Anatomy of a Breakdown

Anatomy of a BreakdownOn the morning of May 4th, 1990, I was substitute teaching at a school near my home. I was reading Cinderella to the children, when suddenly I felt very faint. I could feel my heart racing. Sweat began gushing from every pore on my body. I was on the verge of passing out. I jumped up, dropped the book, and ran to the nurse’s office. My heart was pounding furiously. After the nurse checked my pulse and blood pressure, I went home. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this frightening incident was the beginning of a long descent into hell. In truth, the health problems leading up to that day began many years before, as I later discovered. I had just turned forty, but I felt debilitated, exhausted, bewildered, and old.

The next day I paid a visit to my doctor. She told me that I had extremely low blood sugar. While in her office, I drank cup after cup of water, yet I still felt thirsty. She advised me to eat a high protein snack after breakfast and lunch. Almost as an afterthought, she mentioned that my potassium level was dangerously low and for this she had no explanation. Her advice was to take a potassium supplement from the local health food store. With this meager information, I left her office.

My condition continued to worsen. Not only did my thirst not diminish, it became even more pronounced. I had to carry water with me at all times. I also felt the need to eat every hour or so, even through the night. On some intuitive level, I knew that not eating meant slipping into a deadly coma.

With every passing day, new symptoms appeared. A feeling of terrifying paranoia, nausea, vertigo, mental confusion, and total physical weakness pervaded my daily existence. My arms were so weak, I couldn’t hold them above my head for more than a couple of seconds, and they tingled constantly. Just walking from one end of the house to the other caused complete and utter exhaustion. I felt like I had a never-ending case of the flu. In addition to all this, I had four to five bowel movements a day, and they were the color of cream of wheat.

Any attempt at sleep those first few weeks was literally a nightmare. I had hideous dreams in which I was constantly trying to move, only to be held back by a ghastly miasma of depletion and physical impotence. I awoke bathed in sweat. I knew something had to be done, but I feared hospitalization. I was afraid the doctors would rack the whole thing up to a form of hysteria. I also knew there was a good chance of being put on some sort of drug regimen; and I would probably not be allowed to eat as often as necessary. I could very easily end up in a coma and die. Thankfully, husband understood my fear.

One Saturday afternoon about two weeks into this terrifying existence, I had a panic attack. A neighbor took me to the emergency room of the local hospital, as my husband was out of town. The doctor did blood work along with some other tests. I was also given a kit to collect my urine over a forty-eight hour period, in order to test for diabetes. The diagnosis that day at the hospital went something like this: “Hysterical reaction. No physical reason for symptoms.” I had never felt so isolated in my life. Who would help me, and how would I ever get better? The blood test did show something interesting: an extremely high sediment rate, which meant there was inflammation somewhere in the body. Now I understood the reason for the flu-like symptoms. The diabetes test came back negative.

Still searching desperately for answers, my condition had become unbearable. I had to lie in bed for long stretches of time; the slightest sounds bothered me. The ringing of the telephone made my heart rate jump. I was feeling both mentally and physically so sick, that if someone were to take me to a bridge over deep and swiftly moving water, I would have jumped. I had no sense of humor. I never smiled. I couldn’t even concentrate long enough to read a book. How I took care of my two children is a mystery to me, for I felt removed from them as I did from all aspects of daily life. My husband also suffered during this time; he had to take care of the kids, work full time, and take care of me as well. Worry was his constant companion.

About three weeks into the crisis, I made an appointment with one of the internists in town. When I told him I had to drink water constantly, he made some cavalier remark about how some people develop an “emotional dependence” on water and perhaps I was one of those people. He then did an x-ray of my torso to see if I had Hodgkin’s disease. The x-ray was normal. He set up an appointment at the hospital for a CT scan, in order to rule out a pituitary tumor. I thought this unnecessary, as my periods were as regular as clockwork. The thought of being inside a closed metal tube tilted at a 45-degree angle for twenty minutes terrified me, and I canceled the appointment.

In terms of conventional medicine, I felt that I had nowhere else to turn. I had been to three different doctors, and none of them had helped me. Suddenly I remembered that an acquaintance of mine had been through a similar ordeal, with hypoglycemia as the main symptom. I called her up literally begging for help. She came right over with various natural supplements and much information. She also asked me lots of questions: had I eaten a lot of sugary foods in my life, and did I drink a lot of soda? She asked me if I had taken many antibiotics in the past. The answer to all these questions was a resounding “Yes!” I had always been a “sugaraholic,” and I was hooked on Coca-Cola. I had been on many rounds of antibiotics as a child, and as a young woman had taken course after course of Macrodantin for recurring bouts of cystitis. She told me to stop consuming sugar immediately, and give up caffeine as well. She advised me to eat high protein, high fiber foods. For breakfast and before bed I was to eat either a bowl of steel-cut oats or millet, both of which take hours to break down in the body, thus keeping blood sugar at a more or less constant level.

