I'm not going to lie, I was a bit hesitant in posting this.
Over the past year or so I have been jotting down little notes on my phone so that one day I could share my story, in hopes that it helps others to live a healthy, positive lifestyle and to give insight on how I picked myself up from hitting rock bottom. Before I start, I just want to point out that this post gets a little long and personal (I feel like I could have written a book) but at the end of the day, we are all human and we are all going through our own battles, I'm just sharing this in hopes that it helps others. I know a lot of the people reading my blog are car enthusiasts, but lets put the cars aside and focus on something important, and that is our health...
Rewind the clock to my teenage years and I was what you would call a party girl. I used to drink, smoke and do drugs - but hated every second of it. Most weekends I would go out and get shit faced but deep down I knew that was not how I wanted to spend my weekends. I would have preferred to be spending that time at home learning a new skill or working on a project, instead of wasting my time and money, but I guess I was vulnerable and got caught up with what everybody else was doing. It's normal and all a part of growing up. Until one day I thought, you know what? Screw what everyone else is doing! And so, on my 20th birthday I went completely cold turkey and started the journey to improving my life.
Quitting the whole party scene was the easy part. But some journeys are never easy and you can't predict what will come your way.
It was the 4th of September, 2013 AKA the worst day of my life... I went out to a 'health' food store on my lunch break with a work colleague.
I remember it all so well as it was one of the first times that I had ever eaten out at a cafe for lunch (usually I would bring my own food to work).
I ordered a chicken rice paper roll which again, was a first as I'd never had one before. I began to eat it and noticed how cold it was and it just didn't seem fresh. But I thought nothing of it and continued to eat it until it was finished, as I'm the type of person that has to finish everything, especially if I just bought it. I then went back to work and carried on with my day.
The next morning, I woke up, got ready and drove to work. I walked into the office and soon realised that I didn't feel too good. In fact, I felt and looked like death. I was white as a ghost (and I'm already pretty pasty lol) and then it hit me. I was running to the toilet every 2 minutes. Let's just say it wasn't pretty and I felt absolutely wrecked. Work sent me home straight away and I literally spent the next two weeks running to and from the bathroom, non-stop. I remember feeling so incredibly weak and losing a huge amount of weight (and I was already skinny). I was frail and felt like I was dying. I wasn't even well enough to get to the doctors to see what was causing all of this.
When I was finally somewhat able to make it to the doctors, they performed multiple tests which later confirmed that I had been hit with a bad case of salmonella food poisoning. All because I ate a chicken rice paper roll... from a 'health' food store. Go figure.
As you could imagine, I was pretty angry. Not only at this so called 'health' food store but more so at myself. Why did I eat that stupid rice paper roll? I started going into a negative head space and started to beat myself up for it.
Behind close doors, I was also facing a lot of anxiety/stress/insecurity related issues. I was falling in the trap of comparing myself to others, hating the person I was, hating the way I looked, hating the way I felt, becoming severely depressed and beating myself up for pretty much everything. The last thing I needed was an issue with my stomach. I started going into a really, really dark place. I was always in a shit mood, treating people in a bad way, feeling negative and just not happy.
I felt like I had hit rock bottom.
I also began to notice that I was having a lot of ongoing issues with my stomach and the way my body reacted to food since I got salmonella. One thing lead to another and I was also having other issues, like dysmenorrhea which resulted in various hospital visits and has now lead to amenorrhea, but that's opening a whole new can of worms. For a while I ignored it and thought oh well I probably deserve it, but no one deserves to feel this way and it wasn't until several months later that I realised that you know what, this isn't normal! I was having all sorts of issues with food, loss of appetite and constant bloating and discomfort. Not only that but it was effecting my mood and outlook in a major way.
I desperately wanted to get better and find out some answers as to why I was feeling this way, so I began to see numerous doctors but they had no clue as to what was wrong. I gave up for a while because I couldn't stand the thought of going back and forth from the doctors and feel like I wasn't getting anywhere. I began to lose hope. But it wasn't until I went and saw a gastroenterologist that I finally got SOME answers. They put me on various elimination diets, which again resulted in me becoming underweight (something I never wanted because it has now caused amenorrhea) and they then performed an endoscopy and colonoscopy which later confirmed that I had post-infectious IBS - all caused from the day I got salmonella food poisoning.
