AIP Stories of Recovery is a success story series about regular people from the Autoimmune Protocol community who are changing their lives using the protocol. Each month a new person is featured and readers have the opportunity to discover all the different health challenges that are being overcome by folks just like themselves on the same path. At Autoimmune Paleo we hope you’ll be inspired by, empathize with, and learn from these stories. If you are interested in sharing your story, please let us know by filling out our interest form.
Jennifer’s (far right in photo) autoimmune symptoms came on quickly and without warning. After waking up with numbness in her arm that eventually spread throughout her body, a few visits to a neurologist confirmed that she had relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. A handful of medical treatments that either didn’t help or caused unbearable side effects prompted Jennifer to look for alternative approaches to wellness. That’s when she found AIP and slowly but surely brought her body back into balance.
What health issues are you dealing with, when did they begin, and how long did it take to get a diagnosis?
I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis in 2007, at the age of 38. Although the MRI, spinal tap and bloodwork all pointed to it, I remember that they had to wait for me to have a second episode before it was officially diagnosed. I have been very fortunate in that it hasn’t moved into the second phase of progressive MS. My symptoms will occasionally resurface if I am experiencing a lot of physical or mental stress or if I fall too far off of the Autoimmune Protocol.
Describe what the lowest point on your health journey was like.
Definitely my lowest point was that first onset of symptoms, which came on both unexpectedly and rapidly. I woke up one morning and thought that I had slept on my right arm because it felt like it was asleep. It didn’t go away and after a few days, I went to see my primary care physician, who sent me to the neurologist.
The numbness/tingling sensation started spreading to my torso and felt tight. I would later find out that this is called “the MS hug.” I also started experiencing a buzzing sensation whenever I bent my head forward. I would also learn that this is another common MS symptom called Lhermitt’s Sign.
The numbness had spread to both hands at this point and more than being painful, it was crazy-making. I began to wear a pair of thin, white gloves just to provide a buffer for when I touched anything. I joked a lot about my “cell-phone-buzzing neck” and “jazz hands” but I was actually terrified about what was happening to my body. It felt like I fell apart overnight and the thought of the symptoms either being permanent or worsening was too scary to imagine.
What challenges influenced you to look for a solution? Basically, what was the tipping point?
Traditional treatments for MS served as the tipping point for me. The neurologist initially prescribed things like gabapentin and steroids for the nerve symptoms but the former made me feel dopey and didn’t help and the latter made me feel bloated, angry and pretty terrible overall (and also didn’t help). The go-to treatments at that time were various interferons, which also made me feel worse and didn’t help with symptoms.
I especially hated the ones that I had to inject myself…both the injection itself (into the muscle) and also the flu-like symptoms that followed. I learned that only 30% of patients even responded to these interferons. The doctor was pushing Tysabri, a chemotherapy drug that carries the risk of a serious viral brain infection called PML. My fear and inherent distrust of these medicines prompted me to research alternative treatments on my own.
When you found a protocol to help you heal, what was it and what was your first indication that it was working?
I think the first time that I changed my diet was in following an older one, called the Swank Diet, that had been shown to have positive effects on MS patients. It is a low-fat diet that allows gluten and other foods not included in AIP; but I think that it was so much healthier than how I had been eating, that I experienced a lot positive results.
I also starting reading up on other CAMs (complementary and alternative medicines) and added supplements such as primrose oil, fish oils and B complex vitamins. This was all very self-taught, however, and I didn’t feel very confident in what I was doing. It would be several more years until I found my way to naturopathic professionals and AIP but I was at least learning that diet, exercise and lifestyle changes were more helpful to me than traditional, allopathic treatments.
What resources have you used on your healing journey so far and how did you find them?
I took a long and winding road on my healing journey, but looking back, I think that it all happened just as it was supposed to happen. Having been raised with the assumption that whatever a doctor says is correct and in order to get better, you follow directions from a doctor, I wouldn’t have been open to a lot of the things that I don’t even blink my eye at now. For example, yesterday, my acupuncturist used a combination of needles, gua sha and MOXA. I would have run for the door back in 2006 if someone had suggested these treatments to me!
Each book that I read, each alternative healer whom I worked with…these have all led me to resources that have helped tremendously. I actually found my way to AIP via a free session with a trainer at a gym! The trainer suggested a book titled It Starts With Food and there was a short section in it discussing paleo diets specifically for autoimmune conditions. Other websites, cookbooks and writings by authors including Sarah Ballantyne, Chris Kresser, Amy Myers, Michelle Tam (Nom Nom Paleo) and of course our own Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt have all taught me so much and provided many delicious recipes.
It can seem like our lives are consumed by a chronic illness, but there is so much beyond those struggles. What brings you true joy right now?
Yes! There is certainly so much more to life than our illnesses! I think that following a protocol such as AIP actually frees you up to find these things, as you are no longer spending an inordinate amount of time fretting about what to eat at each meal and possibly feeling badly about your decisions, etc. It sounds like a cliche but I definitely find joy in spending time with my family (including our pets).
I love to take what I call a “walk-jog” in the woods with my husband (and also alone). I jog at a comfortable pace on the flats and downhills and then allow myself to walk the uphills without negativity/judgment. I’ve found that this is the perfect balance for me…it gives me more energy as opposed to wearing me out for the day.
I also find joy in both a part-time job and volunteering. I especially love to hold newborns in the NICU who are suffering from NAS (neonatal abstinence syndrome). There is even joy to be had in the mundane tasks of laundry and dishes. Knowing that my MS could have gone in a different direction truly gives me gratitude for each day that I can get out of bed and do all of the things that I want to do.
Would you like to share your Story of Recovery? Let us know by filling out our interest form.