In part 2 of Lauren’s interview with Sascha Alexander, we delve deeper into her life as an autoimmune wellness coach. What are her tips and tricks for those of us living within the invisible illness spectrum? And how has perspective shift informed her personal journey to wellness, and to coaching others?
**Update: since recording this episode, Sascha has discovered that she has Lyme Disease. Follow-up episode to come with more information.**
Key links mentioned in this episode:
Join us as Sascha reveals…
- the Six Root Causes of Chronic Illness
- why health coaching is so important for survivors of chronic illness
- that everyone with an autoimmune disorder has a gut imbalance
- how her inspiration to help others kept her alive in her darkest moments
- additional resources and advocates who have inspired Sascha and informed her work
- her take on recent documentaries about invisible chronic illness
- her top tips for those in the invisible chronic illness community
- her favorite patient forum on Facebook
- her favorite indulgences
- (almost) everything you need to know about coffee enemas
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Sascha: But I think what you ask is really important, which is, what did I do that worked?
Well, I have a system called The Six Root Causes of Chronic Illness.
I needed in my own mind to have like a roadmap to follow. So the six root causes are: toxicity; microbes… you could also call that one infections. And that’s everything from mold to Lyme and tick-borne illness, to viruses like Epstein-Barr, to strep in your gut that nobody’s figured out; dysbiosis, all of that.
Lauren: I’m pretty sure I had the strep thing; we talked about that.
Sascha: Yeah, I had recurrent strep, too. It was because it was living in my gut. And then the third one is allergies. And the allergies one is complex, because sometimes people have allergies that start the disease. But for most of us, we also have new allergies that happen once the disease happens.
Once your body gets inflamed, it changes everything. You develop all these new allergies. And if you aren’t trying to control them, it’ll keep you from getting well.
You have to control the allergies. That’s why elimination diets work so well.
Lauren: Right. You have to stay on the path. You can’t just do it and then go back to your old diet. It’s the same with any diet, isn’t it?
Sascha: Totally. Well, with an exception… what’s so exciting about autoimmune disease elimination diets is, as you heal, you get to bring things back in. So I can eat so many more things now.
Lauren: That’s amazing.
Sascha: And then the fourth root cause is stress— which includes: Are you sleeping? How are your relationships? Do you have childhood trauma; a lot of us do. Is there addiction in your family; for a lot of us, there is.
That’s just what I’ve noticed — a lot of co-dependency in autoimmune disease. Finding your voice, setting boundaries, seems to be a huge theme for autoimmune patients. And I would also say in the stress area … do you have support? This is where a health coach can be so life-changing. Are you talking to people who get it? Are you talking to people, period? Do people know what’s going on with you? Do you have a plan for how to get well, or are you at the mercy of your doctors?
That’s in that category. The fifth is poor nutrition. For many of us, once our guts get damaged … and just as a side note, everybody with autoimmune disease has a damaged gut. That’s one of the things we know from medical research.
Everybody who has an autoimmune disease has leaky gut. Once you have leaky gut, you also are getting malnourished on some level.
Lauren: And that’s what we were talking about, with you, as a child, right?
Sascha: 100%. Exactly.
So you’ve got to start eating organic and non-GMO. You’ve got to start cooking. You’ve got to get rid of inflammatory foods, at least to some degree; you can play with a couple of them, but you’ve got to get a lot of them off your plate. And also, a lot of people need supplements at that point.
Lauren: Girl, do I know about those supplements!
Sascha: Yeah! So most of us need vitamin D, most of us need magnesium; most of us need B12, B complex, zinc, selenium.
Lauren: And if you take zinc, you need copper.
Sascha: Yep. And then the sixth one is gene mutations.
Lauren: Right. And that’s what we were talking about, with your dad, versus your mom…
Sascha: Yes, and the main ones to look for are the COMT. These are super common. If you’re an artist, or somebody who feels really deeply, you might have a COMT mutation; it’s a detox gene. And MTHFR, which I know we’ve talked about. That’s the methylation one.
Lauren: I like to call that one themotherf*cker.
Sascha: The motherf*cker gene! Because it f*cks up your whole life!
Lauren: I’m 99.99% sure I have the MTHFR gene mutation, but have never actually been tested for it. Because at this point, the test can be expensive. And, you know, depending on what point you are in your journey to healing, based on all of this other information, I probably have the motherf*cker gene.
