I have decided to devote today’s article to a theme that is particularly topical these days: health.
More precisely, I wanted to explore my personal journey, after being inspired by a very strong experience I had recently.
To do so, I risk touching on subjects that are not unanimous or that are not necessarily all congruent with modern medicine, which is why I ask you to remain critical and not to rely too much on my words to make personal conclusions about your health, while remaining open-minded enough to try to understand my positions.
I’ve always had a difficult relationship with my body. For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated it. I blamed it for a lot of my problems, especially as a teenager, because I thought it was ugly. Like any young woman growing up in our modern society, I thought that if I could make it look like the standards of beauty, I would be more popular.
So I did as all the others did, I did what the media told me to do; for years I ravaged my body to conform to the perfect image I hoped for. I covered my skin, hair and nails with dozens of products a day, I dyed, straightened and curled my hair, I bleached, shaved, cut, waxed relentlessly, put on makeup, bleached my teeth, punched holes in my skin. I wore contact lenses despite strong reactions of rejection every time I put them in and every time I took them out, until my eyes finally got used to them by force. By then, I was old enough to finally operate on them, finally remove those glasses that made me look bad. I wore jewelry for hours despite my metal allergies, I forced myself to stay in my high heels until the end of the night, until the litres of alcohol I had drunk made me forget the pain. My body turned into a cocktail of chemicals simmering in a cracked but pretty glass.
Here’s a glimpse of what I looked like when I was 16:
It was also at that time that I started taking the pill, because the vast majority of the guys I slept with could not “tolerate” condoms and I did not yet have enough perspective to understand that I also had a say in the matter. It was actually quite rare for me to have sex with guys anyway. So I started taking a little pill full of hormones every day, which had a major influence on the natural processes of my body during a critical phase of its development. All this, so that once in a while, a member of the male species could have a good time without being too embarrassed by a piece of plastic. Me, I was very happy if I hadn’t been in pain during intercourse, but that was about it. At least I wasn’t going to get pregnant.
Yet I was not aware that I was losing out, because I was doing what everyone else was doing, so it had to be normal. I didn’t flinch during my annual visits to the gynaecologist, at the end of which I was often given two or three sexist remarks. One time he suggested that I should have plastic surgery down there, you know, so that I could look a little more like the women in porn. Another time, he made a dirty joke while he was touching my breasts, it was disgusting. In fact, that’s it: I mostly associated my body with disgusting things.
Luckily, at 20, I left to travel, which forced me rather abruptly to question my priorities. I discovered a way to evolve in the world where what I said, what I embodied mattered more than the image I was projecting. I threw it all away and adopted a much more natural look, much less bloody annoying to wear, above all. Ironically, it was around that time that I started becoming seriously more attractive to men, because honestly, self-confidence is much sexier than make-up.
I ended up trading the pill for an IUD, because I was too disorganised to take it every day. That little piece of plastic stayed inside me for over three years. It hurt like hell when the gynaecologist put it in, and I bled continuously for months. When my body finally adapted, I thought it was great not to have to worry about that anymore.
At the same time, I can’t say that I was taking much care of my body on other levels either. I’ve always eaten poorly. When I was little, my parents fed us great nutritious meals, but they also used to give me milk and cereal in the morning, just like everyone else, probably thinking it was part of a balanced diet since that’s what the big industry lobbies pay to have people believe. I was fond of sweets and other hyper-processed dishes, I used to prepare four huge slices of bread with Nutella every day when I got home from school… I never had too many problems with my weight, so I didn’t have to pay attention. I ate everything I wanted for years and years, besides drinking like a crazy person when I went out to party, smoking like a chimney and not doing much sport.
It worked for a long time. I was young and carefree, my body put up with my bullshit for an eternity. Apart from a few annoying food allergies that suddenly appeared in my teens and a more or less constant anemia, I couldn’t complain about too many health problems. Things started to go wrong slowly, without much warning. It began with nausea. I realised that every day I felt a slight urge to vomit, all the time. Then fatigue started to set in.
Fatigue is vicious. It’s like a very heavy weight that you constantly carry, but it’s invisible to others. The worst thing is that it’s very easy to confuse it with laziness. I, over time, have mixed up the concepts a bit; I describe myself as a rather lazy person. Yet I love to be active, I love to create, and I think I’ve shown that I’m not the type of person who stays in one place for too long. But when you feel a little tired all the time, of course, the lightest activity costs you, and you end up looking for a place to rest more often than others.
Fatigue is also vicious because it is a symptom rather than the cause of the problem. One of them is depression. But when you’ve been living for several years being a bit depressed all the time, you don’t necessarily realise that it’s not normal. Still, when I realised that my death wishes hadn’t disappeared with my coming of age, I wondered if it wasn’t more than just a teenage crisis. The more time went by, the more I became aware of my moods. My moods had gotten out of control. I could be on top of the world in the morning and in the depths of hell at night.
