Earlier this year, we received a final report stating that “re-occupancy is ill-advised.” The thing is, we never left our home. We had recently tested for mold spores, which we later learned stemmed from damage that occurred prior to installing a new roof in 2014, seven years earlier.
I believe that biotoxin illness is the final piece of the puzzle in my health journey. In early 2015, a severe valley fever infection ravaged my body. By late 2017, the infection had spread to the soft tissue of my legs. For the next two years, I struggled physically, cognitively, and socially. I blamed it on my aging 20-something body, and hissed at my boyfriend when he suggested there was something wrong. I was deeply in denial; I didn’t want to be sick. Eventually, something gave and I sought help.
In 2019, at age 30, and after four years of wading through quicksand and being told that it was probably psychosomatic, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), a condition I knew nothing about but is basically what it sounds like.
By mid-2020, after one year on a strict diet and supplement protocol, I was able to go on my first walk in years without a taut, burning sensation coursing through my body. In 2021, we investigated mold illness–which multiple doctors had previously dismissed as a possibility–and the testing showed my my partner and I were both genetically susceptible to mold, with labs suggestive of Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS). Bingo!
Earlier this year, we discovered and removed mold from three locations in our home, including a wall so water-damaged that the support beam no longer touched the ground. My partner and I have both been following the Shoemaker Protocol for several months now. Follow up labs, scans, and test show marked improvement. While there are still periodic symptom clusters, I have been feeling like a new person. Given that most cells of the body are replaced every 7 to 10 years and I only began targeting my body at the biochemical level 2.5 years ago, I hopeful for continued healing, physical strength, and mental focus.
If I’m being honest with myself, my boyfriend deserves much of the credit for my recovery. He saw my post-infection decline and insisted for years that I wasn’t at my best. He butted up against my denial until, one day, he broke through. He has spent hundreds of hours reading PubMed articles and watching medical lectures, investigating topics that my top-in-the-country doctors couldn’t bother to look into. Each clue and each small step forward was due to his caring about me. I’m realizing only now the importance of having an advocate.
When my body was at it’s lowest point (mid-2017 to mid-2020), I tried to re-frame my illness as a sign to slow down and take care of myself. Yet, I waffled between that and a pitiful plea: “why me?”. I sought out online forums, but promptly exited. While many offered helpful tips and support, there was a lot of resentment and envy towards those with healthy, able bodies. I needed a realistic plan and the belief that I could help my body, and I wasn’t going to find it there.
I feel free like the heaviest of shackles have been removed. I’m not 100% recovered, but I sense that I’m nearing the finish line and I could not be more pleased. It’s all I can think about lately. Mary Oliver famous line keeps coming to mind: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” For the first time in years, I feel like I have a choice–limitless options, with no fear of judgement.
I grew up in the desert and I feel now as I did my my childhood on the first rain of the season, rain soaking every inch of me as thunder booms in the distance and the pink dye seeps from my brand new sneakers into a newly-tinted puddle. And I am wearing the stupidest, shit-eating grin because experiencing something that feels rare and unexpected can do that.
Recovering from a chronic illness feel like standing in the pouring rain after a long drought. It was never inevitable, but rather a gift. There is a fork in the road, and for first time in a long time, I’m not limited in which path I can choose.