There is something I’ve been very reluctant to share and it’s time for a confession. The truth is, since returning home to Australia from a year of full-time travel, I have been overwhelmingly exhausted. Generally, I’ve been feeling pretty unwell and unfortunately, there’s no quick fix. Here’s the story.
My health is something I often baulk at talking about. Honestly, I have had a tough run when it comes to my health, not as tough as some, but battling your body can take its toll. I resist talking about it publicly as I fear the labelling that often follows. I have always been the fit, healthy, positive person, peddling wellness and I worry that people might see me differently. The perfectionist in me hates that my immunity has become my Achilles heel and I become frustrated that the physical can have such a dramatic impact on our emotional health and our confidence. But burnout is so common and sadly autoimmune disease is also becoming more prevalent, so perhaps sharing my story will help someone else in overcoming their own health obstacles.
The Breaking Point
I was sitting in our hotel in Whistler Village, fully dressed to head up the mountain for another day of snowboarding, when I broke down. Tears were falling down my face, I was shaking and sweating uncontrollably. I was terrified of getting in the gondola. The truth was, I didn’t trust my body. I was exhausted and weak and I couldn’t think clearly. I wasn’t myself. I was having what can only be described as a panic attack. I knew what the problem was; it hadn’t been creeping up, I had felt progressively more run down with each passing week on the road. We had been setting a cracking pace on our world tour and I had burnt myself out. I confided in some close girlfriends about what had happened, embarrassed about what this could say about me. Had I become a nervous person? Was I weak? These are character traits I have never related to. I am the active, confident, adrenalin-loving person that I had hoped inspired others to have the confidence to tackle anything they put their mind to. As I sat weeping, tapping away on WhatsApp to my friends back home, they reminded me of something really important; I am only human and despite appearances, travelling full time can be a tough gig. That afternoon, The Hubby went up the mountain while I climbed under the covers.
Having suffered from autoimmune problems for many years, I know my body well. There were a number of red flags that I had recognised. I had joint pain, I was gaining weight quickly, I had brain fog, mild depression, dizziness, back pain and extreme fatigue. These symptoms all take me back to my struggle with autoimmune disease, years ago.
The next couple of months on the road, I shifted gears a little bit. I tried to get more sleep, I cut back on alcohol and paid closer attention to what I was eating. I was still very fatigued but I had resolved to deal with the symptoms properly once I touched back down in Australia. Arriving home, I thought they might simply dissipate. Unfortunately, they progressively became worse. I was barely able to get through the day, let alone train and work.
The Road to Healing
I sought help from a GP who did some blood tests and I was told Hypothyroidism was the cause of my symptoms and my stress and anxiety levels were extremely high. Hypothyroidism occurs when the “thyroid gland is underactive and fails to secrete enough hormones into the bloodstream”. The symptoms (fatigue and low energy levels, depression, slow heart rate, unexplained weight gain, intolerance to cold temperatures, fatigued and aching muscles, dry, coarse skin, puffy face, hair loss, problems with concentration) fit.
It is a diagnosis compounded by the potential risk of developing Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (something Sarah Wilson has widely written about). In Hashimoto’s (as in all autoimmune diseases), the body attacks its own tissues. In this case, “the thyroid’s tissue to gradually decay, which directly impacts the thyroid’s ability to produce hormones. This will eventually result in hypothyroidism when the thyroid is unable to make the amount of thyroid hormone that your body needs.” You see, being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease (lupus variant) some years ago, I’m conscious that other autoimmune diseases can often want to join the party. So it’s my mission to get back to normal as quickly as possible to prevent that from happening.
Reclaiming My Health
Managing an autoimmune condition requires a slow and steady approach (something I generally lack in everyday life). When dealing with Lupus symptoms some years back (I was diagnosed with Lupus or Lupus variant. It still isn’t clear), I was forced to take recovery one step at a time. It was drawn out process and a very emotional time for me on a personal level. I am now taking that same approach in order to reclaim my health, once again; to listen to my body and see what it will allow. I have been prescribed a synthetic thyroid hormone to help get my metabolism moving again and hopefully boost my energy. I hope to be able to come off it as soon as possible. A strong advocate for holistic healing, there are other steps I will be taking to get my health back on track:
Get moving gradually
I would love to train every day. Particularly, to lose the weight I have gained over the last few months. I want it gone. But, I’ve learned that my body won’t recover if I just keep pushing it. So, I am committed to moving every second day and listening to my body the other days. Walking, pilates, yoga, Tai Chi and swimming are the types of training recommended when you are are battling autoimmune disorders; if you are allowed to exercise at all. I have only just been given the green light to train again, so I have started walking and jogging and commuting around the city by bike. I will soon take up pilates again too. Slowly, slowly.
Spend time in nature
One of the many things I have rekindled over the past year of travel is my love of the outdoors. We know scientifically that spending time in nature can have a positive impact on our thought patterns and mental health. From my experience over the past 12 months I can say first hand, it is an environment that calms me, helps me clear my head and keeps me grounded. That has to promote healing in my book.
Get on top of the stress
Stress can be a huge trigger when it comes to autoimmune disease and I am certain it is a major factor in my own case. A reluctant participant when it comes to meditation, I will commit to meditating at least every second day for just 10 minutes. Calm and Headspace are great apps to help those who are new to meditation. Having time out away from the computer and social media is also really important for me when it comes to managing stress. Getting plenty of sleep is also imperative.
Nourish with an anti-inflammatory diet
I have found an anti-inflammatory diet is helpful in managing the symptoms of an autoimmune disease such as joint pain and brain fog. I increase my intake of good fats (coconut oil, grass fed butter, olive oil) and vegetables, I choose organic and grass fed meat and sustainably caught fish and cut down on processed foods, sugar, gluten, grain, alcohol and caffeine.
Be kind to yourself
Being a health and wellness expert and becoming unwell, isn’t an irony lost on me. I feel an absolute sense of vulnerability in sharing something so intensely personal, particularly at the pointy end – while I’m still in the struggle. But, as my beautiful friends have said – I’m a human, being. I have real problems. By sharing the way I am dealing with them, I may help someone else who doesn’t have the same knowledge or experience base I have when it comes to health and wellness. Perhaps I can inspire them in their recovery too.
I have a great life and I am immensely grateful for everything that I have. I see these health issues as simply a new challenge I have to overcome. What I’m saying is; I’ve got this, and to anyone out there dealing with something similar, you do too!
The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-physician relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.
Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller.
She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health.
As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her appetite for adventure.
Read more about Skye’s story here.