It Is Possible

It’s enough to say it is possible.

When I started this blog nearly 2 years ago, it was to track my own experiment on myself to see if I could get better from a condition that conventional medicine couldn’t solve for me. Most of the studies, research and expert opinion I had access to said it was not possible…most of what I felt and read elsewhere said it just might be. And I have been well enough for long enough now to say – it really is possible!

The stated aims I gave my self-healing journey were to be healthy, happy, symptom and medicine free – and without too much of a fan-fare I can now say that currently these targets are complete. I am healthy, I am happy and I am symptom and medication free! It is a wonderful feeling to be in this place – I have broken free of the constrictions that ulcerative colitis had on my life. I feel ready now to move into the next phase with a stronger, healthier body and a more aware and conscious mind.

I know very well that these targets are not fixed or ever fully completable. They are transient in nature, always in flux and totally subjective. My daily life is still based on the concept that I have colitis. Decisions about what to eat and drink, when to sleep, how much to exercise, when to rest etc… are all based on preserving the health that I have regained. Yet I don’t feel these decisions are limiting. Quite the opposite. It is these decisions that have dragged me out of a solitary life spent almost entirely on the loo and back into the world. These decisions are liberating.

Only I can know what is best for me and that may not be what everyone else is doing. I think this is an important point. Sceptics may say that IBD is a very changeable condition, that people move in and out of remission for unknown reasons and that I fit very well into this pattern. Much of the medical research may suggests this and so I understand why professionals would adopt this stance. Yet, the research was not done on me. I am not like everyone else – just like everyone else is not like everyone else. Research and experience can help to make informed decisions on what is likely to occur for certain people in certain situations. However, it can never tell what is going to occur for me. Deep down, I know that it has been the work that I have done on myself that has made the difference. I have not made a spontaneous recovery, my remission did not occur short term. I have experienced a slow and gradual change in condition the longer I stuck to the idea that I could heal in a natural way and my health status has tracked almost exactly to the day that I started my own self healing journey.

In following posts, I want to unpick everything that I have done over the last 2 years to bring myself back into good health and use this to inform how I want to continue the process. As I notice with almost everything in life, it is a combination of factors that come together to bring about a result. Some aspects may be more significant than others, but is the accumulation that ultimately has made the difference.

The experiment I have undertaken relates only to me. I only ever write about what I have done and how it pertains to me. I do this because I can not say that what I have done will have the same effect for you or for someone else. My experience is written as a record. It is working for me and the only lesson that can be learnt is this:  IT IS POSSIBLE.

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Primal Gatherings

It is not by chance that I’m writing this next chapter of my health diary the day after Yom Kippur – the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Today represents a fresh beginning; it is a new year, the slate has supposedly been wiped clean, I should have reflected on past mistakes and be looking forward to turning these into positive actions for the future. Now that I write this, I can find some relevance to my current life situation. Yet I think the real trigger for this post is the simple fact that for Yom Kippur I undertook the required 25 hour fast.

Whilst I have been through a period of regular fasting this year, I have not undertaken one for quite a few months and doing so yesterday reminded me of the benefits of doing so.  My understanding is that fasting over  Yom Kippur allows those partaking to concentrate solely on prayer rather than have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. I can imagine in ancient times, when food may have been a scarcity, this could have been a considerable worry. In contrast, the fast highlighted to me how, in everyday life, it is so easy and convenient for me to obtain food. I live in a time and place of abundant access to a incredible variety of foods. When I walk up and down the fruit and veg aisles at Sainsbury’s, my biggest challenge is to not by 4 or 5 of everything. Why is this a problem? Because I think eventually, I will eat more than I need, begin to appreciate my food less and blow my meagre wages on luxuries like Rambutans from Vietnam!!

