I've conquered a lifetime of chronic health problems and over fifteen years of disability from severe symptoms of multiple autoimmune diseases and excruciating neuropathic pain. I came up with a unique method for overcoming such problems, and I'm on a mission to help as many people who have chronic illnesses and chronic pain as I can to achieve their best health just as I have. To do so, I became an ADAPT-Certified Functional Health Coach, National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach, and a health consultant and author. With former Mayo Clinic doctor Jim Lemons, a behavioral psychologist, I am writing a book about this method of managing and thriving through chronic health conditions.
Below, you will find a detailed run-down of my story - how I suffered from autoimmune disease from childhood, how I totally collapsed after college, how I spent 15 years disabled, and how I ultimately recovered my health and my life.
From early childhood until the last few years, poor health defined the direction of my life. It greatly constrained my boundaries for function and what I hoped my life could be. Here's how I went from a miserable life to solving all of my health problems, achieving vibrant health, and coming up with a highly effective method to help others with chronic health problems and pain. It's still amazing to me that so much dysfunction in my body could be reversed!
What should be a pain-free, enjoyable young life was, for me, a time of being plagued with health problems. Ironically, I now feel better than I did when I was so young!
I started getting chronic ear infections in the first years of my life and was continually given antibiotics for them. The urinary difficulties and repeated headaches began when I was five. It took twenty-one more years to receive a diagnosis of the autoimmune disease interstitial cystitis, which meant I had chronic bladder inflammation for an unknown reason. I didn't realize until 35 years later that it's not supposed to hurt when it's time to urinate.
The urinary symptoms caused me to memorize where every bathroom was, and I learned to keep my symptoms a secret as best I could for fear of teasing that occurred when I talked about it. This led to continuous emotional stress as I learned to bottle up how poorly I was feeling, as even some teachers thought I was making excuses for poor performance. I took what the doctors prescribed but developed a distrust of medicine being able to fix me. I didn't see any alternatives, and I seemed to get short-term benefits in how I felt and could function, so I stuck with that approach for far too long. When they predominantly didn't work, I learned to grit my teeth and ignore the warning signals my body constantly gave me that something had to change.
The gut trouble began when I was ten with irritable bowel syndrome. The same year, I developed exercise-induced asthma. At this point, I could have a span of days where I was in the bathroom every hour due to my gut and urinary symptoms. The difficulty breathing with exercise shut down my athletic pursuits, and I became increasingly less fit for most of the next decade. I continued to feel worse about myself as I couldn't keep up at recess or gym class, my confidence eroded, and I socially isolated myself.
Interstitial cystitis became chronic at age 16. For the next 23 years, I lived in a constant state of burning pain throughout my lower abdomen and was chained to bathrooms. The predominant memories I have of high school are being constantly tired, anxious, and unhappy. I managed to get through those years without anyone knowing much about me, though with how unsure and withdrawn I was, I drew the attention of some bullying. My academic performance in school consistently suffered. I was known for being "the sick kid" who missed more time than allowed and had to get administrative approval to pass all eight high school semesters.
I had some better times in college. I made a strong effort to open up socially and emotionally, dropped my guarded and fear-based mindset, and daily walks to university got me more fit and confident. I even managed to start lifting weights and put on some muscle. In retrospect, I think these life-affirming changes bought me a few extra years of relative function before the coming collapse.
However, my health problems were ever-present. The IC and IBS were constant and fibromyalgia set in, making workout recovery awful. I ached all over and needed nine hours of sleep and almost three hours of napping to make it through each semester. I was diagnosed with several sinus infections per year and was on antibiotics and taking several doses of anti-inflammatories daily to keep functioning. My gut made horrible sounds with seemingly everything I ate, and there wasn't a day I didn't hurt. By the time I finished college, my body had reached its limit.
When I was 24, my health fell apart. The root causes of dysfunction in my body had never been addressed, so gritting my teeth and doing the best I could eventually failed as a coping strategy when the inflammation and damage in my body accumulated to too high of a degree. I was exhausted even on the days I slept twelve straight hours. I developed fiery aches throughout my entire pelvis, lower and mid-abdomen, and had constant joint throbbing. I felt like I was screaming inside from the pain and began sweating from how much it hurt to urinate. Sex was the most painful of all triggers and became something to avoid whenever possible. There was a burning sensation and throbbing throughout my gastrointestinal tract, urinary system, and head. Every bathroom trip became torture. I felt like I could urinate endlessly and had days with over 30 bathroom trips. Sometimes I stayed in the bathroom for more than an hour.
The pain was so tremendous and ever-present that I had to quit working and exercising, which was emotionally painful to accept. Since I was continually breaking plans and dates, I told my friends I could no longer spend time with them, and I quit pursuing a romantic relationship. My social life ended. I dropped out of contact with all but my immediate family. I had to learn to cope with my isolation, lack of efficacy of my body, and absence of a career.
