I recently celebrated an anniversary of my official diagnosis of dysbiosis, a microbial imbalance in my body that I’m working to correct. It’s taken seven years after being hospitalized in Indonesia with a rare parasite for me to find a medical explanation that accounts for my lingering health issues today. I spent most of these years in complete denial and didn’t fully acknowledge I was sick until two years ago when I moved from California to D.C. for a post-collegiate adventure. Since then, with the right guidance, I’ve been able to tame my most severe symptoms and have somewhat reclaimed a sense of normalcy. That being said, I still have to manage my illness every single day, which requires thoughtful planning and considerable self-discipline.
Over the past two years I’ve connected with so many people who are struggling with similar health issues or living with chronic disease. Acknowledging that I wasn’t alone and eventually cultivating a community that could offer specialized support and care were essential factors in my recovery. Although I’m new to the healing process, I’ve found peace in ancient practices that honor mindful living and eating. In particular, meditation, yoga, and regular acupuncture sessions have made it easier to embrace the difficult art of acceptance and detachment.
During the past few years I’ve slowly relinquished gluten and dairy, processed foods and sugars, caffeine, antibiotics and over-the-counter medications. I’ve removed all harsh chemicals from my home and use only the purest makeup and personal care products on the market, or make my own. I cheat occasionally with a glass of red wine. I’ve learned (regrettably) that I can’t just wash my hair with apple cider vinegar and baking soda, try as I might. I’ve launched a blog. I’ve become a certified meditation teacher. I’ve experimented with both paleo and vegan philosophies and have found a fusion that works best for me.
In many respects my parameters and new practices present an opportunity for me to experience life as it should be realized: balanced, nourishing, and in pursuit of the profound. At the same time, I’ve had to stop searching for meaning in my diagnosis or viewing my illness as the necessary prerequisite to claiming my identity. While I would never completely revert to my old eating habits or way of living even if I could, I do wish there were more options and easier access to specialty foods when I’m dining out or traveling.
I’ve learned to exist more comfortably in the gaping chasm that separates eastern and western medicine. My countless experiments have taught me that achieving good health cannot be approached from only one perspective. What works for some is not guaranteed to be the golden ticket for all. There is as much need for antibiotics as there is for Chinese medicine and I regret that these philosophies are so divided.
The biggest challenge I’ve faced these past few years is developing deep and sustaining self-compassion. I’ve experienced as many bad days as good, which can make it difficult to maintain my routine or keep my anxiety in check when I feel my health slipping out of control. It’s true that I no longer binge on a pint of ice cream or eat the entire bread basket at dinner, but having restraint in those moments can make it difficult to resist a freshly baked batch of almond flour cookies or refrain from attacking a large bag of raw cashews that should have lasted me all week. Learning to love myself in those moments and remaining nonjudgmental in my practices is demanding to say the least, but embracing my imperfections has become easier.
Everyone has unique pain and faces personal challenges on a daily basis. For me, dealing with chronic illness has pushed me to reclaim my life as much as my health. I’ve reconnected with old friends and brought beautiful new faces into my circle. I’ve overcome feelings of isolation and confusion by tapping into a source of strength I didn’t know was mine. As much as I’ve struggled to enjoy social settings that revolve around food and drink, I’ve also found passion in creating and photographing vibrant, healthy meals. Most importantly, I’ve started to make peace with myself by learning to be vulnerable and honest with others about how I’m really feeling, rather than putting on a performance of holistic well-being.
These past months, as I’ve turned to ancient medicine and traditions to find clarity, I’ve fallen in love with the grace and beauty that meditation can inspire. Simple observation of breath allows us to exist, nonjudgmentally, in the present. Whatever your personal battle might be, I hope that you also can find relief in this tranquil space. At this moment, and really every moment, we all have the capacity to begin healing.