My Healing Journey
I'm sharing this so you can see what I achieved in case you are interested in trying to find your own healing path.
Where I was at....Jan 2017
Off all medications from the NHS specialist, why? I hated the side effects I got from them and the potential damage they could do to my body. As a result was in constant pain, taking as many paracetamol and ibruprofen as possible just to keep me moving. I hobbled around, at times I got stuck in the bath and on the toilet. I maintained my job but only as the company were so supportive, I would turn up late, struggle with the pain, and at times I'm sure I was a grumpy colleague and defiantly an emotional one. On a bad days I was very late to work, I would have tears on the way to the filling cabinet, all of the 3 meters shuffle, thankfully at that time I was in an office on my own. I was very determined that no matter what I would maintain working as this gave me a reason to get up when I was in so much pain that it felt impossible. Life was soooooooooooooooooooo painful and scary, I felt I had a very negative future ahead and I was scared, extremely down and not enjoying life or being able to keep positive contact with the people I cared about. This is not at all me, I felt I lost myself to the illness.
I take no medications and I am pain free, for over 1 year!!! :) Although I have some reduced joint movement (due to damage caused over the years) they continue to improve, I exercise regularly and do activities I thought I would never be able to do again, from long walks, jogging, to indoor rock climbing, trampolines, horse riding etc. I have my life completely back. I am happy and now excited about my future. :) My bloods are completely normal, with CRP levels in the normal range, I still have some joint swelling but I'm confident the more I continue and add improvements I will continue to get better. After 6 months I had a regular blood test through the NHS and my CRP levels were already normal although I still felt the disease in my joints. After another 6 months my bloods were still clear and I was physically in an unbelievably good place. I am currently walking the Camino Frances in Spain, a 500 mile pilgrimage, I am doing for spiritual reasons and a much needed break from life to reassess where I go next. I am so grateful that I am in a position that I can do this, it feels like my own miracle.
***A note on medications; This was my journey that worked for me, I have read about people who healed themselves through lifestyle whilst taking the medications still. As they improved they reduced their meds slowly with their specialist support until they were free of medications. I would never encourage anyone to come off the meds like I did, yes it worked for me but and was part of my personal journey but not something I would recommend others to do. I also still see my NHS specialist and he now fully supports my efforts as he said, I now manage my RA better then the medications can. I maintained contact even whilst seeing a private doctor as I had my blood tested to check my CRP levels and it meant they were a backup plan if needed. Also I hoped if they could see what I could achieve through lifestyle changes then maybe they would support others to explore that avenue in the future.
Back in the UK after completing the Camino and then spending a further 6 weeks travelling in Portugal and Spain. I had blips with my health whist travelling, too much gluten at times as it was a challenge to eat gluten free. I also enjoyed quite a bit of red wine as it was so delicious but I normally avoid it as not good for my joints. But this was just all further proof that I successfully manage my RA through lifestyle and a reminder that the efforts I make are well worthwhile. So after cleaning up the eating I was back to focusing on the adventures. I brought a camper whilst in Spain that I am going to do up whilst back in the UK. The BIGGY though is that I have just started training for the Tour Divide, a self supported endurance mountain bike race of 2745 miles through the Rocky Mountains. Yes i still have swollen knee joints and restricted movement in my elbow but this is more of a motivation as I'm hoping training to this level will continue to improve my joints. Why take on such a massive challenge, I needed a purpose and a focus to improve my health further, I also want to inspire other people with similar autoimmune diseases that there is a way to manage to condition and live life to the full.
This year has been off the scale......more updates to come.
A note on me going private with a specialist in the area of treatment I believed in...
It took me a long time to make the financial commitment to go private, why, because at that time I didn't value myself enough to spend an unknown amount of joint savings on my treatment. Now for this reason I am glad I got soooooooooo ill as at meant I felt I had no other choice, I was so close to having to stop work that this made me go down this route. The funny thing is I only needed to see Dr Chatterjee twice to achieve this and all in, the total of what I spent on this route is very little in comparison to all the money I spent over the years trying to find a solution independently. I also would of spent much much more to achieve this level of health and getting my life back.
So in a nutshell......
I had spent years researching and trying all different diets and plans, they were always things that had worked for other people and so I felt worth giving them a go. I got some small improvements but struggled to maintain the strict and random plans long term when the benefits felt so limited. Through all my research I felt I presented with having a leaky gut, so a very unhealthy gut that had become damaged and also likely my gut bacteria was also out as in, more badies then goodies. I believed from all I'd researched that the required treatment was antibiotics to kill the bad bacteria and then put things in place to build the good bacteria. I also felt I would benefit from someone who believed I could achieve my aim of managing my RA through lifestyle, this was key for me and gave me alot of strength. So this is when I actively looked into functional medicine that is big in America but not so much in the UK. One day a friend recommended the series 'Dr in the House' this was based around Dr Chatterjee helping people treat their illnesses through lifestyle. What he practised was what I was looking for. So I went on his waiting list!
