I’m so excited to present my next Wellness Warrior interview I’m posting it early. I love how the internet can connect you to people you would probably never have met in “real life”. I feel fate brings us to the people we’re meant to know, and I’ve got the internet to thank for introducing me to Sarah Whalen of therevivalistblog.blogspot.com. (There are a whole lot of cool Sarah’s in the world!) Sarah took control of her health against seemingly overwhelming circumstances and is now living a happy, healthy life!
1) tell us about the health struggles you faced that made you decide to take charge of your own wellness
In August 2011, I went into the hospital for one thing, minor surgery to remove an ovarian cyst, and came out with something else, severe chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia. My symptoms were extreme fatigue, full body pain, memory and vision problems, vertigo, and extremely low body temperature. I was in bed for months while doctors gave me prescriptions that just made me sicker. I found a pain specialist who had experience treating CFS in war veterans using acupuncture. Within six months, I was out of bed and my symptoms started to fade. I had developed extreme sensitivity to foods and chemicals so I also started a whole foods diet by joining my local CSA farm share program and experimented with an elimination diet to see how I felt after removing gluten, dairy, legumes and other common food allergens. It took about a year for me to get back to normal functioning. Once I got to that point, I enrolled in a yoga teacher training program to help get my strength and muscle tone back. I received my yoga teaching certification in December 2012. The training also taught me how to apply yoga philosophy and meditation to my daily life which has helped me mentally deal with the traumatic effects of being sick.
2)how did holistic health practices help rather than traditional “Big Pharma” cures?
In my situation, there was such a clear line between the ineffectiveness of Western medicine and the effectiveness of holistic practices. Western medicine has no explanation for the cause, form of testing or standard treatment for CFS which leads doctors to just try out different medicines to see what works, or in my case, what doesn’t. My symptoms and response to acupuncture treatment correlated exactly with the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approach of meridians and how blockages in certain meridians can cause severe symptoms. My doctor also treated me by treating the sleep/pain/fatigue cycle. He gave me acupuncture for insomnia which induced deep sleep which led to healing, less pain, then less fatigue. It changed my life. I don’t think I would be out of bed today if I had stayed on the prescription drug approach. After my acupuncture treatment, my dietary changes to mostly organic foods and weeding out food sensitivities helped to heal my nervous system, reduce inflammation and get my system in balance again. Daily yoga and meditation has helped me stay strong, less stressed, and balanced. Yin yoga, in particular, has helped me work with the meridians in my body to keep it all in check.
2) how have the changes affected your mind/spirit?
I realized how much we don’t know about the world, life, medicine, science, etc. It’s made me more spiritual and curious. Since we don’t have all the answers, why not try everything? What we commonly reject could actually be true and useful so why not give equal weight to everything? I may always have CFS because there’s no cure yet. Symptoms come and go but they are minimal in comparison to a year ago. If I don’t feel well one day, I check my diet first, take some herbs, check in with my mental state, de-stress and rest, then if I’m still having symptoms, I’ll refer to a doctor if I need to. I haven’t been to a doctor in eight months.
Since so much is still unknown about CFS, patients often research the illness and exchange information on the internet. I found a lot of the forums and patient exchanges were very negative and hopeless so I started a blog with tips on managing symptoms at home and information on various holistic treatments that worked for me or new ones that I will try for myself and review. I also post about patient advocacy and activism to raise awareness and increase funding into CFS and autoimmune research. For example, sometimes I have bouts with vertigo and I recently posted a review of an herbal tincture for vertigo that I found at my local drugstore. Rub a few drops of the tincture behind your ears and it relieves the vertigo within minutes. I never would have believed that two years ago.
3) what tips/advice do you have for people in similar situations?
For chronic illnesses and chronic pain, find a way to treat the individual symptoms on a daily basis, something as simple as drinking ginger tea for nausea. You’ll not only feel better overall but you will feel more in control of your situation. You can track your progress, which leads to a positive personal empowerment that is hard to find in a doctor’s office.
Some things can’t be fixed at home and some things can’t be fixed with a prescription, so it’s best to work with your doctor on a combination of traditional and holistic therapies. Seek out functional medicine and integrative medicine practitioners who use both approaches.
Always check your diet, your mind, and your environment and see what can be improved. Small changes lead to long-term results.
Never say never. Just because you feel awful or are stuck in a situation today doesn’t mean it will be that way forever.
Stay positive and find the humor in every situation. If you feel bad physically, why torture yourself with bad thoughts, too? It’s just drinking your own poison.
I’m thoroughly impressed with the dedication Sarah made to the most important person in her life-herself. I find her inspiring, intelligent and charismatic. Thank you so much, Sarah, for sharing your story with us!