I remember thinking at some point during my sickness how exciting it would be to eventually write a positive post about my health. That thought was fleeting at the time, as I knew how long of a journey I still had to go, but I am elated to finally share my story of my successful battle against Candida and SIBO.
In October of 2013, right before my boyfriend John and I got engaged, I’d been having a lot of GI discomfort. I was often bloated, in pain, anxious, etc. My symptoms were worsening by the day and the doctors weren’t sure what was up. I was told over and over again that nothing was wrong with me and I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Not only was I disappointed with this answer, it made me angry. I was 24, in a huge amount of discomfort, and was given a blanket diagnosis with no solution aside from IBS and pain medication. I refused to take Western Medicine’s answer for granted and was determined to find out why a healthy woman like myself was suffering so much from an unknown GI issue.
I started out by cutting gluten completely from my diet in early October. It offered immediate relief and I was excited that maybe I had found the root of the issue when I dropped two pant sizes in a week while my weight remained the same. I had been so bloated that despite not losing a pound, my pants and clothes were baggy! My excitement quickly faded, though, when just a week later, my symptoms began to flare up again, now worse than ever.
The rest of the year was interesting. I watched what I ate, but despite how careful I was, everything that crossed my lips would bring me pain. I’d eat broccoli and be doubled over with gas. I’d eat rice and sit over the toilet willing myself to keep it down. I’d eat a steak and not go to the bathroom for a week. I’d eat a tomato and couldn’t leave the toilet all morning. I was often so distended that I looked six months pregnant, my stomach so swollen that the skin would ache from being stretched so thin. With each passing day it became increasingly difficult to force myself to eat. My body knew what food meant – crippling pain – and it was tired of it. I began gagging with every bite.
By February I’d gotten so weak and could eat nothing without serious discomfort. It was so bad that I knew something drastic had to be done. I visited the doctor three times over the course of a month and demanded that my case be treated as an emergency. I wanted the full spectrum of tests, and was blessed with a nurse practitioner who had no problem writing me scripts for every GI test under the sun. I had blood tests, stool samples, tried different diets and protocols. I had allergy tests, fasted for tests, and ran urinalysis. With each normal result, I was thankful, yet increasingly desperate to know what was wrong with me.
I begged for more serious procedures and my sweet nurse practitioner was able to finagle a next-day emergency colonoscopy/endoscopy – (it may or may not have had something to do with the fact that I cried hysterically upon finding out I’d have to wait three months for an appointment.) Regardless, I was thankful to have gotten in for the procedure on such short notice.
However, to both my relief and disappointment, the colonoscopy and endoscopy came back clear. Of course, I was happy that my biopsies came out negative, and major GI issues like blockages were off the table, but jeez, is it frustrating not knowing what’s going on! The only thing discovered was yeast growing inside my esophagus and stomach, something the doctors brushed off as normal. I once again found myself begging for more tests and was fortunate enough to have an emergency CT scan and ultrasound. Again, neither resulted in anything, my results were normal, the doctors couldn’t find a thing.
Amongst growing anxiety, the pain was also worsening by the day, and at the end of February (2014), one morning on the way to work, I stopped on the sidewalk literally doubled over in pain. Hot tears streamed down my cheeks and I felt that death would almost be a comfort, a relief. I was in anguish and I didn’t know what to do or how to fix my problem.
My emotions on that day were insane. I now know what a horrible situation it is to live with an undiagnosed health issue. As if the anxiety of just feeling like shit isn’t enough, having to deal with not knowing what you have is so much worse. I lost count of the amount of times I was told by doctors that my GI issues were mental. On multiple occasions I was asked if I was anorexic, had an eating disorder, or if I was using hard drugs like heroin. I’d insist that those played no part in my issue, and was always faced with an expression of disbelief. I felt like it was me against the world, and on this day in particular, the weight of my health burden was simply too great.
In that moment, as I barely kept myself from falling down onto the sidewalk in an exhausted heap of discouragement, I knew I needed to take matters into my own hands. I knew there was something inside me that was destroying me. I knew I couldn’t live like this anymore, yet I also knew that I didn’t want to rely on medicine to mask my symptoms for the rest of my life. I wiped the tears from my cheeks, walked past my work, and right into the nearby health food store. I threw away the lunch I’d packed, and purchased a package of a dozen eggs. I decided that from that moment forward, I was cutting out all forms of sugar. I walked back to my office, sat at my desk, and called a local Naturopath.