I have read much about the science of fasting and how and why restricting calories on a regular or intermittent basis can greatly improve my physical health. However, I feel the main benefit for me is psychological. I found it pretty straightforward to go for 25 hours without food. Whilst I did wake up hungry yesterday, the pang died down after a short while and as long as I had something to concentrate on, the hours of the day passed without any anxiety, worry or desperation. Fasting like this always makes me reassess how much food I really need. I can look back at my eating habits over the recent past and see myself crowding round my glass jars of treats cramming in nuts, seeds and raisins on a daily basis purely out of greed for the taste rather than the necessity of being hungry. Common sense tells me that, even though these may be healthful foods, it is not a healthful way to eat. Having fasted, I feel like I have proved to myself that I can override my perceived ‘need’ to constantly nosh and can treat myself once in a while without the daily snacking frenzy that takes place in my kitchen. (As a side note: I can appreciate that many people would love to think that they could cut out convenience foods and solely snack on raw nuts and fruit and believe therefore, that I have nothing to worry about – something that has been mentioned to me a number of times. However, I can only directly affect my own health and reassessing my eating habits is an essential part of my own health journey. I would also say to them “you can!”).

There is more to my current dietary habits than just nuts and it has a name – PALEO. Right now I absolutely love following the food and lifestyle guidelines of Paleo. The most important factor is my digestive health and currently it is better than I can ever remember pre or post diagnosis. Whilst some of this can be attributed to the medication I am still on, the paleo diet seems to be working for me both physically and mentally. Physically I am completely symptom free – barely a digestive gurgle to write about. This is definitely different to the last time I was on similar medication which kept major symptoms at bay but my gut in various stages of distress depending on medication dosage. When I eat, I feel grateful for the tastes and when I finish I feel full without feeling heavy or sluggish. Mentally I enjoy paleo as it is so simple to follow. I see it in a very linear fashion:

Meat
Fish
Eggs

Vegetables
Fruits

Nuts
Seeds

All these foods are currently healthy for me. It means I don’t have to stressing my head about experimenting with this food or that food like I was in ‘Post-healing phase’ of the Klein plan and then worrying about whether I am going to flare in 2 days time.

The Klein plan does seem like ancient history now but I have taken some important lessons from the experience which I have brought into my Paleo lifestyle. Undoubtedly, I healed on the Klein Plan. It was a result mainly through a strict adherence to eating 100% fruits and lightly cooked veggies. Bringing this knowledge into my current diet, I always make sure the majority of my plate is made up of these foods. The general criticism of Paleo is that it gives people carte blanche to consume as much flesh as humanly possible – and for some this is possible whilst still remaining healthy. I am still grounded in the notion that fruits and vegetables are the most healthy foods for me to eat (backed up by my Klein experience) and so I interpret Paleo with these food still as the major emphasis. In reality Paleo for me is Klein Plan + quality protein. I feel safe and comfortable eating within these boundaries. Over the few months that I have been ‘Paleo’ I have stopped even thinking of these guidelines as boundaries. All foods in that list above are natural, organic foods of this earth. I feel like it is only these foods that are going to be healthy for me.

Calamity Colon Collapse

So the results are fairly conclusive. I had a massive flare up – bigger than I have ever had before.  My inflammatory markers were 25 times above the regular range and my entire colon, from arse to ileum was inflamed. That is what the CT scan showed. The fact that the whole colon had exploded easily explains the relentless diarrhoea as there was just no place for the colon to do its job.  Coming into hospital and back into conventional medication was my only option I feel and I believe I did the right thing.

I am on massive amounts of steroids – equivalent of 100mg prednisolone – but getting it intravenously (hydra-cortisone). It looks like I will go on a reducing course of pred starting 60mg. I guess I will go on the mezevant mesalizine as well and hopefully wean off over time like I have tried before. I think this time round though things can be different. I have learnt a lot in the past 10 months and anti-inflammatory natural diet should help to come off the meds quicker and safer. It may take a while longer now but again I truly believe I will be there.

I am fairly sold on the paleo diet. It really resonates with me. The science makes sense and the foods that are cut out (dairy, grains and legumes) I know are the worst and most inflammatory for me. I heeled without these in the first place and so it makes sense to keep them permanently out. There is a high protein (meat and fish) component to the diet which is a significant step away from the kleiny way of things but I feel I am ready to evolve. I do not think good lean animal protein is inflammatory for me. In fact it is the vegetarian proteins that are.  I may have found it hard to digest fish protein recently (although there was grain involved in this too) but this is a separate issue and may be a factor as I just haven’t eaten that much protein for such a long time.

