My story of auto immune diseases and overcoming fear so I could heal…

People often ask me “why did you choose nutrition and health as a career?” or “how could you know how I feel, surely you have never been overweight or sick?” . To be completely honest I was not particularly interested in health until I was sick, it certainly was not a career I would have ever chosen, as often happens, it chose me……. as John Lennon said “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans“.

Fiona – feeling very frumpy and unwell

I was a fussy kid who wouldn’t eat much unless it was chocolate, soft drink or bread or something similar (I had all the food groups covered)!! I also suffered from lots of digestive issues (surprise surprise) and in my teens and early 20’s regular debilitating migraines and lots of fainting/dizzy spells. These problems were just a way of life for me, it didn’t occur to me that my diet could be causing these health problems! I had always been relatively slim so when I started stacking on the weight in my early 20’s it took me a long time to understand that my diet was the cause! I had always eaten that way – why was I putting on weight now?

I now know, looking back that my body gave me lots of warning signs that I was not well (as if digestive issues, migraines and fainting were not signs!) along the way, I just chose to ignore these signs and largely accept these health conditions as just normal. It is quite common to collect little health issues one at a time and before you know it, you have some pretty big health issues. If you don’t listen to your body’s whispers, eventually it shouts at you until you listen, if you don’t listen – it forces you to listen!

For me, this happened on 1 November 1996, at the age of 25 – I suffered a stroke. I remember that day like it was yesterday, it was 40+ degrees (celsius) Friday afternoon, I was at my job in an office in the centre of Sydney and I had a visual disturbance come on so I knew a migraine would follow soon. I diligently finished my work and caught the train home (I was legally blind at the time I was on the train and the pain had started, I remember with great difficulty trying not to fall as I stepped off the train onto Penrith station). I caught a cab home from the station and went to bed.

One of my husband’s mates rang and told me I sounded like I was “on drugs”. I was not aware at the time, I was slurring my words and he was not aware that it was a clear sign I was having a stroke! (Please remember that the person who is slurring their words may not be aware that they are actually slurring, I thought I was just speaking slowly). I was in incredible pain and violently ill the whole weekend, attending many medical centres and waiting for many hours in the hospital emergency. I knew by this time I was very ill, but not sure what was happening. I couldn’t get any doctors to take my concerns seriously as I was only 25, so surely it was just a headache, right?

Finally, the hospital agreed to do a CT scan on the Monday, and all of a sudden many doctors were all looking at my scan and very interested. I was now seriously worried as I knew they had found something wrong with my brain, I knew this for sure, the fear started to set in, there was something wrong with my brain and I was about to get a diagnosis. The doctors offered to get me a wheelchair to take me back to emergency so they could discuss my results, there was no way I was waiting for that, I walked back to emergency where the doctors did a neurological examination which felt like it went forever, before they finally told me the diagnosis. You have suffered a stroke! It resulted in permanent brain damage, losing 25% of my peripheral vision although in the early stages of the stroke I lost all of my peripheral vision and would have been legally blind – so I and extremely grateful that 75% of my vision returned. This literally stopped me in my tracks; life would never be the same again.

The scans showed that this was not my first stroke, I had experienced several “mini” strokes before this one. Then it began, the conflicting diagnosis and dire warnings from specialists, the medications with debilitating “side effects” – the fear merry-go-round. I was paralysed by fear – what if I have another stroke? will I die? will I be OK? I really wasn’t too sure that I would live until 30. After going to a whole lot of specialists – neurologists and haematologists – I was diagnosed with an auto immune disease described to me as anticardiolipid antibodies, I was told that this auto immune disease caused my blood to have a tendency to clot and that I would have this disease for life and need medication for the rest of my life too!

My headaches had stopped but I didn’t seem to be getting better, I was always tired and general unwell, a few years later I was diagnosed with yet another auto immune disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroid Disease, now I had to take thyroid hormone as my thyroid was not making enough. I was stuck in this victim mentality where I felt that my body had let me down, far from it, my poor body was doing the best it could under the circumstances! I was doing nothing to help myself as I didn’t know at the time that there was anything I could do and that my diet and lifestyle is what led me there in the first place!

Click on this link for Part 2.

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