A year of autoimmune healing and a new take on ‘bad luck’

A few years ago I took some yoga classes with an instructor who had been in a snowboarding accident, broken her back, lost all her memories and had re-learned to walk, talk and live. She went out into the world with no history, a huge medical bill and a whole new outlook on life. The way she described it was that she had been spiralling out of control and the universe made her do a re-set. She was grateful for the experience and happy with her present. I was completely mystified by her. On the one had I was in awe of her positive outlook on the traumatic event that had befallen her, on the other hand I was repelled by the idea that someone could see something so terrible as a blessing – it seemed like Stockholm syndrome.

The following summer, I started to lose some eyesight in one eye – a little at first, then a bit more and a bit more, ever so gradually. A year passed before I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Neuromyelitis optica (NMO), which my neurologist described as “similar to multiple sclerosis, with more rapid deterioration and without recuperation between attacks”. I looked it up when I got home and sure enough there was a 50% chance of being blind and in a wheelchair within 5 years if I didn’t get treatment.

The best current treatment offered by the medical community is to supress the immune system with a drug that completely wipes out the B-cells. This is pretty effective at stopping further deterioration, but does not heal, cure or attempt to identify the underlying cause of the disease. I was scared that the disease would ‘spread’ to my other eye and so I wanted to get on the immunosuppressive therapy as quickly as possible, but I was convinced that there must be a better way in the long-run.

I remembered reading this story by the founder of a website on herbalism, sharing how she overcame her autoimmune disease, for which there was no treatment at the time. She was told by her doctor to expect a slow, painful decline to an early death. In desperation she turned to diet and herbal remedies to heal herself completely and go on to live a healthy life. So I asked some questions of the internet and found a growing body of evidence that diet is a huge factor in preventing and treating a variety of conditions, including autoimmune diseases. I read about the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), which involves adopting an anti-inflammatory, high-nutrient diet, getting enough sleep and reducing stress. It seemed like a sensible place to start. I asked my doctor if there were any contraindications and she was of the opinion that diet and stress have no impact on the disease, but that it wouldn’t harm me and I could try if I wanted.

The AIP diet is strict. And WAY different than the diet I was eating – basically the complete opposite! I had been eating beans, lentils, tomatoes, potatoes, bread, biscuits, chocolate and crisps. AIP on the other hand is lots of vegetables, leafy greens, offal, meat, fish and olive oil. It was a big change. All those years I’d spent trying to save the world by eating a plant-based diet, and now I was having to save myself instead. I did experience some benefits pretty much straight away – my thyroid stabilised, I had fewer stomach aches, I stopped having palpitations and my rapid weight-loss slowed. It seemed promising.

6 months into AIP I was still stuck in the elimination phase and decided to enlist some extra support from a nutritional therapist. I had experienced many benefits but my progress had stalled. Laurane figured out many underlying problems and her recommendations included dietary changes, supplements, medicinal mushrooms and herbal teas. She prescribed cold water therapy, sunshine, and healing meditation. I began to sleep well, feel well and started to get my energy back. Even things that seemed unrelated improved – I stopped getting mouth ulcers for example, and I haven’t needed a filling since. I even regained some feeling in my fingertips that I assumed was gone forever!

This experience also opened my heart to a new way of thinking and being. I’ve always been on the hunt for meaning and purpose in life, but kept coming up empty-handed. I’d heard people talk about the connectedness of all things, and I suppose logically I understood it – we are all just particles of matter that get recycled into other stuff after we die. I knew this in my head but I didn’t feel it in my heart. Months of prescribed meditation and lots of interesting books changed me in ways I could never have expected. I began to feel part of the natural world instead of separate from it. I learned how emotions affect physical health and worked to identify, feel and express my emotions. I learned how to listen to others. I started to slow down, shedding the anxiety and tension that had plagued me all my life without me even realising it.

I realised that my disease didn’t start in 2019 when I was losing my eyesight. My symptoms started at least ten years earlier. From my early teens I struggled with undiagnosed emotional issues, including depression and anxiety. In 2009 I got stomach pains that the doctors couldn’t find the cause of, so they labelled my symptoms IBS and I suffered the daily pain of it for a decade. In 2012 I started experiencing fatigue as well as numbness and tingling in my limbs, but I just put it down to a busy lifestyle. In 2014 my eyesight went fuzzy for a few days and I just put it down to the stress of planning a wedding and leaving the country. Every day Dave would ask me how I was, I would say “Tired. And my tummy hurts.” In 2018 I started to get stabbing pain in my groin that the doctor couldn’t explain. In 2019 my doctor saw that I had symptoms of hyperthyroidism but waved it off as unimportant. By the time my eye started failing again in 2019, I was so accustomed to fatigue, anxiety, stress and pain that I was numb to it. I was going blind for two weeks before I even went to an optician, who sent me to the ophthalmologist, who sent me to the neurologist, who checked me for symptoms of multiple sclerosis. I was so convinced that I was healthy in spite of all the evidence to the contrary that I never for a second worried that anything serious was wrong with me. My eventual diagnosis was a real slap in the face – wake UP!

Now that I am on the mend, as my symptoms vanish one by one, I can see how sick I really was and for how long. And I can say that I have never felt as grateful for anything in my life as I feel for my body persisting in shouting for help until I finally heeded the call. Now me and my body are one – it’s not my mind against my body, or the pharmaceuticals against my immune system. I am not fighting anything any more. I am whole, I am healing and I am so very grateful.


List of books that have enriched my journey

Book titleContent summary
When The Body Says No,
Dr Gabor Mate
How emotions affect health and what to do about it.
The Paleo Approach,
Dr Sarah Ballentyne
How to use diet to heal your autoimmune disease.
The Headspace Guide to Meditation,
Andy Puddicombe
What meditation is (and isn’t) and how to build a meditation practice.
The Wim Hof Method,
Wim Hof
The benefits of cold water therapy and how to get started.
Bill Plotkin
How to nourish your soul, and find and live your true purpose.
Shapeshifting into Higher Consciousness,
Lyn Roberts
How to use meditation to guide you to a deeper connection with yourself and to the natural world.
Wild Power,
Alexandra Pope
How to work with your menstrual cycle to enhance your life.
Free to Learn,
Peter Gray
How humans have evolved to behave, how modern society can be damaging and what to do about it.
Hunt, Gather, Parent,
Michaleen Doucleff
How other cultures live with children and what beneficial aspects we can bring to our own lives for more harmonious parenting.