My Journey to Holistic Healing
Before I became a Holistic Nutritionist
I was a Social Worker working at a Young Parent Resource Center as a Case Manager for pregnant and parenting young women. The amazing mothers that lived there came from varied backgrounds; some were refugees from war torn countries, others street kids from the city, some were honour roll students who found themselves kicked out of their homes after becoming pregnant. It was a job I truly loved, albeit a challenging and often heartbreaking one.
During my time as a Counselor I worked shift work, ate whenever I could and whatever was around, rarely cooked for myself and had a non existent exercise routine (who had the time?!). On top of a lack of healthy food and a, let's be honest, typical twenty-something lifestyle, I was under an immense amount of stress at work. Case loads were high and challenging along with working within a non profit that relied largely on fundraising initiatives and tight government funding, does not always produce a care free, fun loving work environment. I had always prided myself on being able to "not take my work home with me", a sentiment that is largely urged in the social services field and for good reason. IT GETS TO YOU. I truly don't think you can be human and not feel a connection, sorrow or empathy for someone who is going through a seriously life altering experience. It has a way of creeping under your skin and into your life. I started feeling responsible for the choices my clients were making, the good and bad. I had been working in social and community based services for almost 10 years at that point and I had to admit it, the work was getting to me. What was interesting though was that my body started telling me I was on the edge way before my conscious brain even clued in.
I STARTED GETTING SICK. A LOT
I first started noticing that my immune system seemed to be failing me. It felt like the minute I got over a cold or flu I would be sick the next day. My friends joked about how often I visited my doctor for ailments and illnesses I could never quite explain or get a satisfying answer to: "It's a virus you'll have to wait it out", "Take some ibuprofen if you feel sore or have a headache". Not having a clear understanding of exactly how to start feeling better led me to feeling progressively worse as I simply threw pain meds to deal at my symptoms without fully understanding what cause they could be attached to. I struggled with getting out of bed. I would get headaches daily, some days I would find myself nauseous and vomiting without apparent cause. I used up my years worth of paid sick leave within a month and then had to take unpaid sick days on top of it which I was told (basically warned) that I would have to make up.
I also began getting panic attacks, what a treat! I would be struck with that terrifying feeling that I was about to die, my heart would race, my chest would get tight and sore. I was convinced I was having a heart attack. They came on without rhyme or reason, in the middle of the day, on transit, during staff meetings at work. I became well acquainted with the ER staff at my local hospital. Basically I felt like I was on an anxiety driven run away train and I somehow knew that things were about to come crashing around me. Health-wise, I was hanging on by a thread.
Then one day I got a migraine
I had had migraines before every few months or so when the weather changed or I got my period but this one was different. It never seemed to get better, in fact it got progressively worse until 3 days turned into a month and I had little to no reprieve from the vice like pain in my head and neck. I'm not exaggerating when I say I couldn't work, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't enjoy ANYTHING. It's safe to say I was not very much fun to be around at this point, I was definitely at my lowest. I ended up having to leave work, taking a 3 month medical leave to focus on my health because I physically could not function. I was referred for a battery of testing; MRI's, ear/nose/throat specialists, blood work to determine if I was seriously ill. At that time I wanted a diagnosis, just something to explain why I felt so unbelievably sick. But there was nothing "medically wrong" with me. My tests and scans were clean, medically speaking I was perfectly healthy! I can't tell you how frustrated I was that no one could tell me what was wrong, I just wanted answers and HELP.
It wasn't until I spoke with my Neurologist that a light turned on and it shone on a doorway to the possibility of getting better. "You are too stressed and your body is responding through pain" she said. "Your migraines are telling you that things in your life need to change". I sat there quietly, the truth of her words resonating inside me, thinking about my life up to that point. I had been stressed at work, very stressed. I was unhappy in my position and tired of the constant feeling that despite so much hard work I could never seem to see a positive end result. Could my job be making me sick??
