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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.
In her 20s, Andrea considered herself very fit. She attended exercise classes regularly and was baffled when her energy began to decline and her joint pain began to increase. Soon she was almost completely sedentary and was sleeping only 5 hours a night. The pain relief she found using Low Level Laser Therapy felt like a godsend, but she quickly realized it would never address the root cause of her problems. After discovering Angie’s SAD to AIP in SIX program and learning what it meant to heal the gut, Andrea finally found the relief she’d been seeking for nearly two decades.
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 chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia syndrome (CFS/FMS) in June 2015 after what, with hindsight, I can see as a 10-year period of very slowly progressing symptoms. If I include the frequent headaches, I can go back 20 years to my mid-20s. In that time period I spent far too many hours and far too much money attending physio and doing my exercises, plus for a period of two years attending core strengthening classes for people with very mobile/stretchy joints. In 2013, despite all this effort, my pain was increasing and I was so frustrated with physio that I gave up on it. A visit to an orthopedic surgeon didn’t provide any resolution to my hip pain which was becoming increasingly restricting, let alone my other joint pain.
At this point I decided that I would protect my joints by not exercising and just save myself for the daily activities of my life. At first this worked but overtime my pain kept increasing and I kept becoming increasingly sedentary. Apart from the physical pain, my sleep was terrible, with early morning waking. An excellent night’s sleep for me was 6 hours -– 5 hours was the norm and 4 hours far too frequent. Three nights in a row of 4 to 5 hours sleep would leave me a wreck –- the pain would intensify, my mood was very low, anxiety high. I was functioning but not very well.
Describe what the lowest point on your health journey was like.
The situation snowballed over the first half of last year leading up to my diagnosis in June. I was in constant pain, with spasming, cramping, throbbing muscles and widespread joint pain – shoulders, elbows, ankles, hip, neck, lower and upper back! It got to the point that I couldn’t cut the meat on my dinner plate or type because of the pain in my forearms and elbow joints, I’d constantly put off all sorts of activities. It was nightmarish and I was becoming quite scared. Up to this point I’d been handling the pain with NSAIDs and when it drove me insane enough I’d try to blot it out with alcohol. I was angry with my body.
What challenges influenced you to look for a solution? Basically, what was the tipping point?
I felt that I’d been looking for a solution for years but it was the very rapidly escalating symptoms and level of constant pain that drove me to look at other options. I had just bought Dr. Norman Doidge’s book The Brain’s Way of Healing, he includes two chapters on pain and this was where I learned about Low Level Laser Therapy. To my great joy I found a practitioner in my own suburb and got such wonderful relief from the pain that I told my doctor that I wanted to steal her magic laser wand. Sadly this wasn’t the entire solution to my problem. It helped reduce the inflammation and pain in my tissues but it didn’t resolve the cause of that systemic inflammation so it kept coming back.
After about 20 visits, I was realizing that I had to keep chasing down what was causing the inflammation. Making an appointment to see an Integrative General Practitioner was the best decision. These doctors look for root causes and don’t simply cover up symptoms with pharmaceuticals, which is all my regular doctor had to offer me – antidepressants to dampen the pain messages my brain was receiving from my body. How was this any sort of solution?! Oh, and I also needed to start learning to manage my symptoms and accept my diagnosis because it was incurable.
When you found a protocol to help you heal, what was it and what was your first indication that it was working?
There were multiple contributors to my symptoms but the two standouts were:
- Gut health: After a fecal microbial analysis (where my sample was sent interstate via plane to a lab specializing in chronic fatigue), I found out that my intestinal microbiome was seriously out of whack. I was put on antibiotics and probiotics to correct the mix of bacteria. This was wonderful as I had been constantly bloated and/or constipated for months. Relief.
- Immune system activation: Following a paleo diet from June had brought substantial relief from my symptoms but things were still not all okay. I was dizzy, fatigued, brain fogged and searching for what else could help. Here, I discovered Sarah Ballantyne’s Paleo Autoimmune Protocol which led me to the SAD to AIP in SIX program. What a revelation! My symptoms were being caused by my immune system’s reaction to specific foods. As long as I don’t have any of these foods – gluten, corn, coconut or eggs – I do just fine. Exposures to them and I’m back in bed with fatigue, headaches, pain.
What resources have you used on your healing journey so far and how did you find them?
- Low Level Laser Therapy – my initial pain management protocol when it was at its worst; allowed me to stop using NSAIDs
- Dr. Sarah Myhill’s book, Diagnosis and Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – it’s mitochondria not hypochondria
- Paleo Autoimmune Protocol – healing foods; entire lifestyle program
- SAD to AIP in SIX – support, encouragement, education; fabulous help
- LCHF diet to ketogenic levels – controlling my blood sugar and insulin levels; results in sustained stable energy levels and healing of my metabolism; see Professor Tim Noakes and the Real Meal Revolution.
Did your doctors suggest any treatments that you rejected and if so, why did you choose to try other methods?
As I mentioned earlier, antidepressants. They helped lessen my body’s pain signals but they weren’t getting to the root cause.
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?
Being able to be fully involved in life – I have three children and they had a mother who was incapacitated by pain and fatigue last year. Now I’m back, I can make plans and be pretty certain that I’ll have the energy and stamina to keep to them. I can take my 9-year-old and her friends on day-long outings that can involve quite a bit of walking and still have energy to make a nutritious paleo dinner at the end of the day. Gratitude for my recovery, gratitude for the amazing resources out there, gratitude for the supportive programs and networks. I wouldn’t be where I am today if all I had to rely on was conventional medicine. Gratitude brings me joy ☺.
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.
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