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.
Kirstie’s autoimmune health crisis is a textbook example of what happens when we overlook the impact our stress has on our health. Like many of us, Kirstie had convinced herself that her brain fog, crippling exhaustion and intensely painful periods were normal. Luckily, a relatively quick diagnosis helped her find medication that started bringing her body into balance, but it wasn’t until she made important diet and lifestyle shifts that her progress really picked up.
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 Hashimoto’s thyroiditis back in 2012 at the age of 32, and endometriosis at the age of 34. I was running a business at that time, wearing multiple hats, managing a number of staff and with many tight deadlines to meet. Around a year or so prior to that the business had expanded greatly, but I didn’t have the resources to meet the greatly increased work pressure and demand. I also wasn’t taking care of my health outside of the workplace, with many late nights, alcohol used as stress relief and eating out was the norm.
Correspondingly, my health started to suffer and the painful periods I’d been experiencing for a few years were getting worse and worse.
Describe what the lowest point on your health journey was like.
I had episodes of a few days every month where I was so exhausted after pushing myself for weeks that I just couldn’t get out of bed. Literally. And these times did often seem to coincide with the onset of my period. My muscles ached, my bones ached, I couldn’t think or do anything. I just lay in bed, feeling guilty for not being at work. And the pain with my period had increased from painful cramps to searing pain where I was unable to sleep and was doubled over nearly vomiting and unable to stop myself from crying out.
Then the brain fog descended. Initially, I’d been “crashing” for those few days a month but still been able to function pretty well when I was back at work. That soon came to and end! I’d prided myself on having a really good memory and recall, that went completely and I had to keep a note of every single important thing that I needed to remember or else I simply would forget. I’d also been really good at prioritizing my work and efficient at getting it done, and now I just couldn’t make a decision on what needed to be done or how. I was also constantly second guessing my work and double checking everything I was doing.
It was around this time I went to the doctor — finally! Prior to that I just thought everyone felt the same as me, everyone struggled to get out of bed, everyone had painful periods, etc. Luckily I had a good doctor and she tested me for a few different things, including thyroid antibodies, which of course came up positive. She also referred me to a reproductive gynecologist who diagnosed endometriosis.
I didn’t have the long journey to diagnosis that many have and for that I am grateful, but I really wish I’d sought help earlier.
What challenges influenced you to look for a solution? Basically, what was the tipping point?
My doctor prescribed thyroxine, which I took and seemed to improve my symptoms for the first 6 months or so, but then I could feel the fatigue and brain fog start to creep back in, despite my blood test results being “normal”.
I also knew I wanted to have a child in the near future so I wanted to get as healthy as possible in preparation for that. With both endometriosis and Hashimoto’s bringing potential fertility complications I knew I’d have some work to do (little did I know how much).
It was at this point I started researching (i.e. googling!) what else might help me.
When you found a protocol to help you heal, what was it and what was your first indication that it was working?
First of all I reduced the amount of processed foods I was eating and naturally that increased the number of home-cooked meals I was consuming, and reduced my alcohol intake (as I wasn’t eating out all the time). I noticed pretty quickly that the fatigue and brain fog were greatly reduced.
When I cut out gluten a month or so later I really noticed a difference after a couple of weeks — no more bloating or joint pain! And a few months after that I realized I’d had no “crashes” or flares since I’d stopped eating gluten. This was a huge improvement for me although I didn’t immediately notice it until I looked back and remembered how things used to be.
From there, I decided to try the Autoimmune Protocol to see how good I could really feel, and around the one month mark I definitely felt “healthier” with more energy and clearer eyes and skin. Also, touch wood, since having the endometriosis removed about four years ago I’ve had no symptoms return, for which I credit AIP.
What resources have you used on your healing journey so far and how did you find them?
My first “discovery” was Sarah Wilson (best known for starting the I Quit Sugar movement here in Sydney, Australia and then globally) and her blog. Sarah also has Hashimoto’s and has written about how she manages the disease with diet and lifestyle. In fact it was Sarah’s interview with Mickey Trescott that set me on the path to starting AIP! I remember my first thought was, “No way would I do that, it sounds soooo hard!!” but over the period of a few months and a few gradual changes to my diet and I thought, “Yep, I can do this!”.
After finding Mickey and her website at that time, a whole world of Paleo and AIP bloggers was opened up to me, including Sarah Ballantyne (The Paleo Mom) and Eileen Laird (Phoenix Helix) as well as Angie Alt’s former blog (Alt-ternative Autoimmune). Following these bloggers and more (basically the people on the resources list at Autoimmune Wellness) on Facebook and Instagram helps me stay motivated and connected with others on a similar path.
Did your doctors suggest any treatments that you rejected and if so, why did you choose to try other methods?
Thyroxine is pretty standard treatment for Hashimoto’s here in Australia, I wasn’t offered any other treatments nor do I recall asking for any. At that point I was used to just doing what the doctor told me assuming it would “cure” my symptoms.
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?
True joy is brought to me by my toddler. It was a struggle to get pregnant but now he’s here I know it was all worth it.
Professionally, I find joy in working with people (as a clinical nutritionist) and seeing their lives improve from my recommendations. I know diet and lifestyle changes improved my life immeasurably and it’s hugely fulfilling to see the same thing happen for others.
Would you like to share your Story of Recovery? Let us know by filling out our interest form.