I’ve never been able to predict the journey the Lord will take me on each year—He often surprises me! When I chose my word for 2023, I had no idea how much I’d learn about my health in even the first 17 days of the year. Summarizing what led me here felt a bit daunting, but this was important to write, even just for myself. Writing is one way I acknowledge change and accept it. I feel restless when words need to be written, so here I am, pushing myself to write them and welcome this shift in my health journey. This post kicks off a new mid-month series where I’ll give a quick update (this first post is longer to give you the backstory!) on things I’m trying with my health and progress/blunders along the way. Affiliate links are used in this post. Enjoy!
First, a disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional, and nothing shared in these posts is prescriptive or an endorsement for you to try. As I’m learning, our bodies have unique needs. I hope, if anything, this series encourages you to try new things and take care of your health in whatever ways are best for you. I know for sure I’ll make mistakes along this journey. I’ll likely look back on these posts, even a few months from now, and have made discoveries and adjustments. I’m sure there will be times I say to myself, “What was I thinking trying that!?” That’s part of the fun: digging into the process together. To close my disclaimer, 1 Timothy 4:8 says it all: ‘For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.’ My spiritual health is more valuable than my physical health, but they do intertwine. Cultivating a thriving relationship with God involves my physical, emotional, and environmental states. Looking at my overall health has given me new motivation to love others well and, hopefully, do more of what God wants me to do in this life. With all of this in mind, let’s do this. I’m grateful you’re here with me!
A little backstory. I’ve always thought of myself as a healthy person. I walk daily, try to eat well, and was a personal trainer for several years. My great-grandfather started a bit of a “health nut” legacy in our family as an early adopter of vitamins and exercise equipment. He was born before the turn of the century and lived to be 95 years old—incredible! My dad followed suit, eating superfoods all his life and teaching me about fitness. Close friends remember his daily 30+ mile bike rides in his signature yellow windbreaker. He took a trip to Alaska with my brother years ago to bike and see the wild salmon he loved to eat. Blueberry picking with dad was a favorite, and he ate them as often as possible. He was proud to be one of the founding members of our local co-op. Dad was a health enthusiast – emphasis on enthusiasm. He had such joy in it all! I took after him with a love for good nutrition and active youth, dancing ballet and jazz all through college, teaching yoga, running, and lifting weights. I got my training certification with NASM after college in 2002. It was a great fit. I loved helping people uncover what matters and reach their goals. I even met Ari while training clients in the gym.
Fast forward to starting a magazine, growing a company, and then becoming a mom 11 years ago, and somewhere in it all, I left the gym and stopped lifting weights. I’ve stayed fairly active, but it was tricky as a new mom and business owner to get to the gym. Five years after having Grace, in 2016, I experienced a turning point in my body’s capacity to deal with stress. We had another new baby, adopted six months later, and a few months after that, I injured my neck. I was digging up the old roots of a plant in our yard (yep, I was gardening, of all things!) and thought I just strained a muscle. It turned out to be a disc pressing on my spinal cord. The hardest part of it all was sleep. I was consistently up 10-20 times each night, unable to get comfortable. My gardening mishap turned into long-term chronic pain. I went to physical therapy, tried cervical pillows, had several intralaminar steroid injections, took NSAIDS, had MRIs, and was gifted heating pads from loving friends. I eventually saw a surgeon who told me surgery wouldn’t take my pain away. It seemed like there were no options. Ari and I paused after years of dead ends to simply pray and wait for God’s answers.
In 2020, seemingly unrelated, I developed heart pain. The cardiologist encouraged me to explore a few rabbit trails from the test results, just in case. Those rabbit trails led to an array of blood tests and hematology appointments. No one could make heads or tails of the results. I was severely anemic, had inflammatory markers, and there were puzzling findings on tests they don’t normally run. My doctor said, “Well, it seems like you have an autoimmune disease brewing, but we don’t know what it is yet. The next step is to do a bone marrow biopsy.”
