“Growing up I was always very active. At age 2, I started gymnastics and gojü-Ryu karate. I continued gymnastics for 11 years and tried various different forms of martial arts such as Jiu-Jitsu, muy-Tai, and wrestling. At the end of my junior year of high school, I decided to get serious about my fitness. I was motivated by fitness athletes I followed on Instagram, and at this time Instagram was fairly new. I wanted to get fit and help others do the same. Around this time in 2013, since Instagram was still relatively new, a lot of girls in my high school would bully me for posting about my fitness progress. They would mainly bully me on Twitter as well as Facebook and Instagram. ‘She’s such an attention whore,’ and ‘she’s just embarrassing herself,’ are just a couple of the harsh comments I routinely received. At the time I refused to let it get to me. After all, I had so many positive messages coming in telling me how much I had helped motivate them to get healthy. Still, those words stung.
After I graduated high school, I did what many people do. I abandoned my passions to pursue a job working for someone else. In my case, it was a job in sales. Working in sales had its fair share of obstacles, but one that affected me the most was the toxic work environment from both the company and the customers. This took a huge toll on my mental health and ultimately affected my weight. I gained upwards of 85lbs from 2014-2018. I primarily struggled with binge eating to cope with the emotional ups and downs of my job.
Coincidentally my boyfriend could eat as much as he wanted and never gain a pound. This only made it increasingly more difficult to start my weight loss journey. I would always tell him, ‘Okay, I swear this time I’m going to go to the gym, I’m going to eat healthily, and no more fast food!’ When the time came, he would always motivate me to stick to it, but I would cave and refuse to keep up the work. I had to realize that as important as spousal support is, it is still up to me to take the necessary steps to achieve my goals.
In an attempt to get a job with a steady schedule, I obtained my medical assistant certification working in a dialysis clinic. For those who don’t know, dialysis is required when both of your kidneys fail and are no longer able to filter fluid and toxins from your body. The main causes of kidney failure are hypertension and diabetes, both of which are largely preventable with a healthy diet and exercise. There were also patients in the clinic who were there due to genetic predisposition. However, I cared for patients who regretted how poorly they treated their bodies and wished they could have prevented their current situation with knowledge of how to have a healthier lifestyle. I learned a great deal about health during my medical training, but the biggest lesson I learned was how our medical system is centered around treating symptoms not the root cause of an illness.
Even after seeing people in this position I continued to disregard my own health. I had many excuses that felt justified at the time. ‘I’m too busy.’ ‘I’m young, I have plenty of time to get healthy.’ ‘I won’t get sick, that won’t happen to me.’
Nearly every day I experienced acid reflux, heartburn, headaches, gas, bloating, skin irritations, and I battled acne on my cheeks and jawline with no relief. I took the usual ibuprofen, I tried many skincare routines with no success, and I felt at a loss. I was still convinced I wasn’t sick, and that these were normal symptoms that could be remedied with over-the-counter medicine.
It wasn’t until June of 2018 when things took a turn for the worse. I was laying in bed checking my phone before falling asleep. I felt my left hand go numb so I readjusted it. The numbness crept up my arm until it reached the left side of my face. I was terrified. I looked at my boyfriend and said, ‘I think I just had a stroke?’
After working in medicine for over a year now, I’d become accustomed to knowing the signs and symptoms of various different illnesses, one of which being a stroke.
The numbness subsided, but I decided to go to urgent care anyway. When we got there, I felt fine. I described what had happened and they admitted me. After waiting over an hour, I started getting a sharp pain on the right side of my head. When the doctor came in about 2 hours later, I felt the numbness come back only this time it started on the right side. When it reached my face, I was unable to speak correctly. The doctor kept asking, ‘Can you tell me your name?’ I couldn’t. I kept trying but jumbled words slightly resembling my name came out. I started to panic, thinking to myself, ‘How could I not be able to say my own name? What is happening?’
