One morning in 2006, I was awakened at 3 a.m. by itchy, splotchy welts swelling up all over my body, including my lips and eyes. After searching the house for Benadryl or other antihistamines, I woke up my roommate to ask if she had any medications.,I was scared The swelling was increasing. Being a registered nurse, I knew how quickly my airways could close. If you’ve seen the movie “Hitch”, you might remember the scene when Will Smith’s character has an allergic reaction to food, and his eyes and lips swell. I looked similar to him.
My boyfriend at the time was a family practice physician. He arrived at my house at 6 a.m. and wrote me some prescriptions. We both thought I was having an allergic reaction to something I ate the previous night. But we were wrong. Six weeks later, I still had the rash. When a rash lasts longer than six weeks, it’s referred to as chronic idiopathic urticarial. “Idiopathic” means “unknown cause”. I decided to see an allergist to identify the root cause of the rash. Living with welts, an itchy rash, and periodic facial swelling for six weeks was traumatic, aggravating, and frustrating – and it had a tremendous impact on my mood.
A Quest for Answers
I was tested for over 130 food allergies. To my surprise, all tests came back negative. How could that be? What was causing this reaction? If it was not gluten, dairy, nuts, eggs, etc., then what was it? I started looking at my environment; maybe it was a perfume, a cleaning product, or a detergent.
By 2007, a year later, I had seen two allergists, an immunologist, a naturopath, plus the 300 family-practice physicians I called on as a pharmaceutical sales representative. By 2008--two years with the rash-- many of these physicians had reached out and tried to help me. I tried more than 10 prescription medications. All managed the symptoms, but none addressed the cause. A few provided some relief, but overall, they were ineffective and made me feel even more fatigued. I was concerned because medicines cause the kidneys and liver to work overtime. I did not like being on the medications, so I decided to take them only when I could not tolerate the itchy, burning, wetly rash.
The periodic swelling of my lips and eyes was devastating. My face was irregular in size and symmetry. We all can be vain to some degree, but the swelling was simply embarrassing. The majority of the time, I could hide the rash with my clothing. But certain materials would aggravate the rash more, so I had to be careful. I started to select a different type of wardrobe.
Many of my relationships started to change; they became difficult to maintain. Paying attention during interactions became more difficult. I was never completely present in conversations due to my rash, and people could tell. I wondered, “Should I tell them about the rash and hives, or do I just let them think I’m aloof?”
As I grew more insecure, my focus became very inward. My speech and manner became more matter-of-fact. I was only interested in the meat of conversations, not the details. I viewed the details of what people wanted to discuss as minutia. I wanted the facts and figures quickly so I could move on and make decisions.
My intimate relationships and dating life became challenging. I no longer associated touch with comfort; it was aggravating and always irritated my rash. I started to feel unattractive. How could I feel desirable when one side of my lips or eyes was the size of a marshmallow and my entire body was covered in red splotchy welts?
An Adrenalin Addiction
In the quest to maintain my self-esteem and self-worth, I became addicted to exercise. I always believed in health and embraced a highly energetic life. I have always been cautious of what fueled my body. I knew food was medicine and wanted a life of health and vitality. I wanted to feel good, so I would seek out adrenaline hits through exercise. I became a drug addict – just in a natural way.
I went skydiving, learned to surf and kite surf. I spent time on the ski slopes, snowmobiled, rock climbed, bungee jumped, and river rafted. You name the adrenaline hit—I sought it out. Being in nature was therapeutic, and getting my adrenaline hits was emotionally healing —even lifesaving. Activity made me feel alive – or so I thought.
The addiction intensified over time. Years of physical demand on my body actually worsened my condition, sent me into adrenal fatigue, and led to more autoimmune diseases. (To learn more about this, read my blog where I explain adrenal fatigue).
Year Three: Australia
By year three, I had done energy work, meridian work, acupuncture, used essential oils, visited an eye reader, went to an angel reader and had moved to Australia. I was in my late twenties at this point and continued to have strong ambitions. I really wanted to make a difference in medicine and the health field.
In Australia, I adopted a vegetarian diet. I was willing to do whatever it took to regain my health. At the time I believed a vegetarian diet had healing properties and would help my energy levels if I could stay away from pasta, bread, sugar, and eat my vegetables. I learned about eating nutrient-dense foods and started to look at my health in a more holistic way. Which vitamins and minerals was my diet lacking? To help with my structure and alignment and to control my excessive thoughts about exercise, I hired a trainer certified by the C.H.E.K. Institute – an organization that specializes in holistic health, healing and physical rehabilitation.