The prospect of eating good quality, grass fed, pasteurised meat and poultry as well as wild, sustainable oily fish, with healthy portions of vegetables and salad is very exciting. Add in fresh fruit in abundance with nuts and seeds for snacks – it really does seem like a sustainable, long term diet that can keep me healthy and at a healthy strong weight too. There is considerable evidence that people with autoimmune diseases do really well on paleo as do lots of people with autoimmune issues and an array of chronic conditions. Not to mention lots of people without serious health complains who have just maximised their diet and lifestyle through paleo. There is a massive community out there and people have really transformed themselves just by reducing grains and dairy and eating good quality protein and veggies. I have a friend out in Hong Kong, James Marsh, who is a big proponent of the diet. He has a similar condition to me and has been paleo since January. He is off meds, feels great and really keen for me to try it.

I know right now that a lot of things are gonna be masked by the meds that I am on but it seems like a good time to transition and then as I reduce med levels I can see how it is going. I’m out of hospital now and glad to be settling in back home (with the ashes for company). My daily drug regime is a shocking:
60mg prednisolone – thats 12 pills gulped down in the morning
4.8g Asacol – 2 x 800mg pills x3 a day

I’m actually feeling positive…I’m ready to stabalise on meds, get my paleo diet on track and consistent so that i am strong and healthy in order to be in the best shape to make sure i can get off all these toxic meds in the safest possible way. i will take it slow, probably slower than last time, but i know i can do it again!

Square Zero

I am sitting here contemplating my future health, as I often do, but in a very unfamiliar position…HOSPITAL! Yes, for the first time since I’ve had UC my condition has deteriorated to the extent that I require acute medical attention.

I have been wavering for about a month now which started with diarrhoea even before the Israel trip. I thought I had healed up ok after Israel with bleeding and mucus production disppaearing after about 10 days. I was strict on the healing phase of the Klein plan but something never quite felt right and I was suffering from quite severe abdominal cramps. I was also getting 2-3 days of diarrhoea at a time which were pretty heavy and nasty. I always felt though that as long as I wasn’t bleeding then things would pick up.

Yet 2 weeks ago I started another bout of diarrhoea which has relentlessly remained with me until right now. It has drained me, made me feel weak, tired and feverish and I have lost 7kgs of hard earned weight. After a week I was bleeding too and had permanent cramp in the left side of my abdomen which has made it hard to breathe. I have tried many things to stop the rot but to no avail: days of fruit only, rice only, banana and rice only, juice fasting, water fasting, bone broths. None of these tactics made any difference and I became averse to eating any food to the extent by Thursday I realised I hadn’t eaten anything solid since Sunday evening.  I should add that this period did include an exertive (but very fun) stag weekend including 15mile tandem cycle, coasteering and deep sea fishing. Whilst great to get out and adventurous with old mates it’s not exactly textbook healing practice!

So yesterday I felt emaciated enough to call my GI doctor’s secretary who thought it best if I was admitted to hospital – a scenario which I had increasingly been contemplating for the past few days. I knew what this meant. I knew this would signal the end of my medication free life which I have worked so hard to break loose from. Yet 14 days straight of constant squits, blood, pain and fever with no end in sight is a considerably strong motivator.

Being honest, the idea of getting quickly well very soon was inviting. I know I respond to steroid treatment very well and of course this is what my consultant has put me on after having seen my initial blood results. They showed sky high inflammatory markers and a low nutritional profile. In all the bloods I have done in the past 3 years I have never shown high inflammatory levels so this is a real change. I have since had 4 intra-venous steroid injections and the bloods will be monitored to see if the drugs make any difference. I’m sure I’ll be here for the next few days at least until the bloods are more balanced. (I’m hoping they’ll give me leave to go to the wedding). I have a CT scan and a few other tests and prods to keep me busy today. I’m on a glucose drip which seems to have helped me to feel much stronger. The only problem is that I need to be unhooked first before I can go to the loo. I explained that this was not a great situation as I often had very little to time between ‘feeling it and needing it’. I asked her to be quick. Let’s just say, last night, the nurse learnt this the hard way!