At first, I attributed everything to my mind. I was out of my element, in the wrong place. When I left my country, I thought I’d escaped my demons. On the road, however, I understood that if I listened to my inner voice, I was a pile of rubbish which did not deserve anyone’s love and that this might be a problem. I had to start seriously working on my self-esteem. In doing so, I wanted to take better care of myself. And so I asked questions. I asked, “Why do I feel I have so little control over my body and mind?”. As I looked for answers, I saw that there were petitions from thousands of women who had worn the same IUD as I had and were seeking to have it banned because of its harmful side effects. Among them: mood swings, fatigue, nausea. Interesting.
The gynaecologist laughed so much at me, accusing me of being “another one of those girls who had spent too much time on the internet”, completely ignoring my concerns about my health. He accepted to take out my IUD, “only because you’ve worn it long enough, so you’ve made good use of it”. The asshole must have assumed it was all in my head, when within a few months my nausea had completely disappeared. (Needless to say, that guy is not my doctor anymore.) My fatigue stayed, though.
In the meantime, my ex had passed away and I had just come out of a several-month nightmare with a narcissistic manipulator. My skeletal body took over a year to return to a more or less normal weight, but my mind still suffers from the scars left by months of psychological abuse. On the plus side, all this has left me no choice but to seriously learn to love myself. The experience of the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago de Compostela was extremely positive on this level, because in order to succeed in reaching the end of that 900 km walk, I had no other choice but to be aware of my body, what I asked from it, and to take care of it every day. When I arrived, it was the proudest day of my life. I was heading in the right direction.
I continued to search for answers to my discomfort. In fact, for some time now, the stomach pains that were taking hold of me every month before my period had not only become more and more violent, but they were beginning to be more and more present throughout my cycle. They manifested themselves in me like stab wounds coming from inside, wounds that I had hidden for a long time, thinking that it was normal, that there was nothing to complain about. That, and the fact that every time I went to the doctor to make sure I hadn’t caught some tropical disease, she would send me home and tell me it was all “in my head”. Yeah, when a woman says she’s in pain, don’t worry too much, she’s probably hysterical… It lasted a long time, it took several unsuccessful consultations.
One day, I came across an article online that talked about endometriosis, a chronic disease caused by a dysfunction in the tissue of the uterus, the tissue that normally evacuates during menstruation. Basically, it will wander into the wrong places and create cysts and lesions on other organs. As I read the list of symptoms, I recognised myself in each of them. I raised the issue with people around me, and I got a lot of, “No, Sophie, of course you don’t have that. You’re just a little stressed, that’s all.” I’m the one who had to talk to my doctor, scared to my stomach that she wouldn’t take me seriously. She referred me to a specialist, and after one conversation with her, she was pretty sure I had endometriosis. You have no idea how much weight it took off my shoulders to finally be taken seriously. An MRI scan later, the diagnosis was almost confirmed, since I had a visible lesion, even though to be sure it was indeed that, I needed surgery.
The doctor gave me two options: either I could have surgery to confirm the diagnosis and remove the lesions in the process, which would instantly relieve my pain, or I could take a continuous pill that would stop my periods and prevent the disease from spreading. In either case, it would only relieve the symptoms, since there is no cure for this disease. I had already tested hormones, and it took me so long to get a semblance of mental stability that I didn’t feel like messing around with that. In fact, it’s since I put in an IUD that all these problems came to me. So I chose the second option.
There was a third one, but it was not necessarily encouraged by the medical community, and it was much slower and more difficult to set up. I had to adapt my diet, eliminating everything inflammatory, including gluten and dairy products. I told myself that since I wouldn’t be taking the pill, I could remove the lesions and then start this new diet to postpone the time when they would come back. I think I needed an abrupt change to force me to take healthier habits, because eating well has never been my forte.
That surgery was the biggest regret of my year. Although it went well, it not only failed to get rid of my pain, but increased it tenfold. I reached a point where there was hardly a day that went by without my body getting violent cramps. On top of that, my immune system has been greatly weakened, and I have fallen ill countless times since I’ve left Switzerland, a few weeks after the operation. My belly now bears the scars of this unnecessary mutilation, and I had no choice but to radically adapt what I eat, as an anti-inflammatory diet has become much more than something I should do to be healthier; it is now a necessity. It requires patience and perseverance, but after several months, I am clearly beginning to feel its positive effects.
Okay, that’s all very well, but you’re probably wondering what I’m getting at. Well, the reason I’m telling you all this is that I wanted to give you some background about my health struggles before I tell you about a recent experience. I have come a long way and I’m still far from being over. Over the years, I have experimented with many alternative medicines, some more successfully than others. Recently, I went to the Amazon jungle to meet “Mother Ayahuasca”, as she is called.
It has been a learning experience that, although it has not completely healed me, hopefully has at least boosted my immune system and helped me understand some things about my mind. Because of course, even though I didn’t say it explicitly, I have a strong belief that body and mind are dramatically linked. So I have chosen to take you once more into my intimacy to tell you all this, and to offer you my perspective on this mystical medicinal drug, both feared and admired, by telling you about my experience with it. However, as I’ve already written a lot in this post, I’m going to make you wait a bit and tell you all about it in another …
See you soon!