Sascha: Oh, totally. You can kind of tell sometimes. I agree. But especially when people can’t recover from Lyme and tick-borne illness, a lot of them have these HLA gene mutations.
And what you need to know about all the gene mutations is, all of them share one thing … which is, you cannot detoxify your body the way a normal person can.
So that’s when all the detox practices come in. So what I did to get well was — this is a long way of answering that question — I made that map for myself. And I started doing trial and error — exactly what you said.
Lauren: So it’s called science.
Sascha: Yeah, I gave myself a science experiment.
Lauren: Just like your doctor would treat you, too, if they were trying to treat symptoms and they weren’t sure exactly.
Sascha: And isn’t that interesting to learn that. I feel, as a chronically ill patient, you see that in a way healthier people don’t. Like, ‘Oh, they don’t know. They’re trying things out.’
Lauren: And let’s put this out there. I think we have all had experiences with doctors who maybe haven’t worked for us, right? And then we find practitioners who do work for us. And they’re trying to figure it out, just like you are. And I think that’s where empowering yourself with information and not expecting a doctor to play God is one of the most important things that you can do for yourself.
Sascha: I could not agree more.
Lauren: And that’s where, for some people, a health coach is the perfect way to bridge the gap.
Sascha: 100%. One of my clients in my three-month group that ended this summer would consistently write emails saying, “I am so glad I have you. My doctor missed this.” And she was with a great doctor. She’s with one of the doctors I’m with, who I really believe in. But the way I got from 50% to 90% better was all me. Once I made that roadmap, it was, ‘Okay, I’m gonna control my allergies. What are my options? Let me try those. Good, allergies are handled.’ I had already done heavy metals, with Dr. Lalezar in Brentwood. But I was like, do I have chemicals going on? I did. So, what am I going to do for those? Infrared saunas, coffee enemas. And then finally, I knew that something was going on in the infectious realm. Because I was still pretty sick for the amount of work I had done. I had come across toxic mold before.
That happens sometimes on your journey; you’re like, ‘Oh, interesting. I’m going to put a pin in that and come back to it.’ We can’t do it all at once. This is why it takes two to five years to heal from an autoimmune disease.
Lauren: And that’s a hopeful estimate.
Sascha: That’s a hopeful estimate. Because it just takes time to run the amount of experiments that need to be run.
Lauren: And some of them are minutiae; they feel like busy work, because it’s such a small change. And you may not feel the difference, right? But it’s important you try it.
Sascha: 100%. I heard a doctor once saying … I love this … he was actually talking to my friend Erica, who was also chronically ill. He was saying, ‘Imagine you’re a lion with nine thorns in your paw. If I take five of those thorns out, you still can’t put any weight on that paw.’
Lauren: Wow, that’s a really great analogy.
Sascha: Isn’t that an incredible analogy?
I think, in the early days, your interventions sometimes do not feel like anything.
Lauren: It’s like a medical explanation of Spoon Theory. For those who don’t know about Spoon Theory, that’s something that we’ll also be posting about, but that’s the idea that you have only a certain number of spoons full of energy that you can use every day, and you need to use the spoons — and then rest the spoons, then refill them.
Sascha: And sometimes the spoons are gone.
Lauren: Yes, you need to find a way to do what you need to do for yourself that will enable you to refill the spoons. For most of us, it’s rest.
Sascha: Totally. And I think it’s one of the best ways to understand the difference between living a chronically ill life and living an able-bodied life.
Able-bodied people start the day with, like, 25 spoons. And chronically ill people start the day with, like, seven. And when your spoons are out, you leave.
I just was on Instagram and there’s something called the Irish Goodbye. I just f*cking leave a party. I’m like, ‘Oh, my spoons are done. I’m not gone. Yeah, I can’t even speak to you.’ I will never forget, when I first got sick, I was with two of my friends, Rima and Katie, and it happened with each of them. It was late at night. And we were talking and I was listening. And I was like, ‘I need to go. Right now.’ And I just left. And they were, like, ‘Did I offend you?’ And I said, ‘No. Listening to you is too much energy. I don’t have it.’