At the time I was incredibly upset and thought my life was over, but I didn't want to feel this way and I realised that I could try and change that. Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom in order to self-reflect, rebuild yourself and fight back stronger. Hitting rock bottom is a wake-up call that something in your life is not good for you. It’s a sign that you need to stop, breathe and make some serious changes. So I switched up my outlook, ignored the negative voices in my head and tried to remain optimistic and determined that I could concur my health issues and turn my life around.
They say that the stomach is the second brain and that you are what you eat so I began to eat a lot healthier and started following the low FODMAP diet, which I still follow to this day. FODMAP is an acronym referring to: Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. Whatever that means lol ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It's basically a diet that tells you to eliminate certain foods to see which ones cause issues and pretty much tells you to avoid a HUGE list of foods. (BTW for those who are on this tummy friendly diet or have similar issues, let me know as I'd love to connect!)
This instantly put me back in a negative mindset because I for one, LOVE food. I love going to cool new cafes and restaurants, screenshotting yummy food places on Instagram, cooking and eating all sorts of creative dishes, but now as my stomach is super, super sensitive, I have to be extremely careful with what I eat, where I eat and when I eat.
I went through a stage (it was more like an entire two years) where I had about one 'good' food day throughout each month. I forgot what it felt to feel normal like everyone else. My stomach would just be so incredibly uncomfortable and constantly bloated and it was causing me to have such a negative mindset. I would eat something one day and have no issues, then I would eat that exact same thing a few days later and it would be a disaster. I couldn't work it out. I would go weeks, even months where I wouldn't even be hungry! But I would force myself to eat because I knew I had to and I simply loved food even though food didn't love me back *insert crying heartbreak emoji*.
It took me sooooo long to try and figure out what foods were okay and what foods were big no no's and let me tell you, to go months without being hungry was probably the worst feeling ever.
One thing that frustrated me (and still does sometimes) is when my friends want to go out for lunch or dinner and I have to make excuses as to why I can't come. "Sorry, I'm not feeling well today" or "Sorry, I can't eat anything on the menu" or "Sorry, I need to feed my pet axolotl" (I don't have a pet axolotl, but we did in high school - its name was Gary). The thought of being surrounded by people who have no stomach issues and take eating for granted and don't understand what it's like to eat something and then instantly feel like crap, killed me. I would always fear that people would assume that I wasn't eating because I was scared of the calories, when in fact I was scared of how my body would react.
As you could imagine, this kept putting me in such a negative state and I somewhat isolated myself (lucky I like being alone) but I soon discovered that maybe if I changed my mindset and have a little hope, things would get easier...
I started actively walking and doing yoga/meditation each and every day. Growing up I was always healthy and active. I played a lot of sport; from nippers at an early age, playing netball, state soccer and rep waterpolo + swimming, running and athletics, but this all stopped in my teens when I started partying. So I tried to ensure that I got into the habit of getting outdoors for at least 30 minutes each day and this helped immensely with not only my stomach issues and improving my fitness, but it helped with my mind and soul.
Getting outdoors and walking really helped me overcome some of my own insecurities (perhaps I'll elaborate more on this in a future blog post) and really put me in a positive head space. It also helped to relieve stress and connected me to nature and my intuition so that I could spend less time wondering and worrying about what other people were doing and what foods I could and couldn't eat.
Along with that I was (and still am) taking Chinese medicine and probiotics to help ease my stomach issues and lack of appetite. I'm the type of person that dislikes Western medicine and would prefer to do things the natural way. I now also get regular acupuncture treatments from my work colleagues Dad, Graham from Healing Essences which has helped heal my body and mind immensely.
I also started to surround myself with positive people, practiced the art of mindfulness and learned how to have an attitude of gratitude.
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness. It means waking up out of autopilot and ‘taking the steering wheel’ of your attention again. Practicing mindfulness allows you to maintain a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment.
Mindfulness also involves non-judgment, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings with the attitude of an impartial witness — without believing them or taking them personally. This has allowed me to now live without judgement, allowed me to accept my stomach issues and allowed me to pick myself up from hitting rock bottom.
