Unintentional Harm, Unintentional Healing

[Trina is in charge of our new Cognitive Decline program. You can read her bio here.]

It started early. The harm wasn’t intentional. We just didn’t know any better.

As a newborn in foster care, my diet consisted of Pet brand milk with added sugar. In between bottles I was given sugar water. My medical records show repeated trips to the hospital due to digestive problems. Their solution was to put me on rice cereal at one month old. 

I trust they were trying to help. But what they did was set me up for a lifetime of sugar addiction and digestive issues.

My adoptive parents worked hard. Dad worked rotating shifts most of his life and my mom worked full time with the exception of my very early years. Convenience foods empty of nutrition were a mainstay in our house. Although I fondly remember my grandmother’s huge garden and the summer bounty, Hamburger Helper, instant potatoes and Dream Whip made meal prep much easier for my tired parents.

Again, unintentional, but the harm was being done. 

Education didn’t come easy. Remembering what I read made if difficult to study and make good grades. I knew I was smart, I just couldn’t make things stick. 

Procrastination was a way of life. My brain was always on overdrive, running 100 miles a minute. It’s hard to get anything done when your mind can’t be still long enough to make a plan. 

Teenage acne, irritable bowel syndrome, and significant PMS were all part of my health history. Most people would say that sounds normal. 

I was placed on Accutane for my acne and birth control pills for the PMS. Since then we have learned what kind of damage these drugs and hormones do to our intestinal health.  

Again, unintentional, but the harm was being done.  

The years passed; I graduated college and had a successful career as a social worker. I was always drawn to the “helping professions” and originally wanted to be a nurse. The science courses were fascinating, but I couldn’t make the grades. 

In the end, social work was a really good fit for me. The human connection enriched my life in immeasurable ways. It helped to mold who I am today and the desire to help people who are hurting.

In my early thirties, I gave birth to my first daughter followed by her sister 22 months later. Soon after this I was diagnosed with ADD and put on multiple medicines, none of which worked. People can have positive results from the right prescription, but this was not my story. 

My husband traveled every week and we moved a lot; six cities in ten years. This meant new doctors, new friends, and new schools. The girls were developing their own health struggles, but getting consistent answers, as often as we were moving, was difficult and it made it challenging to get a clear picture of what was going on. 

Our last move was to the Nashville, TN area to be near my parents. Until then, I’d been hanging on, flying by the seat of my pants, getting things done. I kept waiting for things to get easier, but this was just beginning.

My mom was showing signs of MCI (mild cognitive impairment) and my dad needed some support. While trying to find the cause of my mom’s neurological issues, we discovered her colon cancer. 

A few years later, she was diagnosed with skin and then ovarian cancer. Dad had been diagnosed with macular degeneration and could no longer drive. If that wasn’t enough, my youngest daughter started losing her hair and was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. 

At this point, I had given up on the idea of going back to school for my Master’s or really ever working again. I had been running on empty and was about to run out of gas. 

I had so many questions and so few answers. Nutrition had always interested me. People who were physically fit always looked happier than the average person. Lifestyle choices had to be a part of what was happening to my family and myself. 

Conventional doctors didn’t have answers, with the exception of helping us with my father’s macular degeneration. Although they didn’t have an understanding of what caused it, they did have a treatment to stop it in its tracks. 

It worked. It was a win and I’m grateful that conventional medicine continues to focus on treatments that give people a better quality of life.

Functional medicine was new to me. That term was not yet mainstream and most people referred to anything outside of prescription drugs or surgery as “alternative medicine.” At the time it had a “not really medicine” ring to it. I couldn’t read fast enough or absorb enough information. 

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” is a lesson I would learn quickly. 

My research on cancer and alopecia led me to nutrition, selective supplements, exercise, fresh air, community, food allergens, and so on. Mold/mycotoxicity, genes/epigentics, and toxins were all on my radar, but it was too much to learn and too many people to care for. 

My mom was the sickest so she got the lion’s share of my time. I was not my mom’s full-time caregiver which affected how effective I could be. She hid supplements in drawers and threw away nutritious food her brain was lacking. 

At the same time, my daughter was having issues with her vision. She was resistant to the exercises her doctor had prescribed and we were butting heads. Again, I just wanted her to be better. 

After a particularly bad parenting moment, I finally had what one would call a nervous breakdown. The people I loved the most were falling apart and I couldn’t help them. I cried for three days. I went to bed crying and woke up crying. 

And that was that. The only person I could change was myself so that’s where I started. 

The things I was learning about gluten and dairy were true for my family and me. When I didn’t bring it in the house, everyone improved. When I moved on a consistent basis, I felt better. 