My dad’s health declined around this time, and I was weary from the testing and chronic lack of sleep. Was any of it even connected?? My hip and hand joints were flaring up, too. Add normal life to this in running a growing business, homeschooling, and having a kiddo with extra sensory needs, and I was low on resilience. I focused on loving our family as best I could and trying to live numbered days. When I started losing my hair in handfuls at a time each day, though, it was another sign that something wasn’t right. I reached out to a couple of friends in the hair industry, and they both said, “You could try all these products, but… stress. Do whatever you can to reduce stress first.”
A comment here on a blog post from two years ago stuck with me from Ashley B: “I am a now retired family practice doctor (retired early to be a stay-at-home wife and mom). I remember well all the patients who had any kind of vertebral surgery when I was in residency. Those patients often did not fare well. If it were my body, I would do everything possible before surgery… whatever it took to avoid surgery. Many times people hold stress in their necks, so if rest goes up and stress goes down, neck pain improves.“
Ah, those last few words. I couldn’t put my discs back in place myself or understand what was happening with these blood tests, but various stressors in life were making the pain worse by causing inflammation. God used this time to humble me. I just couldn’t do it all—or even half as much as I could years ago. I needed to slow down more than I thought. I didn’t want to, but my body was telling me otherwise. As I shared with you many years ago, there’s the popular phrase, “She believed she could, so she did.” I know a deeper truth: “She believed she couldn’t, so God did.”
In all of this, as crazy as it may seem at first, the last seven years have been… a gift. I’ve been unable to do many of the things I want to do, experienced times I couldn’t feel my feet or hands, taking trips to the ER, and yet, in it all, my faith has grown. I’ve experienced the kindness of friends and strangers, more closeness with God and reliance on Him, and a deeper bond in our marriage. I’ve seen my limits and repeated this old hymn lyric to myself many times over: “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” Knowing this body of mine will be resurrected new one day gives me great comfort. This pain is temporary. Praise the Lord!
Getting all these tests and appointments, even with no answers, has also grown my gratitude. Staff members were often taken aback, wondering why I was so happy to be there getting blood drawn or a scan done. My response was, and is, always the same, “I’m just grateful to be able to do this.” Healthcare is something I do not take for granted.
In this time of testing, God also orchestrated things that weren’t about me. You never know how the seeds of joy and gratitude you plant will grow long after you’re gone. There’s always more than we can see on the surface—in our bodies and lives. I felt His nudge to encourage the nurses, docs, techs, front desk friends, and other patients at each appointment, and I have distinct memories of those interactions. God also allowed my children to see me suffer and rely on Him when I felt scared or exhausted. They’ve been gentle and understanding when I couldn’t pick them up or needed a few extra minutes to get out of bed in the morning. And I’ve been able to better understand when friends experience chronic pain. All of this, and more, is a gift.
I painted this history in broad strokes for you—there’s more—but this is what felt best to share. All of this has been the fuel to ignite the faith I have now and the learning I’m doing today. When you are tired of something for long enough, you will find a way to either live with it or change it. If the latter, change doesn’t always happen on our timetable. It can happen slowly, and sometimes it happens in what seems like an instant—from an unexpected life circumstance or, in my case, from a long journey that opened my eyes. What feels like a fast change over the first days of this new year is, in reality, seven years of sleepless nights and unexplained health conundrums that left me open at this moment to do anything that will help my body to heal. This openness could also be called a willingness to learn—a readiness to try new things at 43!
If you and I had a secret handshake, it would have a not-so-secret meaning: little by little steps add up. : ) Each month, I’ll share some of my little steps forward and any good things I’m noticing. This month’s list will likely be the biggest, but who knows where the Lord will lead. All I know right now is I am learning, and I’m hopeful.
