I was on the phone with a client today talking about what her goals were and what she hoped to achieve by working with me. She made a comment that struck me. She said that she wants to gain a healthier relationship with food, eat more whole and more organic. She went on to say, "I will never be where you are".
What struck me about this comment is that lately I have become so caught up in what I am doing that I seem to have forgotten where I came from, forgotten that it was only a short time ago I was in a very different place.
It began in 2003, after graduating from university with a degree in fashion, I hopped on a plane with the intention of backpacking for several months around Africa on my own. I would joke that I was going to be a hippie in Africa with a fashion degree. My parents couldn't work out why I was going and kept saying that I was going to get sick. I insisted they had no idea what they were talking about. No matter how old you are, it's always a little annoying when your parents are right and you are wrong.
I was sick from the time I got my vaccinations, before I even left. After backpacking through Mozambique, Swaziland, South Africa and Senegal, I couldn't handle the way I was feeling anymore and so returned home after just ten weeks and there began a three year nightmare.
I was working in advertising, and spending most of my free time trying to work out what was wrong with me. I was going from doctor to doctor and they kept telling me different things- IBS, stress, depression... I started doing my own research and after reading Dr. Jensen's Guide to Better Bowel Care, I knew exactly what I had. It took half a dozen more doctors before I found one who would look past my teary and terrified eyes and take my complaints seriously.
A month later, in the summer of 2006, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, and that diagnosis was later changed to Crohn's Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus. This disease can cause severe pain, bleeding, malnutrition and nervous system disorders. My doctor gave me a list of medications I could take and suggested I come back in a few months to discuss surgery. He said to me- "You're young, have fun. Go ahead- eat your cheeseburgers and drink your milkshakes". He told me there was not much I could do, that there was no cure for what I had and to just learn to live with it.
I couldn't believe this was my life and that this was what my future was. At 26, I was looking at a lifetime of medication and surgery. Intuitively, I believed there had to be another way. I believed in my heart that if the body, mind and spirit received what it needed, health would be the inevitable result- that health and happiness were the natural birth right of all human beings.
Going against the recommendations of all my doctors, I took a holistic approach to my healing. I quit my job, put my life in storage and moved down to California. While there, I underwent intensive acupuncture treatment, where six days a week for three months, I was turned into a human pin cushion, being stuck full of needles. I made healing my full time job. I knew that if I was going to recover and be well, I had to believe that it would happen with every itty bitty part of me.
From the moment I landed in LA, I was dedicated to getting better. Everything I did was for my health. I walked on the beach every morning and got around the sweet beach town of Santa Monica by bicycle. I went to yoga every afternoon, meditated twice a day and ate only whole, organic food that I prepared myself. There were definitely times when I felt wholly overwhelmed by the burden and responsibility of what I was doing. I had taken total and complete responsibility for my health, and should this 'alternative' approach fail, I would have no one to blame but myself. I was terrified.
Should I succeed, however, I knew that I would understand the true meaning of empowerment.
I remained in high spirits through most of this time as I knew instinctively that a lightness in my heart was integral to getting better. I was living by the beach where the sun shone everyday, eating seasonal organic food, making wonderful friends, reading every health book I could get my hands on and had a sweet boyfriendwho kept me giggling. In amongst those three months, however, I did have bad days. Days when I didn't feel well and days when I just wished to return home to my friends and family and be 'normal'. I often felt overwhelmed by the burden of having to be mindful of every thing I ate, what I thought, how much I slept... There were times I felt completely alone, that no one could understand what this was like for me; no one could understand the fear I had that this would not work and that I would be sick and suffering the rest of my life.
In these three months, I learned the importance of the simple things. I learned that without our health, we have nothing. I learned that a cute outfit means nothing if we feel like shit. I learned what true love and true friendship was and I learned what it was to be well. These are the greatest lessons of my life.
I succeeded in my quest. I returned home three months later healed, vibrant, and happier than I could ever remember.
Two weeks following my return, I found myself sitting in a fundamentals of nutrition class, wondering how I went from advertising to nutrition school, working towards my certification as a holistic nutritionist. In December of 2007 I graduated with first class honours and was elected class valedictorian.
Just three years ago I was sick, I was tired and I was so afraid that this was as good as it was going to get. I didn't know how to cook, had done maybe a handful of yoga classes and was surviving on rice cakes and margarine. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that this is where I would be today, healthier, stronger and happier than ever before in my life- living a dream I never even knew existed.
I now have the greatest job in the whole world. My job is to give people hope that they might live their best life possible, and provide the skills, knowledge and support to help them achieve this.
I am now over two and a half years symptom-free from a disease that is believed to have no cure. As far as I'm concerned, I am cured. With the support of my family, and the help of my acupuncturist, yoga teachers, spiritual guides, friends, pure determination and a little sunshine and bicycles, I cured this disease. Without a doubt in my mind, I know that anything is truly possible.