But procrastination and disorganization were still going strong. I powered my days with Mt. Dew and other forms of sugar. It had been keeping me going all these years and was serving a purpose. 

A few years passed and all of my daughter’s hair was gone. Come hell or high water I would find a cure. She might resist the information, but I would have it available when she was ready. 

The most highly recommended doctors in Nashville couldn’t help her. She had given up and was sliding into a deep depression. A friend of mine once said, “A mother is only as happy as her least depressed kid.” My own low-grade depression caused by the inability to feel calm coupled with my daughter’s depression was tough. I never had thoughts of suicide, but I was defeated. Then I found Jill

Jill had had alopecia and had regrown hair. She had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and had turned it around. I reached out to her and she became my lifeline. 

I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t make sense of what to do first. I was willing to do just about anything, but someone needed to walk me through the steps.

My daughter is a determined person, which is a blessing and a curse. She did everything that Jill recommended to a tee. And in six weeks, she was growing hair. 

The lifestyle changes all came at once. I couldn’t let her live these changes alone so I ate what she ate. We stopped eating out. She didn’t have much of a social life to begin with. I was her constant companion. 

As she grew hair, low and behold, I was calmer, more focused, less agitated, slept better, and my memory improved. Instead of unintentional harm, I was experiencing unintentional healing.

The next few years were full of “two steps forward, three steps back” moments. Not for my daughter, but for me. Sugar turned out to be a formidable opponent. 

But I finally ditched the sugar and processed foods and started hydrating my body and brain and added some supplements. What started as support for my daughter’s journey continued as intentional choices that changed my life, too.  

My mom passed away. My dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away a few months later. I had more freedom to focus on my daughter 100 percent—something I just realistically hadn’t been able to do. 

We continued to follow Jill’s protocol and recommendations to find the cause of her alopecia. Once my daughter had enough hair to no longer wear wigs, she decided to take a break from digging for the final clues. She has a head full of hair, but some spots have come and gone. 

Mold issues are our most recent find which also can play a part in cognitive decline. Trust me, finding the cause is a marathon, not a sprint, and every positive change we make moves our health in the right direction.

My older daughter went off to college, which left me even more time to focus on my own health. Why Isn’t My Brain Working? by Dr. Datis Kharrazian was the first “brain book” I read. 

I’d come so far, I was determined to keep going. I now had hope that I could live the life I wanted and create a future for myself. I wanted to do for others what Jill had done for us. 

Even though I was not biologically related to my mom and dad, my mom’s symptoms scared me. For a couple of years, my cognitive decline was pretty similar to hers. I couldn’t remember what I ate for breakfast. When I entered a room, I had no idea why I was there. I would retrace my steps until it popped in my head. Pulling off simple dinners became problematic. 

Through gene testing to find answers for my daughter’s alopecia, we discovered my younger daughter has a double copy of an Alzheimer’s gene and my husband has one. I do not carry the gene, but have struggled nonetheless. I absolutely believe I was headed for Alzheimer’s had I not found functional medicine. 

With the research of Dr. David Perlmutter and Dr. Dale Bredesen, there is so much hope. They are changing lives by sharing with us how to get to the bottom of the multiple causes of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s.

Staying motivated to make all of the changes needed to turn around my cognitive decline was a struggle at first. It was a multi-factorial approach. Diet, movement, and addressing toxins, hormones, lack of nutrients, food allergies, and genes all can play a role. Epigentics, the study of genes, is an exploding field of medicine. We now know we can effectively turn our genes on and off. Even my daughter and husband can avoid Alzheimer’s by the way they live and treat their bodies and brains. 

Maya Angelou said, “When you know, better, do better.” 

When my story started I said we didn’t know better. Now we do. So to achieve my goals, I’m choosing better. 

Maturity was required to let go of old patterns and habits that harm. The sugar addiction created straight out of the womb was so detrimental to my physical, emotional, and psychological health. 

Having a coach walk the walk made all the difference in the world to our success. Our life changing experience with Jill led me to enroll in the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy that’s affiliated with the esteemed Institute for Functional Medicine. It was a year-long immersion into the science of functional medicine, positive psychology, and the tools needed to help clients begin and sustain change. What could be more rewarding than helping someone change their health and regain lost mental capacity?

Trust me, I didn’t see this coming, but I am sure hanging on to it! Instead of a future hiding behind my struggles, pretending I’ve got everything covered, my future is full of confidence, goals, and adventures. 

If any of this sounds familiar to you or a family member, I’d love to help you. You can read more about my Cognitive Decline program here.

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