Lauren: And that’s another thing … in terms of our support network, it’s so important that the people that we keep around us are people who get it, who are willing to get it, right? Because if there are people around you who criticize you for leaving the party, they’re not your people. You need people who are taking care of you.
Sascha: And I would say, they’re not your people right now. One of my best friends couldn’t really handle what was happening to me. And I thought, she’s just not my person right now.
Lauren: But she was able to be your person?
Sascha: She’s my person now!
I think when people haven’t lived through this kind of a crisis, they can feel, quite honestly, at such a loss as to how to understand what you’re feeling. And if they have their own fears about health, I think sometimes people just peace out.
Lauren: It’s not just your personal relationships where people are going to peace out, there may be practitioners who peace out on you. You may be peacing out on yourself, and not recognizing it.
Sascha: I love that.
Lauren: And this is where I think the importance of health coaching really comes in, right … because it is about finding the person who’s going to call you on your BS and do it in a loving way. Because I think a lot of us who go through chronic illness, and particularly illness that nobody can see from the outside … we live in a realm of self-criticism. And it’s very hard to see beyond that, and even to gain the cognition. Because we all have brain fog, anyway! And to find a way to acknowledge to ourselves that we need the help, and that part of the help is enabling us to see things in a more nurturing way.
Sascha: That’s so beautiful. It’s so well said. I have two coaches, Amber and Carolyn, and the other the other day I was talking to Carolyn about this … because this happens a lot in my practice, where people will say, ‘I want to make this investment, but my doctor costs.’
And Carolyn said, “Well, you know, Sascha, a coaching investment is a different kind of investment. It’s a proactive versus reactive investment. It’s an investment in your well-being, as opposed to an investment in putting out the fire.”
And I would say they’re deeply inter-related. Truly, somebody who works with me will get well more quickly most of the time, because they have somebody who knows more options and sees a bigger picture than their doctor does. That’s my hope, Lauren. Because you asked me, what happened? Were you coached? And I was, and I was blown away at how I was able to get onto the AIP protocol with so much grace. But also, in the dark, dark, darkness when I was undiagnosed, or after I was diagnosed and still wasn’t better … that was also a very dark time … the idea that I could shorten this suffering for other people was one of the things that honestly kept me alive.
I’m gonna say that suicidal ideation was a big part of those years.
I never made a plan — because I think the kind of suicidal thoughts you have when you’re sick are more like, my life is not fun anymore. There were points where there was nothing. I hadn’t laughed in months, and there were times when I didn’t get to do anything that was pleasurable — ever again!
Lauren: I like that you use the word ‘ideation’ as well, instead of ‘suicidal thoughts’. I think we often think suicidal thoughts, and that’s one kind of thing. But the idea of it being an ideation is, for some of us, separate from your body. For some of us, it’s in your body.
Sascha: I love that.
Lauren: And I think this is a great reminder of how important our words are, and how important our language is, and that we’re using our minds as much as we need to be using our bodies. And then if we can get them in harmony; that’s what we’re all searching for — even able-bodied people are looking for that.
Sascha: Totally. There were times when I just had really sober conversations, very calm, with my boyfriend … ‘I don’t know if it’s worth it to keep me living. The amount of money that we’re spending, and we’re getting nowhere. I’m hurting all the time.’
And I think in that time, one of the enormous lights in my life was, ‘I’m gonna make this shorter for somebody else. I don’t want this to take 25 years for somebody else.’ Because there’s also the reality … when you leave people chronically ill, you’re leaving so much potential on the table. Like the autoimmune crisis— which, by the way, is coming for more and more people. You and I, Lauren, are the canaries in the coal mine.
But in 20 years – I’m very concerned about our children.
Lauren: I am, too.
Sascha: Look, both of us got sick before we were 30, right? Are my kids going to be born with autoimmune conditions? The way we’re treating the earth, our food system, the way we’re dumping pharmaceuticals into the water supply and into our food supply.
Lauren: And not just pharmaceuticals but also poisons!
Sascha: Poisons. Glyphosate. And what’s happening is we’re leaving incredible human potential on the table.
The gifts that I have that might have left the world as a result of being mistreated, gas lit, and essentially not cared about as a patient is crazy. So that’s why I decided to become a coach, because, at the time — I’m not kidding, Lauren — there was nothing good in my life.
