Still Here

Still Here

I’m still here, I just took a hiatus from blogging for a while.  Shortly after we moved from the North Shore to Kailua, I began experiencing physical and mental issues that were baffling and debilitating. I didn’t have the motivation or the mental clarity to blog about it and I was overwhelmed with where to even start. I spent all my free time researching and trying everything I could to fix myself.  I felt so incredibly broken and hopeless. In December I got some answers that helped steer me in the right direction and in January, after we moved from the island, I got even more answers.  Now we’ve been away from Hawaii for a couple of weeks and I’m finally feeling my normal self beginning to shine through once again. I’m not healed yet but I’m on my way.
 
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To be honest, the entire past three years have been rough. We were living in Hawaii so life should have been great but it wasn’t all rainbows and beach time like you might imagine. Our time there was nothing like we thought it would be. There were plenty of good things but just as many bad. It was a love/hate relationship. Sure, Hawaii is absolutely gorgeous but I didn’t love living there. You have no idea how guilty I feel about not loving it when everything and everyone told me that I should. Living in Hawaii is vastly different than vacationing there.  I’ve found that if I said anything negative about it, people responded with “but at least you are in Hawaii!” So I tried to keep the complaining to a minimum and kept the blog posts focused on CC and the positive things.

Housing and health were our biggest struggles. I was newly pregnant when we arrived in Hawaii. We stayed in temporary lodging for two months before we finally got a house. Johnnie was gone a lot during that first year and almost missed CC’s birth which happened 3 weeks early because I was induced with sudden severe hypertension.  I battled my blood pressure for over a year after that and I still have to check it regularly.  Johnnie deployed for 6 months when CC was 6 weeks old. That was just about the time I started developing severe postpartum anxiety that lasted for about 10 months. The severe anxiety, along with the deployment, being so far from family and friends, and everything that comes along with birth, a c-section, recovery, and caring for a new baby… honestly, I was so miserable that entire first year and things that I thought and felt were so terrifying that it still upsets me to think about it.  I never want to can’t go through it again.

When CC was about 7 months old, she developed a small spot of eczema on her face that became severe and uncontrollable, covering her face, arms, hands, and legs. It was heartbreaking and it baffled all of her doctors and specialists. Dulce was also having issues with recurrent yeast infections on her nails and also with cracked and bleeding paws that wouldn’t heal. It was a very difficult time and I spent every free moment on the internet searching for answers that I never found. I was inundated with so much “helpful advice” every single time we left the house that I purposefully kept it off the blog and Facebook (I’m an expert in Photoshop) because I didn’t need more advice coming at us from that angle as well. Our house was build on the old Hickam flight line which was highly contaminated with petroleum and who knows what else. We weren’t made aware of this until after we moved in. We were warned not to even touch exposed soil. Dulce didn’t even like going into the yard. We assumed that the contamination had something to do with CC and Dulce’s issues but there is no way to know for sure.

Last January, we decided to move off base so we could experience “real” Hawaii living for our final year here and see if it might help both CC and Dulce’s persistent and puzzling health problems.  We left our big new house that had central air and a garage and moved into a tiny beachfront vacation rental on the North Shore.

The house itself was great, although it had some issues due to poor upkeep, and we loved the location. It was a short drive to work for Johnnie, I walked on the beach every single morning, and we spent most of our time outside on the large deck overlooking the ocean – I cherished our days there! As an added bonus, CC’s eczema started healing and was completely gone within a few months! Dulce’s paws also completely healed! The hassle of moving off base was worth it just for that. We can’t say for certain that the soil contamination at the other house had anything to do with their issues but it’s a pretty big coincidence that they both got better after we moved.

It was a furnished vacation rental so we put all our things into a storage unit and looked forward to living a simple life for a year.  As it turned out, it was an extremely poorly run vacation rental.  All of the bedding, towels, and kitchen items were unusable so we had to get some of our things out of storage to use. Living beachfront meant constant wind and salty humid air.  It ruined everything that we had outside within a few weeks. Even things inside the house had a salty coating on them and began to rust. Worst of all, the owner was c-r-a-z-y and the property managers didn’t do much to help. We were paying a lot to live there and the owner was inconsiderate and uncooperative. She kept making things worse for us and after five months, we had enough and decided to break our lease and move (which we were legally allowed to do because the landlord was not holding up her end). Our large security deposit was held for no valid reason so we actually had to go to court to get it back, which we did successfully.

