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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.
Jacqueline Chacon was an eager college student when her life suddenly came to a halt. The seemingly unrelated symptoms she’d been living with for the past decade had become severe, and before she knew it, she was bedridden. Luckily for Jacqueline, a strong relationship with an outstanding practitioner helped her understand the signals her body was sending, renew her relationship with her body and regain the spark she thought she’d lost forever.
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 mixed connective tissue disease, a type of an autoimmune disease related to scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus in April 2015. I suffered for the better part of a decade with this “mystery illness” that was making me incredibly sick with no answers as to what it was or what was causing it. Later I was also diagnosed with Lyme disease that had gone undiagnosed for years, causing it to develop into the chronic stages as well.
Describe what the lowest point on your health journey was like.
The lowest point in my journey was when I was completing my undergraduate work in hopes of getting into graduate school. I was under a tremendous amount of stress and I was at least 25 doctors into my journey. I went to doctor after doctor getting first, second, and third opinions with no luck. I had abnormal tests, clear signs and symptoms but no one could tell me why. I was getting sicker and sicker until I had to quit my job and my grades sank. I struggled to leave the house and my friends and family told me I looked so sick I was grey. I was at the point where I was either sleeping or at the doctor getting poked and prodded. I left each appointment in tears and without any hope. It felt like my life had come to a screeching halt before it ever really began.
What challenges influenced you to look for a solution? Basically, what was the tipping point?
During a visit with my rheumatologist one day, she suggested I try a drug to ease some of my joint pain. I was so desperate for relief that I reluctantly agreed to try it. I had never been into pharmaceuticals and never even popped an ibuprofen when I was in pain but something inside me was screaming for relief in whatever form. I filled the prescription and took the first pill before bed that same night. The next day I found myself at an urgent care facility with a severe allergic reaction that warranted an injection which in turn caused me to pass out. Once I recovered from the episode I knew there had to be another way to tackle this and I got to work doing some serious research.
When you found a protocol to help you heal, what was it and what was your first indication that it was working?
About two years ago, after trying various diets I decided to give Paleo a try. I picked up a copy of Practical Paleo and started there. I saw some improvement immediately but it didn’t last very long. I knew I had a complex problem and needed some answers. I ended up seeing a fantastic functional medicine doctor named Amy Myers who uses AIP. Once she had run numerous lab tests and figured out some of the root causes of my autoimmune disease, she was able to tailor the AIP diet to my needs. This ended up being regular AIP (with her added touches called The Myers Way) and a candida protocol which restricts the amount of starches and fruit consumed, as well as not allowing sugar in any form.
I’ve been following this diet for 11 months now and have seen improvements that have stuck. The big sign for me was gaining back the 15 pounds I had lost and keeping it on. I also have increased energy, less brain fog, and my overall pain levels have dropped significantly. I still have a long way to go especially when it comes to healing my gut, but for the first time I am confident that this will be a lasting change for me (and my husband is even on board).
What resources have you used on your healing journey so far and how did you find them?
I’ve used a ton of resources on my journey but the ones that have been most helpful have all been related to the Paleo diet in some way. I started by picking up a copy of Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo on a particularly tough day when it seemed that nothing I had tried had worked. From there I was referred to a local holistic dietician who helped set me on the right track with a more laid out diet plan. Along the way I picked up copies of some of my favorite books that I use often like The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook (of course), Sarah Ballantyne’s books, and a book called The Autoimmune Solution by Dr. Amy Myers (who I ended up seeing in person). I found all of these resources through reading various blogs that I had stumbled upon during research or blogs that my dietician or friends had told me about.
I also love the website MindBodyGreen because it has so many different contributors and you never know when something exciting will pop up related to wellness. Reaching out to people has been another great resource for me. I have e-mailed various bloggers and talked to friends of friends who have treated their chronic illness with diet. They usually have so much information and it’s a good way to form a connection with people who actually understand what it’s like to live with a chronic and often invisible illness.
Did your doctors suggest any treatments that you rejected and if so, why did you choose to try other methods?
Oh yes. I still deal with this on a regular basis. I still see some Western doctors so that I am established in the system and for times when it’s really necessary. I’m fortunate to have a wonderful primary care physician who is open minded and understanding of my choices to use alternative routes. I haven’t had the same luck with other specialists who have attempted to put me on pharmaceuticals like methotrexate, prednisone, plaquenil, and other immunosuppressant drugs. In the beginning I was actually taking some of these. I felt I had no other options, but when I found AIP and The Myers Way I knew I needed to ditch the drugs and try something much more kind for my body. I felt worse taking them and it was hard to tell what symptoms were drug side effects and what were still being caused by my autoimmune disease. I also did research (can you tell I’m pretty Type A?) about the long term effects of these drugs and didn’t like what I was finding. I told my specialist that I didn’t want to take the drugs anymore and she was…less than supportive I’ll say. She reluctantly agreed to help me wean off of them and I haven’t looked back since.
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?
When I was at my lowest point and had no answers this was a difficult obstacle for me to overcome. I finally realized that there is still so much that I can do by just waking up and breathing every day. I can be true to myself and I can share my story. Sometimes I have to say no, sometimes I have to modify and slow down but it doesn’t make me any less of a person. Most importantly, and this is what brings me true joy, is knowing that I am not my illness. I’m a human that just happens to have this affliction but it doesn’t mean that my voice, my thoughts, and my relationships have to be stifled in any way. I also just graduated with my Master’s degree and am now a speech language pathologist. It brings me true joy knowing that I can serve others who have certain obstacles in their lives. It feels like a great way to give back and encourage others to rise up in spite of their struggles, too.
The opinions expressed in “Stories of Recovery” are those of the authors and not necessarily representative of the Autoimmune Paleo platform, its creators, or other contributors.
Would you like to share your Story of Recovery? Please email us through our contact form.