From Pasta to Paleo: My Autoimmune Journey

Well hello. Glad to be back to this space. I’ve been on a hiatus from blogging. I haven’t felt much like writing. Or sharing. Or doing much of anything these past few months. The days have been long and hard. But here I am. The reason I’m here is because if I can inspire one person, offer them a reason not to give up, it’ll be worth it for me.

My last posts were from a trip my husband and I took to celebrate new beginnings. 2017 was going to be the year of new, healthy beginnings. It certainly felt that way. During that trip, we conceived a baby. Yay! We were so very excited. I felt some twinges within me on the train ride home from Austria all the way into Italy. I knew. The pregnancy test confirmed the news. I was full of love and gratitude. It felt different than the first time I learned I was pregnant, where I cried tears of joy and anticipated everything to come was going to be just perfect. That state of mind has been stolen from me, yanked out from under me without my consent.

It wasn’t an easy choice for us to try to conceive again after our first loss of twins this past summer. It was a devastating experience which took its toll not only on our marriage, but on my spirit. Grief can clench and break one’s heart over and over again. I moved within-around-through layers upon layers of emotion related to that loss. I grieved my babies and what could have been. Six months had gone by. We felt ready. We knew that if we opened our hearts up to the possibility again there was a chance it could be broken. The love was stronger than the fear.

I miscarried for the second time in February. I was devastated again. The first time took a part of me and left me in a changed state than the person I once was. The second time simply dragged me through the darkness and held me still. Afterward, I had so many medical tests run it was tough to keep track. I felt so inferior, less-than. There were pregnant women coming at me from every corner at the hospital while I waited for blood-work to confirm why it could never be me. I felt like my heart was ripped from inside my chest and out on display for trampling. Each day was a battle with the soul shaking symptoms of trauma.

Test result after test result filtered into my inbox. I’d forward the results to my OB who would say everything looks fine. I sank. I didn’t want to be sick. I didn’t want there to be something wrong. At the same time, I needed to know what was wrong in order to fix it. I couldn’t go through this again. Finally, there was a test that had some bold numbers next to the thyroid antibodies way out of the range listed on the lab test. This time, my doctor said that I had antibodies that were “highly positive” which could have an impact on my pregnancies. He recommended I get a thyroid ultrasound and see an endocrinologist.

From that moment, I’ve been coming to terms with what that means for me. I have a chronic autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroididis. Hashi’s can lead to symptoms of hypothyroidism, due to damage done to the thyroid glad through autoimmune attack. This is the case for me. The thyroid gland is essential in pregnancy. Some women have thyroid problems after having a baby, which usually go away. Pregnancy might trigger thyroid disease in some women. Thyroid conditions are linked to an increased risk of miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, stillbirth, premature delivery, breech birth, C-section delivery, ADHD, autism, and other developmental disorders. Stressful or traumatic events can increase antibodies and worsen a flare. If nothing is done to stop or decrease the attack of the autoimmune system on the thyroid gland, there is a risk of developing other autoimmune diseases such as: Type 1 Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Celiac Disease, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis and more.

So what did I do? I thought hard about leaving Italy. If I could just go back to the U.S., resume my old job and find a good doctor maybe it would all turn out alright. Really I was trying to cling to any sense of familiarity and security I could find. Nothing felt certain anymore. I didn’t know how to have a disease. I still don’t. I’ve always been healthy. Or so I thought. The thing is that if I left I would be doing something I didn’t want to do. I’d be letting the illness define my life. Instead of having my life define the illness. So we stayed. I choose to continue to live my life here despite, or in addition to it all.

I’ve seen multiple doctors and have had more tests than I can count. I’ve read books, blogs, articles, gone to seminars, webinars and workshops. I’m on a mission to be my own health advocate as I navigate through this process. One of the first things I learned about was the Autoimmune Paleo Diet. The diet that follows principles of Paleo with initial elimination of foods that tend to trigger or worsen autoimmune reactions for some people. The idea is to remove the trigger foods and reintroduce some to have the most versatile diet that’s healthy for you. This includes gluten and other grains which made me say arrivederci to my good friend pasta. No pasta! The first week or so coming off gluten was rough. I felt week, had headaches, and a general sense of blah feeling. It was tough at first to find the right ingredients here in Italy to get what I needed for the diet. We’ve worked around that and found the best places for sweet potatoes, plantains, coconut, grass fed meat and organic produce in Rome.

AIP helped clear my skin, regulate my sleep, and feel generally less inflammation. It’s not a cure all for me. I don’t like to think of a one size fits all approach to healing. I certainly advocate for each person making their own choices with their medical provider(s) as to what diet and medications to use. There have been people who’ve been at this much longer than me, and I don’t pretend to be an expert. For me, the diet has helped in some ways. I’m still searching and evolving, but in a better place then when I started. I’m on the right track to finding the right medications. I’ve started to make sleep a priority, care for myself unapologetically and continue to manage stress with prayer, meditation, and yoga. It’s an ongoing journey, and I’m grateful you’re here with me.

This blog started as a way to share about my experiences living abroad here in Italia! I had a few options for the blog: delete it, continue as if nothing had changed, start a whole new blog, or create a hybrid of the before and after. The hybrid is in lot of ways symbolic of the before and after of me. I’ll never go back to the person I was before all of this. This is who I am now, and I’m okay with that. At first I felt a lot of shame. Part of it’s related to the shame our society associates with miscarriage and illness in general. No, I’m not sulking. I’m not complaining. I’m living with this. I will talk about it. I’ll be open about my victories and struggles.

As a therapist, I want to dedicate my experiences to passionately helping others with the emotional aspects of autoimmune disease as well as some of the issues that may come up in one’s life due to autoimmune disease such as miscarriage, infertility, neonatal loss, marital issues, trauma, self esteem and self worth, and pain management.  There are many awesome AIP food blogs and Instagram accounts (which I follow!), so I’m not going fully that route. I still love photography. I still adore my dog, who’s been by my side through this whole thing. I still LOVE Italy. So you can expect to continue to follow my life here in a small town outside of Rome. The difference is I’m different. This is the new, evolving me. Part of that is autoimmune disease. I welcome all parts and hope you will to.

 

Sharon is on a journey to live well with autoimmune disease in Italy. A therapist, wife, mother and creator of American Bulldog in Rome, she passionately channels personal and professional experiences to help others heal.

2 thoughts on “From Pasta to Paleo: My Autoimmune Journey

  1. Thank you for this inspiring post. As a person who has infertility as a result of my autoimmune disorder, I am so encouraged by your willingness to share your story!

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