Thursday, June 5, 2014

My Recovery Story {Part I}

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" Philippians 4:4 

I got the Hebrew word "Simcha" which translates to joy/happiness/gladness, tattooed onto my left forearm shortly after I went into remission from Ulcerative Colitis. The book of Philippians helped me overcome anxiety through a very challenging time in my life. I believe God allowed me to be afflicted by this disease in order to bring awareness of it to others through my experience. My suffering also brought me closer to the Lord, taught me how to appreciate my family and my body. In this series I am going to share my story of how I recovered from Ulcerative Colitis and later was cured from Avascular Necrosis. I tried to make it as detailed as possible but if you have more questions please don't hesitate to ask! 

nine year old me, during a cheerleading competition at six flags :)
I made the decision to accept Jesus Christ at my church when I was nine-years-old. It was my first and best decision. Of course, like most kids I stumbled along the way being a rebellious and stubborn teen but I always knew God was watching me and tried to make wiser decisions than my peers because of Him. I have always been a very shy person and borderline socially anxious, and it caused me a lot of grief. Anxiety is a real thing that affects people daily, Christian or not. It’s a challenge to live with!  It wasn't until I turned seventeen that I experienced what felt like a heart attack of emotions and anxiety.  All caused by a longtime friendship gone bad.  I will spare you the details and simply end it by saying there was a lot of heartbreak on my end, and so much dishonesty that couldn't be repaired.


The experience made me bitter and I had a hard time trusting people other than my family, eventually I fell into a season of depression. I was experiencing discomfort each time I ate and didn't know what was causing it. So I went from a healthy 102 lbs., to a frail 79 lbs. in three short months, and that concerned people. My hands and feet were purple, my hair was falling out and I developed Raynaud's Phenomenon in both my hands and feet. By the time I turned eighteen and had my yearly checkup, I was diagnosed with anorexia. This didn't make sense to me and truly shocked me because I was in denial of how poorly I was treating the body God gave me. I would like to add that a diagnosis of anorexia isn't always because you want to be skinny or starving yourself, and I learned that doctors will label you that if you are severely underweight and feel a smidgen depressed or anxious.

5'1 ft and 79 lbs.
The doctor recommended I see a therapist. I thought she was weird and I stopped going after one session. My mom told me that same therapist called and said “she couldn't help me” and instead of feeling like a lost cause, my mom and I laughed about it.  I began seeing a weight management specialist who treated me as an anorexic patient and told me that food was my medicine. It was awkward having to tell her what I ate that day and the physical activity I engaged in. I would always tell her I ate oatmeal for breakfast and she told me that it was my “safe food”, and that I needed more variety. The same doctor who told me that food was my medicine recommended I drink Carnation Breakfast Essentials, eat Cliff Bars and other processed foods; all which caused my body even more discomfort. Unfortunately she was only concerned about calories and not particularly the quality of the nutrients my body needed.  I told her that eggs and dairy were also causing pain and more often than not it felt like glass was resting in my stomach. She explained to me that what I was experiencing was normal and my body would eventually heal itself. Deep down inside the advice and recommendations she gave me didn't sit well both physically and mentally.

 While I did manage to gain some weight after following her guidelines, I still felt sick and frustrated that this specialist continuously failed to understand what I was telling her. It wasn't until my health took a turn for the worst and fast. My joints began to hurt, I couldn't concentrate in school and I started to experience painful bloody diarrhea. One Saturday morning I was too weak and in so much pain to even get out of bed. I screamed for my mom and begged to be taken to the hospital. The pain in my abdomen was so debilitating that I needed help with putting my clothes on and I could hardly stand up. My mom was able to get an emergency sick visit that morning and the Physician’s Assistant who saw me sent me straight to the emergency room.

It was my first time in the emergency room and as I lay waiting, it seemed that a countless number of hospital residents and medical students came in to ask me the same handful of questions. The experience was overwhelming and scary, especially since the doctor’s didn't have any answers and continued to have me undergo blood tests. Several hours later I was admitted into the hospital and given IV fluids to help with the dehydration.

I didn't know why I was in the hospital or how I got sick, but what I did know was what an encouraging and selfless person my mom was and still is to this day. As an anxious person, her calm presence was refreshing and I knew God was answering our prayers because the next few days we received more answers. At first doctors were thinking I had Crohn’s Disease. However, more test would be needed. Including a colonoscopy. This would allow my doctor to see what was really going on. After the procedure, I learned that my large intestine and colon were inflamed and there were several ulcerations there which caused the pain and bloody diarrhea. I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (UC). The doctor informed me that ulcerations don’t happen overnight and that my intestine had to be inflamed for some time. I believe that all those times I suffered to eat are linked to that inflammation and pain in my GI tract.

Once I was diagnosed things actually made more sense and doctors were able to guide me toward the road to recovery. Unfortunately the disease left me severely anemic and underweight. I needed two blood transfusions. I was prescribed Prednisone a steroid, to reduce the inflammation and a few other medications to alleviate the pain and pressure. I was put on a low residue diet and after 13 days the doctors saw improvement and I was discharged. I had to continue the strict low residue diet at home.  I couldn't eat fiber or nuts unless it was nut butter, no fattening food, dairy, beans, berries, vegetables or fruit peels, or anything spicy not even whole grains.  My diet consisted of steamed carrots, peanut butter and bananas, tuna and white rice. To make matters worse, the steroids gave me night sweats and made me feel puffy and bloated.

my puffy face!

There were times I was so tired and the pain in my abdomen was so frequent that I wanted to remove my colon and move on with my life! But at the end of the day, I felt blessed to be home and actually on the road to recovery. I was prepared to make changes in my lifestyle and diet to promote optimal health.
When my intestines began to heal I started reintroducing whole grains, legumes, healthy fats, vegetables and fruits. I began cutting out food dyes, processed food, vegetable oils, refined sugar, eggs and later on cow dairy. 

I have always loved to cook but my passion deepened immensely when I started to connect food with healing which inspired me to study at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City. While I still face bad days with Ulcerative Colitis and anxiety, I believe that the proper nutrition improved my quality of life and that’s definitely worth sharing. To tie this with the beginning of my story, my relationship with God grew stronger through my time of suffering. I needed His strength while I was in the hospital and I realized this was preparing me for yet another trial...

To be continued!


-Jessica
 

2 comments:

  1. It's interesting that nutrition is coming back to 'the roots'; how people raised crops, fed animals and ate food decades ago. It's not all about macro nutrients. I'm very happy you're my wife cause I was caught up in some funky eating habits before meeting you!

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