January Steps Forward:
—A conversation with my brother over Thanksgiving got me thinking about the inflammation throughout my system. It could be caused by an underlying disease or what I was eating or stress—or all of it. I’m not sure yet, but I’m getting closer to finding out. Till then, I’ve been devouring any information I can find on inflammation and how to reduce it. My brother suffered a spinal cord injury years ago and knows a thing or two about this. He noticed the pain I was in when caring for my dad last year, and we started swapping notes. He gave me a crash course in inflammatory foods and introduced me to my new BFF: turmeric.
—This goes hand-in-hand with the most beneficial shift: I’ve taken a deep dive into functional medicine. I have learned, UN-learned, and it is all blowing my mind. I checked out a few books at the library and became a daily listener of The Doctor’s Farmacy podcast, The Huberman Lab, and others. I got on a waitlist with a local functional medicine doctor. She can’t see me till the end of the year, but I trust it will be worth the wait. I also got on a waitlist with a functional medicine/holistic gynecologist. I had biomarker testing done while I wait for my functional medicine appointment later in the year. I’m curious to see what these tests reveal.
—I joined a virtual group training program for women who love to hike. This has been way outside my comfort zone, but it’s exactly what I needed at this point in my life. I am lifting heavier weights three times a week, tracking my nutrients, and fueling myself differently for workouts. The program includes bodyweight exercises, functional movements, power, and gradually gaining stability for heavy lifting. Exercises have been modified for my neck, and my trainer has been helpful with nutrition, too. I was so sore the first week that I couldn’t sit in a chair without wincing, but I. Love. It.
—Ari, the kids, and even my mom are trying new things, too. Our kids ate rainbow chard salad—by request—this weekend. Ari asked me to find him an omega-3 supplement and probiotics. My mom asked me to find her a cod-liver oil supplement (she has never even taken a multivitamin in her life!). And my kids can’t wait to take their omega-3s every day. Josh made a leap with his reading in school this week and said matter-of-factly, “Mom, it’s proooobably the fish oil.” I wouldn’t go that far, but I’m glad he’s enjoying it. 🙂
—We’ve continued to remove toxins from our house, artificial dyes, etc. We’ve also been more conscious of making environmentally sound and sustainable choices.
—I collected recipes and have continued to love cooking. For as long as she’s had a smartphone, my French chef mom has sent me daily pictures of what she’s cooking. I’m returning the enthusiasm with my own pics for her! She loves that I’m into it : )
—We swapped some of our cookware for healthier choices. I invested in a cast-iron grill pan, and my mom gave me a non-toxic dutch oven for my birthday. I’ve used it several times a week for soups.
—I glued magnets to the back of the Cultivate meal-planner notepad and have a plan for each day of the week. I use Pinterest to find recipes, and one, in particular, has become a new family staple. This Tuscan soup with fennel is incredible.
—I changed deodorant. I know I’m late to the no-aluminum party. In all of this, I feel like I’ve been under a rock of sorts, but I keep reminding myself it’s never too late to make better choices.
—We ate more from our winter garden (kale, chard, etc.). Grace is especially excited about our herb, tea, and veggie garden for the spring. We ordered new seeds to try from Baker Creek Seeds, Johnny’s Seeds, and Floret. I’ll share what we’re planting in another post.
—Recommended by friends, I’m giving red light therapy and cryotherapy a try. Have you ever tried these? I’m already cold thinking about cryo.
—Ari and I started listening to functional medicine podcasts at night instead of watching TV (a habit picked up in 2020). It has been fun to dig into this together.
Good Things This Month:
– I was able to stop taking Nexium after 12 years.
– I stopped all NSAIDs.
– I’ve gained physical strength. I couldn’t hold a 60-second plank before, and now I can. Baby steps.
– The Isaacsons are trying new things. My family is making healthier choices, enjoying our meals more, and trying new foods.
– To boot, I’ve had more energy and general happiness.
Phew! You guys. I am thankful. Thanks for sticking with me through the backstory that brought us here. And thank you to many of you who have prayed for me at various points in this journey. I’m excited to keep learning and taking small steps forward. I’ll look forward to a quick check-in next month!
Your turn! How are you cultivating your health this year? Any favorites??