I began writing this post in August of 2013 and finished it today.
I'd be lying if I said this post will be easy to write. After mulling it over in my head for weeks now, I have to begin. I've received help from too many other bloggers as I've searched desperately for answers and read just what I needed to at just the right time.
You might see the title and think, journey? She seems pretty healthy to me! And I guess in some regards, I have been healthy. I've looked healthy at least. But things are not always what they appear to be on the outside and that is so true when it comes to our health. This is going to be a bit long-winded but I will do my best to be succinct.
**It's going to be personal. It might be uncomfortable. So if you'd rather read a funny little entry on life with a toddler, skip this one. :> OK?**
~I'll start from the beginning. I grew up eating what I'd call a standard American diet. My mom cooked a lot but we also ate fast food at times...Sonic, Kentucky Fried Chicken. I ate oatmeal cream pies (mmm) and I don't really remember having any food "issues." I played high school sports and my cross-country coach encouraged us to give up sodas, so I did, no problem. I never did drink them regularly after that. I never had a weight issue. I had what I'd call a fast metabolism and I distinctly remember going out to Cici's for lunch during a week-long basketball camp and pretty much chowing down. My friends were kind of astounded. I remember my high school basketball coach telling me (half-jokingly) that I had better top 100 pounds before the next upcoming season. I'm pretty sure that was EARLY high school. I loved to eat, loved to be active, and life was good.
Fast-forward to college and I had to pick a major. Not right away, but eventually. I chose Exercise Sports Science because that's what I was interested in. Somewhere around my Sophomore year I'd say, I began to be interested in "health." Healthy living, healthy eating. I found these online fitness/diet forums that were full of girls talking about workouts and healthy meal ideas and I thought, wow, this is cool! This stuff gets me excited! I continued to learn and study exercise science and stayed active throughout college playing intramural sports. I really can't remember having any major health issues while in college. I do remember getting a little caught up in calorie counting. The funny thing though was that I was never trying to lose weight. I would just read Oxygen magazine where the fitness models ate these six 350 calorie, evenly-spaced-out meals per day of chicken, egg whites, and oatmeal so I kinda started thinking that's what healthy meant. I very much recall getting up early to open our school's gym at 5:00 am (I was a manager) and making my protein powder oatmeal with blueberries before I headed out the door. I know my roommate loved me!
After college, I interned at the Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas and immediately after took my first real job as a personal trainer at Larry North Fitness. Still no real health issues. I kept on eating a healthy diet and workouts were regular. While at Larry North, Ryan and I met and started dating. It sounds bad to say it, but around this time is when things started to go a little south. Of course I was over the moon about my new hunky boyfriend :> but I just didn't feel very good. I remember telling my mom, I just don't feel good a lot of the time. I'd eat, and then not feel great. I also at this time started suffering from what I'd call the only real episode of depression I've had. It was not fun. I think there were several contributing factors: I was living on my own in an apartment with a girl I really didn't know, working at a job I didn't like with odd hours (I had moved on from Larry North) dating someone seriously really for the first time ever - which was a good thing! But my over-analytic self was so tied up in figuring out if he was "the one" that I was stressing big time. I wasn't sleeping very well and I felt like I was walking around in a fog. I remember one time just laying in my bed, not wanting to get up, not even really wanting to go on.
The low point was me calling my mom from work one day as I was filing some papers...I felt like I might be having some kind of anxiety attack and I said, "Mom, you've got to help me. I need some help." She took me to a local doctor my dad had seen who asked me a few questions, me crying, and prescribed me an anti-depressant. Lovely. I know I didn't take it very long because it made me feel wonky. Slowly, somehow things started getting better. Ryan and I continued to date, I got a new job as a physical therapy technician with normal, regular hours, we got engaged, and I moved into a house with a couple of other girls. I was working out (hello, wedding!) and trying to eat right and for the most part I think things were good.
