This Hiker’s Journey – On Sacrifice, Wellness, and Genuine-ness

Right now I’m reading about the effects of nightshades on individuals with autoimmune disease or otherwise compromised immune systems. For several months a little voice has been telling me to consider the nightshade family as a culprit, but my love for all things tomato and pepper related has not allowed me to seriously allow the prospect to become even a mental possibility. Just can’t wrap my head around no more stewed tomatoes. Salsa. Stuffed peppers. Babagannoush. Did I say stewed tomatoes already? Holy hell what would I do without them?!!During the last 9 months, I’ve had bronchitis 3 times, staphylococcal folliculitis twice, severe skin issues, headaches, intermittent allergic reactions, fatigue and general discomfort, and most notably, an overall decrease in my strength and ability to perform exercise and simple stretching.

Hiking (you know, my thing)  has become more difficult over the last couple of months, and my ability to sustain inversions and forward folds in simple yoga routines has diminished. Downward dog, one of my go-to poses to stretch and chill out, now brings so much blood to my head and neck that my skin feels like it’s just going to pop. Same happens any time I bend over to pick something up.

A really clear sign that something is just not right is that my grip strength has decreased so much so that I can not open most jars. Even when I intentionally don’t tighten the way I would have previously, I can use all the strength in my body and still not get the jar open. This is accompanied by joint pains in my elbows, hips, knees, and shoulders on most days. My body just does not feel strong and capable, which is still causing me a great deal of shock having recently completed an intense hike and subsequently maintaining an active lifestyle with frequent running, hiking, stretching, and weight bearing exercise.

I have this dirty little secret that really only my closest friends are aware of – and that is an addiction to tobacco triggered by alcohol – and often the combo left me very ill even after just one or two drinks and half a cigarette.  After throwing up and having a multiple day hangover that felt worse than the flu when a friend was in town about 6 weeks ago, I thought long and hard about my life and realized that I absolutely have to stop drinking altogether.

So I stopped. At first it was a little difficult as most social situations involve imbibing, even most professional networking events, and I had built up a big part of my identity around enjoying craft beer, being an outgoing, highly social party girl. So making this choice meant I had to reckon with the fact that I am actually quite socially awkward in large groups (and hence the gravitation toward social lubrication).  And, at this point where I am on my own spiritual journey, I want to eliminate the illusions created when alcohol is used to loosen people up. In other words, I want more authenticity in my interactions and just with my own self, and removing alcohol from all parts of my life is the only way for me to get healthier physically as well as deeper spiritually and in relationships.

Last night I was having a conversation with a dear friend and herbal colleague about the possibility of having RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis). My mom was diagnosed with it when she was my age, and has said that I have all the same symptoms she did at that time. I haven’t wanted to get testing because I’m afraid that the diagnosis from a medical doctor will fuck with my subconscious and I’ll somehow end up giving in to the disease rather than fighting it head on, and that I’ll allow myself to stop all the things I love because I’ll be more aware of the pain and limitation associated with it.

This is a valid fear. I don’t like to admit to it but as an ex-clinician and generally observant human being, I see people all the time who give in to their ‘conditions’ and stop living. Or people who claim the diseases. You hear it in the language they use, that in itself being quite limiting. “I can’t do x and y because of my arthritis.” “I can’t go outside because of my asthma.” “My disease prevents me from a, b, and c.”

Even though I know I would not use language that makes a disease or condition MINE, I do fear that I would internalize that type of thinking…and thereby create my own confinement (if you know anything about me personally, you know that I absolutely can not handle confinement, restriction, or the idea of limitation!). So I don’t want to go to a doctor and get testing for RA factors or other auto-immune disease markers until I find the right doctor who encourages treatments that don’t involve steroids or immune suppressive drugs…or anything that is going to make me own a disease or stop doing what I love about living. I’d rather die.

Back to the conversation with my herbalist buddy. I told her that in addition to giving up alcohol, tobacco, gluten, and dairy, and taking lots of pro-biotics, fish oils, a lymphatic formula, bitters before eating, and a formula for heart opening/ADHD,  I still just do not feel right.  We agreed that I probably need some magnesium, but she also mentioned that her clinical experience has shown good results in clients with RA who eliminated foods called nightshades from their diet.
Well, as it is…tobacco is in the nightshade family. It’s all kinda coming together now…my occasional smoking, even though it was organic, American grown, hand-rolled tobacco often mixed with mullein and other herbs, and even though I wasn’t really a smoker (bull!) because it was so infrequent (and all the other justifications addicts use to deny their problems), it was probably wreaking havoc on my immune system more than the gluten and dairy (assuming there exists some sort of immune dysfunction related to the genetic predisposition I have).

Because I haven’t been drinking alcohol or craving tobacco with the drink, my life is definitely better. My intangible, psycho-spiritual-emotional-intellectual life. My physiological world however, is on a tiny ocean vessel in the midst of maelstrom (slightly exaggerated for visual effect!)…the symptoms still exist and all the e-words I like to think are good adjectives for how I live my life – endurance, enthusiasm, and excitement – just don’t feel appropriate right now. I need to get this figured out, but without drug therapy and those doctors who ignore nutrition, spiritual life, relationships, and personal joy.

So what am I gonna do? First of all, I’m gonna keep going outside. Actually I’m slowly trying to rebuild what I’ve lost in physical capability over the last couple of months. I have to acknowledge when my body really needs to rest, and honor that, because our bodies are always giving us the information we need to make good decisions. Work-life balance is always something to keep in mind, too. I’m going to treat myself as I would treat a client with an auto-immune disease: with anti-inflammatory herbs, easy to digest foods for my constitution (warm, soupy, grounding – think of stews and smoothies and root vegetables and lean organic meat). I’ll start taking  magnesium and some herbs to help me sleep, I’ll get a bed that supports my joints a little better, I’ll continue with the elimination of dairy, gluten, and alcohol.

The hardest thing that I’m going to do is give up my tomatoes and peppers. I could cry over this…seriously. Tomatoes have always been one of my top 3 favorite foods; raw, cooked, stewed, sauced, chunked, salsa’d, whichever way you slice it, I love my solanaceaes…But if there is a real chance of getting my athletic and outdoorsy life back, then I have to try it. Part of me hopes (and this is going to sound ridiculous) that it’s not the nightshades at all and maybe it’s something else, so that I can keep eating the things I love (my diet is already weird as hell and dining out semi-nightmarish). However there is the other, larger part of me that  just wants to feel good again. I want downward facing dog and child’s pose and my beloved headstands back. I want jumping jacks and 10 mile hikes and open jars for crying out loud!

If having all of those parts of life back means I never get to slice into a fresh Hanover tomato in anticipation of a new years feast of black eyed peas and stewed tomatoes, or if I can never pickle 5 quarts of Jalapenos from the garden with a watering mouth and visions of taco salads swirling in my head, then I guess that’s how it has to be.

If I can soon again hike with my tent and sleeping bag, with food for a week and a journal with plenty of blank pages, with my life in my pack, then I will never even look at another tomato!

And now, onward!

You might find these links useful:

(if you have good resources that are related, let me know and I’ll post them here. Always do your own research – this is just two links of many I have checked out)

Contact me: rebelherbal@gmail.com