Umfolozi Park, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa

Up until my early 30s, I was living life at the fullest: journeying abroad for 6 months with my husband, working full-time in a primary HIV/AIDS clinic, and doing all the things I loved doing. I was exercising regularly and eating a diet of mostly organic low-fat foods. I was engaged with life and committed to living more sustainably. I felt like the world was my oyster.  Living life forward, I thought I was quite healthy. Now, with hindsight being 20/20, I realize I had underlying imbalances for many years already– starting out as subtle symptoms I either disregarded or pushed beyond– that were signs of mounting inflammation and physiological stress.

With hindsight being 20/20, I realize I had underlying imbalances for many years.

Because of these underlying imbalances, the stresses of a pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period proved to be the tipping point for me.  I was diagnosed with postpartum thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition that is not uncommon nowadays.  I followed the usual course of seeing an endocrinologist and taking medication, but I remained with persistent vertigo and fatigue.

Nonetheless, I was still functional, so in my doctors’ and my own opinions, I was doing well enough.  Soon thereafter, a 2nd pregnancy threw me into a chronic state of severe, escalating symptoms that no one could decipher– not my primary care doctor, various specialists, my acupuncturist, nor myself.  I found myself in the group of patients that either (a) was not recognized or validated by the health community, and/or (b) was not help-able. I was spiraling in a vortex of debilitating diagnoses that included autonomic dysfunction, multiple food sensitivities, and chronic fatigue syndrome.  I wasn’t even sure if some of these conditions truly existed, but the experience of my symptoms was undeniable.

“Hope is a deep orientation of the human soul that can be held in the darkest of times.”

In the years that followed, I was motivated to explore the fundamental connection between nourishment and health.  I explored our inextricable spiritual and physical connectedness to our outer environment as well as the mysterious inner world of the microbiome (gut microorganisms with which we have co-evolved).  I delved deeper into evolutionary biology and the effects of epigenetics (how gene expression is affected by environmental factors).  I experimented with integrative medicine, acupuncture and herbs, mind/body medicine with a focus on neuroplasticity (rehabilitation exercises to rewire the communication between our brain and hormonal pathways), and whole foods-based ancestral diets like WAPF, GAPS and the Paleo Diet.  I learned how to cook delicious nutrient-dense foods.  I also learned to tap into the support offered by the strong, loving community around me, and how to practice pleasure again.  After a 2 year medical leave, I returned to clinical practice, but with a very different set of eyes.  I saw more clearly the beautiful complexity of the human mind, body, and spirit; as well as what it looks like when that delicate balance is disturbed.

The Czech writer and political leader Vaclav Havel articulated a distinction between optimism and hope:  “Optimism is the belief that everything will go right. Hope is a deep orientation of the human soul that can be held in the darkest of times.”  It is from this hope that I have emerged back into a renewed experience of Life’s richness and its mysteries.