It has taken me at least a year to develop the courage, understanding, and hope to share my story about my autoimmune illness. Eight years ago, in the winter of 2010,  I fell ill. I assumed it was a random flu, given it was flu season. I was living in a basement apartment with my partner on a hillside neighborhood in Oakland, California. It was my first and last basement apartment. It was damp, and during the rainy season the concrete floor made the place chilly. I soon discovered it was prone to flooding. At first, I made the most of it; when the rains hit, I carved troughs and makeshift mini rivers along the hillside outside my door.

In the spirit of playfulness, I even made paper boats and sent them up and down the slope. Everything was deliciously wet, as spring prepared for growth. What I didn’t realize was that behind dark walls, black mold was growing out of control. My partner and I began developing random allergies. As soon as we found the black growth surfacing, we spoke to our landlord and he recommended simply painting over it. With good intention and initiative, we did. We thought that would be the end of it.autoimmune illness

Symptoms Take Over

I’d developed the very worst flu I have experienced to date. I was in bed for 2-3 weeks. I was hardly able to move except to cringe from what felt like sheer spinal nerve pain, muscle pain, and achy bones — my  skin even hurt to the touch. I remember this flu very vividly. After I recovered from it, I was never the same. It seemed as if I had lost my basic “life force recharging ability.” I couldn’t reboot.

At the time, I was registered as a patient at a progressive state-funded clinic in Berkeley, California.  I would go for general check-ups, gynecology, and general dental work. I had never been truly ill.

I was in my early 30s and traveling extensively from my home base in the San Francisco Bay Area. My lifestyle was frenzied and uncentered, with rare moments of focus. I was a Type A personality. I worked myself  to the bone. I was the full-time manager of a tattoo shop and had several freelance gigs on the side (photography, styling, production assisting). I was also curating and installing art exhibits in a small upstart art gallery. I was such a workaholic that I related to phrases like, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” and “burning your candle at both ends.” I felt proud of my exhausting, intensely-paced lifestyle. Perhaps, I felt invincible.

In reality, I was pushing my body to its limits and not engaging in the intuitive understanding that I needed to balance work with true restorative rest and conscious care. autoimmune illness

Typically, my downtime consisted of passing out with shoes on in my bed or falling asleep on the couch after eating a bowl of cereal for dinner. I was also a fluctuating cigarette smoker and drank commercial energy drinks like a thirsty fiend. This average “working freelance artist” lifestyle helped lay the groundwork for my future health issues, and more importantly, my  weakened immune system.

After that intensive flu, I expected to just to be able to bounce back to work. The doctors at my Berkeley Clinic had told me not to worry and that it was simply a rough flu season. However, I was left with serious joint, muscle, and nerve pain that never went away. I imagined that the fatigue I began feeling was due to overworking, smoking, and poor diet. So, I decided I needed to shift gears toward a healthier change. For starters, I successfully gave up smoking with the help of weekly acupuncture.

Autoimmune Illness Western Medicine Fail

For two years, I tried to tend to these symptoms with the help of my well-intending GP (general practitioner) at the Berkeley Clinic. Yet in Western Medicine, there is a certain standard in general treatment protocol. I call it  “the one size fits all” approach.  With this perception, it doesn’t matter that each one of us possesses unique circumstances, history, or possible somatic experiences that may manifest into illness — in my case an enigmatic autoimmune illness. Such standardized medicine fails when treating chronic, debilitating illnesses and/or  pain.

I realized how ridiculous this all was when one doctor suggested remedying my cervical pain by having several of my cervical vertebrae permanently fused together. I began my true healing journey when I decided, after yet another disagreement with my doctor, that I was not remotely interested in taking painkillers, muscle relaxers, steroids, or cortisone shots.

Digging Deep And Natural

I realized that my achy, fatigued body was trying  to communicate with me that something was out of balance. I made a vow then, intuitively, that I would seek to rebalance in a natural and holistic way.  I felt, at the root of my being and spirit, that my body could heal itself given proper “tools” and compatible, healthful medicine. I also sensed that I was going to need to dig deep within myself and become as honest and transparent as possible in this process.

