The Middle of the Story

12 Nov

Beautiful beets

My name is Amanda.  I’m a fairly boring housewife-type living in coastal New England with my little family; husband, almost 2-year-old son and almost 4 year old daughter, cat, and two canine mutts.  I’m a social worker and psychotherapist specializing in the advanced treatment of psychological trauma, though I don’t discuss the specifics of my work on the internet.  I’m home with my kiddos now while my career is waiting for me. One reason I choose to stay home is because the first year of my daughter’s life was a rough one.

I had to do fertility treatments to get pregnant with my daughter back in 2007.  I won’t dwell on that except to say that it sucked, and I gained some weight from the hormone injections.  But, it worked and she was born in the winter of 2008.  I was lucky enough to fall instantly and profoundly in love with her slippery little body the second she was plopped on my chest.  We had a wonderful time together in the beginning, despite some breastfeeding challenges and the usual sleep deprivation.  Those six months were some of the happiest of my life, though I didn’t know it at the time.  We never do.

Six months into our life together, I got sick.  I knew immediately that something was wrong, so I didn’t tell anyone, even my husband.  My hands were pins and needles.  I thought it was contact dermatitis, but, it spread and moved around my body.  Soon a band around my chest was totally numb, then my fingers went numb, then my feet.  It was scary and disconcerting, and I finally went in to see my doctor, assuming that she would brush it off as a B12 deficiency, give me shot and send me home.  My blood work came back however with very elevated CRP and Sed Rate, and I was positive for some strange antibodies like ANA and smooth muscle cell.  She immediately called a neurologist who had a cancellation and sent me for an MRI and lumbar puncture.

I’ll never forget the phone call.  I was home alone and Hazel was napping.  He was very nonchalant when he said, “So, you have

Carne Asada and Sauteed Spinach

significant white matter damage.”  I was hysterical sobbing and he told me to go to the hospital so I could get Solu-Medrol infusions.  He told me to look online and pick an MS drug before our next appointment.  The steroids were horrendous and I gained even more weight on top of the pregnancy and fertility treatments.  My husband had to take the week off work while I was recovering.  I had no idea what steroids even were and no one, certainly not my doctor, prepared me for the storm that would happen in my body over the next month.

I put together my list of all four injectable medications available at the time, the pros and cons for each, and a long list of questions.  My neurologist didn’t have the time to go over it all with me, and told me to just take Copaxone, a daily injection.  I discovered later that he receives money from Teva Neuroscience, the drug manufacturer, to give talks to the public about “Current trends in drug treatment for MS.”  I am a good patient though so the nurse came to my house and trained my husband and I to do the injections.  For a year, I did the shots every night, had all my questions ignored by my neurologist, had my MRI every 6 months and slept.  I was so tired beyond imagining.  I felt like I was constantly fighting my way up out of general anesthesia.  It made parenting very difficult.  my hands seemed to be permanently numb even after the high-dose steroids, and any increase in core body temperature, or an ambient temperature above 80 degrees would bring back all the old symptoms.  I would go on a mile long walk and sleep for three hours.  My adipose tissue was degraded where I had to inject, and I was covered in painful itchy welts from injection site reactions.  My life was limited and sad.  I pictured myself in a wheelchair at Hazel’s graduation.

I have always been interested in complimentary and alternative treatments, and received a lot of support from my massage therapist, my chiropractor and my acupuncturist.  I read books about alternative treatments for MS, including Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet.  Many MS patients don’t stick with diets that are perceived as “too limiting”, but having been a vegan and vegetarian for most of my life, I felt like I was prepared.  At the time, a typical day for me would consist of a bowl of Kashi GoLean cereal with skim milk for breakfast, or a bagel with low-fat cream cheese if I was out of the house.  Lunch was usually a sandwich or wrap of some kind, and dinner would be pasta or homemade pizza.  I did a lot of cooking, but because my husband was a vegetarian I rarely made any meat at home.

Grilled spicy Italian sausage with grilled peppers and onions, and cucumber tomato salad

Around the same time, another woman I know with MS said that she was managing her disease with  the Paleo diet.  I remembered hearing something about the “cavemen diet” that was all steak or that it was like Atkins or something with no vegetables and immediately dismissed it.  I read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes around the same time that I read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and everything started to fall into place.  it seemed so simple and natural, like water flowing down hill.  I had an epiphany, and sat my husband down to tell him that I was going to have to start buying and cooking meat at home.  My diet before was not one that had much to criticize.  My dietitian that I saw when I was pregnant told me that she wished all pregnant women ate like me; fat-free and low-fat dairy, whole grains, occasional lean meat, lots of fruit and veggies, very low saturated fat.