I worked with two more physicians while in Australia. One was Chinese medicine-based. The other was a regular doctor, a conventional allopathic-trained physician MD. The doctor and I became good friends, primarily due to his empathy for me. His wife was very ill—bedridden. Her symptoms had started with a rash and angioedema--just like mine. He said she loved the outdoors, just like me. He told me his story and how difficult it was to watch her deteriorate. He also shared advice his colleagues suggested during their visits with her. When I met his wife and saw her condition, I became terrified for my wellbeing.
As much as I tried to keep living life to the fullest, I was slowly breaking down. I was adding more inflammatory disease. I had developed Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, adrenal fatigue, and chronic fatigue. I now needed more than 10 hours of sleep at night and had tried over 15 different medications. I was given sleep medication to knock me out at night since the rash was worse in the evenings. I was crashing for 18 hours or more at a time, twice a week.
What was wrong with me? Why was this rash not going away? Was I going to become bedridden like my doctor’s wife? How much longer did I have to live like this?
“Why, why can’t we find the cause of this rash?” I kept asking myself. I was haunted with thoughts like, “I am too young to have health issues!” “What man would want a woman with a rash all over her body?” “I don’t need a man in my life!” “No one deserves to live with my aggravating health issue.”
Activity and an Altered State of Being
While in Australia I kept thinking, “All I need to do is go surf, and that will make me feel better; nature always makes me feel better.” I love adventures and there was lots of adventure to experience in Australia. My independence was becoming stronger and fiercer. My behavior and demeanor began to take on what many would consider traditionally masculine traits - I was goal-directed, assertive, linear, and logical in my thinking, rather than emotional. I was determined, competitive and analytical. The majority of time, I was coming from a place of self-strength, developing a strong belief in my own life and taking more control. I placed a lot of importance on accomplishment and took more risks. My natural state was altered and I was living more in an adaptive mode. In my adaptive mode, I was viewed as intense and disinterested. My natural inclination towards love and passion was disappearing. In many ways, I was becoming less empathetic. Naturally, I can be a strong influencer, but this part of me was becoming more hidden.
By this stage, I discovered how powerful the physical body is in changing the mental and emotional state of mind. I masked my fatigue by changing my physiology. I learned I could change my state of mind by doing 20 jumping jacks. I started doing 50 squats in the bathroom stalls to pump myself up before I would call on the next doctor’s office. I did lots of strange wiggles. I learned how to take control of my thoughts through physical activity.
Health is in Our Own Hands
After four years, waking up with a rash was affecting every aspect of my life. My physicality, my emotions and self-worth, my spiritual belief system, and the way I managed my time, my relationships and my money had all changed. My contribution to others was altered, and my social life was affected because the rash got worse in the evening. The way I celebrated, and even what I celebrated, changed.
I felt alone. The medicine was not working; the doctors were disconnected and disinterested and did not know how to help me. I realized that my health was up to me, and that all health is really in our own hands. Doctors are technically teachers and give us advice on becoming healthier--but I was alone in this. Very few people in the world understood the pain and aggravation of a chronic rash. Somewhere in my research I found that only one out of 100,000 people suffer from my condition – an autoimmune chronic urticaria and angioedema.
I persuaded the pharmaceutical company I worked for to give me a one-month leave of absence and booked myself into a health retreat center. I completely cut myself off from family, friends, phone calls, and all technology. I ate fresh organic foods, exercised and worked with a variety of counselors. This health retreat center was truly healing; I was introduced to Reiki, astrology training, tai chi, and other eastern methodologies. We took walks in nature and I was introduced to various types of massage. It was healing, and my connection with other people at the center was strong. The month went by quickly. I knew I needed more time at the retreat center, but society told me it was time to go back to work. One month of disconnection should be enough to heal, but it was not. All I could do is take what I had learned and do my best to implement it back into my working life.
Discovering the Yoga Path
I returned to work but the quest for health became stronger and stronger. I was feeling better than before. On Easter weekend in 2009, I booked an Ashtanga yoga retreat with a world-renowned teacher. I had practiced Bikram yoga on and off since 2004, but at the time, I was still unfamiliar with Ashtanga yoga. The retreat was booked, but somehow I managed to persuade this world-famous teacher to let me sleep in a shed at the back of her home. Once I arrived, I discovered just how world-renowned she really was in the Ashtanga yoga method. She was one of 12 practitioners in the world who practiced under the late Sri K Patabhi Jois and had the highest recognized qualification--one of only two women to hold this certificate.