Thankfully, it subsided and I could speak normally again. I had the sharpest pain behind my eye and the brightest zig-zag outline in the corner of my migraine. The doctor said I had suffered a hemiplegic migraine with aura and gave me what he called a ‘cocktail’ to knock me out. This ‘cocktail’ included Robaxin, Promethazine, and Benadryl. Note that I had never taken prescription medicine, aside from Flonase and antibiotics, in my life.
In the days that followed, I spent countless hours researching what had happened to me. I learned that hemiplegic migraines are primarily genetic, and generally start at a very young age. I had never had a migraine before in my life, so my first migraine being hemiplegic seemed unlikely. I asked several doctors that I assisted at work, and they all confirmed that my situation was not typical. However, none of them could offer any advice on what to do.
During my hospital follow up appointment, I expressed my concerns along with my research findings. My primary care provider said, ‘You’re young, it’s not something we are worried about. If you really want to I can order an MRI of the brain, and send a referral to a neurologist, although I believe it’s unnecessary.’ Regardless of my doctor’s nonchalant reaction to one of the most terrifying nights of my life, I asked that an MRI be scheduled and referral be sent.
It took over a month for an MRI. A month of anxiety. A month of not knowing what to do to prevent it from happening again or what to do if in case it did happen again. During this month, I had a constant headache on the right side of my head from behind my eye to the base of my skull. Nothing over the counter worked, and I refused to ever fill the prescriptions given to me at the hospital.
Once the referral went through, the only available appointment was 6 months out. I received my MRI results and it was clean, aside from scar tissue that appeared on the right side of my brain. At a complete loss and totally open for suggestions, I spoke with family on what they would advise me to do. My grandma, who has always been in great health, referred me to her naturopathic physician, Dr. Caryn Potenza. At the time, I didn’t know what a Naturopath was, but my grandma explained she would take a blood sample and tell me what foods my body is having an intolerance too.
Now I’ve since learned that intolerance is much different than an allergy in that it causes the most harm to your digestive system, more so than a typical allergy. I never knew how important your digestive system is to your overall health. What we eat affects every organ in our body, and when we consume food our body is unable to digest, it cannot be utilized. Therefore, it causes harm to the adrenal glands which control your hormones. Hormones are a key component of weight loss, weight gain, mental health, and the reproductive system. When this is under stress from the foods we consume, it ultimately affects every aspect of our body. It affects our mental health, our skin, and body composition.
I scheduled an appointment purely based on the fact that it was the only thing I had heard that was remotely close to a solution. At this point, it was nearing the end of July 2018, and I had 6 months to wait before I could be seen by this naturopath my grandma recommended. I did what I could to eliminate possible causes.
In August of 2018, I stepped on the scale weighing in at 222.2 pounds. I started eating a healthier diet similar to what I ate in high school: less fast food and more sports drinks, alongside higher protein intake. I started to exercise regularly at about 30 minutes a day of circuit training exercises.
I started to see improvement. For example, the pain on the right side of my head was intermittent and I started to notice my acid reflux was not as frequent. However, I noticed my digestion was still not ideal and my hormonal issues such as irregular periods of severe ovulation pain and my acne got worse. I made an appointment with Arianna Castrow, a local esthetician in my area. While we were working on my skin, she saw my jawline acne and she said, ‘Have you been diagnosed with PCOS?’ I said no and explained my skin has always been temperamental. Inside, I completely freaked out at the mentioning of PCOS because I had heard so many horror stories regarding the medical rigamarole PCOS patients endure.
After the appointment with Arianna, I called my OB/GYN and asked that my testosterone be tested alongside my routine check-up. My results came back with elevated testosterone. Cue my nervous googling of all my symptoms in anticipation of an unexpected OB/GYN appointment alongside what seemed like an ever-growing list of other doctors’ appointments.