Or, there was good in my life, but I was suffering to such a degree that you know … when you’re chronically ill, you can’t say, ‘I’m going to go have a drink.’ No. You can’t say, ‘I’m gonna eat some ice cream.’ No. You can’t be like, ‘I’m just going to go have a night out on the town with my girlfriends.’ No.
Lauren: And you probably don’t have the energy for that anyway.
Sascha: And because I had respiratory distress, I also couldn’t even emote sometimes. When I had air hunger, crying made me feel like I was gonna die. Because I couldn’t get emotionally worked up without not being able tobreathe very well.
Lauren: Which would be something very similar to a really extreme asthma attack.
Sascha: Exactly. It was an unbelievable thing that I lived through.
And when I think about that time … it really was like a journey through the darkness.
And if anybody is in that place, I recommend the book Close to the Bone by Jean Shinoda Bolen. It’s a book that came through my coach Amber, and it’s an incredible portrait of what it’s like to really be facing a life-threatening illness. She describes it as a journey into the underworld. I feel that it is. I just got chills saying that.
Lauren: I kind of did, too!
Sascha: It’s like you’ve descended and you look up at the world where other people are living, and you feel like you are not of that world anymore. And reading that book really helped. Doing a lot of work around the suffering really helped. Looking at the idea of suffering as, like, what if suffering is a part of the human experience? I think when you’re chronically ill, there are times when you’re just going to suffer. It’s a very different experience than emotional pain for me, in which there are things to be done.
When you’re a sick person, there are times when you’re just going to suffer without help, literally. There may be somebody giving you a hug, but there were times where I was just in the darkness. And I think starting to look at that as not being separate from the human experience, but being a part of my life that can be meaningful — was so powerful.
And that reminds me of Claire Wineland, who just died.
Lauren: Yes, we were talking about this earlier. There’s this wonderful series that Justin Baldoni is producing and creatively just doing everything – spearheading.Yeah, he isamazing.
Sascha: Incredible. And it’s on The CW! Can I shout out the CW?!
Lauren: I’m amazed!
Sascha: I’m going to tweet at them and say, ‘Do you understandwhat you’re doing?!’
Lauren: Thank you for Dawson’s Creek, and for My Last Days.
Sascha: Yes, the show is called My Last Days, and is a little docu-series about people who are dying. I’ve just been weeping with recognition and relief. If you aren’t familiar with Claire … Claire just died on September 3. She was a chronically ill activist and a cystic fibrosis patient, and her perspectives on suffering are so life-saving for people like us.
Lauren: I’m not someone who has ever been a particularly religious person, but I can also see 100% when you look at religious structures and the institutions with which we’re familiar… most of them really let joy and suffering co-exist. It’s not necessarily always a healthy balance … different strokes, different folks.
Sascha: But it’s such a good point, though. There’s heaven and there’s hell, but we aren’t taught that you will exist in both of them. It’s, like … be good, and you’ll go to one. Or be bad, and you’re going to the other.
Lauren: But I think, particularly in Judaism and Catholicism, there’s the idea of, you know, not every day is going to be a perfect day. And that’s okay. On a very basic level.
Sascha: And then when you’re chronically ill, it’s, like, not every day is going to be a day where there’s any light —literally.
Lauren: And that’s something that takes a lot to get used to, isn’t it? That’s a really tough realization. When you have been chronically ill, and you’ve been having sh*tty days, and you suddenly go: ‘Well, not every day is going to be great.’ What a relief — because you can then enjoy the good ones.
Sascha: I don’t remember exactly who said this to me first … I think it was a hypnotist. Before I was diagnosed, I was out there. I was like, ‘Do I need to be hypnotized?’
Lauren: Dude, I do regular hypnosis with my therapist. I am all for hypnosis.
So the hypnotist I was seeing at the time … he said to me: ‘Can you consider that you are a well person having a sick experience?
And I said: ‘Thank God you said that!’
Lauren: That’s amazing.
Sascha: Isn’t that incredible? Because what it did for me … and I’m sure it’ll strike whoever’s listening in their own personal way … what it did for me was that it showed me that it’s a valid thing to have a sick experience. That I’m not just failing; that I’m not just ugly, in pain, sad, desperate, and unable to make money.
