Over 133 million people in America have at least one chronic illness. And that’s not counting the many people, especially young people, who suffer from undiagnosed conditions. Feeling sick or taking heavy-duty medication has become the new normal.
That was my situation. Starting in my mid-teens I started having debilitating back pain. My body, once very active, felt like it was failing me. There was no diagnosis and no one could tell me the root cause of the pain, so I was prescribed painkillers and muscle relaxers to ease my suffering. I endured two “perfect storms” of illness that progressed into my twenties. It earned me the label “the sick chick”… and the pain, shame, fear, isolation, and frustration that came with it. While on vacation seven years ago, I got a parasite infection (along with having undiagnosed celiac disease and a thyroid condition) and had a total system shut down. I gained 30 pounds in 30 days, couldn't go to the bathroom or keep any solid food down, came home, and wound up in the hospital and in my childhood bed for over a month.
Up until this point I had always allowed others to make all of my health decisions for me, and looked to others for all of the answers, but now I knew I had to get in the driver’s seat and get myself well or I would never live the kind of life I wanted.
I did a lot of research, started to really think outside the box, found a team of specialists who best supported me, and started a journey of healing. One of the most important things I realized was that while traditional medicine is so important, it’s only part of the equation. I have radically improved my health and it has completely changed my life. I became a health coach – a bridge between a doctor and patient – and wrote a book to give others who are dealing with chronic conditions the insight I learned and the amazing advice I received from some of the top doctors and specialists in the country.
Here are five important steps to start you on a path to wellness:
1. Be Your Own Best Advocate.
No one knows your body better than you do. You must become an educated health consumer. Find out as much as you can about your condition. Don’t be intimidated and don’t stop asking thoughtful questions.
2. Set Up Your “A” Team
Just because some doctors might be the “best,” they may not be the best for you. Start to ask yourself what you need in a partner who can help you get and stay well. Partnership is a key to healing, and you want to find someone who can handle the complexity of chronic health conditions and understands that medicine isn’t the only thing that will get you on the road to health.
3. Self-Care is Health Care.
Setting up personal self-care rituals are the bedrock of your well-being. They help to keep you centered, calm and in a healthy routine. A few examples of these rituals could be meditation, a hot bath at the end of a long day, and journaling in the morning to set your mind right.
4. Food is Medicine.
Food has the ability to change your body and the way you feel. When you fuel your system properly, it alters your health on a cellular level. Fill your grocery cart with organic dark leafy greens, fresh fruit, clean proteins, and healthy fats. Fresh is best.
5. Stay Engaged and Be Honest.
Illness of any kind throws relationships into unchartered territory. It is important to let others know how you feel, and stay connected to the people who love you. Creating community and surrounding yourself with people who feed your spirit is so important. Address the situation with your friends and family, talk about the new dynamic, and find ways to stay engaged by doing the things that don’t exhaust you or put your health in jeopardy.
Amy Kurtz is the author of “Kicking Sick: Your Go-To Guide for Thriving with Chronic Health Conditions.” She is a wellness expert, an AADP-certified Holistic Health Coach, speaker, and a regular contributor on popular wellness websites such as mindbodygreen and Yoganonymous. She lives in New York City. For more go to http://amykurtz.com/