Monday, December 20, 2010

My Intestinal Saga, Part 2: Lower Back Pain

Following the parasite party in my gut, I had a few months of sulfurous burps that just would not go away.  I was the weakest I'd ever been in my life.  If my memory serves me correctly, this was the start of years of funky stools (the description of which I'll spare all of you readers out there unless you personally inquire), as well as a sudden increase in the lower back pain I'd had since high school.  One day, maybe a year after the gut bug debacle, I was shoveling dirt in a garden when all of the sudden I tweaked my back into immobility.  This lasted 3 days.  It was incredibly painful and a huge wake-up call for me -- something about what I was doing for my health wasn't working.  Rather than blame it on being weak and malnourished from vegetarianism and parasites, I turned to purely external physical solutions, such as yoga, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, and body posture practices.  I focused on keeping my spine aligned and balancing the use of my muscles.  To a certain extent, this worked quite well and kept me somewhat capable physically, although I honestly could not imagine having to do yoga or pay attention to my posture the rest of my life -- it seemed unsustainable.  And why was it that primitive peoples -- who I had begun to study in depth -- appeared to be so light and tension-free in their bodies without needing to do daily maintenance practices such as yoga?  Also, working around kids a lot in summer camps I noticed how they naturally had absolutely perfect posture without any kind of attention to it.  I decided it was my goal to experience this natural freedom from tension.  Yet all that seemed to work was doing yoga three times a day and paying careful attention to my body posture.  There had to be a better way.

In the summer of 2005, I began work with a wilderness therapy program, called The ANASAZI Foundation, and was spending weeks in the backcountry with troubled youth.  Not learning my lesson from the experience with Vince Pinto in the Chiricahuas, I was confident that I could drink from streams without purifying the water.  I was so convinced psychologically that I was the healthiest, most resilient dude of anyone I knew that I believed I could withstand whatever nature threw at me.  I was wrong.  Again.  Three more parasitic episodes over a couple of months and I finally started purifying my water like a logical person would.  I no longer felt invincible and really started to question some of the crazy things I was doing, such as constant yoga and a vegetarian diet.

During my time at ANASAZI, I also realized something profound about my back pain: it would subside to almost no pain at all while I was in the wilderness.  At first, I thought this might be the product of living a more natural lifestyle and walking the earth as humans had done for millions of years before me.  Over time, however, I began to realize that there was something about the food I was eating in the backcountry -- both in amount and type -- that appeared to lessen the pain.  Lentils, rice, and ash cakes in small amounts were my staples in the field.  When I came back to civilization, I'd load up on loaves of bread, peanut butter, salad and tons of yogurt.  So I tried an experiment: eat how I ate in the field while I was at home in the city.  The results were the same: far less back pain and an overall feeling of being lighter in my body.  I thought I had found an answer.  I remained underweight and felt dizzy upon standing, had sunken eyes and a lack of energy, but without back pain, I felt 1,000 times better.  It seemed that more pure food -- and less amounts of it -- was the key to regaining my health.  Or was it?

Part 3 of "My Intestinal Saga" up next ..

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Intestinal Saga, Part 1: Dabbling in Parasites

Giardia Plush Doll
Wow.  It's been a really long time since I've posted a blog entry.  I'd like to have some extravagant reason as to why, but the truth of the matter is that I've simply been inspired in other directions for the past several months.  My own physical health progress has been at a standstill this whole time until quite recently.  As some of you may know, I have had long-standing digestive problems that possibly came about after many episodes of backcountry parasitic infections beginning almost 8 years ago (which also was the time I began experimenting with vegetarianism).  My digestive problems usually manifest in the form of a slowed down transit time, hard stools and bloating, along with infrequent sharp pains in my intestines (my apologies if anybody is disturbed by my blunt description).  These symptoms have greatly affected my body and my mental state in negative ways: poor sleep, sudden fatigue, coming and going depression, muscle tension, pain, and the like.  When I began eating well again and adding certain supplements to my diet, I was able to lessen or eliminate many of these issues.  I thought I would delve a little deeper into my health history and describe what kinds of changes I made along the way get well again, dietary or otherwise, with the intention of possibly guiding some of you folks out there in blogger land to better health and also receiving feedback from anybody who wants to offer me some other directions I might be able to take to further improve my situation.

Hmm.  Where to begin?  I guess I should probably go back as far as I can remember, and that would be my childhood years.  The major body disturbances I recall from this time, let's say around age 8 and for several years after, were TMJ syndrome and frequent headaches.  I would grind my teeth at night and wake up with a sore jaw quite often.  The headaches seemed to arise at random moments throughout the day, but I remember them being excruciating.  Besides that, as far as I know, everything ran smoothly (if you know what I mean).  It's debatable whether or not the aforementioned problems were from digestion, but later -- in the midst of my health transformation, around age 23 --  I would discover some connections that surprised me.  More on that later. (See the three part post on my own personal health profile for more on my physical transformation and dietary history.)

Now on to high school.  This was when I first started to notice bloating in my lower abdomen.  I've been an avid athlete all my life and high school was the most active time of my life.  Lifting weights 6 days a week; running 3 miles every other day; swimming laps and doing sprints; and practicing on baseball and soccer teams on top of all of that.  Pretty active, right?  Well despite all of that, I still had this perceptible "belly" on me.  At the time, I attributed it to fat, but I'm fairly certain now that it was just bloating -- I was pretty ripped in every other regard.  So what caused the bloating?  I don't know for certain.  My educated guess based upon later experimentation is that it was brought up by some kind of milk and/or gluten intolerance.  Another primary physical issue of that time in my life was lower back pain.  This was why I absolutely abhorred doing any kind of physical labor that involved bending over and lifting.  Again, I now believe I have answers as to why that was happening.  We'll get to these epiphanies in the chronological order that I discovered them.

Okay, post high school -- my time of spiritual journeying and reconnecting with nature.  Here's where the "fun" begins.  Parasites.  Wonderfully horrible parasites.  My first episode happened after going on a survival trip with my friend and mentor, Vince Pinto (who owns and operates a nature school, called Raven's Way Wild Journeys).  We hiked into a stream in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona with minimal gear, including a complete lack of water purification.  Vince drank from this stream on several occasions with no problem, so I was confident that I would do just fine, as well.  Along the stream, there were cow patties literally every couple of feet.  This meant that the water was likely contaminated.  Welcome to the wild, wild West, where cattle have more rights in nature than humans.  Cow excrement aside, Vince and I found a pristine place up stream which we assumed would be safe to drink.  36 hours later, instead of camping in the desert, I was camped beside a toilet.  Giardia.  Vince, on the other hand, was fine.  Unlike him, I was underweight and underfed at the time, so I attribute my susceptibility to the little buggers -- and his resistance to them -- to that.

Part 2 of "My Intestinal Saga" coming soon.

If, for some odd reason, you are absolutely enamored with how cute and cuddly the giardia microbe above is, you can get your very own plush doll at Giant Microbes.