Back then, I would've described the pain as an eight or nine intensity out of 10, but that was naive. As bad as everything had been in the earlier years and was at this point, it was nothing compared to the pain and isolation to come. My health exploded into horror for the next 15 years. I lived a waking nightmare.
Ever since my body failed, I devoted myself to improving my mind by reading nearly every waking minute on various subjects. In the third year of my disability, 2006, reading philosophy convinced me that there could be an integrated approach to thinking and, therefore, also in health. Because of this new way of thinking, I began down a road that would eventually be my saving grace. I spent the following years of misery studying health as much as I could, looking for a way out, but reliable information was difficult to find. Once I was finally diagnosed with interstitial cystitis, and the treatments only made me worse, I took a different approach that embraced conventional medicine and any alternative that seemed remotely plausible. I tried everything, realizing that if something was an objective value for health, it didn't matter who advocated for it. This was the birth of my method that reversed my problems but, unfortunately, took me over another 12 years to make into a complete and coherent system.
The medications started when I was so young that I can't recall them all. The conventional approach is mostly pills, and more pills, with a side of surgery or physical therapy. I attempted to make a list of all the prescriptions I took during my life, and it was over 60 medications long. I kept trying ever more invasive and risky options, such as repeated bladder catheterization to inject lidocaine and heparin and calm the inflammatory fires, a spinal stimulator implant to interrupt the pain signals, and five courses of physical therapy, all of which only made me worse.
As I continued to discover an integrated approach to health and the discipline of Functional Medicine, I tried even more nutritional supplements than medications. Many were touted as "life-saving," "game-changing," and more by the users and practitioners but had little long-term results, and I kept sliding into worse health.
In the meantime, the pain and symptoms kept spreading as no treatment helped beyond temporary benefits, and I stayed in my idle state. Nerve pain started stinging seemingly everywhere. It began at my waist, then spread into my trunk and lower legs.
There were some periods of lower pain and symptoms when I retreated into immobile silence, so I tried a desperate tactic. I spent almost nine months of my best approximation of sensory isolation. I had a blackout shade put up in my room, got a loud white noise machine to block out exterior sound, put in earplugs, and sealed myself away. My day consisted of my mother bringing me a meal or two, and we'd whisper for a few minutes. Whenever I would go to the bathroom, I would try to get there with my eyes closed to avoid seeing the light. I would take a quick shower once every two weeks. Otherwise, I tried to keep myself occupied by thinking about what I would do if I got better. I plotted five fiction novels I would someday write. At times, such as when I once saw my dog, Archie, blocking the light by my door, I cried. He would be asleep against my door, trying to get as close to me as he could.
The quiet atmosphere only made me more sensitive. I began to feel even from the white noise machine due to the lack of other sensory information. This situation started my descent into the worst three years of my life, from 2014 to early 2017. While lying in bed all day, I developed nerve burning in my shoulders that spread up into occipital and trigeminal neuralgia. It was unending agony in my shoulders, neck, and face. This symptom was the most difficult to endure. I sometimes felt like I was losing my mind from the pain and intensity of the distress they set off throughout my body. It was as if I was always wearing wool socks, a turtleneck, and a mask, all made of fire. I constantly dwelled in a pain range of seven to the mind-stopping, unable-to-speak nine and ten. I felt like I was always screaming inside, but I wouldn't cry or scream because using any muscle would increase my pain. The discomfort caused me to give up haircuts, shaving, and smiling, and whereas I used to at least shift my body around, the pain was now so intense that I became completely immobile. The pain from lying down would bring me close to vomiting, so I sat up all day. I would sit still for hours to trick my nervous system into not giving me as many signals that I had to go again.
When I could no longer bear the pain, I gave in and started narcotics to try and get a few hours per day where I wasn't utterly miserable. I lost almost three inches of height from being in the same sitting position, and I gained more than 100 pounds. Eventually, I got to where each waking period averaged over 30 hours because the intensity of pain and discomfort from symptoms prevented me from falling asleep. It took all of my effort to keep taking my medications safely when I lost the context of a 24-hour day and I'd see the sun or night more than once. I had my parents around, but I felt tremendously alone. Even my mother, who also had a chronic illness, couldn't fathom what I was going through physically, mentally, and emotionally. I felt like the last man on Earth, even in a crowd in a doctor's waiting room.
I kept trying different health treatments but was losing hope. All I was looking forward to was a pill timer to go off for the next dose of symptom suppressants or to fall asleep and be away from it all. This went on until January 16th, 2017, when I began turning things around. That was after a traumatic experience from symptoms while on a last-ditch immunosuppressant medication that made me think I was dying. I shivered violently for eight hours, hallucinated black spots, and sweated intensely, with surges of pain. The terrifying situation caused me to reevaluate assumptions and devote myself to the new path I'd been crafting for years but couldn't stand the pain to try fully.