It’s, like: ‘Oh, no, Sascha… you’re living a sick experience. There’s learning here. There’s humanity here. There’s actual meaning and joy in your life still. It just is a different kind of a life.’
Lauren: Did you go through experiences where people didn’t recognize that you were ill when you felt ill? And which made you think, ‘I need a health coach?’ How did it look for you, to seek coaching and to become a coach?
Sascha: That’s a great question. I actually met my coach in 2014, right before when I was getting really sick. So it was before I really knew that I was sick, and I just thought coaching was the most miraculous thing. So my first coach was Amber. I’ve been coached by other people, but Amber is my coach. We just did four-and-a-half months of coaching together just to up-level my life, because I’ve always loved personal growth. And I found her work to be deeply moving and transformational. So I hired her before I knew that I was sick. The next coach I hired was to get me on the Autoimmune Protocol, as I shared, and that was the point where I considered that I might be a coach. Because of what I’d been through, I started to recognize that in a way I was uniquely qualified because so few things had worked for me and I had tried everything. I thought, there are so few things I haven’t tried yet. Now there are…I haven’t done stem cells yet. I haven’t done LDN yet.
Lauren: I’ll have to tell you all about LDN. I’m on that!
Sascha: Oh, great! That’s something I’m curious about. But in terms of root cause treatment, I’ve done almost everything. I haven’t done ozone either.
Lauren: Do you think these are therapies that you will try eventually?
Sascha: If I don’t get well, for sure. I think if I don’t get my last 10 percent, I’m for sure gonna do stem cells.
Lauren: I want you to not have to go through it! But I want you to try it so that you can speak on all these things from your experience!
Sascha: I know, I’m like The Sick Encyclopedia!
And so I started to see that I had this asset of knowing this wide scope of available treatments.
Because for so long nothing worked for me. And that’s when I considered that maybe it was for me. So I did an online certification when I was still very sick, through Health Coach Institute, which is a six months’ certification process. I loved it. I’m so glad I did it. But I knew that my work was going to be specific to autoimmune patients, and their work was more general. Which is fine; it gave me a place to jump off from. And then I also knew that eventually I’d go back to Amber and have her tell me how she coaches, and teach me how to be a coach.
Lauren: Had she done that before, when you approached her?
Sascha: Yes, she had been coaching coaches, for a couple of years. So then we started working together again, about a year ago, and I’ve been working individually with Amber since then. And then I mentioned that I’m in a new coaching school with a coach named Carolyn Freyer-Jones, as well. So I would say the health part of my training was my own journey, honestly, and all the research I did when I was undiagnosed. And then the Health Coach Institute stuff did support me in some areas that I didn’t know as much about. But then I would say that the people who taught me how to be a coach — they were my coaches. And I really do a blend. I don’t coach the exact same way Amber or Carolyn do.
Lauren: You will do it the way Sascha coaches!
Sascha: Exactly, and I work with a population that’s very specific. And the things that autoimmune patients need are different.
Lauren: Was there a time when you knew you were sick — and someone laughed it off? Because they couldn’t see it. The idea of it being invisible, but that you were feeling something? Certainly you’ve mentioned a few doctor experiences.
Sascha: There are two. The one that I think is an important dimension— just because it’s so common for other patients — is my parents didn’t believe me for a long time. God bless. I love you, both of you guys …
Lauren: She’s looking into the mic right now!
Sascha: It’s beautiful, it’s fine. But I would say, I don’t think my parents understood how sick I was.
I had been functional for most of my life. And when I became not functional, it was hard to describe to people how bad things were getting.
Does that make sense? So I would say my own family never laughed it off. Not that way. I will tell you about a doctor who did. But they also didn’t really get that I was potentially really in trouble. And they also thought that the treatments that I was doing were crazy, and potentially harmful. I say this because it’s really common for people’s families to not understand what’s happening and to call their judgment into question. That’s no longer an issue for any of us.
Lauren: No, it sounds like you guys are all happy and wonderful and supportive of each other.
Lauren: Each other’s advocates.
Sascha: Yes, and I would say, even then, they were supporting me in the way that they thought was best. Which was to wonder if I was not being rational. If that makes sense. And I think it’s important, too, to see that perspective and to be, like, ‘Okay, I’m feeling that this person is not supporting me. But is it possible that they are supporting me in a way that they are understanding?’
