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“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 email us through the contact form.
Meet Mitch! He’s only 26, but his journey has already been epic. He found out only three short years ago that he is dealing with several autoimmune diseases, Hashi’s and celiac among them, but it has not stopped him from seeking not only healing, but also his truest self. Mitch’s path has taken him from veganism to AIP and now includes some of the deepest forms of transformation a person can explore on their way to wellness.
What health issues are you dealing with, when did they begin, and how long did it take to get a diagnosis?
I currently manage fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, celiac, depression and anxiety. It took me nearly my entire life to be diagnosed – I am currently 26 years old and was not diagnosed officially with anything until I was 23.
Describe what your lowest point with your health journey was like.
The lowest point in my health journey was right when I got “officially” diagnosed a few years back. I was 23 years old and held a high-stress job at an advertising agency, while going through some pretty major life changes and all the while hitting the gym about six days a week. All of the stress caught up to me and almost overnight, I was at a point where I could not stand for longer than five minutes at a time, had to be carried up the stairs to my apartment, and could no longer take care of myself (or hardly remember my own name half the time). It was at this point when I packed up my life and moved back in with my parents in Florida; this time graciously allowed me to recover in a safe environment and really get my life back on track.
What challenges influenced you to look for a solution?
Basically, what was the tipping point? The situation I mentioned above was my tipping point; I refused to live a life where – according to my doctors at the time – the only solution would be to have steroid injections over and over again, and essentially just endure the pain of all my AI conditions and fibro pain because there was no real cure or solution.
When you found a protocol to help you heal, what was it and what was your first indication that it was working?
Truth be told, the autoimmune protocol diet is the third diet in my path to healing. When I hit my tipping point and moved back in with my parents, I actually adopted a 100% plant-based diet, with about 60% of that being completely raw foods. This diet, along with a change in lifestyle (drastic reduction in stress levels, more rest, sunshine and family time, etc.) completely turned the tide for me and within two months, I went from not being able to stand for longer than five minutes to actually holding a part-time job at a coffee shop where I stood and worked for six-plus hours at a time. However, while I absolutely think this was the best diet for me at the time, because it allowed me to completely cleanse and rid my body of toxins, the effectiveness of this vegan diet did not last for me.
As I resumed my full-time job and moved back to my home city to live by myself again, my symptoms started returning. At that time, I began to work with a doctor who ran a food sensitivities test and also an amino acids profile for me; this revealed several food intolerances that I hadn’t previously been aware of (such as corn, soy, celery (??), etc.), but the more serious matter was that all of my amino acid levels were drastically low, which they attributed to my plant-based diet.
I was heart-broken because I was, and still am, a “vegan at heart,” but I was on a mission to feel better and refused to return to that low point again. And with that, I began my time on the traditional Paleo diet. As I assimilated to my new diet, I did begin to feel much better – I had more energy and stamina, and my ability to handle stress was increasing while my symptoms were decreasing. I felt as if I had finally found a diet that could be sustainable for me. Alas, as time wore on, I still dealt with pain and mild flare-ups, but my second “tipping point” came less than a year later.
I began experiencing significant cognitive problems and “brain fog” that left me feeling drained, confused, scared and struggling to hold things together in my life. Things got so bad that I considered leaving work again and maybe moving home permanently this time, but I decided to give things a last-ditch effort and see a new integrative doctor. It was this doctor who finally was able to pin-point and understand every single symptom I had been feeling for the past 15+ years, who reassured me I wasn’t crazy, and – most importantly – helped me finally heal my body and “put out the fires” through supplementation and the autoimmune protocol. I have been doing that for nearly a year now and I am feeling stronger than ever!
What resources have you used on your healing journey so far and how did you find them?
When you are turned away and dismissed by so many doctors, you basically become a self-help and self-researching guru, so I have probably used every resource under the sun. I read medical journals and articles, I found blogs and websites by scanning the web and Pinterest, I bought books (notably, Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? and Why Isn’t My Brain Working? by Dr. Datis Kharrazian); I watched documentaries on Netflix, etc. The funny thing is that I didn’t actually buy specific autoimmune books until post-diagnosis, when I wanted to learn to cook new and exciting AIP-friendly dishes and dig a little deeper into the details behind my specific AI conditions; my first AI-specific book was The Paleo Approach by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne.
Did your doctors suggest any treatments that you rejected and if so, why did you choose to try other methods?
Oh, I had all sorts of things recommended to me – steroids, injections, surgeries, 100 types of medications, wheelchairs…but I refused to give up and I refused to be on some sort of medication the rest of my life with side effects worse than my actual symptoms. While I didn’t know quite what it was, I knew there was more out there that my doctors weren’t telling me, and I refused to “give in” until I found the truth I was searching for.
I remember watching Forks Over Knives before I had my first “breakdown” and, while that didn’t lead me to the autoimmune protocol, it did plant the seed in my head that diseases and conditions could be managed completely with diet and lifestyle. I promised myself that if these people who took 20 prescription drugs each day to manage a myriad of conditions could completely reverse their disease with diet and lifestyle, then I’ll be darned if I wasn’t going to do that, too!
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?
Oh, I have many, many things that bring me joy – in fact, these are the things that keep me going every day and help me to transcend my AI conditions to the point that they very rarely are top-of-mind for me anymore. I learned very recently that although I had the “perfect” diet and had gotten my lifestyle down to a “T” where I can keep stress low and live my life a certain way to avoid triggers and flare-ups, I still only ever felt about 85% well. Many of my doctors, including my very trusted holistic doctor, told me that 85% may just be how I feel the rest of my life, and that I should accept and be OK with that, because it’s certainly a long way from where I came! This is true, however, I refused to believe that I could feel any less than 100% and I was determined to figure out how to do this – what was that extra push I needed to heal that extra 15%?
I found the answers in authenticity and the truest expression of myself, self-care and pure self-love, gratitude for the people, places and circumstances in my life, positive thinking, meditation, nature, and “play,” and following things that only contributed to my highest joy and highest frequency I could imagine for myself.
I stopped caring so much about what others thought of me and just started living for myself; I stopped trying to control everything in my life (which I became very accustomed to doing, as my controlling tendencies brought me comfort during many times in my life when I felt so out of control due to my health spirals and addictions) and started to allow my life to flow effortlessly and take things as they came. I cleared out negativity and self-doubt and began to seek out people who were positive influences in my life; I began doing things that I loved and was passionate about, liking teaching and helping to heal others, writing, motivational speaking and cooking up a storm. I let others see me for who I truly am and allowed myself to be vulnerable as a transgender man – I decided to tell my story in hope that it inspires others to live authentically and love themselves for exactly how they are, and to know that there is nothing wrong with you – at all; you are perfect, just the way you are.
Yes, my diet and lifestyle got me to a certain point in my healing journey and I am forever thankful for those opportunities and knowledge in my life; however, it was truly the modifications I made in my heart and my spirit that boosted me to a level I (and my doctors) never thought possible. It was love and self-acceptance that generated the ultimate healing for me and sharing those things with others, continues to bring me the highest joy today.
You can follow Mitch’s story or contact him here:
Email: [email protected]