Healing Imperfectly: How I Stopped Searching for the “Magic Bullet”

The quest to find the “magic bullet” has been on my mind a lot lately as I work on building this business. I’m constantly bombarded with courses marketing the “#1 strategy for viral content” or “how to grow your Instagram from 100 to 100,000” and “how to have a coaching practice so packed that you’re booked 6 months out!” About a week ago I was feeling so overwhelmed trying to figure out which strategy to use, which course to buy, which podcast to listen to, and I finally decided to stick with a few coaches whose advice I really love, and focus on doing what feels right and true to me.

Why am I talking about business? Well, it is actually very similar to how I changed my healing plan about a year and a half ago, something I’ve been reminded about a few times this week with doctors visits and an awesome chat with my friend Lucia at Essential Omnivore. From the time I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2009 to when I finally called it quits on obsessive research and dieting in favor of a more holistic approach in the fall of 2016, I was on a constant quest to find the magic bullet that would cure me.

For the first 5 years or so, the magic bullet was a diagnosis. After being diagnosed with Celiac Disease I gave up gluten and I still felt awful. I waited for the magic 3 month mark where you’re supposed to feel better, and it never came for me. After about 9 months I dove head first into the Specific Carbohydrate Diet to see if it would help me, because it had been shown to work for Celiac Disease. I connected with others on the diet and followed SCD blogs and it seemed that if I just committed to the diet 100%, I would be cured. So I did. There was absolutely no cheating allowed on the diet, and with no sugar allowed I found myself making EVERYTHING from scratch. As a college student working 3 summer jobs I was making weekly yogurt from scratch, cooking constantly, and avoiding going out, because restaurant food was definitely not allowed. I was actually working in a restaurant at the time, which was torture, and I was dating, but having to explain to my dates why there was absolutely no place I could go to dinner.

The diet did help me feel somewhat better, but after about 4 months I just couldn’t deal with the restriction and its impact on my social life. So, I went back to the drawing board, and eventually committed to a Paleo-style template and doubled down on my search for a diagnosis. You see, post-SCD diet I was hospitalized with mono and a kidney infection, which was where my health really started going downhill. The worse it got, the more I needed to find my magic cure.

So, I started doing internet research, and I started seeing a lot of doctors. I saw MDs, NDs, nutritionists, functional medicine doctors, acupuncturists, chiropractors, and more trying to figure this out. I saw my fair share of doctors who thought I was nuts and couldn’t help me, a few who diagnosed me with things and loaded me up with supplements that never helped, and a few doctors who were convinced they knew what I had, only to never be able to find evidence. Here’s a list of a few of the potential diagnoses I racked up over the years:

  • Celiac disease (actually have this!)
  • IBS (always a questionable diagnosis in my opinion)
  • GERD/Acid reflux
  • Microscopic Colitis
  • Chron’s Disease
  • Parasites
  • SIBO (actually had this)
  • Candida
  • Leaky Gut
  • Endometriosis
  • Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
  • Interstitial Cystitis (actually have this)
  • Reactivated Epstein Barr Virus (aka mono)
  • Chronic sinusitis and bronchitis
  • Most of the Connective Tissue Diseases (see below)
  • Mast Cell Activation Disorder (actually have this, though it is a mild version)

Is that enough to make your head spin? With each of these potential diagnoses I would go down a rabbit hold of research. I would be convinced that this was it, this was THE diagnosis and now that we knew what it was we’d finally be able to fix it. But it almost never was. It almost became devastating each time the doctors wound up not finding something, and I started to have to take long breaks in between trying to find the answer, because I couldn’t deal with losing hope again. Now, this isn’t to say I was hopeful I had some awful disease. I just wanted two things: first, validation that there was in fact something wrong with me and I was not crazy, and second, something easily treatable so I could get to feeling better ASAP.

So, finally after 5 years of trying my diagnosis came. I had gone to visit a rheumatologist and the visit itself went pretty smoothly. He didn’t think I had anything to worry about and sent me home with some NSAID samples to see if they helped my joint pain and constant numbness and tingling I was dealing with in my extremities. I was actually pretty happy about this because I had been very nervous about this appointment, and had a sinking feeling it would be different than all my others. Then, a few days later he called to let me know that my inflammation numbers were elevated, along with my ANA, and that along with my symptoms he believed I had a connective tissue disease and would start me on medication immediately.