I started working with Brooke almost immediately. Not only is she an amazing Naturopathic Doctor, Brooke has also become a great friend. She made herself available to me not only as my doctor, but as an emotional support and endless wealth of information. She was the kind of doctor I could text at 10:00 PM asking if my symptoms were dire enough to go to the hospital, and she was the friend I called crying after being told by Western Medicine that I was mental and my issues were in my head. I could tell her about my pain and symptoms without being discounted, I could cry to her and release my anguish, and most importantly, not once did she ask me if I was doing heavy drugs or had an eating disorder. She understood what I was going through.
With Brooke’s guidance, I started on a very strict Candida Cleanse protocol at the beginning of March, which included cutting out all sugars, starch, fruits, dairy, gluten, grains, vinegar, certain vegetables, and the list goes on and on. The foods that I was allowed to eat consisted mainly of certain vegetables and lean proteins like poultry and rabbit. Because of the dramatic change in diet, and how swollen my body had been from my sickness, I dropped over ten pounds in a week, which was nearly 10% of my body weight.
I found myself buying hundreds of dollars worth of pills, supplements, treatments, protein powders, and healthy foods. Items that I never thought I’d own, like pill containers, mason jars, and heating pads, littered my apartment and work desk.
For months, I diligently kept to my diet – I was so proud of that fact that I hadn’t cheated once! But despite all my hard work, the Candida we were fighting (which is overgrowth of yeast in the stomach) didn’t seem to be getting any better. When symptoms weren’t fully gone by July, we decided we needed to make sure I wasn’t battling something more serious than just the Candida. We tested for SIBO, which stands for Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth, and I nervously awaited the results. On one hand, I didn’t want the results to be positive – I knew I’d have to start a whole new, extremely strict protocol with different rules and food restrictions, and honestly, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that it’d be a whole new fish to fry. But on the other hand, I almost hoped the results did come back positive, so we’d have some solid reasoning as to why I was still in so much pain.
I was sitting at my desk one afternoon when the call came through. Brooke had called to tell me that the results were in. My heart sunk as I found out that I not only had SIBO, but an extreme case of it. The SIBO test determines bacteria overgrowth based on the gasses your body produces when they’re active. My test had shown that not only were my results incredibly high, the bacteria in my gut were producing methane, nitrogen, and hydrogen gasses in very high doses. No wonder I’d been so loopy, anxious, and emotional! A normal person’s SIBO level should be 0, the test considers 35 to be extreme cases, and I was at 56.
I couldn’t keep the tears from spilling down my cheeks so I left work, went for a walk, and had John pick me up somewhere on the sidewalk where I ended up. I was heartbroken. After months of so much hard work already, I now knew I’d have months ahead of me too. I remember crying a lot as I passed Hodad’s and the smell of delicious burgers and french fries wafted past my nose. Hot, angry tears dripped from my eyes as I wondered how long it would be before I’d be able to eat my next burger. I was a mess, but I needed to have a moment. I wandered around downtown for a bit, sobbing silently as I walked aimlessly, until John came to my rescue and ushered me into our car.
Once I was done being comforted by John and had stopped feeling sorry for myself, I mustered up the gusto to get started on the SIBO cleanse and protocol. I’m not going to lie, it was rough, my friend. I was sick. Very sick. Every. Goddam. Day. I woke up running to the bathroom, and every day I’d wake up with the first thought in my head being “I wonder if today’s the day I’ll feel better”, only to be hit across the face with a wave of nausea and stomach cramps that had me sprinting to the bathroom.
At the end of August, I had a particularly bad week. I fell flat on my face outside a grocery store, had a very stressful situation happen with one of my investments, and my position was eliminated at the company I’d been working for. That week was a hard pill to swallow on top of everything else. I cried for days wondering why the world had such a tendency to kick me while I was down. I was depressed, I’m not ashamed to admit it. I was hurt and upset and had so many unanswered questions about life.
After the first week or so of feeling sorry for myself, though, I started to feel more at peace with my life and all that had been happening to me. During my morning meditations, I was beginning to see the silver lining of my situation. Based on how bad my treatments had gotten, I knew I would have had to ask for a medical leave at work. Despite the sting of being let go, it was beginning to dawn on me what a blessing in disguise it had been. I needed the time to recover – after all, my treatments and diet were a full time job, and I could barely get out of bed in the morning at this point, let alone carry on a demanding and stressful work position.
People asked me all the time what I spent my time doing, and it was honestly a hard question for me to answer. My health had turned into my full time job once I got let go from my position. I spent hours of my day in the bathroom, each meal took me about two hours to eat, and every meal needed to be prepared fresh, from 100% organic and healthy ingredients. I could eat nothing canned, nothing processed, nothing “easy”. I needed a lot of sleep. Some days I was in so much pain that I couldn’t even move. I’d spend my days on the couch with a heating pad, some defrosted chicken soup, and Friends reruns. People would always react with the only response they could think of, usually something along the lines of “wow, sounds like you have a lot of free time on your hands”. Yes, I guess in reality I did, but it’s not the kind of joyous unemployment we all dream of having, it felt a lot like work to me.
