My wellness journeyMar 09, 2023
It was the year 2000. I was 27 years old and I had just gotten married to my husband Ricardo. I was working at Bacardi in the commercial performance team and the executive team had pulled me into a big confidential acquisition project. For months, I would spend the entire day in a conference room with the leadership team, projecting my computer on the big screen, putting together spreadsheets and presentations while the leaders gave me instructions. I remember it being a very stressful time. I felt like I was on stage 10 hours a day, stressed that I was going to make a mistake or that I wasn’t going to understand what they were asking me to do.
One day I woke up with my right eye really red and I thought it was pink eye. I put some drops and went to work. I remember making fun of it saying I was allergic to my new husband. A month went by and the red eye was still there, and I had blurred vision and pain. So I went to the Bascom Palmer emergency room, the best eye hospital in the US.
One of the first questions they asked me was “Do you have arthritis”? And I said no, very confused about the question. The doctor told me I had an eye condition called Iritis which is an inflammation of the Iris and it is highly correlated to arthritis. 2 weeks after that hospital visit, I woke up one day with my hands and feet swollen, it was painful to walk. I thought, “maybe I ate something bad, maybe I am retaining liquid, maybe I didn’t sleep enough” and I took 2 Advils.
Long story short, after a year of some days better than others, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, an autoimmune disease that attacks your joints. I remember going to my first visit to the rheumatologist.The average age of the patients in the waiting room was probably 70 years old. They all looked at me probably thinking “what is she doing here?”.
Even the doctor was surprised. He prescribed a drug called Vioxx. At that time I was trying to get pregnant and when I read the small print about the side effects and contraindications, I decided not to take the drug. I am so happy that I followed my gut that day, as Vioxx was pulled from the market 2 years later after being linked to heart attacks.
This was the beginning of my wellness journey. I noticed a strong correlation between stress and the autoimmune relapse of my Iritis episodes. It was automatic. I learned that there is no cure for autoimmune diseases, but symptoms can be managed and you can drive your autoimmunity into remission with a healthy lifestyle.
I started learning about functional medicine, natural remedies, nutrition, anti-inflammatory diet and supplements, gut health, stress management and more. I learned that 70-80% of your immune system lives in your gut and that autoimmune diseases start with inflammation in the gut caused by a digestive condition called leaky gut. I started taking probiotics, vitamin D and Curcumin supplements. I started eliminating gluten & dairy and adding more vegetables to my diet. The bacteria in your gut microbiome thrives on fiber-rich foods.
Nutrition was a big part of my healing journey, but stress management was even more important. You can eat all the broccoli and kale in the world, but if you don’t learn how to manage your stress, you will not feel well. Stress is a killer. I used to think stress was all in your head and you could “suck it up”. But stress shows up in your body when you least expect it and can cause irreversible conditions such as autoimmune diseases.
Stress is inevitable,it’s part of life. Sometimes stress can be good. Good stress is short-term and it inspires and motivates you, focuses your energy and enhances performance. Bad stress wears you out and can be short (acute) or long term (chronic). Both good and bad stress result in your body releasing hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, that trigger common signs of stress: butterflies in the stomach, racing heart and sweaty palms. Chronic stress can cause headaches, insomnia, weight gain, anxiety, pain and high blood pressure.The way you respond to stress makes a big difference to your overall well-being. There is a fine line between chronic stress and burnout.
Stress management is not one-size-fits-all. It’s important to experiment and find out what works best for you. You need to develop and cultivate your personal toolbox to manage stress. For me, stress management looks like breathing exercises, yoga, running, dancing, spending quality time with friends, traveling, learning something new, listening to music, spending time in nature, reading, taking a walk on the beach, looking at old pictures, reconnecting with old friends, eating dark chocolate, and treasure hunting at Marshalls.
So don’t be like I was, thinking I could do it all and “suck it up”. Your body sends you signals, listen to them!. Your health is in your hands. Working on prevention is a lot easier than reversing a condition. I have been in remission for more than 15 years, but I know autoimmune conditions never really go away and it could come back at any time if I don’t keep my healthy lifestyle. You are the best advocate for your health. Follow your gut and take good care of it as the gut is where it all starts!
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