Most people who follow an unconventional path in life and who have an unwavering commitment to a mission or message have at some point hit rock bottom.
There is a place in rock bottom where you either give up or you muster all your strength to resolve something deep in your heart, deep in your bones and into every cell in your body. I picture Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Windgripping that dirty carrot and declaring. “as god is my witness I will never go hungry again” (hahaha).This is the moment when you decide that you will never, ever at any cost feel this awful again and that you will also do anything in your power to spare anyone you can from going through the same. I am one of those people.
I think of my life in two phases – before my body fell apart and after. For my first 23 years I was a fairly normal human. There were a few signs that I may find myself off the beaten path but for the most part I followed the ‘rules’, taking all the typical life steps that were expected of me. But in August of 2005 my whole world turned upside down when my body seemed to implode from the inside out. I had just moved to Chicago from New York three months earlier. I had an unpaid position at a production company and two restaurant jobs to pay the bills. One weekend I went to a wedding in Michigan. It was a pretty typical night of drinking and partying, I’d had hundreds like it, but the next day on the way back to Chicago I started to feel miserable. We pulled over at a gas station where the contents of my stomach violently emptied and I spent the rest of the drive reclined in the passenger seat trying not to vomit in my friend’s car. I figured it was just an awful hangover and that I would be fine after a day but in the weeks that followed I continued to suffer from horrible nausea and diarrhea, lightheadedness, dizziness, chills and fatigue. There would be days at a time I’d be unable to keep food in my stomach and resorted to drinking Pedialyte just to make sure I was getting some nutrients. There were times I would wake up in the middle of the night so freezing cold I would have to turn on my hair dryer and blow it on my skin to get warm. There were many nights I felt so sick that I would lie in bed feeling a mix of exhaustion, emptiness and such a lack of vitality that I would pray that I’d wake up in the morning because I was convinced I may die in my sleep. Part of me didn’t even care because in those moments my will to fight or live was overwhelmed by pain. I walked around most of the time in a daze, feeling like a zombie.
I didn’t have health insurance or enough money to seek medical help. Though I told my parents I wasn’t feeling great, I feared that if I shared the full extent of how bad things had gotten they’d get mad at me for not having insurance and would force me to move back home. I was scared about what that meant- was I a failure? Was I totally irresponsible? No way, I was the girl who always had it all together, who was fiercely independent and took care of myself. I made my own choices and I didn’t need anyone to help me.
I fought my way through the days, showing up for work and trying to hide how I felt as much as possible. Despite my grandest efforts to bully my body into snapping out of it, the hurricanes just kept on coming, taking my life and churning it into oblivion before it left me spent and exhausted on the floor. I prayed for answers and swore to god that if he helped me get better I would always treat my body well. After months of suffering I finally knew I needed to get some answers. My little way of ‘asking for help’ was to visit a public health clinic near my apartment. I explained to the doctor what I was going through and though he didn’t have much insight for me he figured blood work could shed some light. Here goes I thought, I probably have stomach cancer or some sort of scary disease. The doctor called me back in and I followed him to an office ready to accept my fate. He opened the file and looked up at me, “Well your blood work came back completely normal, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s probably just a virus or a stomach bug.” A six monthstomach bug? Yeah, I’m no medical professional but I’m pretty sure that’s not what’s going on here. I looked at him, incredulously, “Nothing?! Nothing showed up? So, what should I do?” I don’t really remember how he answered; all I remember is looking into his eyes and seeing a lack of concern. He had decided there was nothing seriously wrong with me and there was nothing more he could do in that moment.
Of course I felt some relief but I was also completely frustrated. I decided I was going to have to take matters into my own hands and I marched my butt over to my local Whole Foods to browse the bookshelf for resources. A hot pink book jacket jumped out at me with the menacing title, “Alkalize or Die”. Well that certainly cuts right to the chase. Appreciating the directness of the title, I purchased this hot pink guide book and took it home to start reading. That was the beginning of my journey with holistic nutrition.
