(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!
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
It 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.
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?
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.
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.
“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
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.
I’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.