life has really had a theme of loss lately but I’ve been convinced that life is best lived as a series of losses. each loss forces us into the unknown where we surrender and grow.
December was probably the peak of overwhelm and sadness, all coming to a head while I was in Minnesota over Christmas. My life was more-or-less in shambles as my health continued to decline, relational hardships hit, and the emotional hit of losing my mentor to brain cancer. I’m fairly certain I cried multiple times a night for a week straight. On the drive back to Denver where we got stranded for two days in midwest blizzards, Alex and I picked up a dog named Moon.
Bringing a living being into the mix was (is) wild and exhausting. I was terrified of the days I would feel too sick to take care of Moon. Those days came and went, Alex picking up the responsibility when I couldn’t. The upheaval a puppy brings to routine was good for us and the light and purpose she brought to a dark season was needed.
Some other highlights included continual rejection in applying for rental houses and a lot of spiritual silence. Months of contemplative prayer later and diving into what it means to be a one on the enneagram, I continue to be humbled.
a life without eating
By January, I was eating so little that I hit my high school weight. My muscles were wasting, skin bruising like crazy, and my face looked lifeless. Everyday I had to choose between eating and feeling like shit or starving but maybe feeling okay.
Two things happened in the second week of January: one doctor put me on a liquid medical food diet to combat the hyperoxularia (I’ll explain this below) that was making me so sick, and another had me run further medical tests.
The liquid medical food diet was a God-send. It’s not satisfying by any means to drink a powder mixed with water for sustenance, but it’s better than starving because of hyperoxularia. I could “eat” and feel okay.
Food is a shared experience. I felt an ungodly sense of isolation. Step one was the increasing restriction since July. This was when we correlated my symptoms to eating. I had to stop date nights with Alex, hanging out with friends around meal times, and traveling. Step two was then having to blend 150 calories a pop of medically-concocted nutrients for sustenance, something that kept me home even more.
I became the nutritionist who couldn’t eat. My sense of self was gone. Food is how I show others I care, nourishment is like a love language for me. Cooking is my creative outlet and how I putz when I need alone time. I tried to socialize without eating if I had the energy and cooked for Alex at home but eventually it started to make me sad.
what the heck is an oxalate?
The above sentiment is what I thought when I was told by a doctor back in November that I had hyperoxularia and I should “expect to be unwell for a long time”. I learned a lot about food toxins and anti-nutrients in my MNT degree but never a word about oxalates.
Oxalate (oxalic acid) is a toxic compound, unfortunately present in the majority of healthy foods. It has the shape of a crystal with razor-sharp edges that cause internal damage in some health-compromised individuals. These crystals also bind to minerals and steal them from being utilized in the body properly, most abundantly calcium.
Most people don’t have an issue with oxalates that naturally occur in food but for some it can be a critical component to understanding chronic illness. Austism, kidney stones, and muscle pain are also linked to excess oxalate presence.
Oxalate toxins deposit in the body’s tissue and can’t be detoxed. Once deposits have reached capacity, that’s when symptoms arise in what’s called an oxalate dumping episode. These episodes can symptomatically look like the flu, severe body pain, rashes, urine changes, and more.
Exogenous oxalate comes from food and the environment, but the body can also produce endogenous oxalate as a response to some type of trigger. Consuming exogenous oxalate can exacerbate an oxalate issue that’s endogenous in nature. Bacteria strains and a healthy gut can in part keep oxalate from ever presenting as a problem.
When I thought I was reacting to carbohydrates this summer when my health started to decline, it was likely oxalates. The foods I was eating contained some of the highest oxalates (or amino acids that convert to oxalic acid). Namely bone broth, carrots, sweet potatoes, dates, green vegetables, nuts, and seeds gave me the worst reactions. Leaky gut and dysbiosis following my appendectomy probably exacerbated the problem letting oxalates leach into my bloodstream to deposit into tissues.
mold toxicity, are you kidding me?
Again, another response to a diagnosis. There’s been a theme of me not wanting to find out further issues in my health yet they keep coming. I keep learning from them, though.
The mycotoxin test I took came back screaming so high in Ochratoxin A that it was out of the lab’s reference range. Mycotoxins are fungus metabolites, think mold. And hyperoxularia, this huge rare issue I’ve been fumbling to figure out the root-cause of, has been clinically shown to come from aspergillus species of mycotoxins like Ochratoxin A.
Ochratoxin A is found primarily in water-damaged buildings. I was genuinely sad that the root cause of months of sickness came from spores in my apartment that I couldn’t see. It was out of my control, but gosh what a lesson in not giving up until you find the root cause.
Interestingly enough, my symptoms subsided while I was in Minnesota and returned promptly when I got back to Denver. I kinda brushed it off, but later remembered that the only other time I had left Denver for a few days in November my symptoms also disappeared. Eureka, my environment had to be a factor.
It was serendipitous that Alex and I were moving into our new place ten days after my results came back. As much as I’ve tried to improve my bad habits, I spiraled for that waiting period and couldn’t rest with a situation that needed to be “fixed”.
a cautious upswing
After two full days in the new place I felt my symptoms improve. I began eating and waited for a reaction or resurgence of symptoms that never came. I’ll be damned, it was mold making me sick this whole time. An accident back in June was simply the catalyst to exposing what was actually happening to my body.
I’m cautious to even share the fact that I feel good because I’m afraid of false hope and getting worse again but here we are. I’m humbled by this education in health and grateful for having the patience to see this process through. As a practitioner, partner, friend, and daughter, this ride has reminded me to not stop looking for a root cause in the face of challenge.
I plan to take time to write about mold toxicity and my journey to detox from it (it’s currently like a full-time job to manage treatment and supplements) but I’ve got a lot of pent-up energy to expend first with my friends and loved ones.