My friend informed me that I would probably not feel significantly better for another four or five months. My heart sank. How was I to hang on for five months, feeling as I did? She explained patiently that there was no quick fix for my condition. It had taken years for my body to break down to this level, and only time and correct eating would restore my health. She explained one more important bit of information before she left that day.

There is something called “good bacteria” in our guts. At birth we have plenty of it, and it is a key component in our immune system’s function. Stress, steroid drugs, antibiotics, and sugary foods cause it to be killed off, leaving our immune systems severely decimated. She advised me to start taking something called acidophilus, and to keep taking it every day for the rest of my life. I had never heard of these things, and unfortunately, I delayed my own progress back to good health by not taking her advice immediately. I did start eating properly, however, and I took the supplements religiously.

Two months later, someone told me a joke and my face cracked into a smile. The sensation was odd and strangely exhilarating. I remember laughing at something on TV, and I felt like the Tin Man on the Wizard of Oz when his joints were oiled for the first time. My laughter was squeaky from disuse. It was three months before I could walk around the block with my husband. A year later I was actually able to take a part time job. Three years passed before I was able to piece together the basic reason for my breakdown, and find the means to recover.

I attended a conference on autism in St. Louis in 1993. At this point in time I was a teacher’s aide, working with an autistic little girl. One of the guest speakers at the conference was a medical doctor by the name of William Crook. His groundbreaking book is entitled The Yeast Connection. He explained how candida albicans, a naturally occurring yeast in the body, can grow out of control, and kill off the good bacteria so necessary for a healthy immune system. He cited all the usual suspects: antibiotics, steroid drugs (such as prednisone), and a diet high in sugar as the main culprits, although stress alone can wreak this havoc as well. I sat in my seat, barely able to contain my excitement. I wanted to yell, “Eureka! That’s it!” I finally had validation for my condition, for all those symptoms that three doctors had dismissed as “low blood sugar,” and “hysterical reaction.”

Best of all, I learned that one of the many simple, natural substances that effectively and safely kill the yeast is grapefruit seed extract, and it did not require a prescription. It could be purchased at any health food store. He also stated that it is not enough to simply rid the body of candida albicans. One must also replace the good bacteria by taking a high quality acidophilus product every day. This was all the information I needed. As soon as I returned home, I started taking both products in earnest, and to this day my regimen continues, as it will for the remainder of my life.

At the time of this writing, I have successfully sworn off all soda, and have limited my sugar intake to a teaspoon of raw sugar in my cup of decaf coffee every morning. I eat lots of fresh vegetables, a few fresh fruits, and three high protein, high fiber meals each day. I no longer have spells of faintness from low blood sugar, and my energy level is good. I make sure to get adequate sleep each night. I now enjoy a completely normal life; mood swings are a thing of the past, and mental clarity has returned.

The question that remains with me fifteen years after my breakdown is: Why didn’t any of the doctors I sought help from listen to my symptoms, and try to find the real cause for them? Why did they ask so few questions? It is astounding to think that these medical specialists did not know the first thing about the yeast connection. Not one of them asked me about previous antibiotic use or a high sugar diet. I know there are thousands of people out there who have had similar experiences, and I shudder to think what happens to many of them. Some are written off as mentally ill and are either committed to asylums, or have been advised to undergo psychiatric treatment. Some go to stress centers, where the emphasis is placed on drugs and mental therapy. And some probably die.

One of the doctors I went to informed me that my condition was psychosomatic. But even in my confused, sick state, I knew without a doubt that my condition was just the opposite of that; it was “somatapsychic.” Medical doctors need to be educated to these issues. They need to listen to their patients, ask a lot of questions, and be motivated to learn the root causes for their symptoms, rather than treat the symptoms only. In other words, they need to find holistic reasons for illness. Not every disease or condition can be cured with drugs, which are the hallmarks of conventional medicine.

I learned two very valuable lessons from my ordeal: the body is an amazingly complex and miraculous organism, and it is my job to learn as much about it as possible. And more importantly, I am ultimately responsible for my own health and physical well-being.

About the Author

Deborah Dunstedter Deborah Dunstedter is a valued Vitality contributor.

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