Fast forward. We got married! I took hormonal birth control for the first time, starting a few months before the wedding. The effects of being on "the pill" for a mere five months would continue to affect me for years afterward. It. was. awful. I turned into a not-so-nice person and had a myriad of unpleasant side-effects. One of them was sore breasts. And I'm not talking just a little sore. It was horrible. Every month from then on would not pass without me enduring a week to almost two weeks of painful, lumpy breasts that made it hard to wear a bra. I was miserable and PMS would turn me into a raging, emotional mess and the pain only added to that. I saw doctor after doctor, researched my eyes out, tried everything anyone suggested, and was told over and over that they didn't know what to do and it was "normal." Fibrocystic breast pain. And it was genetic, from my dad's side. I tried vitamin E, evening primrose oil, vegetarian diet, no chocolate, no caffeine. I would plan things around when I knew I would be sore because it was so uncomfortable. Somewhere in there I had a fibroadenoma removed from my left breast.
I was left with one ray of hope. I had an ob-gyn tell me that if I got pregnant, the soreness might go away. That my body might "re-set" so to speak and that post-baby, this might not be an issue. And...she was right. After Karlyn was born, I didn't suffer from the breast pain. Until I got pregnant again. That was when it came back and we went on to miscarry that baby. Back to the monthly pain. My periods weren't fun. I had ridiculous cravings and severe mood swings. Every month I would get canker sores inside my mouth that were brutal. I just always felt a little "off" a lot of the time, despite trying to eat what I thought was a healthy diet and regular exercise.
During the Fall of 2011 my co-worker started talking about an "Eat Real" challenge her CrossFit gym was hosting. All I had heard about "Paleo" at that point was that you ate MEAT! ha. I thought the whole Paleo thing sounded a bit dumb...just eating a bunch of meat?! But, always eager for new health/nutrition knowledge, I signed up. I still remember standing with my team that night talking about what we hoped to achieve during the challenge. I talked about how I hadn't been sleeping well and I wanted to kick some sugar cravings.
The challenge was tough. We ate meat, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats. No salt. I lasted 25 out of the 33 days because Ryan had his second emergency surgery within just a few months of the first, after rupturing his spleen. I noticed positive changes. My mood felt more even, more stable. I slept a little better. I thought, man, this is it! This is what I need to be doing to feel better. I got off track, went back to eating the way I'd always had (what I thought was fairly healthy) and then would start eating Paleo again. The Summer and Fall of 2012 were rough. I kept trying harder and harder to eat a strict Paleo diet and I kept not feeling good. I was dealing with insomnia, urinary frequency and bladder prolapse. My cycles weren't going smoothly (nothing new there) and I felt like my body wasn't working right. I honestly thought I was going crazy that summer. We had just gone through our first miscarriage (May 2012) and I was trying to recover emotionally. My insomnia was INSANE. I'm talking up all night, feeling wired, trying desperately to will my body to sleep on into the early hours of the morning. And then I got to go into work! I'm a little fuzzy now on the timeline but a couple of things happened in there. I started researching (again) to try and figure out what the heck was going on with me. I do know that on October 1st of 2012, I passed out at work. I felt awful that morning but went into work anyways. The hospital told me I had a bladder infection and sent me home. Super. I went to see my gynecologist and in tears told her I was falling apart. She sent me to her doctor, an internist who ran some blood work including a panel to check for celiac disease. It came back negative, but I was not convinced. See, I had already cut out gluten for several weeks before that and every thing I read about this kind of testing said you HAD to be consuming gluten to consider your results accurate. Why had I cut it out? This stupid rash. With all the Summer craziness had come a horrible rash on both of my legs that was oddly symmetrical. It itched bad and I kept thinking, am I using some new skin product? What the heck? I researched again, because it's what I do. I found a link to...gluten! So I stopped. Again. Bingo! The rash went away. I also went to a dermatologist a few weeks after cutting gluten (so it didn't look this bad by then) who gave me a prescription for some cream and told me it was probably just dry skin. Yeah. Try again.