The traumatic incident galvanized me to embrace my love of life and try a new path to achieve balance in my body to see what healing was possible. Idleness and medications were leading to only worsening, so it was time to try an integrated approach with movement, no matter the pain, and to reduce the medications I had become reliant on to eke out meager function. I devoted myself to what are now three pillars of my method: lifestyle changes, mindset work, and implementation of what I had learned from studying Functional Medicine. I took what information was objective from the world of conventional medicine and alternative medicine. My rationale was that simultaneously addressing all of the root causes of my health problems as I could handle at once was a vital missing piece from my past attempts at improvement.
I made lifestyle changes in the six core categories of diet and supplementation, stress management, exercise, sleep & sunshine, minimizing environmental toxins and addressing stealthy infections, and reducing medication to the minimum necessary. In addition, I worked to address catastrophic thoughts and get as many life-affirming values into my life to best set me up for healing. This shift reduced my inflammation from stressful thoughts causing repeated intense cycles of adrenaline, cortisol, and catecholamine release. Instead, the value-oriented approach generated anti-inflammatory biochemicals such as endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin from my more positive emotional reactions. And I dug into lab tests and started supplementing for micronutrient deficiencies and other problems, guided by my study of Functional Medicine.
And this time, instead of following generic recommendations from doctors and Internet gurus, I personalized everything to my context. I made changes in a manner that my mind and body could handle. I took into account my many years of idleness, intense pain, and genetics. This approach improved my health instead of getting overwhelmed and inflamed by too many aggressive changes all at once.
I began to improve, but I was still missing something. Six months into my recovery, I plateaued. I couldn't keep pulling off narcotics and maintain my level of function or push my boundaries in any area. I couldn't figure out the appropriate boundaries for moving through pain. Continually, I would flare my symptoms up, which would set me back too much, and I was plagued with stress and panic over not knowing if the movement was making me worse. I needed objective principles for moving the body and an understanding of pain.
Thankfully, I was referred to Dr. Lemons after a terrifying experience with stopping morphine left me in withdrawal and such intense pain that it set back my progress in mobility by months. In his program, I learned about the final of the Four Pillars I was missing to recover: neuroscience for managing pain and changing the nervous system's responses through thinking, moving, and breathing. Once I had these pillars in place, it led to rapid and regular recovery and has for many of my clients since!
That method combines the Four Pillars of Lifestyle Medicine (which is broken down into the six core categories mentioned above), a survive-and-thrive mindset, neuroscience applications, and Functional Medicine interventions with testing and supplementing when necessary. Some of the foundational principles that underlie this method are:1. The mind and body are integrated, meaning a thought has a physical consequence and vice versa2. To be healthy, the whole person must be addressed in thoughts, ligaments, muscles, nervous system, etc. 3. Values drive life and are the prime movers of motivation, so an individual's health goals must align with their rationally chosen goals and values.These topics will be discussed more thoroughly in my book and future content on this site.
Using this method, I continually marvel at how far I've come. My pain is an afterthought, and I have to exert effort to remember what all of my symptoms were. My health progress is effortless. I wouldn't know I ever went through that terrible ordeal!
As I kept improving to an astounding level of health and researching health, I began to see that I had developed a truly unique, comprehensive approach that could deliver incredible results. That conclusion has only increased as I reached full recovery and now continually see the improvement in my clients.
Everywhere I've looked and studied, health experts were missing at least some aspect of the recovery process for chronic health problems and pain. There was even less understanding of how difficult it is to implement the solutions when someone always feels terrible. Even Functional Medicine, with its root cause-finding and cutting-edge treatment approach and focus on the importance of lifestyle, lacks a proper understanding of neuroscience and the experience of how to establish a value-based mindset that helps one to heal. I was also Dr. Lemons's most remarkable patient recovery story. I realized that I needed to write a book in collaboration with Dr. Lemons about this approach and to work directly to help others because I had two invaluable qualities: the knowledge of a method that worked and the experience and understanding of how to apply it, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
After realizing how potent my method is, I decided to pursue a career in health care to help others struggling with chronic illnesses and pain. However, I was in an unusual position as to how to best do so.
First, I had a unique method informed by a lifetime of experience that I could educate about and study of the field of health beginning in 2006, which could make me an effective practitioner in health consulting. I consumed every piece of information I could find on chronic health problems and possible remedies across the years when I wasn't sure what was wrong with me. As a result, I developed an encyclopedic knowledge of autoimmune diseases such as interstitial cystitis, neuropathy, headaches, chronic pain, and many more.