When I met Dr Chatterjee I was ridiculously ill. Straight away before I told him what I was looking for he said he felt I had a leaky gut and a bacteria imbalance. He prescribed the antibiotics to kill the bacteria, some supplements to promote the good bacteria growth and then asked me to do the 'whole 30' eating plan, which is clean eating to allow your body to recover and identify food intolerances. He made it very clear I was to go Gluten and Dairy Free. Holy smokes I can't express the relief and hope I experienced during and after this first meeting. So this is where I began. I got much worse initially but I identified I was massively intolerant to coconut which I had been eating nearly daily on the 'whole 30' plan. Whole 30 means 30 days but Dr Chatterjee asked me to do this longer and then maintain the clean eating principles.
The first improvements I noticed was in my energy levels, I went from complete constant exhaustion to starting to have a little energy, this grew to loads of energy, as in more than my healthy friends and then my joint pain started to reduce and the swelling decreased.
When I am on it with my food and exercise, relaxation and sleeping , this is when my body is at its best and continues to improve.
I am confident that I can and will improve more but if I stayed at this level I'd still be living a life not impacted by RA which is what I dreamt I would achieve!!
To anyone interested in starting their own alternative healing journey I'd recommend looking into what Dr Chatterjee does, there's loads on the internet, his series and he now he has a book out, 'the 4 pillar plan' which is basically how he treated me. Also look into the whole 30, loads of info online about this and a book.
More specific details on what I did....
I knew what I wanted to do and Dr Chatterjee was the perfect Doctor for me as this is what he practised. Below is the combination of what I've learnt over the years and what I did with Dr Chatterjee.
A lot of people are put off by a complete lifestyle overhaul and reconditioning of the body. The way I understood it was, I wasn't happy and couldn't sustain taking the medications. I had lost my life as the RA was all consuming, so I flipped it on its head. I went from RA controlling me in a negative way to me taking back control in a positive way. Yes the RA lifestyle treatment was all consuming initially but it worked and now it's no longer all consuming. It was a lifestyle change and a lot has just become part of my day to day life, with something's I no longer need to do, an example was I used to have 2/3 Epsom baths a week and now I rarely have one, just when I fancy for my enjoyment now.
All the years of trial and error to find my healing path were worth it, once I achieved it I pretty much forget how difficult it was to get here. I am too busy enjoying having my life back with a new gratitude and appreciation and wanting to embrace life in a way I never could or would of before. :)
I believe this is key to it all!!
Have complete belief you can do it;
Spend time to condition yourself in this way of thinking, keep challenging any negativity.
Remove limiting beliefs
I wrote goals down, no time frames just a clear idea of what I had set out to achieve and I pretty much achieved them all and now have new goals. :)
Use positive affirmations, 'I'm fit, happy and healthy' was my main mantra :) even when in lots of pain I would chant this in my head.
ATTITUDE of GRATITUDE
Every day when I wake, throughout the day and at bedtime I think of 3 things I'm grateful for, no matter how small. This helps me to maintain a positive mindset even when I'm not really feeling it!
Celebrate all the success's no matter how small and be grateful for each and everyone. :)
I believe in the 'universe' and the 'law of attraction', I believe in positivity attracting good things and the more I believe, the more that seems to come good. So something I was once sceptical about I'm happy to accept as part of my lifestyle. I also trained in Reiki, which is healing through universal energy and was bowled away by something that I was again sceptical about, yet the results mean I fully believe and embrace it now.
Overall I try and clean eat, as in avoid processed foods and eat healthy. I would say I aim for 80% plus but at times I slip back to less than this which is when I know it works as my joints warn me they are not happy.
I used the 'whole 30' after the 30 days I did the stricter AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) for a further 60-90 days.
I aim for 80/20 clean eating, my ideal would be 90/10 - I never aspire for 100% as I want to feel human and I don't want the negative pressure and stress of expected perfection!
Currently I am Gluten Free - This made a BIG difference for me.
I am reduced dairy in take but still have some, at some point I will go dairy free again at some point and see what difference this makes.
I am intolerant to and don't eat, nuts or any form of coconut.
I am intolerant to Palm oil but this is in a lot of stuff and so I'm not completely free but do avoid it.
I eat a clean diet, mainly processed free.
Plenty of raw, so salads for lunches.
Alcohol, at my best I have none but even when I drink it its only in small amounts and I find proseco and white wine impact my joints least.
Very little sugar.
