Friday, June 21, 2013

My Alternative Medicine Journey

As most of your know, I am a student at Everglades University.  The degree I am working towards (and almost ready to complete) is a Bachelor of Science in Alternative Medicine.  Although I have been in school for 3 years now,  my alternative medicine journey has been a very personal, twenty five year journey.  It began with unexplained pain that was agonizing at times, and culminated into a multi faceted diagnosis of overlapping autoimmune diseases and more.  It has been a journey of trial and error – mostly error that completely engrossed my life in traditional, allopathic medicine.  It has only been when I implemented alternative medicine practices did I ever find relief and in recent months what feels like, healing.  This journey led me to fulfill my biggest dream as a child – a college education in the medical field.  It has not only allowed me to be a mentor to my family, but to others as well.  It led me to find a passion about natural childbirth that found me certified as a HypnoBirthing Practitioner with dreams to pursue other certifications in the field as well.  It has given me hope in a future that often felt hopeless.  It has given me passion.  It has given me joy.  I find myself thankful, encouraged, and excited about my future.  I may be almost 50 years old, but my new life has just begun.  I thank Everglades University for the education that fueled my fire, but most of all I thank my family.  I am nothing without them and attribute all my successes to their unfailing love and support.

I was given the opportunity to write about my journey for the class I am in, and thought it would be a great way to share my journey with you.  I've deleted the citations (they are for my official paper), so you can read through it without the technical interruptions.  Its a little long but I hope you enjoy this sneak peak into my journey.  I am excited about where it has taken me and feel privileged to be able to share it with you!

My Alternative Medicine Journey

   My journey through alternative medicine started as a personal one.  It was my own challenging health issues that pushed me back to school and I couldn’t be happier.  Growing up, I always dreamed about going to college.  I dreamed of entering the medical field.  Then, I married straight out of high school and had my first daughter nine months later.  The next one came exactly two years later - then a divorce - then another marriage - then another baby.  You get the picture.  I was so busy living my life – and happily, too – that getting to college was extremely challenging.  It took about ten years for me to complete the equivalent of 2-1/2 years of college, then I gave up on ever being able to finish. 
I started having pain in my body in my mid twenties.  I’d go from doctor to doctor and no one could find anything wrong with me.  They passed me around to therapists and psychiatrists.  I was diagnosed with everything from depression to bipolar disorder.  As new symptoms would arise, new medications would be prescribed.  It turns out there is a pill for everything - then another pill for each side effect and yet another pill to compensate where the first pill fell short of the goal.  The goal, of course, was the absence of symptoms.  It seems like for 20 years, there was no absence of symptoms.
About eleven years ago I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.  At least there was some kind of acknowledgement that my pain wasn’t all in my head!  Fibromyalgia is characterized by chronic widespread pain, multiple tender points, abnormal pain processing, sleep disturbances, fatigue and often psychological distress. For those with severe symptoms, fibromyalgia can be extremely debilitating and interfere with basic daily activities.  Although the doctor’s continued to treat my symptoms with traditional pharmaceuticals, this time began my journey with alternative medicine.  I was taking about thirty pills each day and was in physical therapy.  I began reading everything I could get my hands on.  I was astonished to learn the power of food!  Food can cause inflammation.  Food can fight inflammation.  Food can fight off pain.  It turns out that our “Western” diet is missing valuable nutrients and is filled with processed foods, a lot of animal protein, and refined carbohydrates.  These foods promote inflammation and pain.  Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats, antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables, and certain spices like garlic, turmeric, and ginger all have inflammation fighting effects. 
I also discovered that the more I moved, the better I felt.  After physical therapy, I began walking my kids to school.   It was about a half mile walk.  I gradually increased the walk until I was power walking about 3 miles, 4-5 days per week.  Soon I was able to start going to the gym for some strength training.  Combined with the changes in my diet and the extra helping of sleep I was getting in the middle of the day, I began to feel better.  It took me about four years to feel like a new person.  As a wonderful side effect to the changes I had made to my life, I lost weight and was in the best shape of my life!  This was a huge eye opener for me.  This was how I began to believe in the power of alternative medical practices.  The pills didn’t get me to this point – I did – with just a few simple life changes.  Although I did not change my new eating habits, life’s stressors and such helped to create another decline in my health.  I began to slowly gain weight.  My pain levels increased.  I didn’t feel like working out.  It took one year to get me back to the level of health it took me four years to get out of.  I had a decision to make.  The decline in my health began to snowball.  We lost our business to the failing economy, and then had to leave our children and move out of state.  The stress was unbearable.  I found a new job, but was working about sixty hours per week, under even more stress, as my husband remained unemployed.  Needless to say, I had a complete meltdown of my health.
I sought out medical attention.  I was diagnosed with Hypertension, Lupus SLE, and Sjogren’s Syndrome.  I was given high doses of pain medications, anti inflammatories, diuretics, and more.  Again, I was taking more medication than would fit into a gallon sized Ziploc bag.  I could not work.  I could not even get out of bed.  I was a mess.  After about a year of getting nowhere with my health, it dawned on me that I was going about this in the wrong way.  Once again I decided to take my health into my own hands. 
About that same time I began to implement the whole foods diet, exercise, sleep regiments that worked before.  I realized I needed more education.  It dawned on me that there were so many people just like me, who were in a vicious cycle of health issues combined with Western medicine’s idea of the constant search to alleviate any symptoms.  Mind you, no one was looking for the reason I was so sick.  They were just trying to get rid of the symptoms – and failing miserably.  This search led me to Everglades University.  I had come to believe that if I could learn how to make myself better in a more natural way, I could get rid of the pharmaceuticals, and maybe even influence change in someone else’s life.  I enrolled in school.
About a year into my educational journey we moved back to California.  The Rheumatologist I saw eliminated the Lupus diagnosis but added antiphospholipid syndrome.  She made no changes to my medical protocol – which did not make me happy because the current protocol wasn’t working!  I sought out an Integrative Rheumatologist.  I needed a doctor that believed in alternative medicine.  I knew I was in the right place when on my first visit, he explained to me that all of my symptoms we related and he was going to figure out what caused them.  This was music to my ears - someone who wanted to fix the problem and not just mask it!  He soon discovered that I had Lyme Disease.  We assume this diagnosis should have probably been my first diagnosis.  I also have an MTHFR gene mutation.  This gene mutation might also be the reason for so many of the ailments I’ve had over the past years (including the three miscarriages I had).  Needless to say, over the past 2 years I have been on the journey of my life. 
I am so happy today at the progress I am making. Between the supplementation my doctor has me on and the implementation of major changes in my diet (I am now gluten free, rarely eat red meat, and eat a diet super rich in antioxidants).  I get plenty of rest and try to get some good exercise most days of the week.  I am on a minimal amount of medications, have lost about twenty pounds and am feeling better, stronger, and in less pain. 
I started blogging my journey several months ago.  I hope that my blog might touch someone and empower them to take charge of their own health journey.  I don’t have a lot of followers yet, but I hope that will change someday.  I talk to whoever will listen.  I have challenged my family members to make positive changes in their own lives.  I believe I have really impacted the lives of my daughters.  Through seeing my own successes, they have made successful changes in their own lives.  On the down side, three of my daughters have begun to show signs of some of the same ailments I suffer from.  The up side it that we know a lot more now and they are making better decisions than I ever did.  It is my sincere prayer that they will never suffer the way I did.
I recently became a grandmother again.  My daughter asked me to be her labor companion (as her husband was 3000 miles away).  She wanted to birth her baby using a childbirth method called HypnoBirthing.  I had never heard of this before, but was very intrigued.  Coming now from an alternative medicine background, I was excited to learn that she was willing to try a natural approach to childbirth and was all too happy to help her through it.  During the first of the five classes I was completely hooked.  Over the following four weeks I learned things about childbirth that I never knew (and I birthed three babies!). 
“HypnoBirthing is based on the premise that childbirth is a normal, natural function for women and that "when a woman is given the proper preparation for childbirth, she and her birthing companion can experience a safe, serene, and satisfying birthing, free of the fear that causes tension and pain" .  HypnoBirthing teaches Mom to rid herself of the fear of childbirth, and how to relax in such a way as to let her body do exactly what it knows how to do – to birth her baby in a natural, calm, and comfortable manner.  I believed in this program so much, that after my daughter had her successful HypnoBirthing birth, I decided to become a Certified HypnoBirthing Practitioner myself.  I am proud to say that my certification just came through:

