My journey into the Functional Medicine field began, as it often does, with a personal experience of illness and a need to heal my own issues.
My history is complicated – and finding answers to becoming healthy required much investigation and physiological understanding. I now know that I have a genetic connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). If you want to know a bit more about this, and some of the experiences I went through, then this is a very good video to watch.
For me, my EDS was first evident when at 17 I was violently sick whilst on holiday. Far from being a simple parasitic gut infection (though that was part of the picture) I would later discover that having EDS makes joints lax (excessively flexible), skin overly stretchy and also fragile – including the connective tissue of internal organs. We now suspect that an oesophageal rupture (observed much later) due to the EDS would go on to completely alter my digestive function and the course of my entire life.
My symptoms began as a complete inability to keep food down. They progressed into large-scale reactivity to almost everything, terrible sickness when I ate and eventually extreme nervous system issues including dizziness, lack of spatial awareness and complete digestive and immune dysregulation. Of course, with the backdrop of an inability to eat I lost weight remarkably quickly. Eventually many of my health issues compounded and I was hospitalised for malnutrition.
This was not a one-off occurrence. Instead, it would go on to happen a further 4 times over the course of the next 9 years (5 different hospitals). I would lose most of my body weight several times over, regaining strength slightly whilst on heavy-duty medications and antibiotics, only to lose weight again if I caught an infection or returned to trying to eat normally.
Throughout this time I would not know my real diagnoses. EDS, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Sydrome (POTS – which explained the dizziness and some of the nervous system issues) and Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD – which explained the immune dysregulation and overt allergy-type reactions to foods) were not well known at this time. Moreover, the comprehension that EDS could so directly affect gastrointestinal motility was poorly understood. The concept of nutrition needing to be specifically anti-inflammatory and/or chosen carefully was not on anyone’s radar.
Instead, I was misdiagnosed for years with a variety of eating disorders. The symptoms I experienced would be labelled psychosomatic and I would receive only the recommendation to ‘eat more’, typically meaning ‘eat more pasta, cakes, ice cream and cookies’ whilst also taking supplement drinks filled with sugars, corn, gluten and dairy.
The journey and the trials through these hospitalisations could, and maybe one day will, fill a book. The complicated reality of having no real diagnosis and no real sense of what was wrong with me, whilst being surrounded by people who were insisting that I was psychiatrically unwell, led me to ask more questions of myself, my identity, my truth and my personality than I thought possible. My trajectory had been heading towards both academia and musical theatre and yet I had to go through the process of completely re-evaluating who I was, what was possible and what I really wanted out of life given everything I knew.
After 9 years of misdiagnoses, finally all of my diagnoses arrived at once: EDS, MCAD, POTS, Pyroluria and Non-Coeliac-Gluten-Sensitivy. I also learned that I had a host of other genetic complications which made nutrient processing and detoxification a little trickier.
And yet whilst getting these diagnoses gave me the complete relief that I was not totally mad, at that time there was no help or direction for how to deal with any of it – the laxity, the gastrointestinal issues, the immune system. I tried medication for POTS and MCAD, both of which made me terribly unwell.
And so, I began to study – and traversed through the education in all the systems of the body that, for me, were failing. Given the complexity of my health challenges the best place to start was Functional Medicine and Nutrition: a discipline which understands the integrated and interlocking nature of human physiology whilst also incorporating an awareness of mindset, psychology and lifestyle to influence wellbeing.
Finding the foods to eat, the way to modify my nervous system, the way to see my reality and the psychology with which to embrace my new awareness of myself became a mission. And eventually I knew that nobody else was integrating all of the things that I needed to be aware of in order to be well. You can read a bit more about what these things are here.
And yet, prior to any of these biochemistry and physiological trainings I had spent almost a decade traversing through a host of teachings, attempting to understand what was happening to me and why my health was failing (or, as I saw it at the time, why I was sabotaging myself).
Consuming copious amounts of information I studied far beyond the physical. I drew on business and self-help manuals, explored alternative and energy medicine, examined eastern traditions, mystic traditions, faiths, believe systems and gained information and inspiration from every single one of these paradigms. My comprehensive and intricate understanding of mindset and perspective, self-perception, self-acceptance and general comprehension of human psychology and the human experience emerges out of this plethora of inputs. And I saw profoundly how these ’emotional’ or ‘psychological’ issues tracked directly into the body itself – and can be mapped onto the nervous, immune, gastrointestinal and hormonal systems.
So whilst I loosely call myself a Functional Medicine Consultant I also include ‘Health Coach’ because I don’t just view health as a function of the physical – it is a manifestation of everything we are and feel.
My issues only resolved when I looked at everything – correcting some joint laxity, altering my diet, changing my mental preoccupations, relocating my home, shifting friendship groups, finding fulfilling activities, really and deeply understanding and accepting everything that I discovered made up who I am.
Moreover, understanding how I work – my body, my brain, my emotions, my sensitivities etc. – was the absolute cornerstone of making any progress with my own wellbeing. I am only able to be well enough to do what I do and to live a relatively normal life because I have this self-knowledge in place. It is this self-awareness that I offer all of my clients – explaining biology, biochemistry, psychology and emotions in such a way that allows for acceptance and healing.
Don’t get me wrong, I still break, I’m still sick at times and have days (sometimes weeks) when my digestion is just off. I still have skin that breaks too easily and joints that dislocate, sprain or go out of place. I still would probably not throw myself into extreme sports or incredibly toxic environments…
But what I have learned is how to throw myself into life – for the most part symptom-free. It took everything I have learned to navigate a way through to being who I am today, and I’m still learning. Now, however, I utilise everything I know (and continue to discover) to help my clients find their sense of peace, comfort and wellness within their own lives.