Imagine if you woke up one morning feeling like you got hit by a truck. Imagine if that was the first of a lifetime of days ahead of you.
That was exactly what happened to me.
My name is Kate and I am the founder of the website Cing Education, an online tutoring company and support network for young adults with a chronic illness at school. I am a business owner, uni student, musical director and dog owner. But most importantly, I am a twenty-three year old woman who has learnt how to rest and prioritise health the hard way.
My story begins when I was about sixteen. I was just doing typical teenage things in Southern Sydney, Australia – going to school, hanging out with friends, chatting up the boys at the bus stop after school (and failing, I promise). My sister had just had a baby, and life was looking great and full of promise. As soon as my beautiful nephew began kindergarten, I began to notice that I was perpetually getting colds, flus and any virus that was going around. I had also started my first musical – a passion that would take me across Sydney and spark a whole new series of friendships that I treasure to this day.
It was the hardest thing I had done to date and even though it left me exhausted, I was loving it.
I went to my doctor, who began doing some testing to see why my immune system seemed to be struggling. A referral was given to an immunology professor, who happened to be operating out of rooms in my suburb as well as his rooms in the city. I cannot thank my first GP enough for supporting me and actually investigating my problems.
So off I went to this immunologist and I succumbed to many blood tests, an MRI and various other methods of testing. As this testing went on and my health began to decline, I cannot communicate the vast sense of confusion and stress that I was going through. Anyone who has been through this, or is still going through it, knows that this is a unique combination of fear, anxiety and trepidation that can make or break a person. Luckily for me, I think that this is one of the experiences that has shaped the person I am today, despite causing a few cracks along the way.
As the results of these tests came back, it was confirmed that I had CREST Syndrome – an autoimmune condition. It was a chronic diagnosis, but manageable with medications. This was a blow, but it was not immediately life threatening. It was a setback, but not the end of the world.
Then things began to change.
School became harder and harder as I pushed through year 10 and began year 11. I was getting sick regularly, and missing school often. There was one month where I was hospitalised three times for various illnesses, and I almost had my appendix taken out due to a misdiagnosis that was thankfully ruled out before I made it to the operating table. My friends were so supportive, and their hospital and home visits were appreciated more than they will ever know. The flip-side of this was the missed birthdays, school events and after-school hangouts that shape most people’s relationships in their mid teens. I was the girl sitting in the hospital bed, missing parties and hoping for some sort of miracle. I wish I could say that there was a miracle, even ten years later. At least I can say now that I am not actively waiting for something to change.
Another diagnosis was soon added to the mix called Fibromyalgia. This drastically changed my life as my symptoms became more pronounced. I was perpetually exhausted – unable to go to school, unwilling to get out of bed. Most days out required a week of recovery. Every illness I caught came with a vengeance, and school became a constant cycle of missing days, trying to catch up, attempting school and then crashing for a week. My friends tried to support me as best as they could, but I can look back and appreciate how hard it was to talk to someone in a medication-induced haze of exhaustion, hormonal mood swings and no positive outlook of how my future was going to be.
I struggled through my HSC, with a few major breakthroughs along the way. My first was the discovery of Bowen Therapy – a holistic approach that focuses on the body regenerating itself. I have been doing this for about five years now, and it has changed my life completely (four years without any serious hospital admissions now, guys!). I tried various medications, and eventually settled on a bit of a routine. School days missed became slightly fewer, and the promise of finishing school pushed me through my HSC.
Since then, I have weaned off many of my medications and now manage my illness through diet and exercise. I have also substituted most of my medications for vitamins. So what has seven years of alternative health shown me? That medications aren’t the be all and end all. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes they stop working. My ‘tried and true’ vitamin combos are:
Magnesium is, as I understand it, a muscle relaxant. For someone whose body is constantly in ‘fight or flight mode’ due to high pain levels, Magnesium has changed my pain levels so much (and less pain equals less pain meds!).
When I get sick, I really get sick. So to ward off the worst colds and flu’s I take a high quality immune booster. You know that disgusting flu that has been travelling around Sydney this winter? I haven’t had it. That’s right — someone who is auto-immune and whose immune system is actively suppressed did NOT get the worst flu to hit Sydney in years. I attribute that wholly to my high quality immune booster.
Feeling low? Feeling lethargic? Get some ginseng into you. I take a ginseng supplement that includes all five strains (Siberian, Korean, America, Brazilian and Indian). This plus coffee is dangerous – imagine the energiser bunny! This is for days when I wake up exhausted (chronic fatigue y’all) and need a little perk!
Every woman, in my opinion, should get their iron levels tested regularly. Iron supplements can be gross-tasting, but that pales in comparison to anaemia. I prefer a chelated iron supplement, and tend to slip it into a glass of juice in the morning.
If you’re taking iron, I’ve been advised that a B12 supplement is very helpful to take alongside it to ensure absorption. The B12 makes me perky when I’m feeling low as well.
Did you know that approximately seventy to eighty percent of your immunity is found in the gut? Probiotics make your tummy happy, and with a gut-friendly diet (no sugar, fresh fruit and veg, fermented foods) I find that I am happiest and healthiest when my gut is happy. A high quality probiotic is the foundation of a happy gut, I find.
This is my life now, and every day is a victory in one way or another. I have amazing friends, who respect my boundaries and make life so much better. I am proud of the journey I have taken, and my future is looking so much brighter (forgive the cliche). I am still in pain every day, but every day with a lower pain level is a blessing. And tackling my illness naturally when I can using natural supplements? Well that has made a world of difference.
I am functioning, thriving, surviving and using natural supplements is a cornerstone of my health.
About the Author
Kate Berger is the founder of Cing Education, an online tutoring company and support network for young Australians with a chronic illness at school or university.