I read about what happens when the body becomes too acidic, as I assumed mine had and strategies for alkalizing. (This is a highly simplified and bit misguided understanding of the acid/alkaline balance but it’s what I knew at the time so just go with me here). I decided to eliminate all meat and also coffee, soda, candy and all processed foods. I switched to an almost all organic diet, started drinking apple cider vinegar to increase my digestive function and added chlorophyll to my water for a big alkaline boost throughout the day. My roommate would laugh at the green rings in my water glasses and say, ‘Jamie’s drinking fish food again.’ But I didn’t care because I was finally feeling better and these natural solutions were a big improvement over the Pepto-Bismal and Tums strategies I had resorted to in my time of desperation. Slowly I started to feel better and better and finally found relief from this nightmare. I was so inspired by what had happened with my health that I decided to make wellness the focus of my life and career and that’s exactly what I’ve done for the last twelve years.
This is just my story but there are thousands of others like it. Many I have witnessed first hand and many I’ve learned of through books, movies and other holistic health advocates, integrative doctors and healers. I know with complete certainty that there is a cause and effect between how we treat our bodies and how we will feel. I’ve never believed anything more strongly in my life.
In my heart I’m an activist and when I see problems in the world, I feel compelled to shine a light on how I think we can fix them. Our country (and world) is facing incredible health and environmental crises. The numbers of people with preventable illnesses who are prescribed prescription medications is staggering. The rates of obesity, cancer and diabetes are nothing short of a public health crisis. I am constantly stunned to hear the stories of people who suffer from infertility, chronic migraines, anxiety, depression, allergies, and countless other ailments that we have come to accept as normal and who pop prescription and over-the-counter drugs with little regard for the harmful side effects.
Being immersed in the holistic health world all these years has given me a ton of perspective on how we have created our current state of dis-ease. I’ve come to realize that doctors are trained in a very specific paradigm of medicine that does not deal with the root cause of illness. I know that both our food and pharmaceutical industries are big businesses driven by profit and greed with little concern for our health. I know that our air and water is polluted and that our constant exposure to harmful chemicals is beyond what our bodies can handle. Collectively these things have created a perfect storm to make us the least healthy advanced society imaginable. I was a victim to this perfect storm and I refuse to sit back quietly while it continues to grow into a larger problem.
To me, there is nothing more important we can dedicate our time, energy and resources to than this mission. My health is my #1 priority because I refuse to participate in this BROKEN system that is systematically destroying our health, our environment and compromising the very structure of our society. For me, this means eating whole, organic foods, staying off of all conventional medications (save for the RARE emergency situation) and using only natural beauty products even if I have to cut corners in other areas of my life in order to afford these things. My health comes before vacations, clothes, entertainment and every other non-essential expenditure. To be honest, I’d rather be homeless than unhealthy again.
You can call health & wellness elitist, you can question its validity but what I know for sure is that this path has changed (and probably saved) my life and that we cannot continue down the road we’re on for much longer. The way we are living is not only unsustainable it’s also completely unfair to the generations to come who are being dealt a weaker genetic hand and a more toxic world to grow up in. There are many of us have the power to start making a difference right now – it all comes down to simple everyday choices. It comes down to choosing we are worth this fight, to reclaiming our power over our own health and literally rebelling against a system that has trained us to blindly trust it. I know this is not easy – to be truly healthy in today’s world takes an act of courage, it takes resolve and grit and determination. It takes experience, education and the difficult task of going against the grain and valuing ourselves more than the comfort of ‘fitting in.’ Personally, I can thing of no greater commitment – without our health and vitality, how much can we really be fully present and able to enjoy the rest of our lives? I know I can’t. By shifting our values and perspective around the role that our health plays in the larger picture of our lives we not only improve ourselves but spread a lasting positive impact on our collective well-being as a planet.