Lauren: And also you mentioned the word ‘rational’. For me, that brings up ideas of depression. I think with most people who have an autoimmune or invisible disease, you’re going to find they are suffering from some form of depression — whether that’s brought on specifically by these root causes in the gut. That can often be related. Or whether it’s circumstantial. It’s usually a combination of both. So it’s important to recognize that when people are telling you there’s something wrong — even if they look fine— there’s probablysomething wrong. And I think the idea of believing someone before we just disbelieve them … that’s very important, too.
Sascha: I love you for saying that. I totally agree. It’s this person’s experience.
To me, this just comes down to empathy. On a basic level, we need to let go of the idea that women are just making sh*t up.
Lauren: I know. Or are hysteric hypochondriacs.
Sascha: Yeah, because would I choose this for myself!? That’s the other thing. I’m like, ‘Your friend with an autoimmune disease is walking through hell. She doesn’t want attention! If you lived it, it’s so crazy!’ So the doctor story …God bless doctors, but they’re so behind with autoimmunity. When I was being treated by functional and integrative doctors, I was still sometimes being referred to conventional doctors. And so my integrative physician, at one point, sent me to a GI doctor, to get an endoscopy to make sure nothing gnarly was going on in my stomach. Because I had the very typical, crazy, six-months’-pregnant belly bloating that a lot of us get from the dysbiosis, and I was, like, ‘What the actual f*ck is going on with my stomach?? And so at this point I was very gun-shy of conventional medicine. But I went because my doctor felt passionately about it. And I trusted her. He did an endoscopy, and at the beginning he took me really seriously when he sat with me. I brought a stack this high of medical records. I told him that they had found mercury in my body. He was, like, ‘How interesting. That’s very concerning.’ And I was, like, ‘Wow, I’m surprised he was open to that.’ After he did the endoscopy and saw what he thought was nothing happening inside my stomach and upper digestive tract, he sat me down and said, ‘You’re healthy!’
Lauren: I have had that. Oh, man.
Sascha: I actually cried. I cried in front of him.
Lauren: Did he refer you to a psychiatrist? Because that happened to me.
Sascha: And that has happened to many of my friends. And then I got angry. But I was, like, ‘Well, then, what is this?’
And he looked at me right in my face, and asked me, ‘Are you eating well, and exercising?’ He basically was like, ‘Are you fat?’
Lauren: I have steam coming out of my ears right now!
Sascha: And I said, ‘Well that would be interesting. Because I don’t eat grains, sugar, drink alcohol, drink coffee, or eat any carbs. So it would be pretty weird if I was just fat on my stomach, wouldn’t it?’ And I said, ‘Look at my arms and legs. Can you explain those??’ And he was, like, ‘I don’t know what your metabolism is like.’
Lauren: Well, then test it!! You’re a GI doctor!!
Sascha: He was basically, ‘I’m done looking into your case.’ He was not interested in my chronic bloating. He really didn’t give a sh*t. But here’s the thing. He did what he was supposed to do. I ran back to Dr. Lalezar and she sat down with me and said, ‘Sascha, that’s not what he’s for. He did what we needed him to do, which is an endoscopy. We know you don’t have H. pylori; we’re done. We know you don’t have celiac; we’re done. He’s not going to understand about mercury.’
Lauren: That’s why we go back to Dr. Lalezar.
Sascha: And that was also a turning point when I knew, I’m going to know what to expect from my Western doctors when I go there. And I would say, with my clients, one of the biggest humps for them to get over is when they hear something from an endocrinologist that’s just bonkers — and I know it’s bonkers — but they’re, like, ‘Should I listen to this person?’ It’s scary. We’re taught to put these people on pedestals. And I feel grateful for my perspective now, which is, ‘Okay, that’s a doctor … they have access I don’t have, they can write prescriptions I can’t write. They also have seen thousands of other patients and I only know about me, so when I go to them for that, it’s a very different conversation. ‘I’m here for an endoscopy. I’m curious about H. pylori and celiac.’ Great! But if I sit down with him and say, ‘I think I have five autoimmune diseases. I don’t know what’s happening!’, they’re going to shut down and they’re going to start to think you’re crazy. And then they don’t take you seriously. I don’t do that anymore.