She recommended I take Vitamin B2 for my migraines and suggested I see a Naturopath, Massage Therapist and a Therapist. I have to say at the time I was surprised at these options and while not against them, I was in so much discomfort and pain I was looking for a quick fix to just be rid of it. I asked her about medications. She said I could take a low dose of anti-depressants daily as a preventative measure and could also take abortive pain killing medication when I actually had a migraine but she warned me that they were pricey options and felt that in my case, a more holistic approach would benefit. I decided to try the pills first but I didn't make it past one day. I hated the way the anti-depressants made me feel, like I was floating inside my body in a weird fog. The pain killers while effective in erasing the pain also caused me to completely pass out, waking hours later groggy and nauseous. I know that these medications are absolute life savers for other migraine sufferers but for me they were not compatible with my body and despite the promise and allure of erasing my migraine pain, I felt drawn to try alternatives. I decided it was time to call a Naturopath. I also started seeing a Physiotherapist for the intense neck, shoulder and back pain I had from months of tension.
i finally started feeling like myself again
I was put on a supplement regimen and was instructed to meditate, do yoga, take time for myself outdoors and RELAX. In physio, we worked out the massive knots in my body that had manifested as a result of my body tightening in pain from the migraines (and of course my tight muscles aggravated my migraines which tightened my muscles, it was a vicious cycle). My massage therapist commented that massaging my neck and shoulders felt (and sounded) like popping bubble wrap.
Those 3 months off work saw me spending time on healing my body. I started eating more veggies and fruits and reduced processed foods and sugar from my diet. Coupled with some serious stress reducing lifestyle changes (hello work free life!) and therapy I was starting to feel like me again. When my 3 month leave was up and I had a meeting to discuss returning to my position, I started feeling stressed. I had really thought about it and the idea of going back to work, while ensuring a yearly salary, benefits and a at times rewarding career, still gave me pause and a rolling feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn't want to go back. I didn't want to put myself through what I had just spent months repairing and in all honesty I didn't even think I could physically go back just yet. I wasn't THAT healthy. So I had the meeting and told them I wasn't returning. It was an amicable parting of ways and I left the office feeling lighter than I had in years, albeit slightly terrified that I had just let go of a guaranteed salary and job security.
we are never alone
Now, I have to say that I couldn't possibly have gone through all of that on my own, personally as well as financially. I was and still am blessed to have had my partner of 7 years there every step of the way. I'll be honest, it was definitely hard on us at times. Illness and lack of an income can strain any solid relationship despite the best intentions. But if I didn't have that support (and I am so grateful and thankful for it) not to sound melodramatic, I honestly don't know how my life would have turned out.
The Next steps
I spent a lot of time after leaving my career researching and reading anything health related. I was already convinced of the massive benefit of the alternative health world in how it changed my life. I had previously trained to be a Doula and Childbirth Educator as I really had loved working with mothers pre and postnatally so I started taking on birth and postpartum clients fully enjoying the freedom that working for myself brought me. I also started teaching childbirth education at Toronto Yoga Mamas which I still do to this day. I nanny-ed for an awesome family in my neighbourhood and was so honored when I got to be their Doula for the birth of their third child, a little boy whom still holds a special place in my heart.
I was fully enjoying this new stress-reduced lifestyle and my body was healing
My migraines which were at one point constant, were reduced to 1-2 a month (which may seem like a lot but after having one for months straight it felt amazing). During this time I was toying with the idea of going back to school. Originally, before I got sick, I wanted to complete my Masters Of Social Work but the idea no longer held as much appeal to me. This was when the field of Holistic Nutrition kept popping up in my life. I would be online just reading blogs and articles and I would stumble across posts about the healing benefits of food and other wellness trends. The whole "gluten free phase" was really just starting up around this time. I also would come across mentions of this school in Toronto, The Institute of Holistic Nutrition (IHN) so I researched it. Along with the fact that many well respected and well known Holistic Nutritionists went to school there, the course material and field in general held a great deal of appeal. I had become super interested in eating well and cooking and the ideas of integrative health.
I kept thinking about it and it kept returning to me in conversations with my partner, my friends, my mom. So I applied, and I have never looked back or regretted my journey getting here.
I learned so much at my time at IHN. It was the perfect balance of science and evidence based research aligning with more alternative fields like Energy Medicine and Ayruveda. After a challenging full time course load and co-op placement, I graduated with First Class Honours and now here I am a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, feeling healthier and more like myself than I have in years and I do have to say that I have food (among other things) to thank for it.
If you want to learn more about the Institute of Holistic Nutrition, check them out here