It was 2010, Elisa was over seas teaching in Hong Kong and I was living somewhat of the bachelor life (minus the sleeping around part) in my tiny little studio in Mount Vernon, Baltimore.
I was bartending at the Metropolitan and teaching early morning classes at Fed Hill Fit, which was a conflict of schedule, no doubt.
Alone in my apartment, I’m one of those creatures of habit who is happy to eat the same damn thing everyday. I was vegan at the time, so two full cups of dry oatmeal, cooked al dente, and berries with drizzled honey was my go-to. Every. Single. Day.
I woke up ravenous for it, like an addict.
I ate organic, spending tons of money at Whole Foods, buying prepared foods to take to the restaurant at night.
Between clients at the gym and late nights at the restaurant, I’d write short stories (some of which would later become chapters in my book). This called for a steady drip of caffeine, as I was living by 50 Cent’s motto: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
Closing the restaurant at 2AM and waking up to teach (and take) bootcamp at 6AM was another big fail that year, one that I would later learn set the foundation for the heavy fog that would soon set in.
On such little sleep I craved carbs. Vegan sandwiches on fresh baked bread became my favorite lunch. At night I was eating salads. I was juicing throughout the day, drinking other healthy beverages like kombucha tea. I thought I was doing all the right things.
I noticed late night cravings for sugar, but I attributed it to drinking less at the bar. I hardly ever drank when I bartended anymore, but instead found myself eating two or three cups of fruit each night. Fruit seemed healthy enough, but without any fat or protein to slow down the absorption of sugar (what I know now), I was straight shooting glucose, sending my body into hormonal haywire.
The first symptom: I was sore all the time. My workouts were tough, but they weren’t remarkable by any sense of the word, but on such little sleep I wasn’t giving my body its proper time to restore. I was, what I’ve since learned, adrenally fatigued; my workouts were actually doing more damage than good.
Second symptom: My brain was shit. Simple recall was a struggle in regular conversation. I’d say, “Oh, I just read this book … shit, I just lost the title … ahh! AND the author.” I was even worse than usual at names, seconds after someone just introduced themselves. Even my vocabulary in my writing was jeopardized, a thesaurus constantly open on my laptop.
It got to the point where I said something to Elisa, “I feel like I’m losing it. Maybe it’s all those experimental drugs finally catching up with me.”
I accepted it as normal, an age thing, a quirky new me thing. And that was that.
Third symptom: I had ridges in my fingernails. Two nails on one hand and one on the other, were grooved with horizontal ridges. For the first time, a WebMD search didn’t result in a possible freakish STD or random death sentence. Instead, it was likely a vitamin deficiency, stress, early signs of inflammation (arthritis).
But still … me? I’m so healthy, I thought.
This photo was taken that year:
And this one:
On the outside I looked to be in good health.
Then the fourth symptom came: I woke up with bright white vertical streaks running down my teeth one morning.
Back to Google: vitamin deficiency. Lacking Magnesium and Zinc.
I found this to be so weird. I was juicing a ton of veggies that contained Zinc.
I began to worry my “healthy” vegan diet wasn’t helping, so I brought oysters back in. I knew they were high in zinc and other good things. Plus, it was tough to distinguish their mom (a big vegan marker for me at the time;).
Many more symptoms would follow (eczematic rashes, food sensitivities, severe inflammation). It would take me several more years to unwind all the damage that literally imploded that year.
I began with diet, eliminating foods that were gumming up my intestinal villi, the little hair-like fibers that absorb nutrients (breads, giant bowls of oatmeal, pasta, etc.) This took more than three years to figure out what was right and wrong for my body at the time. I was “high maintenance,” as my brother loves to call me, to say the least!
Sleep was massive. I’ve now learned that I do best on 7-8 hours of sleep. If I don’t get it, I almost always make time for a nap. Otherwise, I skip my heavy workout or avoid big projects and big decisions on days when I know I’m not rested enough. So much for 50 Cent’s advice on sleep!
Movement: For someone who had always been such a hard core athlete, I began turning to practices like yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. My body needed more restoration from me than more pounding, so I tuned in. Less became more in a way I never understood.
It is only now looking back that I can see just how scary things may have gotten had I ignored the signs. Johns Hopkins Dermatology was happy to give me a tub of steroid ointment with a dermatitis diagnosis and send me on my way.
I didn’t know everything, and I still don’t, but I knew that that was a band aid approach that wouldn’t solve anything. I threw that tub away shortly after it was prescribed.
Since then it’s been a test of patience, a test of love and a test of time. But looking back, I’m so thrilled we kept asking questions.
Now my auto-immune is under control, no more ridges, no more teeth streaks, only normal muscle soreness and no more brain fog!
I was reminded of this epic journey as Elisa is working on her new course inspired by all the work she’s doing with her father and his neurodegeneration with Alzheimer’s, he too always appeared “healthy”–a long time athlete. Her upcoming webinar: Optimize Brain Health with Food & Mindfulness is open if you’d like to learn more.
That silent inflammation I suffered from could have easily, years down the road, become something far worse. I’m grateful for the signs; I’m grateful for my body and all its self healing mechanisms when we tune in to listen; I’m grateful for the team of functional nutritionists who didn’t give up on me or my wacky symptoms!
I leave you with this: When has your body led you on a road of healing? What did you learn?