This guest post comes from my super talented and awesome friend, Olivia. She has come so far on her healing journey, and I believe she truly embodies the message of Instinctual Wellbeing; that you CAN heal yourself, transform your life, and reclaim the health and well-being that you deserve, if only you reconnect with your true Self. Thank you for sharing your story, Olivia!
When I was 19 years old I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. At age 20 they found positive autoantibodies (confirming the presence of an autoimmune disease) and diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I got my test results on Valentine’s Day of 2014. I remember feeling defeated, scared, and very alone. Quite the Valentine’s Day present for a young single girl.
For some reason, I felt like this diagnosis was a light death sentence. No, I wasn’t going to die, but doctors told me there was no cure and I would have to learn to live with my symptoms. Excuse me?! I didn’t want to live with weight gain, a puffy face, fatigue, the inability to regulate my body temperature, a constant feeling of inflammation throughout my body, digestive problems, brittle hair and nails, and low hormones. I am a stubborn person by nature and when I am determined to do something, nothing can stand in my way, not even medical doctors, Western medicine, and science itself (okay perhaps a bit dramatic, but I felt like I was facing the world of medicine!).
I threw myself into research. I learned everything I could about the thyroid gland, autoimmune diseases, and Hashimoto’s. I read that prescription thyroid hormone medication can only help so much, and certain brands and dosages were better than others. I went through 3 doctors before I found one who would really listen to me and dose my medication based off of my symptoms and how I felt versus my bloodwork. I removed gluten, dairy, and soy from my diet. I exercised 5-6 times a week with a personal trainer. I started posting on Instagram and slowly discovered there was an autoimmune community out there. It felt like I was discovering a secret society! I also connected with locals who dealt with autoimmune issues, and other young people across the country that suffered from Hashimoto’s. Throughout this process, I picked up many, many tips of what to do to heal.
Over the next 2 years I would try endless remedies to “heal myself.” I went paleo, then I found the Autoimmune Paleo diet (AIP) and did that for a strict year. I stopped exercising so intensely and turned to yoga and walking for a while to reduce inflammation. I stopped using products on my hair, skin, and body that contained a lot of unnatural products. I tried to reduce my stress levels despite being a full-time student with a part-time job. I ate things I never in a million years thought would ever touch my lips like beef liver, sardines, oysters, turkey kidney, bone broth, etc., all in an effort to give my body the nutrients everyone in the AI community said it needed. Trying to heal myself was a full-time job!
I often worried I was causing myself more stress by trying so hard. It was a vicious cycle. I became frustrated when all my efforts didn’t seem to be working. I was doing everything I read I should, and to a T at that….and yet I still wasn’t feeling any better. I didn’t even have a sip of alcohol for my 21st birthday, or the entire year I was 21 for that matter because alcohol wasn’t allowed on the AIP diet. My friends and family thought I was crazy. Sometimes I thought I was too…but I was just a girl determined to feel better and live my life free from this diagnosis and these symptoms. No matter what I had to do to get there, I wanted to be healed. I am a Christian and my faith is very important to me. I prayed every single day for God to heal me. I worried I was sinning by trying to take matters into my own hands too much and essentially saying to God “I’m going to heal myself”.
Do you see the pattern here? So much effort, so much worrying, and yet no results.
This year, things have done a complete 180 for me. I reconnected with my high school best friend in February, after she broke up with her fiancé. We supported each other as winter turned to spring turned to summer. She introduced me to alcohol, bars, country swing dancing. She drew me out of my “all things autoimmune” world and back into reality with other people my age. I was getting less rest, less time in solitude, exercising more again, and drinking for the first time. And yet I was slowly feeling better.
I felt such joy from taking shots with her at the bar and then getting whisked onto the dance floor to two-step with some guy I had never met. **I am in no way endorsing the use of alcohol to those who are dealing with an autoimmune disease as it can definitely cause an inflammatory response. I personally chose to drink for the first time only after I had healed my leaky gut and reduced my overall inflammation. I pushed myself to new heights in exercise again and biked 50 miles one day just because I wanted to see if I could. I started eating how I truly wanted to eat. It wasn’t AIP and sometimes it wasn’t even paleo. I began eating vegan in March because I was so sick of meat. Slowly I was getting stronger, losing weight, and feeling happy. My friend even set me up with a guy from high school one Saturday night in June. We went to our favorite country line dancing bar and danced the night away. We discovered we had many things in common and felt an instant connection. A week later we went out on our first date. Then we made it official when he asked me to be his girlfriend. Just last weekend he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I said yes!!!
I look at where I was just one short year ago and it blows my mind how quickly things can change. Today I can say that I have truly shed the autoimmune mindset.
I used to label myself as sick. When I would talk about myself to others, I would often bring up my autoimmune diagnosis. I felt ill and like I would never feel completely well. Unconsciously I was limiting myself. I was holding myself back by my own thoughts and by isolating myself from my peers. Once I started to truly live how I wanted to (not how I thought I should) I began to finally heal.
Instead of tip-toeing through life like I was walking on egg shells, I began dancing through life however I pleased. I became more spontaneous and adventurous. I stopped taking my thyroid medication in May. I had blood work done in August and my thyroid levels are better than they have ever been. I don’t feel any symptoms anymore.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t live recklessly, and I still take care of myself as best I can. I eat lots of fruits and veggies, exercise 5-6 times a week, make sure I am drinking enough water and getting enough sleep, and try to manage my stress levels as best I can. I eat mostly vegetarian now with the occasional meal that includes chicken. Overall though, I don’t really eat according to any diet anymore. Red meat turns me off most of the time and eggs don’t sit very well on my stomach. Cheese doesn’t bother me though so I enjoy that. Most days I find myself eating smoothies and salads. I no longer worry about every single product I put on my skin, hair, or body. In general, I worry a lot less!! This has definitely helped me finally feel better.
I came across a post on Instagram from @organic_olivia that speaks on this very topic (December 9th post with a picture of a glowing brain if you want to check it out). Her caption read, “If you THINK you have an incurable disease…you are right. But if you THINK your problem is curable, then you are also right.” That, my friends, is what I believe held me back from healing entirely for 2 years.
I believed I had a problem, a disease, a label that set me apart from the rest of society, that limited me, that made me ill. Once I stopped living like I had a disease (going to bed early, never going out or staying up late, never eating anything that wasn’t on my diet, never drinking, rarely being social) and started living like I was a young woman full of life that God had given her (going out when I wanted to, eating what I wanted to, drinking occasionally, sometimes staying up until the wee hours of the morning with friends), my symptoms began to disappear.
If I could give one piece of advice to anyone suffering from an autoimmune disease it would be to WORRY LESS. It is a vicious cycle. Save yourself. We are finite human beings. We can’t do everything. Sure, you can try to eat the cleanest, rest the most, heal the most, but you will never be perfect. That being said, I believe there is a place for the AIP diet. There is definitely a place for self-care. My form of self-care just morphed into being more social instead of staying in every night. Listen to your body and do what is right for you, but stop stressing. Start living like the beautiful, amazing, healthy individual that you are. Sure you may still have days where you don’t feel well and that’s okay. But it’s also okay to live your life and have fun.
Don’t hold yourself back. You have one life. Don’t let your diagnosis limit you.