Lyme Disease. Fibromyalgia. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Multiple Sclerosis. Adrenal Fatigue. Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
These are just a few of the diagnoses that I’ve received over the past 8 years. It was the summer of 2009 when I was hit with a mystery illness so severe that it forced me out of school and out of my job. To say I was terrified would be a gross understatement, and it was a long and winding road to recovery.
My triathlon training was put on permanent hiatus, along with my graduate education plans. My social life dried up in a matter of weeks. Everything in my life came to a grinding halt, and I had no idea how to get the gears going again.
Since my illness wasn’t, and still isn’t, well understood by the medical community, I was put in charge of my own treatment. Thankfully, my research background came in handy, and I scoured the internet for anything and everything that I thought might help. I filled up my days with a regimen of pills and powders, and tried to use each second I had to read about potential explanations and cures for this mysterious disability I suddenly found myself with.
I considered myself lucky that I was able to finish my bachelor’s degree in Health & Human Sciences, mere weeks before the illness hit. I drew on as much of this knowledge and training that I had tucked away in my brain, as I attempted to navigate this tricky new path. I withdrew from the world, living in a fog of complex and confusing symptoms, day after day. Many of my friends fell off the map. I had no ability to produce income. I lost touch with my passions. I could barely leave the house on most days. My life as I knew it, was over.
The medical community put me through the ringer during that first year of my illness, ordering every possible test that they could justify to my insurance company. And while I did get the occasional positive result, all in all, the dozens of pokes and prods gave us no helpful answers, and my future was still unclear. I was labeled with numerous syndromes and other “wastebasket diagnoses,” and told to go home and rest more. So that’s what I did.
Thankfully, I can say, things did get better, albeit at a snail’s pace. Slowly, my body regained some strength and I was able to return to work very part time after nearly a year of absence. A year or so after that, I began taking some gentle yoga classes again, and started having hope that I was finally on the road to recovery. But I was still struggling day after day with pain, brain fog, dizziness, heart palpitations, and inexplicable exhaustion. It was a struggle to make something out of my life, and I wondered if this was as good as it was ever gonna get. I thought I was cursed to live a sort of half life from then on. I was only 23 years old.
My mornings consisted of disgusting vitamin shakes, which I attempted to mask the taste of with ice cream and sugary syrups. I was choking down pills and injecting myself with B-12 on a weekly basis. Although, looking back, I can say that I got a lot of things right, my diet wasn’t one of those things. For some unknown reason, healing with food never really occurred to me, despite my background in health and nutrition. I somehow decided that being a vegan was a superior choice, and so I eschewed meat and eggs in favor of grains and processed foods. In my mind I was doing the “right thing,” but I know that my body was struggling under the weight of all of those chemicals, preservatives, and other pro-inflammatory ingredients. I officially became a “junk-food vegan,” and continued on my way, wondering why I wasn’t getting any better.
Fast forward another year or two to my major relapse of 2012. Just like they had in the very beginning, all my symptoms came flying at me full-force, and I was knocked back down to square one. I was once again, terrified, confused, angry, and housebound. Frustrated and determined to find the answers, I launched into another round of doctors and specialists, of more testing and treatments. I did manage to gather a few new leads, and I ran with those as far as I possibly could, exhausting every resource I had in a desperate clawing for the truth of my illness. But nothing surfaced. Instead, I pawed through pages and pages of negative and normal test results. I fell into a deep depression, which lasted for several months, dragging everything around me into a dark, black hole.
Looking back, I see that my relapse was my wake up call. I needed to change the way I was going about this whole thing, and really take a wide-angle approach to my healing. I needed to get serious about what I was putting into my body, and the kinds of thoughts I allowed to control my mind. The paleo diet had been circulating in the back of my awareness for some time (after all, I went to Colorado State University, home of Loren Cordain, a pioneer of the movement), and I decided to start incorporating some meat back into my diet.
I distinctly remember my first bite of meat. It was a grass fed ribeye steak, which I seared to medium-rare perfection in my cast iron pan. I cut off a hunk and chewed it with reverence. It tasted SO good. And I kid you not, within about 30 minutes of eating that steak, I felt a surge of energy in my body. My brain felt clearer. My cheeks regained their color. Even my pain level went down a few notches. In the end, it wasn’t research studies or articles that changed my mind- it was my own personal, visceral experience with food that brought me to the primal way of eating.
Over the next several years, I experimented with my diet, making changes here and there to find what helped me to feel my best. I did elimination diets and cleanses, and finally ditched dairy, which apparently had been the cause of my skin issues all along! I started incorporating supportive herbs and starting making veggies the star of every meal, instead of just the side dish. All of these changes didn’t cure me, but I believe that they were key pieces in my continued recovery. With each and every meal, I knew I was making a choice, and I was either helping or hindering my healing process.
As these things tend to do, this period of awakening extended into all the areas of my life, and I started investing in my growth in other arenas too. I got back in touch with my meditation practice, and regained my spiritual compass. I started becoming more mindful of my relationships and of spending more time in nature. I revamped my home environment, and switched to natural and non-toxic body products and cleaning supplies. I read up on the health effects of things like EMF radiation, endocrine disrupters, and too much screen time. I took my self-care to a whole new level, and stopped making excuses for treating myself like crap.
And as each month passed, I could feel a tiny bit more of my energy and clarity returning. I am eternally grateful that I had established all of these healthy routines and had a solid stress reduction practice by the time my next challenge arose. In 2015, my partner of eight years decided she wanted a divorce, and I was forced to move out of my beloved home, without a penny to my name. Those few months were some of the hardest I’ve ever had to endure, and I’m confident in saying that my nourishing diet, sleep hygiene, and meditation habit played important roles in helping me to cope. In the end, this horrible experience turned out to be a blessing in disguise, and offered me a new opportunity to grow and recommit to myself and my healing journey.
After sifting through so much information and from my personal experiences over the years, it became apparent that I had a wealth of wisdom and guidance that I could share with others. Friends and strangers began asking my advice on diet and supplementation. My itty bitty blog started seeing some traffic. I realized that I was becoming a valuable resource for others struggling with chronic and mystery illness, and that I should explore some kind of credential to help me make this into a career. I completed my Reiki Master/Teacher training, after seeing firsthand the power of energy work in activating the body’s inherent healing mechanisms. But I knew my education wasn’t going to stop there.
The Primal Health Coach program stood out to me for several reasons: First, I loved the laid-back philosophy and the emphasis on reconnecting with our natural state of joy and vitality. I don’t respond well to militant or restrictive ideologies, and I didn’t want to put that kind of energy onto my clients either! Second, it was well researched and well organized, making the process easy to navigate and the content was worth the investment. And lastly, I knew that the Primal Blueprint brand was a legitimate and respected one in the health community, and the support they could provide would be priceless.
I’m so thrilled to be a health coach now, and I know that my own experiences give me the passion I need to help others who are searching for answers, just like I did. I am confident that my own unique blend of nutrition, spirituality, and radical self-care can work wonders, because it has in my own life! The primal way of life is all about getting back in touch with our natural state of wellbeing, and I wake up grateful every day for this opportunity to share that wisdom with everyone around me. If you are looking for a way out of chronic illness and into a place of chronic wellness instead, I can be your guide. It is my dream that we all can make empowered decisions for our health, and feel as well as possible, each and every day!
Visit abrighterwild.com to request a free consultation from Primal Health Coach Melani Schweder.
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