Fast-forward. The rash went away and I still kept some gluten in my diet. (head slam) I decided to ditch the strict Paleo plan and added some foods back in. I want to add something here. I would later find out that gluten can play a big role in insomnia for those who are intolerant but just as huge I believe was me discovering how important carbohydrates are, even on a Paleo diet, and ESPECIALLY FOR WOMEN. Part of the reason my body was acting so crazy I believe was that I wasn't feeding it enough. I had convinced myself that beans were of the devil (not Paleo!) rice was out, etc. Even though I did NOT need the gluten, I did need more calories and carbs. I am so thankful for two websites who pointed me in the right direction at that time. 180 Degree Health and Paleo for Women. OK, back to the story. We found out we were pregnant in January of 2013. I specifically remember making re-fried bean quesadillas (flour tortillas!) to quell some of the nauseousness. It was a long 10 weeks. Or short. At what should have been ten weeks we found out we had lost the baby and my world shattered once again. My doctor assured me there would be testing this time. (They don't test you after you lose one.) I had about 16 vials of blood drawn one afternoon and waited to see what they would come back with. In the meantime, I was at it again. Researching. Reading. I kept finding things tying gluten intolerance to miscarriage. I had no idea what my test results would show but I decided once and for all to cut it out. If there was even a CHANCE this was messing with my body's ability to keep a baby, I was done with it. So on April 18th of 2013, almost one year ago, I went gluten free and haven't looked back. Not once have I regretted that decision. A few days later my test results came in.
I had MTHFR.
Let me spell that out for you. Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase - And wikipedia tells us that it is the rate-limiting enzyme in the methyl cycle, and it is encoded by the MTHFR gene.
I'll be honest. I don't understand everything there is to know about MTHFR although once I knew I had it, I began learning. I have more to learn, but it was a start. Let me try to explain it how I understand it best.
People who have MTHFR can't absorb, process, and/or convert folic acid like they should. A body without MTHFR can convert folic acid (you know the stuff in your multi-vitamin AND found in most processed foods) into FOLATE and then use that. But with MTHFR you don't and not only can you not use it as effectively, the folic acid can store up in your body and become toxic. Because it can't go anywhere.
MTHFR is a genetic mutation and is passed down from your parents or parent. It is most commonly seen at two different locations: C677T and A1298T and you can have single or double copies. I was told mine is heterozygous C677T, meaning I have one copy that is mutated and one that is working. Side Note: After testing, we know that both of my parents have this. My mom has the A1 copy and my dad (though he hasn't been tested) has the C6 copy. I know this because that's the one that was passed down to me) Side Note 2: The C677T variation lends itself to cardiovascular issues (my dad) and birth defects/miscarriage (me). Side Note 3: It is estimated that half or more of the population has the MTHFR mutation in some form, but many don't know it.)
I'm going to save a more long-winded post on MTHFR for later and for the sake of time (holy moly) continue on with this novella. After reading me the results, my doctor's office told me I needed to supplement with methylfolate (the already converted form of folic acid), b-12, and take baby aspirin as soon as I got pregnant again. Also, from my own reading I learned that I needed to avoid folic acid. That meant in my vitamins and in my food. Hello gluten! It lined up 100% with what my gut (literally) had been telling me the whole time. Not only was my body NOT using the folic acid I kept shoving in, it was storing it up to toxic levels and causing who knows what kind of chaos.
I spent April and May of 2013 trying to figure out exactly what I needed to be taking. I'm still experimenting somewhat. We spent the second half of 2013 recovering from another baby loss as I tried to reclaim my health. My journey isn't over; we still want another baby. Babies! Although I now have my MTHFR diagnoses and some knowledge on how to proceed, I still have a few lingering issues and no promise of sustained future pregnancies. Hormonal imbalance still continues to be an issue. I do believe though that I have come a long way.
Why do I share this story? Because I feel compelled to. Because I hope to use anything I've gone through to help someone else. Because I feel like none of us go through hard times or situations, only for ourselves. Because I want to remember. Because someone else might be there too.
If you made it to the end, congrats. =) I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences, or any response you might have and know that I truly appreciate it all.