MY HEALTH STORY

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Partying too hard

I’ve always had an insatiable appetite for the party. I’ve never had any desire to take it easy. Nor have I ever had fear of missing out, because I literally never missed out. When I started working in fashion PR I was really burning the candle at both ends. The demands of my job were extensive. I rarely left the office before 8pm and we had events to attend or host every week. We’d work in a high-stress, high-pressured environment and then blew off steam hectically.

Beyond work, I also am driven to experience as much as is on offer. I love different cultures, adventures, foods, atmospheres and I agreed to doing everything I was invited to do in the bid to learn more and enjoy more.

I love life and my motto was to Live Hard.

Falling to the ground and falling ill

In October 2016 I collapsed at work, fainting once, coming to, entering a panic-attack and then fainting for a second time mid hyperventilation. My colleagues called an ambulance. I was misdiagnosed as simply having a B12 deficiency and after a week’s rest returned to work. The following February I had a number of visitors from London in quick succession of one another. As my best friend from the UK was preparing to go to Melbourne, I fainted on the street. I had some annual leave booked in to spend with my final guest – my dad. As his 10-day trip drew nearer to the end, I noticed I was getting inexplicably tired and had to cancel some of our plans; something which is very unnatural for me! The day after Dad left I returned to work where I fainted for the fourth time in six months. I haven’t been back to work since.

After countless referrals, blood tests, a brain scan and heart monitors I’d had a number of doctors tell me there was nothing visibly wrong with me. At this point I was not only house bound but had to crawl to get to the bathroom for being so weak. While I had stopped fainting, I would collapse on a daily basis from weakness. I couldn’t cook for myself and sometimes struggled to talk. Each doctor’s visit was an exhausting process and it was more devastating each time as I was continuously told they didn’t know what was wrong with me and they referred me on to the next specialist.

I posted on Facebook asking my friends in Sydney if they could advise any specialists for me to see. They did and I made an appointment. Finally I found a doctor who seemed unsurprised by my condition when I explained my lifestyle in depth.

I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

My doctor, who is also a naturopath who has a vested interest in CFS, suspected there was more to the story and conducted further tests. I was diagnosed with a very rare blood disorder [Pyrolle Disorder], which means I retain very little zinc and vitamin b6 (my levels weren’t even shown on the “extremely low” chart she used when explaining – I was off the page). These are both used to produce chemicals that manage stress and anxiety. Without physiologically being able to handle stress and anxiety and having operated in an enormously fast paced environment I was operating in ‘fight or flight’ mode 100% of the time. My body finally gave in. My doctor said in no uncertain terms I had burnt out.

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The big change

This has unsurprisingly meant that I’ve had to have an enormous lifestyle change. While I know that it is going to make me better in the long run, that doesn’t mean it sits easily with me. Everything that feels natural I’ve had to learn to do the opposite. I have an enormously addictive personality, just ask me about cheese… chocolate… cigarettes… alcohol… [Although I’m still waiting for the addiction to meditating and doing sit ups!] A friend from London told me she was so jealous of me being in Sydney because there is such a healthy living culture there. She added “although it’s probably a bit wasted on you!” – she was right.

For years my diet consisted of drinking, smoking and eating pizza. My life revolved around the party and it became the priority above all else. I could tell my body was not in a good way, but I just ignored these warning signs and carried on.

Before any symptoms from my blood disorder had begun presenting themselves prevalently I actually stopped drinking all together at the beginning of August 2016.

Removing alcohol from my life entirely was a huge and really difficult change for me. However, it made me much more productive and health conscience. When I got sick I was infuriated that I had already been so much more respectful and kind to my body and yet it was failing me. So my lifestyle was unrecognisable to the late night boozy one I was living before (I called myself a “Reformed Party Girl”) but it was still extremely busy and I was overexerting myself just in a different way. I would easily walk between 10-20kms every Saturday and Sunday. I was still socialising with friends on Saturday nights but then getting up early on Sunday to go to the beach first thing as part of my new routine. And thus, another overhaul had to be made.

What does my life look like now?
– Quality sleep for at least 7 hours a night, preferably 8
– Vegan (my own ethical choice)
– Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Caffeine Free, Low Sugar (as advised by my doctor)
– Alcohol Free (my own choice supported by my doctor)
– I have to say no to things a lot and not overcommit myself
– I have to seriously manage how much energy I exert
– 
I take 20+ supplements & 4x powders in a juice daily
– I see an acupuncturist once a fortnight
– I see a naturopath every 6 weeks
– I prioritise spirituality and self love

It has been a lot of change over the past year and it has been nothing short of overwhelming. I’m learning all about self-care. I’ve learned that being kind to myself doesn’t involve allowing myself another block of chocolate but ensuring my body is receiving the nutrients and rest it requires as well as neutering my soul, creatively, compassionately, carefully. My priorities have completely changed. In learning to love and respect my body and mind, in turn I have also become more conscious of how I treat the environment and others.

I am travelling down a totally new road but it’s not scary anymore. It is empowering and, dare I say it, kind of exciting.

Photographs by Wes Nel

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