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.
Starting in her 20s, Jessa was plagued with severe sinus pain and a mess of other symptoms that she passed of as the effects of a stressful college lifestyle. It wasn’t until her extreme fatigue worsened that she pursued other diagnoses and learned she had Reynaud’s and likely Lupus and/or Sjogren’s. Facing a lifetime on steroids, Jessa leaned on Google for alternative treatments and has made an amazing turnaround thanks to AIP.
What health issues are you dealing with, when did they begin, and how long did it take to get a diagnosis?
My journey with autoimmune disease started when I was around 20 years old but it took five years, and an increasingly uphill battle, before I or any doctor recognized it as that. In my early twenties I began going to the doctor for severe sinus pain and was frequently (almost once a month) diagnosed with sinus infections and allergies. I lived off of Zyrtec-D and it quickly became the only thing that could get me through the day. Looking back, as a college student then, you can only imagine my diet and its impacts on my body. I chalked the other symptoms I began experiencing — fatigue, brain fog and anxiety, sensitive stomach, minor joint pain, neuropathy, and random other small things that seemed unrelated — up to stress and lack of sleep. After all, I was young, physically fit, and rarely got sick.
Eventually, the sinus pain got bad enough I went to an ENT and had a scope and scan done for my sinuses — they found nothing abnormal. I went to my primary care doctor for random symptoms here and there throughout the years but symptoms would come and go, and no dots were ever connected. So I again went back to my bi-daily Zyrtec-D and kept living my life trying to go on as normally as I could. I graduated with my MBA in Marketing and got a job right out of college that turned out to be extremely stressful and demanding. On top of it I lost my grandfather and uncle whom I was very close to at the beginning of that year. Then a few months later, I got engaged, moved into a new apartment, and started planning a wedding. All of the stress and lack of sleep built up. So much so that I am certain it triggered what was to come.
Describe what the lowest point on your health journey was like.
I began feeling exhausted and unable to keep up with life at every turn, physically and mentally, but despite this I was unable to get a good night’s sleep. After the few hours of sleep I did get, I would wake up feeling more tired than when I went to bed. Going through the day was then a nightmare in itself. We lived in a third floor apartment building and I couldn’t make it up three flights of stairs without stopping multiple times on the way and feeling like I’d run a marathon by the time I finally got to the top. My joints constantly ached and my memory was next to none. My heartbeat was erratic, I could feel it, and my breathing was almost always staggered. I remember once turning to my fiance saying, “Something is wrong, I feel like an 80 year old woman — and I’m only 24! I can’t keep doing this.” But we’d both just laugh it off nervously thinking I was out of shape or stressed (though not overweight and had always been very active in the past).
What challenges influenced you to look for a solution? Basically, what was the tipping point?
I got a call from my primary care doctor saying my ANA test was positive and very high – that he was diagnosing Reynaud’s and likely Lupus and/or Sjogren’s. He referred me to find a rheumatologist. It was all a foreign language to me and the gravity of it did not hit me on the call so I cheerily thanked him and hung up. I made the appointment to see a rheumatologist and she proceeded to run more tests and send me to more specialists, confirming my diagnoses. She said the symptoms would likely only get worse, there was not real treatment and that the only thing that she could do was put me on steroids and Vitamin D. My world came crashing down. I was 25 now and had done research on all of the terrifying and some debilitating symptoms and couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life like this, or worse. I also knew how bad steroids were for you and was extremely reluctant to start them at such a young age.
When you found a protocol to help you heal, what was it and what was your first indication that it was working?
Maybe it was the millennial in me but my first reaction was to google “alternative treatments for autoimmune diseases.” That search found two things that changed / decided the course of my life forever. I found Mickey Trescott’s The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook and I found the Raby Institute for Integrative Medicine, a clinic focused on naturopathic healing and nutrition. I immediately ordered Mickey’s book on Amazon and made and appointment with a nutritionist at Raby. I figured, the worst that happens is I put off conventional treatment for a month and the best is, from the testimonials I’d heard about the diet, I could put my autoimmune disease into remission without needing steroids.
The nutritionist ran more tests on vitamin levels, started me taking l-glutamine and a custom regimen of vitamins. I began the diet and stuck to it for three months straight – no exceptions – which was not easy!
The rest is history, as they say. I started the diet and within 3 days noticed a significant improvement. Within 7 days, felt like a new person. People I hadn’t told I was doing the diet to started commenting on my change – and most importantly, I felt like I was finally back to my old self! That doesn’t mean I am fully healed or don’t have flare ups, and there are definitely days when sneaking some birthday cake is inevitable, but I’ve pretty well found my dietary boundaries and work hard to get enough sleep, mitigate stresses, and exercise regularly. I rarely get the sinus headaches that used to plague my everyday life – and while no doctor has confirmed it, I am convinced they were/are caused by inflammation. My joints no longer ache, I no longer have fatigue, I am perfectly fine climbing three flights of stairs, and have been able to return to doing one of my absolute favorite things in the world – hiking with my husband and our rescue dog!
What resources have you used on your healing journey so far and how did you find them?
All found via Google search: Mickey Trescott’s The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook, The Raby Institute, PALEO Magazine – The Autoimmune Protocol Guide edition, and The Paleo Mom blog.
Did your doctors suggest any treatments that you rejected and if so, why did you choose to try other methods?
My rheumatologist told me that essentially all she could do was put me on steroids and vitamin D, but it would only help manage the symptoms. I was very reluctant to start the steroids, especially at such a young age, as I was aware of the side effects. I was lucky to learn about AIP around the same time, and my improvement was so immediate that I didn’t need to turn to the steroids.
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?
My recovery and everything that it means brings me true joy. I have a successful career as a marketing manager, do public speaking, and most importantly I’ve been able to continue living the active life I love. I have always been a go, go, go person and it was so terrifying to at one point think I could no longer do the things I love. I can say now that I am fully capable of doing it all! I truly love and am grateful for being able to again take my dog on hikes with my husband, or spend a day walking around new places and traveling. None of it would’ve been possible without AIP and the education and guidance it provided.
Would you like to share your Story of Recovery? Let us know by filling out our interest form.