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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 Wellness, 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.
Sarah’s health crisis arose later in life, after the birth of her daughter. It was the stress of labor that brought about a cascade of seemingly unrelated symptoms. After receiving a lichen sclerosis diagnosis, she counts herself incredibly lucky that a Google search pointed her to Autoimmune Wellness. Thirty days after starting the protocol, the symptoms she’d been battling for years had completely disappeared.
What health issues are you dealing with, when did they begin, and how long did it take to get a diagnosis?
It’s hard to pinpoint when it all started, though I think the birth of my daughter was a critical trigger point. The pregnancy was smooth sailing, however the delivery — not so much. In hindsight, I believe the stress on my body was a catalyst for bringing to the surface many of my health issues. In the years following her birth, I began to have a lot of hormonal imbalance issues, skin issues, severe hay fever and inexplicable allergic responses that included asthma, psoriasis and eczema, rheumatoid response to viral infections, gut/digestive issues, hair loss and weight gain.
About 6 months after my family and I moved to Europe I received my first diagnosis of lichen sclerosis. About a year later came the hypothyroid diagnosis, though Hashimoto’s has still not been confirmed. All in all, I would say it took about 5 to 6 years before the “official” pieces of the puzzle started coming together.
Describe what the lowest point on your health journey was like.
About a year ago, I had just come off of about 6 months of intense, intense work stress due to an unanticipated (and unwanted) project. This was a strategic global project with high visibility and I was working very long hours — late nights and weekends, dealing with high-pressure situations and politics. My health and my family suffered greatly. Once the event was over, I could hardly recognize myself. My general practitioner ran a battery of tests and there was strong concern of a cancer diagnosis. Thankfully this was not the case. He removed me from work for approximately 6 weeks to recover and rest while a growing team of medical professionals worked to to figure out what was going wrong. In the end the recovery time helped, but the medical team remained stumped as to the cause of the diagnosed symptoms and I was still no closer to any answers. The only certainty being that I would never take on that level of work-related stress again. My health and family are too important to sacrifice.
What challenges influenced you to look for a solution? Basically, what was the tipping point?
Interestingly enough, the tipping point wasn’t my own health, but rather the health of a dear friend’s mom. A couple years ago, she had a cancer diagnosis, which went into remission. In late September last year, it came back. I had felt for some time that my body was “attacking itself” with all of these seemingly unrelated issues. Hearing about my friend’s mom it became very clear to me that my body being under attack constantly could not be good for me at a cellular level and for the long-term. I was lucky not to have received a cancer diagnosis months earlier, but if I continued down the path I was heading… who knows? It was a wake up call. As my husband likes to say, “the check engine light was on.” It was time to pull the car over.
When you found a protocol to help you heal, what was it and what was your first indication that it was working?
One could say how I found AIP was sheer dumb luck (and the powers of Google spiders). I also prefer to think when the timing is right, the universe conspires to help you. For me the timing was right. I was in the right place and was committed… and fortunate enough that I wasn’t traveling on business for a stretch long enough to dive in. Some years ago, I had a Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor — who even before any of my diagnoses had recommended that my body would be better off if I were “wheat-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, alcohol-free and caffeine-free.” On the day I decided to explore this previous recommendation, this was my plan. It seemed pretty close to Paleo, so I went looking for 14-day paleo meal plans. I wanted something that would make it easy for me to dive in cold turkey since I only had about 3 weeks before my next business trip. I had no idea what an important decision that was and that it would lead me to AIP. Serendipitously, my Google searches landed me on Mickey and Angie’s website. What I found on their site was life changing. It was like all the pieces of this mystery jigsaw puzzle had come together. I finally understood WHY. I wasted no time. I only had a couple weeks to see if the AutoImmune Protocol would make a difference so I jumped in with both feet, went cold turkey and started the elimination phase.
The results were nearly immediate and dramatic. In 5 days, my skin had started clearing, the bloating and inflammation were starting to reduce and I felt physically so much better. I had more energy and the brain fog started to lift. I was lucky to have such dramatic and visible results, because it kept me motivated early on. My family could see the changes and were incredibly supportive.
Within 30 days, my lichen sclerosis symptoms had completely disappeared. This was an amazing affirmation for both me and my OB/GYN, since I had been treating this with pharmaceuticals for about 3 years with no measurable success. Over the past 5 months, I have gotten myself back, have lost 35 pounds, my hair is growing back, my skin issues have subsided (except for the occasional flare up due to stress, some food or an infection) and I feel more energetic, clear and calm. In short I am back to ME.
What resources have you used on your healing journey so far and how did you find them?
Mickey and Angie’s site, podcast and books (I have all of them) helped me get started and were a great jumping off point to The Paleo Mom’s site and books. The Paleo Approach, was a really important resource early on, because it helped me understand the science behind what was going on in my immune system and that it was indeed “under attack”. It also helped me understand why the autoimmune protocol elimination diet made the difference. Along the way, I have found the whole community to be incredibly inspirational and helpful. Now that I am about 5 months into the protocol, my daily “feed” is the most helpful. Some days are easier than others… seeing posts and articles from the community gives a little boost to my day. Often, serendipity strikes again and I see just the right message I need to see that day whether it is a creative meal, a message about someone else healing journey or a new resource to help make life easier.
Did your doctors suggest any treatments that you rejected and if so, why did you choose to try other methods?
I don’t know that I rejected anything per say, but I did just generally feel that all of the treatments prescribed by my assembled medical team were only addressing symptoms and not the root cause of the problem. Things like steroids, inhalers, skin creams, synthetic hormones, etc. I did ultimately decide to stop taking synthetic hormones because I felt like they were only exacerbating the problems. Ultimately the doctor who is the most well plugged-in to my healing journey is an internist who is both a western medical doctor and a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) practitioner. The approach is holistic and works very well for me with the AutoImmune Protocol. In Europe, this approach of TCM + Western medicine is fairly mainstream — which I feel very fortunate for.
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?
I am so grateful for the time I have with my family. They have been incredibly supportive and strong through the years of not having answers, and now through my AIP journey. Most importantly, what brings me true joy is spending time with them and getting out in nature.
Since starting AIP, the easiest thing to dial-in was the eating. I am still very much a work in progress on the stress, sleep and connection front. These are areas where old habits die hard and I continue to work to improve and be better.
Beyond spending time with my family, here’s a “shortish” list of things that bring me joy and help me stay grounded, connected and on-track:
- A good night’s sleep
- Saturday and Sunday morning snuggles with the whole family — including our dog
- Watching the snow fall from the window of our mountain house
- Taking hikes in the snow
- Watching my daughter sleep
- Planning (and taking vacation) adventures with my family and friends
- Finding a restaurant that can accommodate 95% of my eating needs
- A successful “ingredient treasure hunt”… finding plantains at the local organic market was amazing!
- Referring others to AIP and seeing it positively impact their lives
- A nice cup of tea
- Watching our dog run in the forest
- Discovering a new recipe
- My InstantPot
- Learning to knit — I am still not very good, but there is something zen about it which helps me be mindful
- Sitting in the sun and feeling the warmth on my face — vitamin D doses during the winter are absolutely necessary
Would you like to share your Story of Recovery? Let us know by filling out our interest form.