When I met with my OB/GYN in October, I had lost 20 pounds by this point. I explained that I was eating healthy and exercising, but my testosterone was elevated and I was still experiencing hormonal issues along with digestion upset. She said, ‘Well, in my opinion, you have PCOS.’ I asked what could be done. She replied, ‘Well, I can put you on birth control.’ I said, ‘That doesn’t address what’s causing this. That only treats the symptom. What can I do to fix this?’ She seemed increasingly annoyed with my inability to accept birth control as my only option and recommended I keep a food diary.
I don’t know if it was her attitude specifically or the fact that no one seems to care about what was happening to me, but I broke down right there. It felt like an absolute robbery to have to leave that exam room and pay my copay on my way out. Why would I pay money for what I keep experiencing in these doctors’ appointments?
After all this, I refused to give up. Only one more month until my appointment with Dr. Potenza. The day finally came and I was so excited. I even filled out the medical history packet weeks in advance, detailing every medical issue I’ve ever had from birth until now.
My first appointment experience with Dr. Potenza was life-changing. This was the first doctor’s appointment I had ever experienced where I didn’t feel like an inconvenience. She genuinely wanted to help me. She dedicated my hour-long appointment to learning every aspect of my health history, along with performing multiple physical exams, and finally a blood test. I left feeling hopeful and in charge of my health. I left feeling like every concern I had about my health was valid, and that a solution was within reach.
During my second appointment, which followed after two days, all of my results were compiled into a completely personalized packet, listing every food that my body lacked the enzymes to digest. My results being a potato, soy, ginger, and a fruit and sugar combination intolerance (meaning my body is unable to effectively digest fruit and sugar within 8 hours of one another). In this packet, it detailed every way these foods are disguised in everyday foods. For example, potato is also dextrose a common ingredient in iodized salt. Potato is also disguised as enriched wheat, niacin, and thiamine all common ingredients in processed bread, protein bars, protein powders, and workout shakes.
When I realized what I was really eating, and how many ingredients were in the foods I thought were healthy, I completely committed myself to avoid my intolerances and stuck to a whole foods approach to dieting.
If you don’t know your intolerances or are unable to find out, don’t worry. My motto is, ‘fewer ingredients, the better.’ If you’re paying attention to the ingredients lists, and you avoid foods with hard to pronounce or unidentifiable ingredients you will start to feel better. I always avoid colors, dyes, additives, fake sugars, preservatives, and anything enriched. More often than not, this includes microwaveable foods, foods with long shelf lives, and fast food.
Don’t get me wrong, I can still enjoy a cheat meal here or there, but most of the time I am paying close attention to what I choose to put in my body. The same applies to the products I use on my skin. The toxins we absorb through the beauty products we put on our skin effect how well our adrenals will function.
There is no quick fix to your health, and illnesses often times don’t happen overnight. The way I have completely cleared my acne, skin itchiness, digestion issues, migraines, irregular periods, and ovulation pain has been entirely centered around eating cleaner whole foods alongside regular exercise.
I’m not saying it’s easy. I am saying there is hope. There are answers out there, and if I can help spread knowledge surrounding hormonal imbalances and gut health, then I will have accomplished what I’ve set out to do.
With everything I have worked through these past two years, I felt empowered to share all that I have learned to help women like me everywhere.
I started taking the necessary steps to equip myself with the knowledge to help people lead healthier lives. I started the National Academy of Sports Medicine Personal Training program and completed it in December of 2019. As of the New Year 2020, I have launched my brand ‘Lift & Heal Personal Training and Nutrition’ to help women everywhere who suffer from hormonal imbalance and PCOS symptoms reclaim their health and regain their confidence.
It has been 1 year and 6 months since my stay in the emergency room. I have been migraine free since seeing Dr. Potenza, I’ve lost 75 pounds, I have become a NASM CPT with a certification in Nutrition, and most importantly, I have since reclaimed my life as my own and not my diagnoses.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Mia Carmickle from Spokane, Washington. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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