We moved from the North Shore to a house in Kailua. The house was larger, cheaper, only a few minutes walk to the beach, and walking and biking distance to everything in Kailua. The landlord was super sweet, lived right next door, and was fine with only a six month lease that we needed. The house looked great and most of our things fit but some things still needed to stay in the storage unit (which I’m now very thankful that it was all in a safe, clean, climate-controlled location).

Johnnie left for six weeks right after we moved in. Within days of him leaving, I came down with some sort of intestinal bug that lasted for five days. CC never got it so I assume it was something I ate.  A week after that, I had the worst PMS ever and then I suddenly started having full-blown panic attacks. I had three or four panic attacks every single day that lasted for about an hour each. I could barely function to take care of CC, Dulce, and myself. One morning I had to call our sweet landlord to come over and make CC breakfast because I couldn’t get off the floor. I couldn’t even drive two miles to the grocery store without having an attack. Every little thing about life felt completely overwhelming. With only a few friends on the island and all family an ocean away, I felt stuck and every day seemed impossible to get through.

You couldn’t possibly know or understand how terrifying a panic attack is unless you have ever experienced one for yourself.  It literally feels like you are going to die.  There are terrifying physical symptoms (including all the ones of a heart attack) as well as intense unrelenting feelings of fear, adrenaline, panic, and anxiety. Irrational and uncontrollable emotions and thoughts raced through my head. I felt like I was losing my mind and going crazy. Every thought, emotion, and feeling I had felt exaggerated and wrong and there was nothing I could to stop or change things.

The panic attacks came out of the blue and they were so frequent and so severe, that I thought something must be wrong with me. I refused to believe it was “just stress”. I had severe anxiety for a long time after CC was born but no panic attacks, so why now?

Besides the panic attacks, I was having a ton of other symptoms that included frequent shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and constant heart palpitations. A sweet friend drove me to a walk-in health clinic on base so I could get checked out, since I couldn’t drive there myself. I had basic blood work done but it was all normal. I had thyroid and iron checked but that was normal. I had B12 and folate checked and the B12 was actually high. They did an EKG but that was normal. I even wore a heart event monitor 24/7 for two whole weeks but that also came back normal.  So I got no answers from all of that but at least I know I have a healthy heart now!

The panic attacks lasted for one monthly cycle, then I had horrific PMS once again, and then just as suddenly as they started, the panic attacks stopped. What the hell?! That made me start thinking that everything could be related to a hormonal issue. Although the panic attacks stopped, the anxiety continued. I was filled with high anxiety every single day, all day long.  It was unbearable but at least I was functioning better and able to drive again.

Occasionally I would have a non-anxious day only to sink into a very low depression, feeling like every ounce of happiness was sucked out of my soul and would never come back. I was a mess. To top it off, I had a few scary reactions to foods I normally ate which made me assume that my dairy allergy had gotten worse.

Back story: When I was 30, I had a few scary reactions to uncooked dairy. Within 10-15 minutes of eating/drinking, I get a lump in the back of my throat and it becomes extremely painful and difficult to swallow even my own saliva. I can still breathe but I can’t swallow at all.  It was terrifying but since I was breathing okay and had no other symptoms, I never went to the hospital. From then on, I assumed that I had a dairy allergy but I was never officially tested for it. Over the years, I found that I could eat butter and most cheeses without a reaction and I was also okay with things containing dairy that were cooked. I haven’t had ice cream or yogurt for seven years now! After CC was born, I had some new reactions to goat cheese and other dairy-containing things I had been eating prior, so I cut back on dairy even more.

With new reactions happening, I started avoiding all foods that contained or may contain dairy.  My high anxiety made this worse, to the point where I became terrified to eat any food that I didn’t make myself.  It’s difficult to know if dairy is an ingredient in food prepared at restaurants. For example, did you know that the raspberry vinaigrette dressing at Quiznos contains dairy protein? Me neither, until I had a reaction from it. My diet quickly became the cleanest it’s ever been – nothing packaged or processed, no artificial or chemical ingredients or preservatives of any kind. I even started baking our own bread.