My SIBO treatment intensified soon after I lost my job, as I began working with a brilliant nutritionist who had me start an eight-week supplemental detox treatment. Since the antibiotics used to treat SIBO only have an 80% effectiveness rate, we wanted to try to kill off some of the bacteria naturally if possible. For eight weeks, each day became worse than the last. I was able to remain pretty positive about all things life until this point, when the detox became extremely bad.
From our naturopathic remedies, I started on a very high dose of Rifaximin, an extremely strong antibiotic. I was on Rifaximin and another antibiotic for three weeks. I obviously haven’t ever gone through a heavy drug detox, but I felt exactly as I imagined it would feel. I’d wake up some mornings with my stomach burning like it was on fire, shaking uncontrollably while sweating, as though I had been poisoned. I guess the best way to describe it would be to say it was like I had the flu for months on end. I was nauseous, had headaches, muscle aches and pains, lack of appetite, was lightheaded, anxious, spacey, and out of it. I felt like pure shit.
Finally, the treatment was over and I transitioned to Phase II of the treatment plan, which was dietary. Basically, bacteria live in a thirty-day life cycle, so I needed to maintain an extremely strict diet with absolutely no cheating for a minimum of 30 days to see if we had killed off all the bacteria. The diet was extreme, but I was determined to make it work. My number one and two priorities each day were: 1. Eat the right foods, and 2. Try to eat 2,000 calories worth of them. It’s hard getting enough calories when you’re on such a healthy, restricted diet!
At the end of November, after working with my amazingly smart nutritionist, I finished up the 30-day cleanse, and retook the SIBO test. I mailed it off and eagerly awaited the results. My, was I nervous! This was it, the test would show if my SIBO had gotten any better, and if so, how much! It would determine if I could move on to Phase III of the treatment plan, or if I’d have to start over with Phase II. I was hopeful that my results had improved, but I was definitely not expecting the test to come back clear. I did not want to get my hopes up!
While waiting for the results, just four days before receiving them, I started to feel a little bit better! I had eight different doctor procedures over the course of a week, and I think something, or a combination of everything, clicked, because I started to feel a little more human every day!
After having a few “good days” in a row, one day at the end of November, over a year since I’d originally cut out gluten and started investigating the cause of my pain, I received a call from the doctor that sent me into a day full of happy tears and a roller coaster of emotions. My test had come back negative! So completely negative that the nutritionist needed to have the other doctors at the practice look it over to make sure it was correct! I had successfully beaten the SIBO!
I called my family and friends and delivered the good news, sobbing happy, joyful tears the whole time. I was laughing and crying and dancing around the apartment like a crazy person with my cat, Boots. I blasted the music and sang at the top of my lungs and felt alive. It was the first concrete sign or positive result I’d gotten in the year I’d been working on it! And it felt SO GOOD!
Once I’d let the news of my negative SIBO results sink in, I met with Julianna (my nutritionist), and we discussed the next phase of my healing plan – I would work to rebuild my gut while weaning myself off supplements. This “phase” of treatment could take months to years, and I knew that despite beating the SIBO, it wasn’t going to be easy.
December was a whirlwind of activity, as most Decembers are, but my health was still a primary focus. Right before the start of the New Year I decided that I’d hit January hard with aggressive health goals, and began working on the mindset I’d need to get through it. I watched my holidays and all the delicious treats pass me by, as I continued eating clean, but I was overjoyed to reintroduce simple pleasures like fruit. I remember it as clear as day – my first bite of a juicy, organic grapefruit, the first fruit that had passed my lips in nearly a year – it was practically orgasmic, never has a grapefruit been such a treat!
At the start of January I faced my goals head first, and strove to start working out, put on weight, hit 2000+ calories per day, and go without my nausea medicine. The first week of January was spent in a lot of pain, battling intense nausea. I worked every day to beat the calorie count from the day prior, and although I was only able to get down less than 1,000 calories January 1, by the end of the first week, I was up to 1,300. By the end of the month, I was hitting 2,000 calories and wasn’t as nauseous as I had been when attempting to work out. Things were slowly but surely on the upswing.
As February and March rolled around, my good days started to finally outnumber the bad and I began to feel alive again. The depression that had clouded my spirit for so long finally started to lift, and I felt as though every pain free breath I took was such an incredible blessing. I eagerly bombarded John with kisses as he walked through the front door one night after work, squealing, “My Melissa Mojo is back babe!!” He laughed and we enjoyed celebrating ecstatically together.