The weekend was powerful and jaw-dropping. Men and women – including pregnant women – were getting their bodies into postures that were mesmerizing to me. It took students a minimum of five to seven years’ practice before this teacher would work with them. This was my first yoga retreat and I was sitting on her sofa chatting with her about food and the weather and yoga. A flame inside me was ignited, and I felt guided to follow the yoga path and that it would help heal me.
I knew I need time to heal from my chronic adrenal fatigue. I knew I needed to take a sabbatical from working and focus on my health full time. I decided to travel and study yoga. Within five months of the yoga retreat, I handed in my resignation and was headed to Boracay in the Philippines. At the time, I had no idea I would travel to over 35 countries and all seven continents--all by the age of 32--trying to find answers to my health.
During my travels, the chronic idiopathic urticaria disappeared. Why? Was it stress that caused my rash? Was the yoga practice healing me? Was it the Art of Living course that I was doing? Was it the Ayurvedic medicine cleanse I did? Was it the Tibetan medicine? Was it the medicine man in the Amazon that made it disappear? Was it because I was eating locally grown food? To this day, I have no idea why the rash disappeared. I wish I would have known about the benefits of cannabis.
A Return to the Worse
After two years of traveling, I decided--and needed financially--to go back to work. Many people asked me how I could afford to travel. I will tell you I did it very frugally. When I returned home, my father had a stroke and they did a study on two of his children to see if it was genetic. In the study they did a MRI of my heart and we found out that 17% of my heart was fibrotic – in other words, 17% was non-functioning, dead cells. I was having heart palpitations and having PVCs, a very irregular heartbeat. Upon returning to work after two and half years, I experienced extreme fatigue. I was really struggling getting out of the bed in the morning. I never felt rested. Once again, I was crashing for 17 hours at a time. My adrenal fatigue had returned. I knew that my cortisol levels were off.
I booked an appointment with a family practice doctor for the extreme fatigue and I wanted my cortisol levels checked. A few months later, the rash reappeared. WHY?
I went back to the doctors hoping maybe new medicine or studies had come out about chronic idiopathic urticaria and angioedema. At this time, I was working at Yale New Haven Hospital, and after visiting the family practice physician, I visited an allergist, immunologist, and rheumatologist. My lab work showed a positive ANA, which tells the doctors to do more investigating. They checked me for Lupus and Lyme disease. The tests all came back negative. Phew!
So what was the cause of my urticaria? I suggested to the rheumatologist that maybe it was hormone-related and I needed to see an endocrinologist. She said there was no need for an endocrinologist, but in my research, I had found that 30% of people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis – a condition where your immune system attacks your thyroid – have rash outbreaks. My four older sisters all had thyroid problems. The doctor reluctantly made an appointment for me with the endocrinologist. My labs were drawn and sure enough, they came back positive for antibodies for Hashimoto’s. YIKES! The interesting thing was that my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) level was normal and the rheumatologist ignored the positive antibodies test. (To learn more about this, check out my other post about the thyroid.)
“What am I doing wrong?” I thought. I reviewed my old labs from 2007 that showed I was negative for those antibodies. “ARGHHH!” I thought. “I am adding more disease! What am I missing?”
I needed 10-plus hours of sleep and was going to bed at 8 pm every night. This time, I felt like I knew what I needed to do. I had let my yoga practice slip when I tore my ACL in February of 2013 in a snow skiing fall. I was now practicing yoga but only 20 minutes a day. I needed to go back the full 90-minute sessions. I also needed to go back to eating vegetarian and adhering to a strict diet of alkaline-based foods. At the time, I was living in the most amazing beachfront condo in Connecticut, which should have been the perfect place to reconnect with nature. Could the urticaria have been activated by something else, like mold in the condo?
A New Passion: Functional Medicine and CBD
The diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is how I found out about functional medicine. I went to my 20-year high school reunion and a classmate told me about struggles with her thyroid. Around the same time, an old colleague sent me a blog to read and asked if I still struggled with my rash. Also around that time, a book by Amy Myers called The Autoimmune Solution came into my hands. I found a website by Dr. Isabella Wentz, a thyroid pharmacist. I also discovered the work Mark Hyman was doing at the Cleveland Clinic.
Learning about functional medicine became a passion. Why? Functional medicine is an investigative medical approach that focuses on identifying the causes of disease rather than treating the symptoms. It is science-based, and seeks to understand the origins of chronic disease so that meaningful treatment and prevention methods can be developed and implemented, leading to long-lasting results. Functional medicine asks, “Why? Why does this person have this illness?”