Lauren: I actually had a really great piece of advice from my therapist when all of this started going down — that there’s a level of trauma that we repeat over and over again, when we are putting ourselves in a situation with a new practitioner, where we have to explain our symptoms from the beginning. And you and I touched on this before we started recording … that there’s only so much of your life that you can put up into this space because it’s traumatizing. And we were talking about that show Afflicted on Netflix, and how you haven’t watched it yet because it’s just too much. Which is f*ckin’ fair enough.
Sascha: Yeah, it’s too much like my life. I also go through feelings of anger — like, why are they talking about this now? It’s very complex. I love that this has been done, but I’m also like, f*ck you. I’ve been in this battle for five years alone.
Lauren: Five years? You’ve been in it since you were eight years old or from when you were born!
Sascha: Very true. I’ve been at it since I was eight. But I’ve been actively doing the things they’re doing on that show for years. And I’m, like, ‘F*ck you. Why aren’t I on the show? Why is the show happening now? Can I watch the show … am I going to feel helpless watching it? Am I going to feel empowered?’
Lauren: It’s pretty depressing, I’ll tell you that.
Sascha: I’ve heard it’s really hard to watch.
Lauren:It’s hard to watch until the end. But you’ve got to get through, what, eight episodes?
Sascha: I’ve also heard that they call into the question their judgment and their rationality, and I don’t know if I can sit through that.
Lauren: Well, I think it brings to light the fact that people are often questioned in terms of their rationale. And in terms of re-living this trauma, the advice that I was given was: Write down everything. Write your health history; give your test results. So when you go to a new practitioner, you don’t even have to fill out the form; you just say, ‘See attached’. And it takes a lot of pressure off. So that’s something that I think would help a lot of people to know, ‘Okay, so we know that I have these kinds of levels in this range for my TSH, for my free T4, free T3.’ You just get it down on paper. And then it’s just your document that you have to revise, like your resume.
Sascha: I love that, Lauren; that’s beautiful.
I also encourage people to always get a copy of their labs. I have files on my computer; I can email them to people. Know that your doctor is also one person interpreting your labs.
When you have your labs, you can ask other patients to interpret your labs.
Lauren: And you have a right to those records as well.
Lauren: If your doctor isn’t already giving them to you, ask for them.
Sascha: 100%. Because I’ve gone back to reference blood tests that were taken for another reason, to be, like, wait, what was my magnesium like then?
It’s really important to be an empowered patient, to have access to your labs.
Lauren: Absolutely. I know we sort of got off topic … but going back to your coaching: What tests do you first use when you’re helping people determine what illnesses they’re dealing with? Are there resources where you’re, like, ‘Okay, go to this first. Do not pass go; do not collect $200.’ Are there a couple of things that you would say are your go-to’s?
Sascha: That’s a great question. No. When somebody is new to me, we sit together for two hours and I take a look at their entire history. And because I’m a chronically ill patient and advocate, I usually see things. They always leave with direction from me.
Lauren: It’s on a case-by case basis?
Sascha: It’s on a case-by-case basis. I just met somebody two weeks ago, and told her, ‘Oh, baby girl, you’ve got Lyme. This is Lyme.’ I know it. I know it. Just clinically. She was describing what’s going on, and remembered, ‘Oh, yeah, I was bitten by a tick at one point.’ I was like, ‘Girl, this is Lyme.’ But I sat with somebody yesterday who already had a bunch of the clues. She just needed to follow up on some stuff. So then the direction is: What’s in the way of you getting back in touch with this doctor? Why are you stopping yourself? I have a whole resource file with my favorite mold article, my favorite Lyme article. But we look at the Six Root Causes when people are with me, and it’s really going to depend on that.
Lauren: And that really probably answers a lot of those questions.
Sascha: It does.
Lauren: And then how do you address a lot of patients’ feelings? I certainly had this feeling when I was shuttled between specialists. How do you address that? Is that more, dealing with the psychological element of being ill? Is it more about finding someone a better specialist? Is it all of those things?
Sascha: What a good question. I think if somebody was having feelings about being shuttled around, I would probably talk about the psychological element … what does that make you feel?
Lauren: How do we mitigate this?
Sascha: Yeah, and is there a way to make that less personal?