This change in my diet did not help my anxiety level. However, I did notice after cutting out all traces of dairy that my lifelong digestive issues went away. That made me think about my younger years and made me realize that regardless of whether or not I’m allergic to dairy, I am obviously lactose intolerant. I wish I would’ve realized it sooner!

I finally got an appointment to see my primary doctor with the long list of symptoms I was experiencing: panic attacks, anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, extreme fatigue, difficulty sleeping, feelings of complete overwhelm, uncontrollable fears and thoughts, no libido, short menstrual cycles, heavy and painful periods, severe PMS, bloating, gas, indigestion, increased food sensitivities, hair loss, itchy skin, swollen joints, congested sinuses, headaches, itchy painful eyes, sensitivity to light, random body and muscle pains, heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, and so forth. These were all new or exaggerated symptoms since we moved into the Kailua house.

My primary doctor listened to me explain my symptoms and to the concerns I had about a hormonal imbalance due to the cycle of panic attacks. He refused to test my hormone levels because he thought the tests are unreliable. His professional opinion what that my symptoms were “just a normal part of my body changing as I get older”. WHAT?!?! I’m not a doctor but I know that a sudden onset of panic attacks and all the other symptoms are not a “normal” part of anything! He offered to write a prescription for antidepressants and birth control pills, both of which I refused. I wanted to find the cause of my symptoms, not just take some pills to cover them up.

He was no help at all and really made me feel like everything was just in my head and that I must be going crazy. He said to come back if I changed my mind on the prescriptions and suggested I see the clinical psychologist in the office. Thanks for nothing. I did actually go see the psychologist a few times but he was of little help as well, only offering the typical relaxation techniques and also suggesting antidepressants and birth control pills. I also went to the nutritionist who was also no help at all. With our insurance and our quickly approaching move, I couldn’t just go find another doctor so I really felt stuck and helpless.

One thing I did manage to get out of the whole ordeal with some persuasion, was a referral to an allergist so I could at least get officially tested and figure out my food issues.  I had to wait two months for that allergy appointment.

In the meantime, I tried hard to relax using all of the techniques that the popular self-help articles, books, and websites suggest: yoga, massage, acupuncture, meditation, deep breathing exercises, gratitude journaling, positive thinking, stress reduction, etc.  I also learned how to crochet and completed a complicated paint-by-number project to keep my hands and mind busy.  I listened to many self-help podcasts while I painted. In one podcast, I heard Dr Sarah Gottfried talk about her book, The Hormone Cure. Parts of her own personal story sounded so much like mine that I immediately bought the book and devoured it.  According to her questionnaires and checklists, I absolutely did have the hormonal imbalance that I suspected, and likely adrenal fatigue as well.  Her protocol suggests balancing everything in the most natural way possible – with diet and supplements if possible, then with herbs and other things if needed.  Following her suggestions that fit with my symptoms and it did make a difference – very minimal if any PMS now, my cycles are a normal length again, my hair loss stopped, and most importantly, I started sleeping through the night again.  I was feeling better physically and hormonally but I was still having the severe anxiety. (Waiting for that allergy appointment didn’t help with that.)

Allergy testing happened in December. Nothing about it was what I expected. I thought I’d just get tested for dairy and a few other things but they skin pricked me for 78 different things, mostly food items but some non-food things. The doctor was ancient – he seriously looked and moved like he was 100 years old, straight from a nursing home. Since I had to speak louder and slower than normal, I didn’t feel like I could have a good conversation about all of my concerns. He also simply eyeballed my prick reaction measurements instead of using any kind of ruler which made me question the accuracy of the test. I’m sure that he’s extremely knowledgable since he’s obviously been in practice forever but the whole experience left me uneasy with more questions than answers.

Allergy skin testing isn’t completely reliable. In fact, 50 to 60% of positives are usually false positives.  However, if something reads negative, then it is likely to actually be negative. My results? It showed that I’m mildly allergic to pretty much every single food that I eat on a regular basis. It also showed that I’m mildly allergic to cats, dogs, and glycerin. It showed that I’m moderately allergic to vanilla, buckwheat, dust mites, mold, cockroaches, and candida. Dairy only showed as a mild allergy which I expected to be much worse.

