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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 let us know by filling out our interest form.
As a high-level executive, Janel’s fast-paced life kept her from acknowledging the bone-crushing autoimmune pain that was slowly becoming severe. It wasn’t until the day she realized she couldn’t lift her own purse that she knew her life would have to change in a big way. A 180-degree shift in Janel’s lifestyle brought her to the medication-free relief she was seeking, and despite the immense changes, she’s found that the resulting “learning and self-satisfaction” are more than worth the effort.
What health issues are you dealing with, when did they begin, and how long did it take to get a diagnosis?
I am managing a lupus and polymyalgia rheumatica diagnosis. Plus, I have experienced Raynaud’s syndrome, in addition to arthritis in my feet, back and hands.
Describe what the lowest point on your health journey was like.
At the lowest point in my journey, I felt desperate and seriously frightened for my own future, even if that future was the present day. My entire body felt pain…my feet, knees, hips, back, hands, shoulders and neck. The pain was a deep throbbing ache. It felt like every part of my body was on fire. Later I learned it was “on fire” in a sense. That is what inflammation feels like to me…my bones on fire.
But at the time I didn’t know what was happening to me. I was exhausted all the time. And I had a full-time executive-level job and it was hard enough to do a 90-minute commute each way to work in the middle of a bitter cold Chicago winter, much less do so feeling such agony. Even lifting my arms to wash my hair became difficult. So putting it up in a clip dirty was good enough. But the desperation was heightened when a business trip came up and I couldn’t even lift my purse. How was I supposed to carry on luggage to the plane?
What challenges influenced you to look for a solution? Basically, what was the tipping point?
Since some of the choices I had heard about were using very strong medicine, and I was interested in exploring other options. I knew that side effects of meds were significant, and being on meds for the rest of my life just didn’t appeal to me. Originally, I tried over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, but those came with cautions for stomach upset and weren’t suggested for long-term use. I had been given muscle relaxers, but that wasn’t really the issue either. So I turned to acupuncture, essential oils, and visualization as other forms of pain and inflammation relief.
I was in a health coaching certification program, so I was gaining a heightened awareness of what certain experts were explaining, such as the effects of whole foods, healthy fats, probiotics, water and even clean supplements when the real foods weren’t absorbing.
All of this was coming together at the same time. So I decided I needed one of the experts, like those who spoke at my school, to give me guidance and put me on an anti-inflammatory diet protocol of food to fix my serious and multiple autoimmune diseases.
When you found a protocol to help you heal, what was it and what was your first indication that it was working?
I found a naturopathic doctor through a trusted, well-known doctor who had a great deal of experience and success in helping to heal patients with autoimmune issues. She was saying exactly the things I was reading in books written by experts in this field. It was like magic that I was getting this same message from the Universe everywhere I turned. It helped me know this was the right direction for me to go.
The protocol I started was an anti-inflammation diet. But honestly, it took a while for me to get to the elimination diet. I didn’t really WANT to have to resort to that extreme measure. Wasn’t there another way? But I was determined to get better! And honestly, it was just an experiment for 30 days. So onward I went! I eliminated gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, alcohol, corn, nightshades, beans, nuts, juices, many condiments, and packaged foods. Sigh! This was very difficult for me. While I was really frightened about not having food to eat when I was hungry, I was even more afraid of being sick the rest of my life. And I figured I could do anything for 30 days. Knowing there could be an end was extremely important. It was tremendously helpful that a friend of mine was also interested in eliminating some foods at this same time, so we were doing this together!
Days turned into weeks, and I was feeling better without medicine. I could hardly believe it! I knew it was working when I didn’t THINK about the pain for the first time in months! I was just living my life, and I wasn’t stopped by pain. Not even a low level of pain. It was truly astonishing!
What resources have you used on your healing journey so far and how did you find them?
I have mainly used books written by trusted doctors. The list of doctors goes on and on. I heard about many of these doctors through my schooling, but also by searching through Facebook. And interestingly, once you get involved with one, others show up on your feed. Thank goodness for Facebook’s algorithms.
My list of doctors who understand healing leaky gut and taming the symptoms of autoimmune disease include Dr. Susan Blum, Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Amy Myers, Dr. Tom O’Bryan, Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Terry Wahls, Dr. Josh Axe, Dr. David Perlmutter, Dr. Peter Osbourne, and Dr. William Davis. All of these doctors have heavily influenced my life and health over the past few years. They have books, programs, recipes, products and resources of their own that I plug into consistently. I have also tapped into many Facebook groups that connect me with other people and their situations to learn how they alleviated the pain and problem.
Being guided by my naturopathic doctor really helps me when I need to talk, ask personal questions or have something explained to me more clearly. And honestly, just the overall lifestyle changes I’ve learned about through my certification have helped de-stress and detox. Lastly, but largely, my spiritual practice and connection are a strong foundation for my positive mindset, and give me the inspiration for faith that keeps me strong and healthy in mind, body and spirit.
Did your doctors suggest any treatments that you rejected and if so, why did you choose to try other methods?
Originally, my doctors suggested that I take a steroid to alleviate the inflammation. But my situation was complicated by the fact my aggressive glaucoma had my opthamologist requesting that I not take a steroid, as that may cause damage to my optic nerve. The idea of going blind was off the table as far as I was concerned. I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place. So I felt the need to explore any/all other possible treatments as options to help my body heal.
To be honest, I do have a prescription for steroids, but it’s a low dose, and I only take it on the occasion that I have a “slip”, or somehow have pain and don’t understand why. I am comforted that in emergencies I have a solution that can work. But I’m even more comforted knowing I don’t have to rely on the medicine daily. Instead, I can treat my body well with the best foods from the earth, and make good choices in my daily living that will keep me well, healthy and pain free.
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 for me now is living pain-free and knowing I do so with all natural solutions. People often ask me what one thing I did that turned my health around. But it’s not just one thing, it’s so many things. Perhaps that’s a hard answer because we all tend to want a magic pill. But the truth is I don’t mind all the changes I’ve made. In fact, I love the learning and self-satisfaction that went along with it.
I am overjoyed that I have found my purpose now. I believe that is to share my story with as many folks as I possibly can so that I can shed light, hope and inspiration for them to take control of their health, and stop the autoimmune related ailments with food and lifestyle choices. I know if I am able to do it and sustain it over these years, anybody can! 🙂
Learn more about Janel’s healing journey on her website. You can also follow along on Facebook and Instagram.
Would you like to share your Story of Recovery? Let us know by filling out our interest form.