I started attending summits, forums, and seminars about functional medicine. Learning about all this research gave me hope, but it also made me angry.
I became angry because I was an educated individual with a Master’s degree in business and had worked in healthcare for 19 years. I’d spent my career in some of the best hospitals in the USA and Australia, working in the pharmaceutical industry in research and sales, and also in specialty infusion and medical devices. I now realized that for 19 years, I had been misinforming patients, loved ones, and physicians in my teachings as a healthcare professional.
I invite you to explore functional medicine and join me on start your journey with Legends Health Wellness and Performance. Cannibis for autoimmune disease is ranked 4/5 star rating on the Cannabis Profile Index. It has been stated that CBD has 20 x the effect of aspirin and 2 x more than Hydrocortisone as an anti-inflammatory effect. Why was this option never presented to me is the question I ask today?
The Autoimmune Solution
The first action I implemented in my healing with functional medicine principles was Amy Myers’ Autoimmune Solution. It’s a 30-day nutrition plan that eliminates, gluten, dairy, eggs, legumes, and nightshade vegetables. Sounds like a lot of no-no’s, right?
I was desperate for relief from my chronic urticaria. I had recently moved back to Utah from Connecticut. I was not currently working and had convinced my sister, Jackie, to do the program with me. Bless her, I could never have gotten through those 30 days without her.
Lifestyle and diet changes take a tremendous amount of effort. Those first two weeks of the Amy Myers protocol, my sister and I were both in the kitchen for 80% of our daylight hours. The recipes were delicious, but they took time to prepare – time I wasn’t used to dedicating to meal preparations.
It was difficult even though we had purchased the shopping list guide. Trying to find organic foods and certain ingredients that we weren’t used to purchasing was very time-consuming. We were spending around $250 a week for food for two people.
Learning the Truth About Food
We started looking for coupons and different grocery stores that offered local organic foods, but they were hard to find. We started researching why organic foods were so costly. Watching documentaries on Netflix helped this understanding. (Click here for our recommended movie list) The food industry is very revenue-driven and does not necessarily care about your health no matter how much they claim they do. Many of the recipes called for coconut milk. This was not a common ingredient used in our kitchens and we ignorantly purchased the cheapest organic brand. We finally got curious about one of the ingredients listed, and looked it up. To our great surprise, the ingredient was a paint thinner. Why would they put that in a can of coconut milk, you ask? To keep the coconut milk white in color. The more we researched and Googled ingredients, the more disgusted we became. The food industry is driven by money and many times it has added toxins to our food for the sake of appearance and maintaining shelf-life. The prioritization of food’s appearance over its nutritional value became very evident. Beware: if you can’t pronounce it, I suggest not eating it. Our food is full of toxins. (Click here to read my post about toxins.)
Learning New Behaviors
My sister and I also spent around $600 on supplements. Supplements were hard for both us. Neither of us was a pill popper and we both had limited faith in supplements. But, we were committed to the Amy Myers protocol and decided that we could do anything for 30 days.
We had to remind each other to take the pills. During this time, I was listening to the Evolution of Medicine summit talks. I was starting to understand functional medicine and the science of leaky gut and autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s, rashes, and my adrenal fatigue from a functional medicine perspective. I was shocked at how much it added to my conventional and ayurvedic training. (In future blogs, I will be posting about each disease and what I learned and how cannabis can help bring the body back into Homeostasis.)
Jackie was committed to the 30-day protocol because she wanted to lose weight and support me. But, she was struggling more than I was and I could see that she was experiencing health issues. She was extremely fatigued and said she had itching in embarrassing places. I told her she had thyroid issues and a possible yeast infection called candida that was causing the anal itching. She dismissed me, but she was willing to book an appointment with a Functional Medicine Nurse Practitioner, whose earliest appointment was six weeks out.
She could see my commitment to the 30 days and believed in the diet. From her perspective, my commitment to the diet and lifestyle changes were strong due to the rash flaring up every morning and evening. Yes, my physical and emotional pain were more visible than hers, but that doesn’t mean her health issues were any less real or challenging.
In reality, my commitment to the diet was stronger because I was listening to the Evolution of Medicine summit and was starting to understand the science behind functional medicine. She and I had very interesting conversations during these 30 days.
I came up with an analogy involving a pencil, pen and Sharpie. Basically, it illustrates that the more educated you are about nutrition and lifestyle changes, the more permanent your behavior becomes.