They gave me a small shot of epinephrine at the clinic, a prescription for an EpiPen (because of the symptom I get when eating dairy), and an order to get blood drawn for an allergy blood test.  My bumps and redness all went away by that evening and I wondered if the whole ordeal was even worth it. The next day, I had three spots flare up again with swelling and redness – candida, mold, and cockroaches. The candida spot continued to grow for another day before it started to go down. There was still a red spot remaining there two weeks later and then it peeled like a sunburn before disappearing… strange.  My allergist never answers the phone and they haven’t returned the messages I left so I never got answers about it. You can bet that I’m changing my health insurance when we move so that I can choose my own, more reliable doctors and allergists.

The re-flareup of the candida allergy prick spot made me think I had an issue with it. I didn’t know anything about candida and was surprised to read that I did have a few symptoms of candida overgrowth. It made sense, especially after the bad intestinal bug that I had a few months before. That research led me to information about leaky gut which I found I had many symptoms of.  I was eating a very clean and natural diet but it did contain a ton of fruit, gluten, and grains which was surely feeding the candida and making the leaky gut worse. I immediately started an anti-candida diet, avoiding all forms of sugar (including fruit), gluten, all grains, starchy vegetables, alcohol, and caffeine. I also avoided all the foods that I was potentially allergic to, as shown by the allergy test. (I have some super strong willpower because I’m desperate to fix myself.)  I then learned about the GAPS diet so I started adapting to that. I make bone broth and drink it with every meal. I also started taking a high-dose probiotic. I have since then been adding in advice and recommendations from the book Clean Gut by Dr. Alejandro Junger and from the website of Dr Josh Axe.

Shortly after changing my diet, my anxiety started going away! For the first time in six months, I regained my mental clarity and started to feel somewhat normal again. Despite feeling better mentally, I was feeling worse physically. I assumed some of the physical discomfort was due to candida “die-off”, which is side effects from the toxins candida releases when they die. The thing that concerned me most was that my blood pressure went up. It had been holding steady at 110/70 and it jumped to around 135/85 – still “normal” enough but I was uncomfortable with the sudden change being that I’ve had blood pressure issues in the past. I started adding in green juice, berries, nuts, and almond butter. This made me feel better physically and my blood pressure returned to normal.  The diet I’m currently following is not permanent, although some of the healthy changes will be. I will be adding foods back in slowly, watching carefully for signs of reaction or inflammation.

I just got the results back from my blood allergy test last week.  These results are much more clear and concise than the skin prick test, although they are not 100% reliable either.  Almost all the foods that the prick test said I’m allergic to, the blood test said I’m not – thank goodness!  The only foods that turned up as a positive IgE response were wheat, gluten, and egg white. Luckily those things rated as a “low” reaction. I suppose however, that when I was eating a ton of homemade bread every day and also eggs on a daily basis, that I was exacerbating the inflammatory response in my body.  Coincidentally, I ate a ton of wheat and gluten (to keep my milk supply up) and egg whites (CC ate the yolks) during CC’s first year which may have had an impact on issues I had at that time.

I was surprised to learn that all dairy proteins tested as negative because I know that I have a reaction to it. I have another theory regarding that reaction that I’ll get tested for when I can.

Two things showed up as a “very high” IgE reaction in the blood test: cockroaches and dust mites.  Testing for a mold reaction was not done in the blood test although I’m assuming it would be high as well based on the prick test and how it re-flared like the cockroach.

That brings me back to the Kailua house we were renting. It was older (built in 1961), had no air conditioning (other than two small window units in the bedrooms), and the wood slat windows didn’t close so they let in the wind, salty humidity, and bugs. It was miserably hot this past summer – I was literally dripping sweat 24/7 for months.  Parts of the house were falling apart, there was water damage and a musty smell in multiple locations, and the roof leaked in spots, so I would guarantee that the house had mold.  My allergist said Hawaii has the highest concentration of dust mites of any state so I know that was surely an issue as well.  Finally, the house was infested with cockroaches. They all came out when we turn off the lights at night and we had to clean up their poop and egg sacs every day. We had to keep all food in the fridge or in plastic containers and couldn’t use anything without first checking it for poop and chew holes. In other words, I was allergic to that house.  No wonder I was having so many new and crazy issues living there!