I experimented with a variety of treatments (adult stem cell, magnetic therapy, and probiotic therapy) and saw various naturopathic doctors, faith healers, chiropractors, virologists, acupuncturists, bodyworkers, herbalists, a few more traditional doctors, and also visited rotating holistic healing centers. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Fibromyalgia, CEBV, Group B Strep colonization, and Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth. At times, the list seemed excessive and ever-growing. After encouraging my doctor to run  more extensive lab work, my bloodwork showed very high antibodies for Epstein Barr Virus and that most of my symptoms were chronic (CEBV). My naturopath strongly felt my exposure to black mold had weakened my immune system and triggered EBV and my  autoimmune conditions synergistically followed suit.

Over the past seven years, I explored varying modalities of healing such as: hyperbaric oxygen therapy, acupuncture, CBD oil, restorative yoga, and tui na medical massage. I also made sure I was eating nutrient-dense, organic, healing foods (organic, local, seasonal vegetables,fruit, low grains, high quality protein). All these factors were synergistic game changers.

Currently, I am being treated by a medical doctor and a naturopath I call “The Wizard. ” He specializes in homeopathic medicine, infectious diseases, autoimmune illness, and cancer.

He practices at San Rafael Medical in Tucson, Arizona, a clinic where alternative healing methods are grounded in science.  My current treatment plan involves weekly oxygen therapy, rebalancing digestive health (via enzyme supplements, probiotics, and eating fermented foods. I also do regular juicing to help encourage balancing an alkaline pH), taking a good quality antioxidant (currently on Glutamine), anti-inflammatory (omega 3,6,9), and drinking ozonated alkaline water. I have had a food sensitivity test done (blood test and muscle testing) and also a microbiome (stool) lab test done. I found these both to have been very helpful in supporting my  body’s deeper healing.

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autoimmune illness

Land Of The New Rising Sun

Wow! What a 180 flip from seven years ago!  I am currently studying to become a certified holistic nutritionist at the SouthWest Institute of Healing Arts. My curiosity and sense of exploration in creating nutrient-dense yet flavorful foods is a deep, playful passion. I am also intrigued in digestive health and the human microbiome, especially for those living with compromised immune systems. I am focusing my Holistic Nutritive studies on immunotherapy support.

I’ve learned from personal experience how nutrition, lifestyle, and supplementation can help heal imbalances. A year ago, I was recommended a chelated colloidal silver supplement called Silver Excelsior Serum, I had tried everything to help remedy a recurring UTI infection while traveling at the time. After 6 months of a roller coaster ride using conventional antibiotics (amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin, macrodantin and macrobid)  and even a few homeopathic medicines, I was still in the same painful boat. Until I found  this chelated (better absorption!) colloidal silver supplement. It cleared up my UTI in just three days. Aah! The relief, it was heaven! I haven’t been on antibiotics since and keep Silver Excelsior in my medicine cabinet for viral, bacterial infections. It helps to keep my immune system protected when needed and does not negatively affect my digestive health as antibiotics do.

These days, I still experience various nerve, arthritic, joint, and muscle pain — though far less intensive and disabling as before.  I am still focused and committed to creating intentional healing and continuing to rebalancing my body naturally.

My passion to heal beckoned me to proclaim that if there wasn’t a way, I needed to find one. I believe when one is confronted with one’s mortality, facing chronic pain or riding on the “merry-go-round” of autoimmune illness, the fight or flight mode kicks in and causes its own slew of health damages.  One can be overcome by total  physical exhaustion from what seems to feel like a never-ending battle. Nothing seems to make any medical sense.

More importantly than the key to healing, is our self-compassion while we trudge on our healing paths. To discover forgiveness, surrender, gratitude, and thankfulness toward our bodies and experiences, and to not give up hope. For me, my body was like a tuning fork telling me to slow down and study the simple details.

The cycle of suffering in chronic, and in my case autoimmune illness can run very deep and can even create an abyss. But from my own personal humbling experience, it also has the potential to be very liberating. I encourage you not to give up or give in to treatment protocols that are not truly restorative. I feel compassion for those seeking relief. You are not alone in your search for wanting sustainable healing either for yourself or a loved one. Every day is a potential moment to rediscover healing.

Dolores Restrepo Macias, aka street photographer VENADOE, travels and far and wide in search of moments to capture in fine art, black and white film photography. After being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Fibromyalgia, and CEBV, a new chapter opened up in her life. Dolores now resides in Tucson, Arizona and is currently studying Holistic Nutrition, exploring landscape photography and deepening her yoga practice.

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