This is all the facts of what happened, when, what and how and not a lot of knowing whys but probably more important than this is what is going on in my head. In one way, the return to medication represents a failure. A failure of a dietary therapy and and lifestyle plan that gave symptom relief in the short term but ultimately couldn’t handle the power of IBD inflammation. I think this is too sweeping of a thought and I am trying not to believe this. I actually feel that is very possible and possibly very wise to consider the idea that dietary and lifestyle modifications could work well in conjunction with conventional medical care. Of course this needs to amount to the right medication mixed with the right diet specifically for me. I don’t think my journey into natural healing is over, i just need to keep modifying to find a balance that works long term.

What I am searching for is a long lasting, low-risk health protocol that gives me my active life back. If this has to include some medication (low maintenance / low toxicity / highly targeted) then that would be acceptable, at least until I have been stable and strong enough for long enough to wean off them slowly.  The fact is, is that the inflammation in my colon is very resistant and has never really gone away – evidenced by the lack of response to almost all long term medications i have tried and by the considerable inflammation shown up in the sigmoidoscopy in February this year at a time when I was feeling well, symptom free and strong.  I actually feel that the right diet which aids healing rather than triggers inflammation can help the medication to be more effective in bringing about remission and on to long term good health.

Right now I am blaming grains and legumes. I healed without them and the slow introduction and increasing reliance on them (especially rice) has coincided with my relapse. This brings into contention healing protocols such the paleo diet, Specific Carbohydrate diet and The Maker’s diet which all exclude grains and legumes. Klein essentially does the same though it is allowed ‘in moderation’ in the post healing phase. Of course this is left for interpretation – never a good idea! To be fair to him he does write about the problems associated with grains and includes an article called ‘Grain Drain’ in the book. These other diets though seem to have some sensible ideas attached to them and whilst I’m on a quick fix diet of intra-venous steroids I will take some info in and use anything that seems to resonates with me.

So I would call this period ‘Back to square 1’, yet I have never been in hospital care before so ‘Square Zero’ seems more appropriate. In any case, I think I can only make progress from here!

Finding (and hitting) my boundaries

Since feeling like I have recovered from colitis, I have to admit that I have been searching for my dietary boundaries. As much as I talk about fasting and restricting my diet, the question of “how far can I widen my diet without causing a reoccurrence of symptoms or a flare-up” has always circulated in my head. With this in mind, coupled with the idea that my health is much more associated with the state of my mind rather than the food I eat, I have unconsciously and consciously set about seeking the answer to this question. In the last few weeks, I think I’ve hit on the answer and it has hit me fairly hard!

I have now flared. Meaning that I have started some bleeding again, there is some mucus production and I have had some short bouts of diarrhoea. Urgency for the loo has also increased and my ability to ‘hold it in’ is not strong. These are all familiar feelings and ones which I do not welcome! As ever, I believe it is not one thing that was the problem or trigger but an accumulation of factors that add together to create the flare.

I am a snacker. It is an inherent in my genes. I come from a family of nushers, food-pickers and midnight-snackers. Snacks used to consist of crisps, milk chocolates, sweets and roasted nuts now they are rice cakes, dark chocolate, popcorn and raw nuts. In moderation or as a one-off I can tolerate them. The problem arises when I go into snack mode and believe I am able to eat as much of these as I want. I can even have a major snack session on one day and not feel any ill effects. This just leads me into thinking I can do this all the time. It inevitable builds up. To most people, overeating on rice cakes and raw almonds sounds like making healthy choices. But my recent experience has taught me that diet choices can not be placed in convenient categories that work for everyone. Diet choices have to personal and individual – for me, even overeating on generally considered ‘healthy’ snacks is unhealthful. This is the case for all the allowable ‘one-off foods’. Grains such as rice and pulses such as chick peas and beans are foods I love and foods which work for me if I eat them in moderation. Once a week perhaps. However, recently it has become a daily occurrence. I spent a week in Israel and probably consumed half a bathtub of humous. I shouldn’t be too surprised at the results. There have also been some mental stresses in my life that have materialised in recent weeks too and these, no doubt, have added fuel to the burgeoning fire.