Jackie was stressed as she was selling her home, her husband was coming home from military duty and we both were adjusting to living with each other as we house sat my parents’ home while they served their church for an 18-month mission. Jackie was overwhelmed with four kids, her husband away, selling her house and living in a new home. From my research, I knew what she was doing to her adrenal glands and knew what was happening to her cortisol levels. I kept trying to get her to listen to the talks but finding time in her busy life was a challenge for her. I downloaded the talks and got headphones for her so when she was doing chores like cleaning and cooking, she could listen to the content. When she took two road trips, she finally had a chance to listen to the talks. Sure enough, as Jackie’s knowledge increased, so did her desire to stick with the diet. We both could not believe how big business was so much in control of this nation.
In functional medicine, you and your health care professionals are in a relationship. You, the patient, must be willing to commit to gain more knowledge on your disease and your diet. Functional medicine is not a one-type-fits-all approach. We have different genetics and some people are more sympathetic dominant vs parasympathetic dominant. Behaviors are difficult to change; if you don't understand the “why” behind the change, you are less likely to make changes that are permanent. Functional medicine physicians have seen this disconnect and many providers now hire functional medicine coaches to assist their patients in making behavioral and physiological changes.
Sticking with the Autoimmune Solution
The third week into the Amy Myers protocol was mentally challenging for both of us. We were tired of cooking. We stayed with the protocol in regards to food restrictions but we were desperate for easy, quick go-to recipes. We were grateful for the crockpot recipes. Even though we both stayed within the protocol guideline, I began to wonder how I could go back to work and maintain this healthy regimen.
Jackie and I were frustrated with the difficult and time-consuming implementation of this lifestyle. During this time were we doing Body Pump classes. I had learned enough about adrenal fatigue to know that I needed to rest and let my body heal. So we only lifted weights two times a week. (For more on this, view my post on exercise and movement.)
By week four, we followed Amy Myers’ protocol to the “T”. It was easier for us to be told exactly what to do. At the end of the 30 days, our cooking skills had improved and we learned to use spices to make our food tasty, which was fun.
At the end of the 30 days, we both still had our health issues but my adrenal fatigue dramatically improved. I went from needing 10 hours of sleep to 7 1/2 hours. However, I was still breaking out in the rash. Jackie’s anal itching went away, but we both knew that we needed to see a functional medicine practitioner at this point. We knew more was going on and neither of us knew the root causes of our symptoms.
Both of us had a semi-clean diet before starting the diet recommended by Amy Myers. We both believe that transitioning from a normal Standard American Diet (SAD) to a Great Living Alive Diet (GLAD) can make you feel dramatically different.
Building Awareness and Community
During my 30 days, I contacted several trained practitioners from the Institute of Functional Medicine. I had learned enough to know that building a functional medicine community was a must and there was no community in Utah. I wanted to see what physicians were doing and how they were practicing functional medicine. To my surprise, I found only 5 people certified in functional medicine in Utah, 7 in Idaho, and about 30 in Colorado.
I emailed each of them stating I just started a program to become a functional medicine coach and I immediately received an overwhelming response from all of them – the fastest response I had ever received from practitioners in my 18 years in the medical field. I started shadowing these physicians, pharmacists and dietitians in my free time. I wanted to know as much as I could about functional medicine. I earned the nickname, “network queen.” In reality, I just wanted to help raise community awareness and find a mentor.
As I shadowed these healthcare practitioners, I learned about their dreams and desires, and I wanted to help them come true. It was so important to me to help these professionals spread the word of how they practiced. I decided I needed to start Functional Medicine Coaches.
After 3 months of being on a restricted diet, I started to reintroduce foods into my diet one at a time. I continued to wake up with the rash every day. One of the physicians I had been working with was kind enough to do a full history assessment, and decided we need to look at my microbiome. Your microbiome is your gut bacteria, and we were looking for good and bad bacteria in the gut. We knew I had a condition called “leaky gut” – if you have an autoimmune condition, you can automatically assume you have leaky gut. That meant a stool analysis was in order. Chinese, ayurvedic and functional medicine all believe 80% of any disease starts in the gut. Even traditional medicine is starting to accept the gut as the origin of disease.
Today, I speak to the community about cannabis CBD and Functional medicine and the massive benefits. Today I find myself in a classroom educating practitioners on why medical cannabis is the next medical revolution. Today, my desire to create energy that is contagious and playful all while finding freedom from their diseases and discomforts. None of us can create peak performance if we do not master our bodies our capacity to maximize health, energy and vitality ——all the money, career success, or contribution in the world will be worthless. You can’t experience an extraordinary quality of life without the vehicle that going to help you create it.
Take charge of your health and beauty. Elevate your life legacy.