I became interested in natural medicine, when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 17. Arriving at this diagnosis was painful enough – the investigations were awful – but to be told that this was a chronic condition that was going to define my life from now on was particularly hard to take. Intuitively though I knew that this was not going to be a life sentence for me. I just did not know what to do. In the meantime, I was enjoying the unexpected side-effect most seventeen year old girls would welcome – the weight-loss.
Soon, however, the reality started to set in. I had to give up one thing after another. I gave up Jane Fonda’s 90-minute challenge, going dancing with my friends, the hope of finishing school with my class. Eating became excruciating. Even having somebody land on my bed while I was lying on it made me go white with pain (walking, or seating up for too long, was soon out of the picture as well). The final straw was having to give up my birthday.
My mum was watching helplessly as I deteriorated. On a friend’s suggestion, she took me to a natural medicine practitioner. He put me on a strict diet and prescribed a bunch of supplements. I now understand that these supplements were, most likely, anti-inflammatory herbs and high doses of nutrients, which my body couldn’t absorb from food. I began to feel better within days.
The standard medical position at the time was that food was not a factor in the development of Crohn’s. My gastroenterologist laughed my new treatment off.
Being seventeen, I was only too happy to stop taking a million capsules and to give up the diet. A month later I was rushed to hospital for an emergency bowel resection.The surgery took five hours. Recovery was long and painful. A lot of people with my condition, who I met on the ward, were having an average of one surgery per year. To them this was normal, just a part of their life. I still remember the moment when it all came together for me – I walked out of the hospital knowing that I would do everything in my power not to end up there again.
What did I do next? I started reading, doing my own research. Actually, not quite. First, I went to Chapel Street and bought as much clothing as I could afford (and carry). I was the skinniest I’d ever been in my life. At this point, I still looked at the natural medicine as a patient (it didn’t click until when I found myself struggling with infertility years later, but this is a subject for a different day). While I was extremely grateful to the surgeon who effectively saved my life (while looking like Sean Connery, which didn’t hurt), I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if I didn’t abandon the naturopathic treatment. Would my life still be in need of saving???
I also acutely felt the powerlessness that came with handing my life over to the experts. I wanted to be in control, which seemed an impossible goal, given all the knowledge I was lacking (I failed chemistry in high school). But my curiosity was aroused and my future was at stake. And so it began…