In desperation, I did a total turnaround.  I decided to give it 30 days after I read Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint.  I got rid of what little processed food that I had, and was shocked to find that my definition of “processed” had changed with my new information.  I started eating eggs for breakfast, sometimes with bacon.  I started cooking with butter.  I bought my first package of lard from pastured pigs at our CSA.  I started roasting whole chickens, one of my favorite meals since childhood and that I missed dearly.  I started eating even more vegetables than when I was a vegetarian.  

After 30 days, I was off all my medications and not only remained in remission, but I no longer had the symptoms that I was told would be permanent.  The fatigue was gone, I had total feeling back in my hands with no residual paresthesia, and I had no more heat sensitivity.  On a particularly nice day outside for a walk, my husband said to me, “If this was last year, you would be complaining so much about the heat, and going inside to take a nap.”  Everything changed.  I effortlessly lost about 40 pounds and felt like I was ten years younger.  I loved cooking again.  My husband began eating meat again and had similar results.   I was able to do yoga again, and lift very heavy weight at the gym.  My kids felt lighter, and I was shocked at how much I could get done in a day.  I cannot overstate how dramatic the changes were in my life.

I eat meat on the bone, and cook with chicken stock made from feet.  I make my yogurt and crème fresh and ricotta.  I buy a half

Tomatillos from our friends garden

a cow from grass-fed and finished, pastured cows raised by friends.  I eat so many vegetables.  I love food and the options are limitless.  I eat big salads, avocados, fruit, raw nuts, olive oil and homemade mayonnaise.  I braise lamb shanks, and ox tails and stew.  I roast chickens and sear ducks.  I drink tea and stock and seltzer and wine.  I eat butter and dark chocolate and brie and goat cheese.  I will stuff a fresh fig with blue cheese and honey and thyme for breakfast, and snack on homemade pâté.  I have meals of roasted broccoli, cauliflower, squash and beets with lemon juice.  I eat yogurt I make with heavy cream on berries with cinnamon.  I do not feel deprived of anything.

I struggle with sugar sometimes, and holidays, and alcohol and organ meats.  It’s a process that is constantly revolving and refining for me, and I enjoy that.  I have eaten an ancestral/paleo/primal/traditional foods diet for about 13 months now and stay off my medication and in a total remission with no new disease progress.  I have a new neurologist who supports my choices a hundred percent.  I no longer consider a wheelchair to be a part of my future.  I have a passion for sourcing, cooking and eating Real Food, and helping people, particularly people with chronic health conditions and people with children, transition to a traditional foods diet.  I’m also honored to know my fellow blog collaborators, who are some of the kindest, most knowledgeable and hilarious people I have met.  Truth.

15 Responses to “The Middle of the Story”

  1. Meredith November 12, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    What an inspiring story! Your food looks amazing! I can’t wait to read more of your posts!

    XOXOXOOX

  2. Aravind November 12, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    AKD – I cannot begin to express how moved I am by your story. You are a remarkable woman. Thank you so much sharing this. XOXO

  3. Martha November 12, 2011 at 6:52 pm #

    Amanda, thank you so much for sharing your story so openly and honestly. You are amazing. I note that you have found community also with your change to paleo. This is something I have noticed also, although my contacts are from FB more often than blogs. I was a nurse with advanced degrees, taught clinical nursing, am now disabled and spend much time (as I have lots of free time) looking to see the blessings in my new life and finding them. You are inspiring and add to the good in the universe.

  4. Bridget (@iammzbridget) November 12, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

    I’m impressed, amazed and inspired. You are my hero!!!

  5. eksnewyork November 12, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    Wow. I KNOW this story but still reading it like this was amazing. It is so striking how much you have taken control of your health and so inspiring to me as well. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Rose Nunez Smith November 13, 2011 at 3:23 am #

    AKD, you have my total respect and admiration. Way to think for yourself, and take excellent action as a result. *Standing O*

    • Aravind November 13, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

      As in the big O? I prefer to be horizontal. Maybe you need to show us your O face?

  7. estrellabelle November 13, 2011 at 6:23 am #

    Thank you for sharing your story of triumph with us, Amanda. You are truly an inspiration! xo

  8. Dennis Moore November 13, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    Wow, your story is so inspirational. I myself have noticed a benefit to the Paleo diet versus others but your story is still awe inspiring. It makes the problems I deal with on a daily basis seem miniscule and I know you must be a very strong person. Best of luck from now into eternity.

  9. Kerry December 21, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    And you really do help others. Now I just need to help myself! You’ve taught me so much!

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. What’s in a Cow? « Highbrow Paleo - December 21, 2011

    […] pantries, and stuff from cans.  There is a lot of effort involved in this.  Because I feel that food is my medicine that prevents my illness from developing, I do not consider it an option to return to the less expensive, more convenient vegetarian […]

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