I launched IndigenousWell one year ago this month and laid out my (un)healthy story for the world to see. It was a doozy. Since then, 24 of my friends/colleagues have generously shared their own health journeys along with their wisdom and their vulnerabilities. We have learned a lot from each other and from ourselves. In addition to the personal stories, check out the Food & Fitness and the “Discoveries” too. Over the course of one year, my writings have managed to make my mother a little huffy a few times, so I know it was a success. It has been raw and often funny. Sorry, Mom.
Part of the “why?” behind this site is sharing and accountability but it was also about our lives 9 months DEEP into COVID and conveying optimism/solidarity when we were all in a collective funk due to various stages of grief, illness, and uncertainty. And here we are, still in it. New stresses. Albiet at different levels and stages, but still, exhausting. So we are keeping it up, into 2022 and beyond.
Putting Cholesterol to Bed, But With One Eye Perpetually Open
This year, somethings changed, somethings stayed the same. In January 2021, I shared how I went “mostly” vegan, resulting in my total cholesterol dropping over 60 points (and really fast) with just food and moderate exercise. That kept me off statins. On the theory that my life is a science fair project, about 5 months ago, I started eating a little more meat, but I still (mostly) steer clear of my beloved cheese. (Read about my love-hate relationship with dairy, here).
Just got my annual wellness visit lab results back. My total cholesterol was 5 points higher than it’s lowest levels, but the panel continued to improve in other ways: (1) triglycerides are normal range; (2) the “good” cholesterol (HDL) is normal range. My LDL is still a bit higher than normal and I’ll always have to watch it like a hawk. Keep working to continue the overall downward trends and rejoice that all other lab results are near perfect. The takeaway? I know I am in control of my health. I know how to keep moving the needle.
Thyroid. Unfairly the Fall Guy.
Now on to the other lab results. Thyroid. Thyroid. Thyroid. My old arch nemesis. Buckle up. It’s quite the story.
When I was 9 years old, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease after a long drawn-out diagonisis period. As a kid, I thought I was going to die when they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. A stressful long hospitalization in the the childhood chronic serious disease ward at St. Francis Hospital didn’t help. That’s the pink hospital on the hill (where I was born) in Tulsa. Tvlse town, in the Muscogee Nation’s reservation.
I was prescribed a daily pill with the brand name Synthroid or generic Levothryroxin. As as a kid, I was told that this was a life sentence and that I would be on these pharmaceuticals for the rest of my life. And so it was from age 9 to 38.
I was one of the lucky ones – they didn’t cut out my thyroid. They did, however, burn it out with medicine, and that converted a once over-active thyroid to perpetual hypothyroidism – the under-active version. Thyroid problems are bad. It can screw with your metabolism, heart rate, balance, weight, sleep, everything. And anytime a girl/women feels a little off – thyroid levels get checked.
I am not an endocrinologist, but Lord knows I’ve logged my time in their offices, for 29 years. As a lawyer, this is where I caution the reader, that what I am about to share is not medical advice, and that they should consult your own doctor and find the approach that is right for them . . and this is so true . . . but . . . just keep reading.
Around age 25, I started having terrible migraines. The stay in a dark room all day, get sick to your stomach type of almost unbearable migraines. Not just occasionally. It was 1-2 major migraines per week. Just as I was getting over the hangover one terrible multiple-day headache, the next one started. In hindsight, I do not know how I functioned at all. This was the first 15 years of law practice, entering legal education, and serving as a judge. And getting married and having a baby.
When I sought medical help, the doctors asked me whether I had try X medicine or Z medicine. I had tried them all. Pills. Self-Injections. All of it. To mask the pain. But rarely did anyone contemplate with me WHY my head hurt? Almot every. Damn. Day?
Through a lot of experimentation and food elimination diets, it turns out that once I stopped completely eating gluten/wheat products, my headaches went COMPLETELY away. You can read the hilarious story about my last gluten-full meal at KFC here.
Life altering. They stopped cold. And I felt so much better overall. More energy, less foggy. “Normal.”
So I did another experiment – what if my unexplained headaches that cropped up in my 20s were related to the unexplained other stuff that manifested in my childhood years? The theory on the migraines is that when your body can’t process certain foods it causes inflammation in blood vessels. Triggering headaches, joint pain, puffiness, etc.
To test the theory, I slowly went off the thyroid meds. I listened to my body everyday. Closely. And when it was time to get the 6 month thyroid level check-up, I went in, didn’t say a word. Got the routine blood work. When the doctor told me it was all within normal ranges and my dose didn’t need to be adjusted – I came clean with the doctor that I was off the meds. No answers. It just was, what it was. Was it all auto-immune related? Was it completely psychosymatic? Don’t know. Don’t care. Felt great. Still does. Zero migraines.
Now, I am upon my 12 year anniversary of gluten-free and wheat-free. My headaches are still completely gone. What’s left to eat? For starters, the foods that grew naturally in this hemisphere! So many Indigenous folks are allergic to dairy or at least lactose intolerant. Could the same be true for other foods and we just don’t realize on that same larger scale?
Here’s all the thyroid levels that I get tested annually to make sure everything remains on the up and up:
My mantra for 2022? Above all, trust your body. Listen to your body. Closely. Be super smart, but experiment some to see if your current path is the right one for you at this moment in time. There’s never one answer for everyone. But immediately taking and staying on the pills isn’t always the right answer either.
The photos above are 20 years apart. The one on the left in the early 2000s during the zenith of my migraine hell. The one on the right is from earlier this month. Not sharing for any before and after effect. Just sharing to show 2 different women. One with a debilitating chronic health problems that can barely make it through the day. One without pain. Same woman. Different shelves with a lot of law books behind her. One taken at the Cherokee Nation courts. One take at home in the Cherokee Nation reservation.
Wishing you all a healthier and happier 2022 – whatever that looks like for you. And if you can eat some warm bread, fry bread, toasted bread – have one for me. Oh how I miss it – but what a solid trade off.