It was in Shanghai where Sarah and I started to become pretty unwell. Hitting puberty is seemingly what triggered my thyroid disorder, as at around the age of 13 my health really took a turn for the worse. The symptom of chronic fatigue is what hit me the hardest and fastest, and anyone who suffers with chronic fatigue knows how soul destroying and draining it can be.

I was so tired I was missing a day of school a week/every 2 weeks (my yearly attendance was around the 70-80% mark), and I had to give up all of my sporting activities which I absolutely loved. I played every sport you could imagine, netball and gymnastics being my favourite, but it hit the point where I would play a match after school and be too tired for school the next day, or play a Saturday tournament and spend my entire Sunday (and sometimes Monday) in bed, recovering. I would be going to bed at 10pm on weekends, and was physically unable to get out of bed until 12/1pm the following day. 

Sarah knew that there was something not quite right with me, and I had countless doctors appointments and they couldn’t find what the problem was. It was dismissed as puberty and growing, glandular fever, coughs and colds, tonsillitis (which I suffered from a LOT), low iron, you get the gist. It was only once a particularly fabulous family doctor was finally able to refer to me an endocrinologist, and specifically, a thyroid specialist, where we got some kind of answer.

Even though it was good to have some sort of answer, this doctor was rude and miserable, and told me to my 13 year old face that I would never get better, get fat, loose my hair, become infertile, and lots of other horrific symptoms. You can imagine how low I was, and how infuriated my parents were at this doctor after his insensitive delivery. 

We began alternative treatments pretty much straight after we got the news, and I’m unsure whether he even offered me thyroxine due to my age. Either way, I had no pharmaceutical medication and he offered zero helpful treatment suggestions. I’m actually a bit shocked he even took up being a doctor really, as you’d think you’re meant to be somewhat compassionate and caring in terms of helping people and delivering not-so-great news.  

As my parents were school teachers, the job had lots of employee benefits to coax people to move out to foreign countries; the better the benefits the less ‘desirable’ the place. We actually nearly moved to the UAE, however research into the school my brother and I were due to attend made my parents think a hard NO right before they were due to sign the contract. Kids were bringing weapons into school, actual PRINCES attended the school (and they thought they were above the law), there was lots of racial violence and violence towards teachers, and young girls were targeted particularly frequently in very unpleasant ways. There was no way in hell my parents were going to put us in that school. Apparently it’s much better now. “Apparently”.

One of the benefits we received from the school was health insurance. All Lao Wai (westerners) were given health insurance by their place of work, and this came particularly in handy for our family during these tough years. I was started pretty much instantly on acupuncture, and went between getting it in the lovely hospital, and having an incredible character of a man come to our home. Brenton was a Texan who had married a Chinese lady in the States; Chinese medicine was his passion and career. He spoke Chinese fluently but had the strongest American accent you can imagine. He also had great stories. I took a huge variation of traditional Chinese herbs, ranging from pill form (which I usually got from the hospital), and absolutely revolting blends of herbs which I had to boil in water, and then chug the next morning before school which came from Brenton.

Whilst all of this was going on, I was also diagnosed with scoliosis! Luckily enough, it never worsened through my teenage years (which we were warned was a possibility), and I started off with weekly chiropractic appointments, and 7 years later, I only have one osteopath appointment every 8 weeks! The cost of these treatments hasn’t been cheap over the years, however health absolutely is wealth, and I’m very lucky we were able to prioritise it when I was growing up, and now that I’m an “adult” (I don’t feel it) I am able to fund these sessions myself. 

At the time whilst all of this was happening, I never really realised quite how poorly I felt, ALL the time. Over the years when we didn’t realise I was unwell, my illness was never treated, and I continued to unknowingly feed myself foods that worsened my symptoms. I got used to feeling rubbish, and then feeling like rubbish ultimately felt normal. It was only when I moved back to the UK without my family at 16, and I actually made more of an effort to go gluten free, that I began to notice quite how strong my immediate physical reaction to gluten was. 

My physical reactions became so loud and unbearable, that eating these foods wasn’t worth it. Whereas in Shanghai, I always felt rubbish, so eating these foods never gave me the immediate harsh reaction I experience now. It was a whole new sensation. I get immense headaches, and within 5 minutes I will be yawning and unable to mentally function. I’ve felt so poorly that at times I have to rest my head on the table, and even go to bed. I am now so in tune with my body, that I can eat something as minute as a meal cooked for 4 people, which includes one stock cube that contains a small amount of wheat, and I will KNOW. I get a bit cautious with people cooking food for me sometimes!

The first time my boyfriend Joel had witnessed my reaction was a rugby night in Cardiff. We had watched the game in a packed bar (pre-covid, how strange!) and headed to a little chippy to get some food before the next bar. These chips must’ve been coated in wheat to stop them sticking together in transit, and he was in shock. In a loud, bustling bar I was nearly in tears because of my pounding headache and I was not present in the room due to the fatigue. 

It’s been a long journey towards healing, and it was particularly hard during my teenage years where I felt like I was missing out on being ‘normal’, and at times my lack of restraint got the better of me. However, as each day goes by I learn more; I learned to ultimately listen to my body and do what is best for me, my health and I. As I said before, health is wealth, and I want to live a happy healthy life and so much more. I once read a saying which was “Once you can control what you eat, you can control anything in life” and it flipped a switch somewhere, and made me realise how much of a slave to our desires we can be. Since then I find it so easy to say no to things that don’t give me my life force energy. People are regularly shocked when I say I am a gluten-free vegan, and “what do you even eat?!”. 

I can actually eat a lot, and I love cooking. Eating things that make me feel good inside and out is what makes it so easy for me. I know I am eating for my health, whilst eating compassionately for the animals, and doing my bit for the environment. What’s stopping you from doing the same?

 

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