Saturday, June 21, 2014

What Lupus Has Taught Me



I have spent the last 7 years of my life in poor health off and on, not knowing what was wrong with me. My kidneys would swell up and not function properly, I would get terrible migraines, fevers, muscle aches, heart palpitations and fatigue. Heavy fatigue. I had surgery on my kidneys, tubes coming out of my back to drain them and several trips to the ER to find my kidneys backed up and inflamed. Finally, last summer came an answer; I was diagnosed with Lupus. Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease where the body attacks its internal organs and causes muscle and joint pain, fatigue and inflammation in the body. There are flare-ups where the disease is worse and other times when I feel fine. Initially, I would only have a flare about once a year, but gradually their occurrence increased to an unbearable-near constant amount.

I believe this deterioration in my health happened because I gave up. Being a personal trainer and nutrition advisor for 5 years, I lived for fitness and nutrition. I loved eating fresh, whole foods and exercising my body. However, having ill-health while simultaneously doing everything in your power to be healthy is really discouraging. I came to believe that there was only so much I could do and the rest was determined by genetics and predispositions to disease.

In vitro I had "drunken from the shallow end of the gene pool" and my medical chart read like a comedy of errors. I have Factor V Leiden, Ovarian Cysts, Endometriosis, SAD, Migraines and now Lupus. Feeling defeated, I gave up. It's a hard thing to admit. But I did. I figured that it was my lot to have poor health, so why waste my time exercising and eating healthy? Everyone else I knew ate tons of processed food, sugar and soda...and many of them enjoyed better health than me. It seemed impossible to keep swimming against the current.

That is until the Lord sent me the inspiration I desperately needed. This inspiration came in the form of a dear friend of mine named Laura. She was everything I was 3 years ago before my disease got bad--fit, healthy and inspired about fitness and health. The difference being that she has a deep, immovable conviction that you can heal your body and overcome bad genetics and an unwavering determination to do her best. She inspired me to try again and I am forever grateful to her.

On my 33rd birthday, this January, I decided to get back into shape--even if it meant it would hurt. And it did hurt. My joints and muscles ached...I had fevers and couldn't control my temperature. I was so tired that my body felt like lead. But I made it to the gym and began running through the pain and fatigue. I didn't feel better right away. In fact, in many ways I felt worse. My body began detoxing, increasing my fatigue and number of headaches. But I didn't give up. Having a friend who believed in me, encouraged me and inspired me, kept me going on the really hard days. She was like an angel in my life--like the Lord's gentle voice saying, "keep going, don't give up."

And then another breakthrough came--another tender-mercy from Heavenly Father. Laura's husband, Kyle, remembered a product called Tungusta that had helped a friend of theirs who had Lupus. The product had since changed names to Live360. They purchased a bottle for me in hopes that it would help. I noticed an almost immediate change in my energy. The fatigue was gone for the first time in years. I was able to make it through the day without taking a nap. It felt like a miracle. It was a miracle. And I learned once more how Heavenly Father often answers our prayers through other people.

Laura and I began lifting weights, swimming, hiking and biking together and she inspired me to start getting into triathlon shape again. My passion for exercise returned. I remembered just how much I loved the challenge of working out and becoming stronger through exercise. She had a unpretentious way of motivating me. She built me up while at the same time being the ultimate example. Hearing of her daily runs pushing a stroller filled with crying kids up and down the hills in our neighborhood showed me that there was really no excuse to not exercise. It was then I came to realize once more that exercise is not a luxury for me or anyone really--and it is worth the sacrifices to fit it in your schedule.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, my month supply of 360 ran out. And then we encountered a problem. The product had been discontinued. At the time, it really felt like a blow. My energy tanked once more and my Lupus flared up again. I almost gave up hope. But Laura wouldn't have it. She kept searching, kept encouraging me to not give up. I had found some similar formulas...but still nothing had the same impact on me as the 360.

I now know what a blessing that was. It forced me to tackle my biggest hurdle yet--my diet. I believe the 360 was just the boost I needed to give me hope that I could someday have my health back, but it was never meant to be a permanent solution. Right at this pivotal moment another angel was sent into my life, another friend of mine who is enthusiastic about healthy living. She was my workout buddy until she moved away about 5 years ago. Our distance from each other made it impossible to keep working out together and we only saw each other about once every 2-3 months. But she invited me to take part in a 14 day "clean eating" challenge on Facebook where we report our meals for the day to keep accountable to each other. It was just the push I needed.

I thought I was eating relatively healthy since I started to overhaul my life in January. However, after starting the challenge, I was surprised at how much junk I was eating. Not to mention, there was still the BIG elephant in the room, my diet soda addiction. My energy was so low, my headaches so frequent that getting off of soda became my personal Goliath in my diet. Every time I would try to get off soda I would get HUGE, unbearable migraines that lasted for days. Not to mention that the only thing I could use to effectively treat my migraines was and still is caffeine and advil. This caused a horrible cycle of addiction. And I know for a FACT that drinking diet soda was making my health worse.

Once again, Laura's unassuming inspiration changed my life for the better. She loaned me her Champion juicer and I began juicing to replace my diet soda. Of all the things I have done for my health, juicing and getting off of soda has had the biggest impact. Even more so than the 360. I am not exaggerating. I have had so much energy that I feel like I am alive again. It brings me to tears and fills my heart with gratitude to my Heavenly Father. It's a journey, and there's still more work to do, more improvements to be made and more to learn. But I am so grateful for where I am, even if how I got here is by great trial and hardship.