I finally had a diagnosis. The magic bullet I’d been searching for! But it didn’t feel as good as I hoped, instead it felt scary. First of all, he didn’t actually know which connective tissue disease I had (the main connective tissue diseases are Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Sjogren’s Syndrome, and Scleroderma) because my symptoms were kind of scattered around all of them, and second of all, this was most certainly not the easy to treat diagnosis I was looking for!

So, my next order of business was to figure out which disease I had, because at the time I was classified as having Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease. For some reason, this distinction drove me insane even though it had absolutely no effect on my treatment plan. But I just thought that if I could get a more definitive diagnosis, I could have a more straightforward plan of action. I added more doctors to my team and got second opinions, and we eventually arrived at Lupus, even though mine didn’t present like “textbook” Lupus did, and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to not have any organ involvement.

Now that I had my full diagnosis, I moved on to phase 2: fixing it. It was almost as though, after spending all this time on finding a diagnosis, my brain couldn’t compute slowing down and finding a more well-rounded approach to everything. I was convinced that if I learned enough, did enough, tried hard enough, I could get rid of all of my symptoms and reverse my disease. After all, I had read TONS of stories from people who did the same thing! No way was I going to be on medication forever. So, I began searching for my NEW magic bullet. I immersed myself into research (aka Google and health podcasts), consulted a ton of nutritionists and functional medicine doctors, and started trying every diet under the sun.

Just like when I was frantically searching for my diagnosis, I thought every diet, supplement, and underlying cause (was it SIBO? MTHFR? Histamine Intolerance) was it. If I just committed to this diet and took these supplements, I would feel better instantly. Every time was another let down, and I seemed to be getting worse and worse with no idea why. I thought, why wasn’t it working for me? Why couldn’t it just be easy?

As I talked about in this post, I finally realized that all of the dieting and research and supplements was doing nothing but stressing me out even more and making it harder to heal. There was no magic bullet. I’d tried every “cure” and none of them worked for me. So, I finally stepped back from all of the research and tried listening to what my body was trying to tell me. Over the last year+, I’ve figured out that that was the real key.

Healing is hard work. It isn’t a linear path. It doesn’t happen over the course of a week. It takes patience, it takes loving your body and yourself, it takes tuning out what everyone else thinks you should do, and instead listening hard to find what is really working for you. I was sick for 10+ years without a diagnosis, and it just doesn’t make sense to think that you can heal that in a matter of weeks, or even months. I don’t regret the time I spent searching for my diagnosis, as I did need one to get proper treatment, but I do wonder what things would have been like if I’d been able to take a more relaxed approach to things.

In the last year, I’ve achieved remission, come out of it, had terrible flares, developed new symptoms, and then found myself feeling great again. I tried my best not to freak out about this though. Where in the past any new symptom or flare would send me into a panic to find a new protocol, I managed to remain calm through most of my recent flares, because instead of looking for that magic bullet, I’ve learned to trust my body, and I know that by listening to it and giving it what it needs, I’ll get back to where I need to be. No matter what happens, I try to keep myself from spending hours on Google trying to find the quick fix, because I know it doesn’t exist!

Part of giving up the quest to find the magic bullet for me was giving up the race to find perfection. Instead I’ve learned to be okay with the present, and I’ve (mostly) learned to be okay with my imperfect self and my imperfect circumstances. It is possible that my health may never be 100% perfect, and it is also possible that a few years from now I’ll be feeling amazing. If you are looking for a quick fix for your health, for your business, for your happiness, or really any area of your life, it is worth taking a step back and asking yourself what you are really trying to achieve with it. Anything worth having requires a hard, steady work, and it is always worth putting in that effort.

 

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Mindy
    February 11, 2018 at 11:01 am

    This is an excellent post Amber! Beautifully written with so many nuggets of wisdom. I felt a lot of connections reading through this, as I’ve definitely been down that magic bullet rabbit hole for many years trying to heal chronic illness myself. But you are so on point…at a certain point all that research is just a distraction from listening to our own bodies and intuition. So glad you are doing so much better and props to you for inspiring others with all you’ve learned. Looking forward to reading more of these posts!

    • Reply
      Amber
      February 11, 2018 at 12:27 pm

      Thank you Mindy! So glad it resonated and that you’re out of the research rabbit hole too!

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