I now look forward to teaching other couples how to have the birth of their dreams!  Through this journey I realized a few things.  First, there was a major shortage of labor and delivery nurses at the hospital who not only had never heard of HypnoBirthing before, but weren’t really on board with “natural childbirth” altogether.  This was very discerning to me.  I had to advocate for my daughter.  Then the so called specialist that came to see my daughter the next day to give her breastfeeding hints and other “new mom” hints, didn’t have anything remotely helpful to tell my daughter.  She even tried to convince my daughter that “jiggling” her baby to ease colic cries was something she invented!  I couldn’t believe it!  I realized at that point that I had to do something more. 
I have decided that I am called to use my new education to help couples through one of the biggest, most important, times in their lives – the birth of their children.  It is something I am completely passionate about.  I hope to become a doula – both prenatal and postpartum.  “Doula” means “a woman who serves” and is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.  With the training required to receive these certifications, I can combine all my education to teach childbirth classes, be present during their birth, help with postpartum care, new mom education, and even breastfeeding coaching.  This is a job I can do while taking care of myself first.  This is a job I can be proud of.  This is a lifelong dream come true.  I am very excited!


  1. i am very impressed Lisa... God has blessed you truly on your journey.. I would like to know more about your gluten free eating plan,,
    thanks for sharing your story with us

  2. We are so proud of you and can't wait to share in the joy of your future accomplishments!! Very nice paper...and congratulations on your official certification. It has been quite the journey! xo.

  3. I'm so glad you had this opportunity to share your story because it's so important and truly does help people! It was so well written too! I hope you got an "A"! ;) I could not be more proud of you!! I'm so excited to follow you and be on this journey with you. It will be so exciting to put all that you've learned into practice when/if God blesses us with another baby down the road! I love you so much!!