Yet even before Israel, I could feel that things were changing. I had an accident on the way to the airport – my first for nearly a year now. It made me think about how difficult it might still be to go back to work. I have 3 weeks work booked in for late july/august and I will be out-and-about a lot during this time as my work is taking autistic children on day trips. Not having fast access to a toilet has now become worrying and I will have to see how I progress. Even though I have felt a lot better in recent months, I have been at home a lot. This means that I can go to the loo whenever I feel like it and not notice if I am urgent or not. Even if I hold much better than I did 9 months ago, I know I can’t just hold it in for any length of time. 1 or 2 minutes is better than the 20 seconds I used to have but still isn’t great, if I am on the tube!

In some way I am satisfied with what has occurred. It has shown me what my limits are and just like a child in primary school, it is good to know where my boundaries lie. I now have some clearer guidelines to work within. I also feel in control. I am in control of when I am healthy and I am in control of when I am not. This means I have the power to determine my own health and am not at the mercy of the condition, of medication or doctors.

Having healed once before, I know what I need to do. I have reread key sections of Klein’s book and it is amazing how much of it rings true. He writes about the reoccurrence of symptoms soon after healing and why this might occur. Almost all of the factors described were part of my recent routine and as much as I (and others) want to deny Klein as over restrictive and quackish – in my experience, his words are grounded in a lot of truth.

I know I can do it. I healed in the winter, it was long, tough, cold and I was fumbling in the dark for answers. Today, I know it works and the climate is that little bit more amenable. Eating a simple diet of sweet fruits and steamed veggies is a nice way to stay light and I look forward to being well again very soon.

May – Feasting for Health

As with many headlines this one is attention grabbing and slightly misleading. It should probably start with “Juice Feasting…” or even “ Juice Fasting…”. And even though a feast and a fast would seem to imply completely opposite actions, in this context they represent exactly the same thing – a day of rest from food.

I have decided to take on the advice that a weekly rest day from heavy food will help to maintain the health of my bowels and my body in general. As much as April was enjoyable in terms of eating a greater variety of foods and putting on steady weight, I could sometimes feel myself becoming sluggish and weighed down by the amount of food I was consuming. My appetite seems to be endless and often I get hunger pangs at around 4pm at which point my eating can become very haphazard as I search for any ‘allowable’ snacks and eat them in any order. Raw nuts, seeds, sweet fruits, dried fruits, dark chocolate and probably back to nuts again, all jumbled in, in a frantic 20 mins of snack mania. To someone without a history of colitis this might seem like a pretty healthy snack binge but the haphazard nature of the eating plus the heightened mental state does not work well with a recent colitis healer like me. Whilst not yet leading to any serious reaction, I could sense the symptoms of a ‘retox’ occurring. My legs were itchy (something I remember suffering from before I was diagnosed with UC), a few spots sprouted on my face and back and my nose became more greasy. I wanted to ignore these signs but I remember writing about how all these little symptoms of toxification that I had always lived with disappeared when I was on the Klein Plan. I realised my body was sounding the same alarm bells as it had done for many years in my pre-colitis era – clearly I had to take notice this time.

I had read about the benefits of a weekly fast in many separate publications and article, I liked the idea but put it to one side until I had reached a suitable weight again. However, when a 1-day-a-week fast or ‘light day’ was suggested to me by my Osteopath / Naturpath as a way of combating the ‘retox’, I figured the signs had aligned and I started straight away.