Second, I had been so profoundly unhealthy and had such a limited life that I understood the enormous gap between making a plan for self-improvement and the difficulties of implementing it when one doesn't feel well. I believe it's more difficult to make and stick with all the health changes needed to get better with a complex chronic health condition than to figure out what to do for one. There aren't many experts who've lived through the severity of symptoms I have and successfully made a diet change through intense symptoms, got moving through disabling pain, or understand the facets of how chronically ill individuals think and all the typical mistakes. It's an ordeal of epic proportions to maintain motivation during flare-ups and not fall into unfair self-criticism when coming up short of a goal. I know because I've made every chronic illness and pain mistake and had to fight my way out of them. Now I have a system in place that solves the common errors and forges a mentally unbreakable mindset that is pleasurable to employ. It could've saved me years of missteps, anguish, and pain if I'd had this method sooner. All this experience made me ideal for the position of a health coach to motivate and empathize with clients across a longer-term relationship.
I decided to offer two services: To use my expert knowledge in health consultations to teach my method and introduce individuals to the wonders of neuroscience and a client-personalized selection of the mountain of resources I accumulated during my studies across the spectrum of health.To partner long-term in health coaching to motivate and help clients implement the method and get the health results they desperately need.In consultations, I gather all the information I can about the client in a free ninety-minute session. This is because the more information I have, the better I can advise and put my full database of health information to work personally for them so that they can achieve their best recovery. Then I spend up to 10 hours making a Personalized Recovery Guide that is like a curated version of the book I'm writing in collaboration with Dr. Lemons. In the Guide, I teach the framework and necessary concepts to implement my approach and provide clients with the evidence-based options personalized to their case ranked in order of what the science shows is most likely to help their situation. On average, these Guides are 20-30 pages long, filled with more information and hyperlinks to everything the client needs to enact the changes. Finally, I deliver the document in a 2-hour call, where I discuss any ideas they need to understand to implement it. I also offer follow-up calls on the method as needed.
Coaching is my favorite work. If clients need help implementing their Personalized Recovery Guide, I offer my coaching services to assist them in making plans to implement all the changes. This service is where my experience proves invaluable in being the best ally someone has ever had in the realm of chronic health problems. I know exactly how hard what someone is going through is, and I have an entire book's worth of strategies for working through obstacles like fatigue, pain, digestive discomfort, die-off and other detox reactions, learning to walk again, and many other topics. Because of my experience, I never get frustrated, I give clients a space to express whatever they need to, and I help them regroup and stiffen their resolve through the enjoyment of their treasured values such as family, becoming fit and able to climb mountains again, or back to a rewarding career.
I work with clients for at least three months, preferably weekly, so all the details of their daily life can be adequately covered. I help my clients see the little and big steps of progress they're making that are so easy to lose track of and anticipate the pitfalls of implementing an ambitious new change. Additionally, I know the rate of implementation to avoid symptom flare-ups, get better faster, and help clients use their unique strengths and values to continually build benevolent cycles of improvement throughout their lives. Importantly, I make it a fun experience! All of my clients get at least smiles and a chuckle from their sessions. I point out the wins and qualities of their character they have likely forgotten that make them a real-life superhero.
I help in many ways with coaching. For example, I can assist in making a successful shift to an Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet when someone doesn't feel up to cooking or how to rewire thinking away from unhelpful inflammatory thoughts with a neuroscience slant to calm the nervous system. Also, I can them stick with their deep breathing or walking when it doesn't seem like it's helping.
Having a regular meeting devoted to their health along with my integrated method, my clients often quickly find their flare-up triggers and build an entire toolkit to minimize and shorten their downtimes. I can empathize with and have the knowledge to help clients rally during rough detoxification periods and help them see all the progress they're making and what they're working so hard toward when the pain and symptoms drown out everything that matters.
To ensure I was best equipped to help my clients, I searched for and committed myself to the most rigorous program of health coaching certification I could find in the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program. I loved that the program was founded by the Functional Health practitioner I most respect and trust, Chris Kresser, with his understanding of Functional Medicine and mind/body integration, and that it could lead to the rigorous examination process of becoming a National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC). In addition, it was helpful to have a professional course on both how to motivate clients to make health changes and gratifying to have formal teaching about Functional Medicine, confirming what I felt about my understanding of the subject. This educational part of my journey had me fully ready to begin health consulting and health coaching, so I founded this business.
Now, I am proud to help others reclaim their lives from debilitating health problems. It is a solemn honor to be part of the betterment of others and a joyous experience to see them become their best and back to doing what they love. I feel like I never work from how pleasurable each day of this work is. I know there's a way forward for you, just like there was for me. Together, we'll do everything to help you get results similar to mine. Finally, you won't be alone in your health journey. I'd love to help you have the next remarkable recovery story!