t seriously ill – so do take it seriously and get better soon!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 12, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

      @Kim, Wow Kim! You’ve been through the wringer. My dad had pernicious anemia, so we tested for that – apparently no sign of it at this point. I wish you all the best – we’ll walk this journey together.

  8. Melanie Murrish November 12, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    So happy for you Nancy, and glad that you listened to your body eventually, you stubborn mule!

  9. Marcy Burns November 12, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    Dairy is my kriptonite! It was only 3 years ago that I found out. what a world of difference it’s made! I have to use all separate dishes and pots and pans, I even store my food is a separate cupboard from everyone else as well as my plates, bowl, glass and pots and pans. I don’t touch the trash can ever! And use my own towel to get food out of the oven and wash my hands. It’s crazy but I feel like a different person now. A couple of times a year, I get really sick from some mysterious contamination but I feel great most of the time. I wish you the best on your journey!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 12, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

      @Marcy Burns, Wow Marcy! I hope I’m not that severe. I will test cheese tomorrow – I am really scared! They say that sometimes you can eat cheese, but not plain milk, so I’ll test it. I hope I’m not in pain tomorrow.

  10. Melissa C November 12, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    You’ve been through quite a bit! I hope you are able to sort out the cause of your pain and finally be pain free! I’ve been in pain for years and I too just keep pushing on. After reading this, I’m going to start trying some of the things you did. Thank you for sharing!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 12, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

      @Melissa C, YAY!! When I wrote this, I was hoping that others would recognize themselves and start figuring things out. I so wish somebody had pointed me to something like this 6 months or a year ago. I hope you get well!

  11. Jennifer Shipp November 12, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    Hi Nancy,

    I’m so glad you had the courage to write about your journey back to health. As a long distance runner I also hit a point earlier this year where I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I had no energy and felt terrible every day. I took the whole family to a medical intuitive and she told us to cut all grains from our diet. Slowly, we’ve started eating corn and rice again, but getting rid of what made a big difference for us. We were already a dairy-free family. Read The China Study or watch the documentary Forks Over Knives for more information about the link between dairy and cancer and dairy and osteoporosis. It’s truly shocking.

    The book Wheat Belly and the advice from our medical intuitive saved our lives. Doctors have little advice to offer patients about nutrition and using food to heal. Our family has recently replaced sugar with honey and that has made our progress quicker in terms of achieving better health. Gluten can really mess up your intestinal flora and eating sugar can cause yeast to proliferate and make that process last longer. Six months into the changes, I can say that for the first time in many years, we can set out on a hard hike for a day knowing that we won’t think about food until we get to a stopping place at night. Wheat and sugar are highly addictive. Not eating these things, milk, trans fats, or MSG has changed our lives.

    Good for you and good luck with everything!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 12, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

      @Jennifer Shipp, I, too, am a big believer in the power of food. My goal right now is to identify the foods that I am sensitive to, then I’ll figure out some kind of diet plan that works for me. Hearing that others figured it out gives me hope.

  12. Linda November 12, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

    Sorry to hear you haven’t been feeling well. Hopefully you’ll get to the bottom of it – it sounds like you’re well on your way:o)

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 12, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

      @Linda, Thanks. I do feel optimistic that we’re figuring things out. It’s a long, long road.

  13. Kate November 12, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    Hey Nancy – I am always on hand if you need any suggestions for dairy alternatives. Being vegan but liking things like ice cream and cream has meant learning a lot about these!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 12, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

      @Kate, I’ll come calling once I’m off this extremely restricted diet! I’m sure I’ll be searching around…

  14. Barbara November 12, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    Hi Nancy. Thanks for sharing your journey and struggles. Some of your symptoms resonate with me and make me think about options for myself. Again thank you for sharing.

  15. Bethaney - Flashpacker Family November 12, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

    I was convinced I had thyroid issues earlier this year but a blood test showed everything was normal. I was always itchy, low energy and couldn’t sleep properly. I ditched all sugar and it helped me immensely. Every person’s body is different though and it took me a while to work out what did it for me. Chriopractic and massage therapy helped me a lot!

    I’m glad you’re on the mend.

  16. Tanya November 12, 2013 at 9:26 pm #

    I love how you break everything down into manageable steps, analyze stuff piece by piece, and start with one small thing at a time. You are an inspiration.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 12, 2013 at 9:49 pm #

      @Tanya, that’s how it all happens. I get WAY too overwhelmed if I look at it in its entirety!