Using the term feast rather than fast however is all about being mentally prepared for the day. I look forward to a feast rather than a fast. As a Jew, I associate fasting with Yom Kippor – a day of repentance and solemnity. I want this day to feel more like a welcome break, like the Sabbath, so a feast of juice seemed to be a more exciting way of describing it to myself. It is also a better term when talking about it to other people as I imagine ‘feasting’ rather then ‘fasting’ would seem less drastic to the uninitiated. I actually try and not to speak too much about fasting to many people. It would make it into a bigger deal than it really is. People tend to associate fasting with starvation and the two, to me, are very different. There is considerable evidence to suggest short, controlled fasts are an excellent way of regulating and maintaining health. It is also a good discipline and helps to reduce my hunger pangs on normal days as i am more accustomed to the feeling of not having much in my tummy.

The night before my appointed ‘feast’ day, I use a home water enema to wash out and cleanse my colon. I’ve been intrigued by the idea for a while but never taken the plunge. Having done it a few times now, I have to say it feels great! Using enemas is another taboo issue which most people don’t even want to consider because it seems drastic or disgusting – mainly I imagine because it has to do with poo. Yet it is easy, clean, safe and makes me feel light and smooth. To me it makes sense. It helps to detoxify and gently clean the inside of my body. Day after day, I take in water, air and food which, inevitably from living in a modern city, are not as clean as I would like to think. With a history of digestive elimination like mine it makes sense to help my system get rid of what it does not want and not let it stagnate and putrefy in my bowels. I see it a bit like taking out the hoover bag and giving it a shake once a week.

On the actual feast day, I drink as many fresh fruit and veg juices, water, coconut water and herbal teas to keep me going for the day. I try to pick a day in the week where I don’t have that much on, so I can rest and have time to make the juices I want. My current favourites are:

Pear-Cucumber-Lime-Mint
Carrot-Apple-Sweet Potato-Cucumber
Carrot-Apple-Spinach-Red Pepper-Dill-Lemongrass
Celery-Apple-Cucumber-Lemon-Ginger

It’s actually quite fun and exciting to make these juices as they are such unique tastes. I will often add barley grass juice powder to one juice a day as well as good source of vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

Ghandi once said this about fasting:
“There is an intimate connection between the mind and the body, and the carnal mind always lusts for delicacies and luxuries. To obviate this tendency, dietetic restrictions and fasting would appear to be necessary. The carnal mind, instead of controlling the senses, becomes their slave, and therefore the body always needs clean non-stimulating foods and periodical fasting.”

If Ghandi endorses it, that’s enough for me! 

April Power

If there was ever a film made about my healing story then April would be the montage scene. Clips of me in comic yoga, t’ai chi, chi gong and pilates poses, swimming, drinking herbal teas, steaming veggies, downing shakes, eating fish, cycling, lifting (very light and pink) weights and laughing with perhaps a counter in the corner of the screen showing my increasing weight over the month – all this set to a pumping, energetic tune.

April has been a great month and i have enjoyed every day of being well and building up my body. i have put on roughly 6-7kg in just 4 weeks and, according to people i see regularly, i look much more healthy. There is even a little belly materialising, although i think this is more of an indictment of how i hold my posture rather than some major fat building.

On this note, I have started pilates classes to strengthen my core and i am hoping this, mixed with regular stretching and osteo work will help with my poor posture. I am really searching for transformation rather than just ‘help’. And something that i have learnt from getting well from UC is that transformation comes self-determination rather than a reliance on anybody / something else. Only hard work and sweat will transform my slouchy, weak and rounded posture. If i can stick to a daily routine long term, then maybe the goal is achievable. I have read a lot about how posture can effect the functionality of the organs and how misalignment can be a factor in all sorts of issues including digestive problems and even colitis.

I’ve also started swimming lessons. i’ve always been able to swim but never with anything resembling technique and most of my time in water was spent splashing about in the shallow end or making bombs.  It’s great exercise without great pressure on the body. I’m hoping it will stretch and lengthen my body, harden core muscles and builds up stamina. I find it regulates my breathing which can be very relaxing and meditative when in the groove. I’m not yet able to get into this groove for very long though as my stamina for swimming is quite low but I can see that once I build up strength to keep doing lengths, how beneficial this will be.

If every month is like this – I’ll be back to my best very soon!