In March, I had a meeting with my nutritionist, where she informed me that my hormones were balancing, my adrenals were starting to work properly, my sugars were stabilizing, and more! I was so happy that all the hard work, cleansing, and pain was finally starting to pay off.
As I continue to heal and rebuild my gut, I take every day as it comes. I have good days, and I have bad days. Despite how I’m feeling, I try to always focus on the positive, and I am thankful for each bad day I have, as it’s such a good reminder to appreciate the crap out of every good day. I will probably have years of gut repair in my future, but that’s ok. My health and gut issues have taught me more about myself than I would have ever thought possible.
Some days, I don’t feel well and I’ll be faced with feelings of disappointment, frustration and fear. I’m disappointed because I work really hard to maintain a healthy gut, I feel frustrated because based on the foods I eat, I shouldn’t be feeling awful, and I feel scared because I’m petrified that the SIBO is going to come back at some point and I’ll be back to square one.
Amongst all those feelings when I have a bad day, though, there is always one that stands out to me. A sense of thanksgiving and gratefulness that brings me peace and almost drowns out my other more-paranoid thoughts. Why? Because as I process my thought patterns despite the pain, I can’t help feeling overwhelmingly thankful that the endless pain isn’t my day-to-day anymore. Despite feeling frustrated, disappointed, and scared, my thankfulness for the fact that I now have more good days than bad can be overwhelming.
Something my gut issues have taught me is that my time here on this earth is valuable, and to appreciate all moments, including those with pain. I’ve learned that if nothing else, pain is a valuable teacher of important life lessons, you just need to tune in to be taught. Those of you experiencing your own pain, try to focus on why you’re going through it, and what it will teach you, and I think you’ll be surprised at the lessons you will learn.
It is with this mindset that I have learned to find the silver lining in all situations; to appreciate the good along with the bad, and to truly appreciate the times of turmoil along with the moments of joy. With an open heart and open mind I am ready for all the days life blesses me with.
For over a year, I was very sick. At times, I had to muster the courage just to face another day. But hell, I can look back on my life and say that I’ve never had to work so hard at something than I had to during that year. I was fighting for my life each and every day – not only physically, but mentally too. I now have a deeper understanding of what those with illness go through, and I am thankful for each painless breath I take.
I’ve learned so much about myself, and know it’s only the beginning of my self-understanding. I’ve never had to spend so much time by my lonesome, lost in my own thoughts. I told John that this illness was my opportunity to face all my inner demons – to meditate and work through toxic energy I’ve been holding with me for a long time. It’s been a year of cleansing both body and mind, and I know that when all is said and done, I’m going to be one hell of a woman!
Over the course of the year, my health cost me over $12,000 in out of pocket costs. I purchased 13 jugs of protein powder, drank down 6 bottles of betonite clay, purchased over a hundred cans of coconut milk, and swallowed over 9,500 pills and supplements. I underwent procedures normally reserved for people in their fifties, like colonoscopies and endoscopies. I saw a nutritionist six times, met with Brooke five times, received six IV nutrient infusions, got twelve stress-relieving massages, had eleven doctors appointments, thirteen colonics, and was hypnotized twice. I had procedures I hadn’t ever heard the name of like a Cranio Sacral and Lymphatic Drainage. I learned how to prick my finger like a diabetic to test my blood sugars. I had to test the PH in my saliva and urine for weeks.
It’s been an incredible journey so far and I’m so ridiculously PROUD of myself that I’ve made it to this point. I know that I still have an incredibly long road to recovery and I also realize that it is going to take time to be able to do things like work out hard at the gym and eat out at restaurants. But hell, if I’ve got anything, it’s the motivation to keep going, the support to take it on, and the gusto to do it, because if I’ve made it this far, I can definitely make it the whole way!
Beating SIBO was the light at the end of the tunnel that I needed to see. The knowledge that progress had been made, shown through the results of my hard work, motivate me each and every day to keep going. I’m ready to take on what each new day brings and I hope my story inspires you to do the same.
Looking back on my gut journey so far, I know that beating this health issue is going to be one of my greatest life accomplishments. I’m thankful to have learned so much about myself, and about those around me. I have lost some friends because of it, yet gained the most amazing, supportive group of buds I could have ever imagined. I’m thankful that despite this year being just as hard for John as it was for me, our relationship is stronger and better than ever. I’m thankful that despite reaching my lowest lows, I know I’m on the path to reaching my highest highs. I’m thankful that because of all the bad, I now so easily recognize when things are good. And I’m thankful for being taught the most important lesson- that life is precious and every moment should be enjoyed. Despite still having bad days, I’m always able to identify beauty and goodness in so many moments throughout my day. It is this that I am most grateful for.