It all started at the age of 13. I went from a tall, lanky tom-boy, to a young frightened teenage girl who was having her first surgery, a laparoscopy, to determine if I had endometriosis. I didn’t know what the word meant; I only knew I wanted it to go away. I was confirmed to have endometriosis and given laser treatment to burn off the lesions, scar tissue and cysts that were forming on my right ovary. I had started my period a few months earlier, and with each cycle my problems began and intensified. At the time of my diagnosis, I had Stage IV endometriosis. Little did I know that this was only the beginning of a long and hellish life-altering journey over the next 2.5 to 3 decades.
One in ten women have endometriosis, but despite that, this disease is not well recognized. I had become a statistic that most people don’t understand, and even fewer have patience for. Looking back, I felt like I fell into a rabbit hole with no way out. My teenage years were awkward to say the least. After being diagnosed with endometriosis, I was placed on birth control pills for several years and not allowed to have a period. The pain wasn’t as bad, but my acne, anxiety, mood swings, concentration, and other complaints continued with full force. I hated my teenage years and basically everything about my life. Pictures were not allowed to happen.
Dealing With Infertility
During my early twenties, I got married and decided I wanted to have a family. I went off the pill and dealt with the acne, pain, constipation, mood swings, and depression as best I could. My marriage was far from good, and I mistakenly thought having a child would fix everything, or at least make me feel semi-whole. But, I was infertile.
For over five years I tried to get pregnant, without success. To say I felt less than a woman is an understatement. It was just one more thing I couldn’t do. Between 1980 and 2005, I consulted numerous specialists and followed their protocols, bought thousands of herbal/natural products, gave up one thing after another, and went to the extreme of cosmetic surgery in an effort to help myself with my acne and skin. Yet, with each passing year, I continued to yo-yo up and down, and my ability to bounce back with each down swing became increasingly harder. I was left infertile, feeling ugly and alone, and felt completely helpless and hopeless.
Anxiety, Depression, and Suicidal Thoughts
In 1997, after going through a very stressful and painful divorce, my endometriosis became uncontrollable. The all-encompassing and incapacitating pain of my condition, as well as the severe cystic acne, uncontrollable bleeding, and low self-esteem sent me spiraling into the depths of depression and anxiety. I thought to myself, “Is the rest of my life going to be like this? This is hell! I can’t continue to live like this. How will I ever escape from this nightmare?” My list and severity of symptoms were increasing despite trying many different protocols and consulting with a myriad of practitioners across all specialties. My acne went from my face to traveling down my neck onto my chest and my back, making the upper half of me raw and ugly looking. I tried dermabrasion, laser resurfacing treatment, Retin-A, Witch hazel, topical acne creams, internal acne remedies, all without success.
Worsening Symptoms of Endometriosis
Towards the end of my divorce, I started bleeding more and more. Each cycle lasted longer, became heavier, and the cramping intensity increased. My time in between my periods became less and less. I was put on birth control pills again to try and stop my bleeding. After a couple of months we increased the pills to two a day in the hopes of slowing down the bleeding. But, after six months, I was still bleeding heavily, anemic, exhausted, and severely depressed. The pain I dealt with on a constant basis felt like knives cutting me from the inside out. The panic attacks started shortly thereafter.
I went through four different procedures in the hopes of slowing down my bleeding: another laparoscopy, two endometrial ablations, and a D&C. These did work for a short period of time, but then within weeks, my bleeding would start again. Suddenly, I had a whole new list of things to deal with. On top of everything else, my legs started blistering, my hair started falling out, I didn’t have the strength to get out of bed, and I couldn’t stop crying or feel any joy with life. I absolutely wanted it all to end. Then came the hot flashes. I was consumed by hopelessness and despair. I was alone, without support, and ready to quit.
The doctors I went to for help gave me one excuse after another as to why things were going the way they were going. I was told “I was allergic to the sun”, and “everything was in my head and I needed to see a shrink.” One didn’t know what was wrong with me but he would give me more drugs in the hopes that it will help, at least with my depression and panic attacks.
Finally, I went to my gynecologist. When I told my doctor what was going on with me, he tested my hormones and found that being on the pill caused the majority of estrogen to be gone from my body. My hormones were completely screwed up. So, that day, he decided to take me off birth control pills so my body could ‘correct’ itself. I went from being a suicidal, crying, pimply mess to an enraged, homicidal crazy woman…and in the space of about three days.
The Beginning of the End
I HATED men, and HATED doctors even more. And then one day, while working, I broke. I had a nervous breakdown. I was immediately put on leave, and told to see the state psychiatrist (I worked for state government at the time). It was at this point, I knew I had to help myself.
My Healing Journey Begins
It was during this time in my life I decided to become a doctor. I didn’t want to be a medical doctor because frankly, they didn’t help me and it felt at times made me worse. I wanted to help heal people. So, I chose to become a Doctor of Chiropractic. This one decision led me to discover another side of medicine I had never heard of before…functional medicine.
Functional medicine teaches that each body system is inter-related. One system or organ has an effect on all systems in our bodies. And, when our systems fall out of balance, we are no longer able to adapt and overcome physical, physiological, emotional, mental, or spiritual stressors. The principles of healing our bodies using functional medicine involve several areas that are often neglected by traditional medicine. We need to cultivate a mindset for healing and transformation, and establish a nourishing lifestyle and optimal nutrition. We also need to minimize the toxic burden on the body by eliminating as many environmental and physiological stressors as possible, and at the same time maximize the detoxification pathways. We need to reduce stress, and break destructive patterns that create a stress response.
I applied the principles of functional medicine to correctly identify and remove the physiological stressors that were blocking my health. In order to determine where the breakdown was occurring I utilized specialized salivary testing that most medical doctors don’t even know about. I also checked my detoxification status, methylation, HPA Axis dysfunction, and much more. I learned how important our gut health and brain health were in relation to our hormones, and worked on correctly the real problem. And I succeeded.
I have learned that the magic bullet, “quick fix” protocols do not work. This is not ‘take a pill’ to ease one symptom, this is a process that allows for your body to heal all symptoms. Just focusing on one aspect of your health and your body is the wrong way to determine and correct where the breakdown is occurring. Understanding, accepting, and working with your body as a whole is the way to healing. It requires time, active participation, and the right type of health professionals to guide you through the process. My new understanding of health and healing have changed my life.