I have learned and relearned several things along this journey and have advice for anyone who is currently living with chronic illness or seeking better health:

1) Exercise is not a luxury. Your body needs exercise to oxygenate your blood, increase your lung capacity, strengthen your heart and prevent muscle atrophy, injury and bone loss. Not to mention your mental health and hormone balance benefits tremendously as well.

2) A diet filled with God-made foods is non-negotiable to health. If your health is bad even with healthy habits, going back to junk food will only make it worse. Guaranteed. Learn from my experience. Your body doesn't run well on sugar and heavily processed foods--in fact, they increase inflammation in the body which is the cause of most diseases. Eating non-inflammatory foods helps to heal the body. I am seeing this miracle in action. God gave us so many wonderful, healing foods to enjoy.

3) Diet soda (or any soda) is making you sick. It is making you tired. It gives you a temporary boost and you pay for that fake boost in energy immensely. By tapering off and replacing it with a healthy alternative you can get rid of that addiction.

4) Accept help. If the Lord inspires someone to mention or offer a solution to your health, don't ignore it. Take it into consideration. Your humility to take advice or accept help from someone else might bring about the miracles you've been waiting for. Having Lupus has helped me see how the Lord works--through other people.

5) Find support. Filling your life with like-minded people that build you up and inspire you to be better is one of the best ways to stick to healthy life changes. I am so thankful and indebted to Laura and Kyle and my friend Stephanie for inspiring me to change and work hard so that the Lord could work miracles in my life. If you don't have anyone like that in your life, let me be that person. Let me be the voice that says, "keep going, don't give up."

6) Life is meant to be enjoyed. Finding exercise that fills you with joy and relieves stress while giving you the physical benefits, is key to your success. Pick up a new hobby. Learn to swim, go for a hike, take a walk at sunset. You will find exercise becomes a joy and a blessing and it will no longer be a chore. Go biking with your family, play a game of soccer with your kids in the backyard--these things will not only increase your physical health but strengthen family relationships. Exercise shouldn't be something you dread; it should be a way of life. If you approach it with this mentality, you will find your life enriched and blessed.

7) All healing comes in the due time of the Lord. Even when I was doing everything right a few years back, Heavenly Father did not see fit to remove my trial. Find the balance between patiently waiting and enduring a trial well and not giving up. Accepting the Lord's will is important. You may have ill-health because it is how God is refining you, making you a better person and teaching you to rely on Him. But don't give up hope. There is healing. It can come in an instant or it can come line upon line, struggle upon struggle, hard day after hard day. But those blessings of health will come if we work hard, keep the word of wisdom and seek inspiration and personal revelation to what our bodies need.

8) Be grateful. For those who have been called to endure physical pain and disease all the days of their life I say, find a way to be grateful and don't stop taking care of your body. Even if you never taste of the fruits of your efforts in the form of health and vitality in this life, I know Heavenly Father will bless you for taking care of the body He gave you. You will someday have a perfect, resurrected body. But even with your imperfections, you are precious. Your life is precious and a gift from a loving Father in Heaven that wants us to be happy. Being grateful, no matter your health, is key to your happiness. We show that gratitude by taking care of the precious gift of our bodies.

If you are not in a wheelchair, be grateful. If you're in a wheelchair, be grateful for your mind and your breath. Be grateful that you are here to experience mortality to learn and grow. Perfect health and perfect bodies are NOT needed for happiness and gratitude. On the contrary, I have found my ill-health has made me MORE grateful for the good days. Lupus has been one of the vehicles with which the Lord has chosen to reveal Himself to me in my life. He has used it to refine me and force me to look outside of myself and ultimately lose my life in the service of others. For all of that I am eternally grateful.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi... has been a long time and thanks for sharing. If you google lupus and diet soda or lupus and aspartemine you will find some sketchy things. Cutting it out all together even just replacing with the regular sugar stuff could make a big difference. Good luck on your quest for better health. You inspire us all. Melissa

Melissa Freeman said...

Jenae-
Thank you so much for sharing. What an inspiration to others. I have loved following 100daysofRealFood.com for great recipes and tips on cutting out processed foods. What a blessing the Word of Wisdom is to us in a time of trending diets and processed foods!

Jenae Nelson said...

Melissa (anonymous) thank you for your kind words. Aspartame is horrible, but I think so many of us are in denial. It has only been a week since I've started to get off of it and I can't tell you the difference in such a short time. I am so thankful for the final push and motivation to kick that bad habit for good.

Jenae Nelson said...

Melissa (Freeman) I will have to look that up! Thank you! There really are so many resources out there once you start looking, but it's great to know which ones are reputable. I agree the word of wisdom is such a blessing and protection. In addition, personal revelation and interpretation is important because our bodies are so different and some people need to live a higher law too. We shouldn't be commanded in all things...yet I think it would be easier for some if the prophet just came right out and said "no more caffeine." But I think the because the Lord hasn't done that the burden and blessing is placed upon us to receive and act upon revelation for our own bodies.

Kristianne R said...

Jenae-You have always been an inspiration and friend to me!Thank you for sharing your journey!I needed to hear this for my current trial I am going through.I feel more worn down and defeated most days.On those precious good days I tend to overdue it and the next day have no energy at all.I will keep trying and hope I can truly see God's hand in my life.Thanks again!

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