Being mindful has helped to ground myself with healthy habits and to take me away from the negative mindset that I so longed to get rid of. It has heightened my awareness of what I do in the moment and to realise that my negative attitude has an effect on those around me and has an effect on how I feel inside. It has also been the catalyst for self-reflection and allowed me to facilitate greater change for the better.
During this entire process I have had several people questioning why I didn't sue the 'health' food store for causing so many on-going health issues. Sure, I could have sued them (I did make a formal complaint to the council but who knows if they even went out to perform a safety check and test their foods) but through the art of being mindful, I have now learnt to just let it go. After all if I were to sue them, it would be such a long, costly process and it would have added a whole heap of stress which causes my stomach issues to worsen. So I just let it go, and continued my journey to improving my health and well-being...
Mindfulness can literally transform your entire world from the inside out and it is something I encourage every person to practice. The best part is, being mindful is completely free.
By no means will you see changes in an instant, but the fact that you have a willingness to improve your life is so important and with patience and determination you will start to see results and be on the road to a positive future. You may encounter challenges along the way, but you just need to hang in there and believe in yourself.
Surprisingly enough, the most challenging thing for me has been learning to listen to MY body and not getting caught up with what everybody else was doing. I had to really learn and engrave in my head that every single body is different. It's so important to remember that what may work for one person, will work completely different for the next, so you need to find out what works for YOU.
There were times where I had researched and read so many things online and I would make the mistake of comparing myself to others, which wasn't fair. "If she can eat that then surely I can too, right!?" Wrong. "That website said that I should be eating this and have no issues" Wrong again. It all became too confusing and started to stress me out which was making my stomach issues worse. I was soo worried about wondering what was right and wrong and what others were doing, when I should have from the outset figured out what worked for ME.
All these negative thoughts and ups and downs were making me not pay attention to what MY body was trying to tell me. I had to learn to trust what my gut (even though it hated me) was telling me and ignore what others were doing. I really just had to put myself first and focus on continually improving my health and staying positive.
It has been a long, painful and lonely journey but I'm no longer angry or hold resentment for eating that chicken rice paper roll, I just look at it as if it were a lesson which has made me become the strong girl that I am today. If it wasn't for hitting rock bottom and gaining this new mentality, having hope, practicing gratitude, doing yoga and listening to my body, I wouldn't be where I'm at today and I'm happy with how far I have come. Every little step has counted and helped me see change in my health and in my attitude.
It just goes to show that if you stay positive, and stay driven you can improve and change your life.
They say that it’s always darkest before the dawn and this is a proverb I live for. It’s a constant reminder that no matter what situation is at hand, there’s always brightness ahead. No matter what you’re going through, it’s not going to last forever, and it’s not going to define who you are, or the life that you are living. Overcoming hardships is just a part of life and sometimes you just have to let go. Let go of whatever is weighing you down, and move on with your life.
Although I am not 100% better, and my stomach will never be the same, I do have hope and the strength to carry on and I am able to see the positives out of every negative.
Now instead of having one 'good' food day in an entire month, I have probably one to two 'good' food days in an entire week, and that is such an improvement! I know that if I keep up these positive habits, that I will start to have more of those 'good' food days. I just need to be patient and listen to my body.
I think after you hit your lowest point in life, you become enormously grateful for all that you have from that time forward. You start to believe that it can only get better from here, and you soon learn that with time it does get better. Simple things like, a smile from a stranger, fresh food in the fridge, warm clothes on your body, a comfy bed, all become things to treasure and the gems mined in your darkest moments are what give you strength and courage that can’t be learned elsewhere.
One thing that I always try to remember is that from every down fall is an opportunity to learn and grow.
Bad things do happen and everyone has their own battles; how we respond (not react) to them is what defines our character and the quality of our life. We can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilised by the gravity of our loss and pain, or we can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift we have - life. Through my unexpected challenges in my life I've learned exactly that, to choose to create my life in a positive way, to be mindful, to wake up feeling grateful despite my stomach issues, and to choose my response rather than react to life. It's not easy, but has turned all the negative experiences into some of things that have made me who I am today; things that I am forever grateful for.