(Fall 2020) This is part 2 of a two- part series on my health. (Read part 1 here.) In the two years since I developed Over-Training Syndrome, those symptoms have given way to a series of confusing, and at times alarming, new set of symptoms. This is the beginning of the story of listening to my body, and, hopefully, healing. This post contains affiliate links.
Despite the myriad tests and doctors appointments, to me the most curious and telling symptoms I had was the sensation I experienced if I tried to exercise. I felt like I was stuck in jello, or running into a hurricane-force headwind: far worse than I’d ever felt with OTS. It was most similar to the early days of my experiment with the Keto diet, when my body literally could not produce useable energy.
That got me thinking: maybe my body had no useable energy. While my bloodwork was turning up vitamin and mineral deficiencies I’d been comfortably in the normal range on mere months previously, my brain fog and inability to walk up a hill likewise made me wonder if I wasn’t absorbing nutrients. I turned my attention to food intolerances, and the immune or inflammatory responses they can trigger. Within a day’s research I had a suspicion: I wanted to test for Celiac Disease.
Celiac Disease is an immune disorder in which the presence of gluten (a protein in wheat) in the digestive track causes the body to attack the small intestine, wearing down the textured surfaces that absorb nutrients, rendering the surface of the organ smooth and useless, much like my tongue with glossitis. Incidentally, glossitis is a common symptom of Celiac Disease. I hypothesized my increased fatigue was caused by a combination of malnutrition due to an inability to absorb nutrients (caused by damage to the small intestine and exacerbated by an acute flare-up and increased inflammation) and thyroid dysfunction, another not-uncommon symptom of Celiac. Loath as I am to add another food allergy to my list, I would have been relieved to find a simple answer, and one that I could do something about1.
But my test came back negative.
As the test has a very low incidence of false negatives, it looks like I’m in the clear for Celiac Disease, along with a collection of other unlikely-seeming diseases. As my doctor points out, knowing what I don’t have is helpful in a way. But with the ongoing lack of answers I felt a certain helplessness.
My doctors and I decided to pursue a few trails that still seemed live, ranging from internal organ failure to vitamin deficiency and hormonal imbalance, and I have appointments with specialists to address the abnormalities we have found so far. The medical process is ongoing, but so is the internal, intuitive process. We haven’t turned up anything concrete yet. But that’s not the end of the story.
Celiac Disease is not the only form of gluten intolerance, nor does my negative test mean gluten is not triggering another internal reaction. Sticking with my intuition, when my Celiac test came back negative, I cut out gluten anyway.
Within 24 hours my brain fog had gone. I was able to train again, not just a little, but in a manner reminiscent of the good old days. I began feeling stronger than I can recall feeling in recent memory. My tongue returned to normal and I have not yet had another outbreak of hives. No rashes. Gluten free pasta is just as good as regular pasta. (Okay, that last one isn’t totally true, but it’s better than I thought it would be!) As a bonus, the stubborn bloating that I’d been chalking up to my IUD has gone!
It’s completely possible this turn of events was a coincidence, and even if it’s not, we are not out of the woods. In the six weeks I’ve been staying away from gluten, I have had a small recurrence of canker sores, accompanied by a milder bout of fatigue and depressed HRV2. We are still trying to decide when would be the most effective time to reintroduce gluten and gauge its effect. More testing is necessary, as are more dietary experiments. But I won’t forget that for a few weeks, fleeting as they were, my body appeared capable of recovering from and responding to training for the first time in over two years.
Perhaps my primary focus while recovering from OTS has been learning to listen to my body. I’m honing that ability now. When my body needed rest above all else, it gave me very clear signs. I ignored them for too long, and I paid a very heavy price. I learned something from that. This year, I went from an initial medical inquiry in June to an efficacious self-experiment in September, and picked up some useful road signs from targeted blood testing along the way. The puzzle doesn’t have a neat resolution yet, and might never, but I am proud of myself for acting upon what I have learned, being an active member of my own medical team, and listening to my intuition.
My body is asking for my help, and I am going to figure out how to give it.
1Not all cases of Celiac resolve with a strict gluten-free diet. It’s a serious condition that can leave permanent damage in as many as 20% of treated cases, and can lead to severe malnutrition, chronic fatigue, osteoporosis, anemia, infertility, and increased incidence of cancer. Despite my hopes for a straightforward answer, Celiac Diease would not have been a light-hearted diagnosis.
2I monitor my heart rate variability (HRV) using a device called Whoop, which helps me monitor autonomic nervous system activity. It gives amazing insights on my body’s ability to recover from training and other stressors. If you want to try it, you can get a free strap and free first month of your membership here.