If you are wondering why we would rent a place like this to live in, remember that it looked great when we moved in, and it was in an amazing location.  It wasn’t a shack, it was a 1.6 million dollar house with rent and utility costs that would make you cry.  But hey, at least it was in Hawaii and we were by the beach, right?  Riiiight… I don’t want to put up with that even if it IS Hawaii. Most Hawaii houses have doors and windows open constantly because electricity is so expensive. Many houses do actually look like shacks (compared to houses on the mainland). The average person/family in Hawaii would not be able to afford the house we lived in. I think it’s safe to assume that cockroaches, geckos, heat, and humidity are things that most people are willing to deal with in order to live in “paradise”.

When you are constantly exposed to an allergy, your body stays in a constant state of inflammation and cannot function or heal itself like it should. CC’s eczema and Dulce’s paws couldn’t heal when we lived on base because they were continually exposed to something that was aggravating them. My mental and physical health deteriorated in the Kailua house because I was living among things that I’m highly allergic to. Living in Hawaii has been rough on all of us, health wise.  I am so relieved in so many ways to be done with that assignment and back on the mainland!

I believe that everything happens for a reason, though sometimes the reasons take a while to show themselves. Dealing with CC’s eczema was awful to go through but caused us to completely change our views on food, ingredients, household cleaners, chemicals, etc.  Dealing with my own allergy issues was almost unbearable but changed my views on food and allergies even further, and has sparked a passionate interest in allergies, gut health, and healing through diet.  Dealing with bad rentals and living conditions has changed our views on what is truly important to us and what we want for our family. Our lives and habits are completely different now than they were three years ago and we are much better off for it.
 *******
“All disease begins in the gut.”
~Hippocrates

 

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6 Comments
  • Alta Peng says:

    I'm glad that you're picking yourself up and fighting that sickness. It really doesn't help for a house to be full of molds and cockroaches, either way, so I'm guessing some kind of fumigation is in the offing? Well, that is definitely one of those cases where pest control has got to be really environmentally and health-wise sound. Anyway, I hope that you are faring better. Take care!

    Alta Peng @ Liberty Pest

  • Angela part of what you described sounds like something I have experienced – premature ventricular contractions (PVC). Mine seem to be triggered by excessive caffeine.

  • I've been wondering why your blog went silent. . . I missed you! The creative energy and positive outlook expressed in your blog always impressed and inspired me so much that it is doubly shocking to read about what you have been living through. Thank you for sharing your history. I hope you continue to feel better and that your life is soon restored to perfect health and happiness.

  • Chrissie says:

    Hello! I stumbled across your blog by chance and I feel your pain. I am a military spouse as well and I understand how hard it is to be so far from family and not enjoying the place you are stationed. We are stationed in San Diego, and I do my best to put a smile on my face and be thankful for the time I have here (hopefully not too much longer), but it's hard. It's not what I'm used to and our families are on the east coast. It's hard because people tell me "well at least you are in San Diego where it's 70 all year long" (which technically is not true lol). I had my daughter here and had a c-section as well, luckily we have had a lot of family visit out here, but it's not the same. Family is so important to my husband and I so hopefully we can end up on the east coast again (even though he does like the weather out here haha).

    I'm so so sorry for everything you've been through. I say it's OK to not necessarily like the place to live at the time, you make due, but everyone's idea of paradise is different. I'm glad things are better for you now though, and that at least we can use the experiences we had in our lives so far to determine what we want in our futures 🙂

  • Anonymous says:

    Angela, I'm so sorry that you and your family had to go through so many challenges while living in Hawaii. Through your persistence you seem to be on the road to recovering your health. I'm sending you positive thoughts for a full recovery and fun times in your new assignment.
    Lisa

  • Oh my gosh Angela!!! You guys have been through so much. What an amazing and brutally honest post. Please keep us updated. Wishing you guys all the best for exciting, and I'm sure, happier times ahead in Georgia xxx

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