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Why My Chronic Illnesses Make My Body Feel Like a Puzzle

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My body is a puzzle.

A giant jigsaw puzzle made up of many thousands of tiny pieces – organs, joints, hormones, blood, nerves, muscles, genes, microorganisms and more. No one else has the same puzzle pieces as me.

My body is also puzzling me. Pieces don’t seem to be working together the way they are supposed to. Some of them have lost function over time while others suddenly stopped following their job descriptions properly.

I’ve always been happy to see a doctor when I’ve been unwell but have also dabbled with complimentary therapies for decades. I’ve tried acupuncture and homeopathic treatments for hay fever. I accept the principals of reflexology and the concept of “chi,” “prana,” or energy lines running through the body. I also attended weekly yoga classes for 15 years, which benefitted me far more than I realized at the time. It was only several years later that I realized how much my health had declined since I stopped.

I guess I had never fully explored the rationales behind some of these approaches to health – or, if I did, I never acted on them. I did instinctively lean towards an integrative approach to my health, though. I just didn’t know it by that name.

Possibly part of the reason I didn’t turn to these therapies as my first source of treatment is that I am very wary of the “snake oil salesmen“’out to make a quick buck selling “natural” therapies that have no reliable evidence to back them up.

I am also wary of anyone who claims they can “cure” health issues instantly or who says that theirs is the only way. The trouble is, many of these opportunists have become pros at making themselves and their products appear legitimate so they can sometimes be hard to spot.

So, as pieces of my body started misbehaving, I saw a doctor.

In my late teens, it was for hay fever. Over the next 20 years, I went for help with irregular periods that slowly worsened. (I was later diagnosed with endometriosis.) I occasionally had allergic reactions and bowel issues too but I did not connect them with my diet at that stage.

The year 2007 was a turning point for my health – and not in a good way. I had the stress of moving house. My hay fever was out of control and I frequently had sudden and severe blood noses. I also travelled overseas and was covered in mosquito bites on that trip. Thankfully, I didn’t develop any scary diseases, but it did mean I was on antihistamines almost the whole year.

I saw a new doctor who started me on immunotherapy for hay fever and dust mites. This worked like a vaccine. Each week for 12 weeks, he gave me a sub-cutaneous injection made up of the allergens that were causing me trouble. The difference was amazing. I repeated the process for two more years just before spring and I have not touched an antihistamine since.

Looking back, I can see all these factors put my immune system into turmoil but I didn’t see the connections at the time. Around November that year, my joints started to hurt and swell randomly. Back to my GP who instantly recognized it as rheumatoid arthritis which was confirmed by blood tests.

Then the drugs started coming. I took different ones to suppress my immune system, reduce the inflammation and control the pain. They weren’t enough to stem the rampage my immune system was on, though. I have tried several additional drugs since, including four biologics. Some worked a little, or worked but then stopped. Some just didn’t work at all, but I still had to try them for several months to “wait and see.

From there, I started to break apart. I’ve had a rare fungal infection in my lung that was removed surgically, my endometriosis was finally diagnosed and removed, I was tired all the time and had trouble concentrating at work, my ankles had puffed up with excess fluid and, just for fun, I damaged a tendon in my foot.

Even then, I wasn’t finished. From late 2013 until early 2015 I was in free-fall. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, then shingles and type 2 diabetes (on the same day), rapidly-growing cataracts in both eyes and a blood clot in my lung probably caused by taking the pill. The diabetes and cataracts were both caused by my long-term use of steroids. Each new issue added a new drug to my daily arsenal and a new specialist to see.

I have no doubt that my doctors all had my best interests at heart and that most of the treatments they offered did help. However, each issue was mostly dealt with in isolation without looking for the underlying cause. I was also reluctant to make changes to things like my diet while I was waiting to see if the medications worked or not. I wanted to keep some things constant, otherwise, I would have no idea what was helping.

I have asked lots of questions along the way and have actively been involved in all decisions, but not all my questions were answered to my satisfaction.

Questions like: Why is my hair falling out? Why do I still struggle with fatigue? Why do I sweat so heavily from my face and scalp? Why do I have huge bags under my eyes?

With every question, I would be told, “I don’t know. Your test results are okay. There is no treatment for that. You should ask your specialist.”

After years of pulling the pieces of my body apart and examining them in isolation, I now feel like some pieces have gone missing or been overlooked. I yearn to be whole again so I’m now going back to the “whole health” approaches I’ve tried in the past for some answers.

I’ve already started to make some dietary changes such as regulating my sugar intake and increasing the variety of healthy food I eat. I am slowly cutting down on some medications. I’m going back to doing yoga regularly. I’ve even sought out a local integrated health practitioner who just happens to be one of the doctors I’ve seen in the past.

I’ve always been pro-active in my health decisions. The problem for me is that I never fully realized the extent of my choices. I simply trusted that the conventional medical system would work for me. It did to an extent, but it has also left some massive voids that need to be filled before I can put my puzzle back together and be truly healthy.

I now have to push my boundaries further and finally trust what I have always known. That doctors alone can’t heal me. Only I can heal me. I have an unknown path ahead but I plan to follow my instincts and walk that path with confidence.

Originally shared on CreakyJoints.

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Thinkstock Image By: Duncan Smith

Originally published: April 18, 2017
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