My friend Megan recently went through a rough patch with her health. She is much better now, thank God. A few weeks ago, I asked her if she might be interested in writing about it. She said yes. This is Megan’s story and I’ll let her tell it, but I want to share what happened when she wrote something on her Facebook wall on her birthday a few months ago, when she was in the middle of a dark time. She shared what she was going through and her wall was filled with messages from people, friends and family, telling her that she and her husband Patrick, her parents too, were in their thoughts and prayers. A million I love you, Megan!’s. I know it was a sad and scary birthday, that more than anything her birthday wish was to feel better again. I’m so glad that she is better, obviously, and I’m glad she is willing to share her story. I think there is something powerful about writing about what you’re going through, while you’re going through it. Maybe as we write, we understand ourselves and life and our loved ones a little better. If you know Megan, you know that she is a light, sunshine, and I think if you don’t know her, you’ll see that light in the way she has honestly shared this chapter.
Balance: a state of equilibrium; mental steadiness or emotional stability.
Balance is the key word. It’s the word my dad always uses to enlighten me when I get stuck or confused in life and need guidance. Simple enough concept, yet it’s always been one of my biggest struggles. If I read that it’s good for you to drink 50 oz. of water a day, I’ll start drinking 100. Wait, what? A new study says meat is bad for you? Then consider me a vegan! (Notice how I skipped the preliminary step of being a vegetarian. Go big or go home!)
For four years I lived my life as a devout new age health junkie. I started with the easy stuff, you know, eating a sandwich on lettuce instead of bread (ridiculous). Then I graduated on to the hard stuff, and before you know it, I had a mason jar under my sink filled with homemade mouthwash, and a husband scratching his head and cursing my very hippie existence. The goal of this life style was to achieve perfection, both physically and mentally. To anybody on the outside looking in, it seemed that I lived the ideal lifestyle to achieve health, beauty and success. I was an organic-gluten-free vegan, kicked off everyday with a green juice, grew my own sprouts, made my own kefir, exercised 5 times a week, meditated daily, attended new age conferences, constantly reading at least 2 self help books at a time, never drank or did drugs, and of course was a consummate positive thinker.
Well, you know those ladies who get addicted to plastic surgery? They start with a “minor lift” and then 6 surgeries later, they’re barely recognizable as human. That’s what happened to me. I was addicted to self-improvement and healthy living. And instead of it making me the most beautiful, healthy and successful person around, I wound up with an incurable disease, ulcerative colitis. It’s an autoimmune disease of the large intestine. To be clear, that’s the area where all this healthy food was passing through. (Sweet, sweet irony.) I’ve spent so much time laughing about this! (Side note: I’ve spent zero time laughing about this).
It’s been a year and a half since my diagnosis, and I am just now bouncing back from my worst colitis flare yet. And, surprise surprise… this flare came as a direct result of my pursuit of “natural perfection”. You see, every time I’ve gotten this illness close to remission, I go off my medication and try to “do it the natural way,” a way that doesn’t involve prescriptions with scary side effects. Acupuncture, herbs, this, that, I’ve tried it, and each time I have crashed and burned. I always wind up even sicker than before, and consequently needing even more prescriptions to get back on track.
This particular flare began when I went off all meds and tried to heal strictly with diet and supplements. I was an idiot. I’m not saying that it can’t be done. It can… but I should have known with my previous record that it wouldn’t work for me. I spent two full months unable to leave my house with the exception of my frequent trips to the doctor. For those unfamiliar with the disease, your colon becomes inflamed and ulcerated so during a bad flare, you are in the bathroom passing blood and mucus all day. It was pretty common to rack up 20 trips to the bathroom daily. On top of all that, I developed a fissure (a cut in the rectum) and hemorrhoids as a result of the frequent flyer miles I logged on the toilet. My insides were shredded and so was my soul. I became severely anemic from all the blood loss. I couldn’t sleep because I was in constant pain, and even turning on my side would cause another even more painful trip to the bathroom. I couldn’t eat because that made me sick. One day it took me two hours to eat a single egg. I couldn’t be left alone because I didn’t have the energy to get up and feed myself so my mother and father had to come and stay with me so my husband could go to work. I was officially an invalid.
But thank God for those prescription drugs that I have always been so afraid of, because they saved me… again. This time around, I won’t be going off them without explicit consent from my doctor. I’m still struggling, it may take me months to get back to a state of health that I’m satisfied with, but I’m so grateful to be a fully functioning human now.
And it all comes back to balance. It’s ok for me to be on medication, that is just what my body needs. It is ok to eat healthy, but you need to “treat yo self” on a regular basis. So for those of you beat yourself up after eating that cookie, I say celebrate the fact that you posses the ability to indulge every now and then. I’m a prime example that being all healthy all the time doesn’t work for everyone. I’ve given up on perfection. I will never be perfect. And if that is the case, I might as well loosen the reigns and live a little. Every time I let go and add something to the “bad” side of my balance is a huge victory for me.
Last week, for the first time in forever, I used non-organic bath products, chalked full of paraben. One small step for humanity, one huge step for Megan Heyn.