  17. braveskimom November 13, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    Reading this, I knew where you were headed. Been there. Done that. Adrenal Fatigue: the 21st Century Stress Syndrome opened my eyes too! Good luck. You will feel better!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 13, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

      @braveskimom, It’s amazing how many of us are struggling with this same thing. We seriously need to get the word out – imagine how many are suffering, yet have no clue what to do?

  18. Terri November 13, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    How wonderful to share your struggle and how you are working your way back to health. I believe we are all working towards burnout and have to figure out how to be healthy. Would you mind sharing who your naturopathic doctor is? Many thanks!!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 13, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

      @Terri, I saw Joan Hayes at Boise Natural Health. She seemed to know what she was talking about.

      • Terri November 13, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

        Thank you!

        • Terri November 14, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

          Nancy, I am also seeing a Naturopath here in Boise who suggested Drenamin along other Standard Process vitamins. I did a little research today and see that Drenamin contains gluten (I am trying to stay gluten free). I will have to talk to my doctor but also wondered if your doc had any suggestions regarding the gluten aspect. In my research I found that not all of Standard Process contains gluten. Thanks!

          • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 14, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

            @Terri, Oh wow – I didn’t realize the Drenamin has wheat in it. I will be testing wheat tomorrow to see how I react. I will talk with the chiropractor about it next time I see him.

  19. Amanda November 14, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    Dear Nancy,

    If you haven’t already done so, please consider seeing a cardiologist for your symptoms.

    Wishing you a quick recovery,


    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 14, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

      @Amanda, At this point, I’m taking this step-by-step. I’m looking at diet and adrenal health now. If that doesn’t take care of the problem, I’ll look at other options. There is just sooooo much out there!

  20. Andy November 16, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    Nancy, glad to hear you are starting to make some progress on this. Can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been. Do the food sensitivities come about due to the body being worn down/adrenal fatigue or do you think that was something that has been there all along?

    I hope you keep making progress and start feeling much better!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 16, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

      @Andy, I suspect that the sensitivities were a result of the adrenal fatigue, but I don’t know for sure. Maybe I’ve always been sensitive to them, but didn’t realize it until I weakened because of the adrenals? I really don’t know, but I DO know that I was plenty frustrated and felt helpless!

  21. C Annie Vogel November 17, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

    Good luck on your health path. I will take notice on what you find out and discover along your health path. Maybe it can give insight on things that I may try, right now I have been adding B12 in hopes that it can help my difficulties. Also I have been reading upon “GAPS” Gut and Psychology Syndrome. Finding the reason for difficulties is not as easy as one would think.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 18, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

      @C Annie Vogel, Thank you – and good luck to you. It is so very difficult to figure it all out since each body is unique. I’ve been reading like crazy lately!

  22. Sofie November 25, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    A friend of mine is struggling with health issues at the moment. She has all kinds of things and is going through some kind of elimination process as well.
    The road is still long, but not un-doable.
    I really hope you both get through it in a reasonable amount of time.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 25, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

      @Sofie, Thanks Sofie! I am feeling so much better now, it’s unreal. I know I still have a ways to go, but when you start at rock bottom, you notice every single step.

  23. Sofie November 26, 2013 at 5:05 am #

    And it’s good that you do. It’s important to be aware of even the smallest improvements so that you don’t let your head down.
    Keep it up!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel November 26, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

      @Sofie, That is so very true. I am so aware right now of every little thing that sets my body off – and that’s a good thing. Once I’m feeling better, I’m sure I won’t notice them as much, but I really need to know this stuff.

  24. Ivana December 20, 2013 at 7:33 am #

    Nancy, you did such a great job to find out the root of it!! I guess that to be on the road and be unable to perform what you used to be, must be a strong impulse for a change.
    Many thanks for sharing the story,
    and I hope you and your lovely family are all fine 🙂

    Merry Christmas!!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel December 20, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

      @Ivana, I can’t even tell you how happy I was that day I felt like crap due to the milk – at least I knew!! I had answers! I am feeling so much better and am looking forward to getting even stronger.

      • Ivana December 21, 2013 at 8:12 am #

        @Nancy Sathre-Vogel,

        I am very happy for you, Nancy, and wish you to stay good.
        I believe all will go well once you have discovered what makes you weak.
        Many warm greetings 🙂

  25. Daniel Ryan November 29, 2016 at 7:21 am #

    Reading this, I knew where you were headed. I am hoping that someone will read this and say, “That’s me!” and have some clues of what to do.

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