I reduced how much meat I eat over time and now eat mainly a vegetrian/vegan diet through choice.
Limited Nightshades - Tomatoes, seem to affect me in some forms but not others.
I drink a lot of water!!
Supplements - These are what I took after the initial anti-biotics. People can readdress gut bacteria without antibiotics to kill the bad bacteria, this just accelerates the process.
Vit D3 Complex - 1 a day
2-BioDorph 7 Plus
RELAX, RELAX, RELAX
15 minute minimum of relaxing doing something I enjoy, having a cup of tea in the garden, reading, dancing round the house, anything that makes me feel nice.
15 minute minimum of creativity, I love this, I used to really struggled to be creative but find it a great relaxation now, creativity can be anything, I did make things and now write, but it could be baking etc.
10 minute minimum of meditation, I started off at 5 min as initially that was enough of a challenge, now some days I'll do 25 mins.
I did a course to help me to get into it.
I used the Headspace App which was great for building the habit.
YouTube is a great source for all sorts of meditation or music to self meditate to.
Bikram - In a hot room and great for detoxing
Traditional Yoga - I used one that also had a short relaxation at the end.
Counselling - I'm a great believer everyone can benefit from counselling, you just need to find a 'good' counsellor that you click with. I used it for....
Getting out of living in my head and thoughts.
Body awareness, how I held emotions in my body.
Anxiety and stress processing.
Letting go of things that impacted me negatively, historic and current.
Healing - this is personal to us all.
Mindfulness - This is all about being in the present moment fully, not lost in thoughts as we so often are, its calming once you've taken the time to learn the skill.
Reiki - Can be used for self healing but I love the benefit I get when I'm using Reiki on someone else.
Hypnotherapy - I found this great to accelerate behaviour change.
EFT - Emotion Freedom Therapy - If you look this up on Google and YouTube you can get enough info to self teach. I have used this a few times but know of others who find great benefit in it.
Anything and everything!!
I did whatever I could do on any given day, when I started out on my journey I struggled to walk, I got that I could jog up to 5 miles happily, now I choose to bike ride as my knees are improved enough that I can now pedal. which they could not before.
I got to the point I would exercise up to 6 days a week, a combination of walking, swimming, yoga and jogging.
It was a learning curve, learning where and how to push my body and when to change my exercise.
I used the couch to 5k app to get jogging and spread it over a much longer duration, many people would off thought I was crazy as I had and still have some swelling on my joints. All I can say is it did and does feel right, it energises my mind and helps my joints to feel better. For me jogging seemed to accelerate my healing.
I had a trampet and as my joints improved I used it as I could, normally putting on one upbeat song and happily jumping away, a great work out and mood lift.
Dancing in the house and garden, this is my fave for when I need a pick me up, I put on my current favourite song and have a 1 person disco, I love it. :)
Yoga, simply great. :)
I now as part of my training for the Tour Divide bike 3 times a week, do gym weights to build the muscles up 2/3 times a week and I see a sports Physio who is helping me to improve the range of motion on my restricted joints.
Get into a routine, make yourself, even if you only start the changes small, as in 5 minutes earlier a night.
I used a sleep mediation when I went to bed this was how I got myself to sleep, especially helped when I was in pain.
For me my knees where very painful and I used a pillow for support under my knees, I found being comfortable at night was key to me sleeping.
A dark room with no phone or artificial light in the room.
I know my sleep makes a big difference as if I struggle to sleep for a few nights and then have a good night sleep, I can instantly feel the benefit in my joints on waking.
My sleep really started to improve once I managed to add exercise into my routine.
ODDS & SODS
Veg juicing - specifically celery and cucumber, drank 2/3 times a day can reduce joint swelling in some people, I found this raised my energy levels a lot.
Smoothies - mix of veg and fruit, a great way to get lots of variety in your diet quickly.
Apple Cider Vinegar - 1 teaspoon in a glass of water 2/3 a day, apparently neutralises acid in the body and is good for building gut bacteria.
Epsom baths - I had 2/3 a week, the bath as hot as I could take it, lots of salt, at least a mug full (I ordered a 25kg bag off eBay as works out much cheaper). I would exercise/move my joint for 20 mins, then relax a bit, on getting out I would wrap myself up in a dressing gown and towel on head and go to bed. This means you sweat a lot as the Epsom salts get your circulation going, I could literally feel my blood pumping round, it's great for detoxing and reduced the swelling in my joints.
Turmeric - people swear by this for health and pain relief, I will try this again as was unsure if I felt a benefit
I'm sure there's bit's I've missed, but the point of me sharing this is to be the evidence that it's possible to manage RA through lifestyle. That there are generic parts to this that would benefit many but then each of us need to personalise our individual healing paths.
Own an enjoy your Journey :)