Perhaps like you, I was a driven person prioritising my goals over my health until one day I couldn’t.
My story began in 2013, at university, juggling a stressful internship with competitive sport whilst going through a break-up. Phew!
I was working 12 hour days, commuting and training five days a week.
At first, I lost my focus and concentration. Speaking and writing became difficult. I was sending confidential emails to the wrong people and struggling to stay awake at my desk.
I began to feel cold, overwhelmed and depressed.
It was hard going to bed and even harder getting up. I would fall asleep in my car. I was leaving keys in the front door. I no longer felt dependable. Things were not right.
Despite this, I pushed on, ‘whipping’ myself with triple espressos and chocolate to get through the days.
I thought my diet was ok with low-fat foods, cereals and takeaways. I became bloated and constipated all the time.
I felt like a mindless zombie.
I didn’t make the time to see my GP as I thought ‘I needed to be a hero’ and honour my commitments.
Looking back, this attitude led to my illness, but it also helped me get better (I’ll explain later).
After visiting a GAPS therapist who told me I had leaky gut and food sensitivities, I began following a diet to heal my gut. This only made me feel worse and more constipated.
I remember falling to the ground on Harley Street in London of all places in gut wrenching pain.
It was quickly going from bad to worse.
Then one night, I woke up at 3am with my shoulder out.
I suspected a link but I couldn’t be sure. It was a mystery.
But I got over it and continued to play, study and work in the same way as before.
During a second internship, the strains of studying and work tipped me over the edge.
I developed flu-like symptoms precipitating into chronic exhaustion: for months I was unable to get out of bed (even to go to the bathroom).
I lost kilos off my already wiry frame. I was bloated, constipated and itchy all the time.
Sleeping for days on end did nothing.
Doctors thought it was a viral infection and I was reassured everything was fine. They told me I would get better within a few weeks.
That day never came and I couldn’t see a way out.
Serendipitously, I was introduced to a nutritional therapist who had observed similar symptoms in athletes. I was sceptical but had nothing to lose…he recommended a diet largely based on Dr Lawrence Wilson’s Nutritional Balancing programme.
Within a few weeks I was feeling well enough to walk around. Within a couple months I felt my brain ‘come back’ even stronger than it ever was at school. It was incredible!
Despite, the numerous benefits, I never felt 100% better, I was warned it would take months to fully recover.
I returned to university with a new found sense of self and cognition, inspired to become a doctor to help bridge the worlds of nutritional therapy and medicine.
At university, the brain fog and fatigue returned. During an especially low point I became an anti-fungal junkie bouncing between pharmacies as the GP did not believe my itching and cravings were caused by yeast!
I isolated and felt lonely which I think drove my symptoms. It was becoming another disaster.
After passing my exams I decided to start a business at medical school inspired by my experience.
The stress started to build once again and the flu symptoms returned and I crashed even harder and further than before. I was forced to drop out and return home.
I thought it was ok because “I got better once, I can get better again!”.
This time was different, despite great effort, I wasn’t getting my ‘spark’ back. I felt like a zombie again. The days rolled into weeks, into months and into years.
Some of my symptoms:
- Constant exhaustion no matter how much I slept
- Debilitating brain fog. I couldn’t muster the energy to read. If I could nothing went in.
- Anxiety and low mood
- Constipation and bloating
- Loss of muscle mass
- Itchiness (everywhere)
- Food sensitivities to almost everything I ate
- Hair loss and thinning
And many more.
After seeing countless doctors and therapists, I was in despair.
I persevered. Infrared saunas, coffee enemas, paleo, GAPS, FODMAP, low histamine, elemental, probiotics, adrenal support, energy healers, antibiotics, nothing was working.
I was a fiercely driven and disciplined person, the qualities that drove me to sickness I believe helped me overcome it too. I was determined to find the answers.
I read every book and blog I could. I even visited some of the ‘best functional medicine’ doctors in the world. Every test was normal.
I became a recluse for nearly three years, with no hope of getting back to my life.
At the time, SIBO was ‘all the rage’. The herbs and antibiotics failed, so we tried the elemental diet. I became a shadow of myself: skinnier than ever before, things did improve (slightly).
I remember thinking as I poured my third shake of the day…there must be more to life than this!
To take my mind off myself I began volunteering at the Alzheimer’s society. As I didn’t feel able to cope with administration I decided to spend time with the patients.
I found joy for the first time in a long time! I felt I had more in common with Alzhemic patients than people of my age. I understood what it felt like not to be understood, or frustrated with not being able to express yourself properly.
With no end in site, I began to attend functional medicine conferences in the hope I could find answers on how to heal myself.
The thought of knowing my potential and not being able to live it made me feel like a burden and a drain.
I sat in my car thinking about giving up…I looked up to the sky and asked ‘for help’.
Days later, I attended a conference in Brighton (the place of my first degree).
The lecture hall was full. A lady waived me over to the only free seat beside her.
This lady no doubt saved my life. We bonded over a similar journey. She told me I had to see ‘her guy’ (another nutritional therapist). Before I knew it, I was in his office with new found hope.
The rest is history as they say!
Over time I began to feel better…and I felt strong enough to begin my nutritional therapy training and MSc in Neuroscience with the hope of re-starting my medical career to combine my passions of neurology, neuroscience and lifestyle medicine.
I like to think this happened for a reason (but I can’t be sure).
I do know, however, it ignited a passion within me to help those left behind so they can fulfil their potential.
As a student things came easily to me. I know what it feels like to be told everything’s normal when you know it’s not.
If you’ve made it to the end I would like to leave you with a quote from Dattis Kharazian’s book ‘Why isn’t my brain working’:
“I know that a highly functioning brain leads to a highly productive and appreciative life. A poorly functioning brain leads to a life of unreachable goals, inefficiency, depression and a continued dependence on others…
Nobody understands the difficulty you face as you appear normal to those around you.”
Wishing you well,