With Thanksgiving coming up I wanted to share a story about one of my biggest health struggles to date. I never thought I’d be free of it at the time, and I’m still surprised at how much that experience continues to teach me. Here goes!
In 2013 I was working as a cook at an Austin restaurant and just starting to dip a toe into personal cheffing when I developed BPS (bladder pain syndrome, a.k.a. Interstitial Cystitis). I’d had recurrent bladder infections for years, but now the symptoms I’d become familiar with were constant and didn’t seem to be accompanied by any bacteria.
On a hunch I looked into BPS. I learned that it's a diagnosis of exclusion, which means it’s the kind of diagnosis you get after a battery of invasive, painful tests are inconclusive. I’m actually lucky I didn’t have health insurance at the time because it led me in a different direction. I became determined to get to the root cause of my condition without urologists or doctors.
I began by experimenting with diet and lifestyle changes. I cut out the most common foods that irritate the bladder- caffeine, chocolate, spicy foods, sugar, etc, and quit smoking (biggest contributor to bladder cancer). More stress instigated more pain and vice-versa in some sort of evil feedback loop that finally convinced me the mind-body connection is real! So I began paying attention to my relationship with stress and the habits I had that seemed designed to aggravate it rather than relieve it. I decided I didn’t need to do it alone and began to seek out help.
I started seeing a chiropractor and an acupuncturist, both of whom were extremely helpful and unexpected sources of pain relief. In the process I was introduced to Standard Process supplements, and the added nutrition gave me more wiggle room in my diet and accelerated the healing process for that part of my body. I met an amazing local practitioner of Mayan abdominal massage.
Remembering my school years as a runner, I started exercising a couple days a week, which relieved stress like nothing else. I went to bed early every night for a year, and started saying no to things I previously would have agreed to on default out of a sense of obligation. I started seeing a therapist at a nearby sliding scale clinic. It sounds like a lot now, but it all happened in a gradual and winding way on a shoestring budget over the course of about 16 months. Each step I took brought the next step within view.
There were definitely times I felt like I’d never get better, but after a year I was having much less pain, and was able to re-introduce some of the foods I had been avoiding, cutting them out only when I was having a flare up. Today I no longer have debilitating bladder pain. I’m 99.99% symptom-free, and my prevailing feeling is gratitude for everything my bladder has taught me. It’s led me to approach health as an on-going, lifelong practice full of continuous learning, rather than a quick sprint towards a static state of perfection.
Naomi Perryman is a Personal Chef and Health Coach in Austin, TX.