I would say, so much of my work as a coach is pulling apart issues. Like, what are you making blank mean about you?
Lauren: And de-personalizing your body? That’s hard.
Sascha: Yeah, totally. It really depends on what they’re bringing forward. I might explore … what does that feel like to you? And what judgments are you making about the doctors as a result of that?
A lot of coaching is re-framing for people. It’s like: Is it possible that this is really an issue about the medical system? Have you considered that your doctors are paid for 15 minutes with you? Have you considered the amount of people they see that they aren’t able to help? Have you considered that it’s maybe beyond their scope of practice to get you well?
I think that’s true. I think that doctors diagnose and recommend, but they don’t get us well. And once I understood that, I had a lot more compassion and understanding for doctors, and how I could use them to benefit me without having expectations that are unfair.
Lauren: And I think a lot of that expectation as well is that we do live in this culture where we think ‘Dr. fixes me’. You have to fix you. You have to be the one following up. You have to be the one getting copies of your labs.
Sascha: Also, I recommend treatments for myself. I literally say, ‘This is the drug I want to try for my molds. Wait, I heard I also might need a nasal spray. Do you do a nasal spray?’ Literally, I am the one asking, ‘What about this?’
Lauren: And a lot of that is research, and talking to your community, and finding a community, and finding support.
Sascha: And I would say that’s the other thing about group coaching, which is part of what I offer … it can give people a community. For some people, they don’t know other chronically ill people. I know a lot, because I think what I went through was very visible, so people sent them to me. And now that I have a business, people send them to me, of course. But I feel even before, people kind of knew what was going on with me … once I made the decision to start sharing, which is a big part of my psychological feeling. But I would say for a lot of people who don’t have that, joining a coaching group …
I lead a three-month Radiant Health Group with six autoimmune patients. And those people entering a community where they see, ‘Oh, my gosh, other people are trying the experimental therapies I tried. Oh, my gosh, other people are going to the weird doctors that my parents don’t believe are real doctors.’
Lauren: And I cannot wait for the day when we don’t call these treatments experimental. And when we don’t call these “fake” doctors fake doctors. They’re MDs, guys!
Sascha: And most of them are MDs who got chronically ill, by the way.
Most of the doctors that successfully treat people like you and me are doctors who had chronic illness, and the medical system was, like, ‘You’re lying.’ They were, like, ‘No, I’m gonna figure this out!’
So both of my doctors are actually MDs; they’re osteopaths.
[NB: Fact check – not all osteopaths are MDs, although a few are. In Sascha’s case, this is a minor error and her DOs are not, in fact, MDs.]
Lauren: Mine is as well! There you go … love those osteopaths!
Sascha: It’s sitting with a doctor who won’t even ask you if you’re making it up. Going to a functional medicine physician or an osteopath or an integrative physician is sitting with somebody who is going to give you two hours, and knows that something’s up.
Lauren: I guess the one major failing of our system here is that a lot of that isn’t covered by health insurance.
Sascha: Almost never is their fee covered.
Lauren: Health coaching and integrative medicine should be a part of that, but it’s not.
Sascha: I know, and I hope that changes. Coaching investment is life-changing. I mean, my own coaching stories are so miraculous. I believe coaching is one of the best investments anybody can make in themselves, ever. If it’s for their health, if it’s for their business, if it’s for their relationships. I feel really excellent about asking people if they’re ready to invest. I think it’s a moment where people say yes to their lives in this really profound way. It’s exciting. And I think that the longer I stay, the more I see that it’s an investment that dovetails so beautifully with medical treatment. And that it just gives people better outcomes emotionally. I’ll go back to something you said earlier .…
Would it be enough if you just thought about your life differently as a result of coaching? Would it be enough if you started living richly again, even if you weren’t in remission? And I think that’s so much of what coaching offers.
Lauren: Absolutely. Top three tips for someone who suspects they might have something going on?
Sascha: Great! If you suspect you might have something going on, contact me through my website.
Lauren: Which is?
Sascha: Which is: SaschaAlexander.com. I talk to anybody, for free, for two hours. That’s what I do. The first thing I would do is to contact me, and look at the Six Root Causes on my website, if nothing else. Because that is the roadmap. So that’s the first thing I would say. The second thing I would say is start to organize your monies so that you’re ready to go for it. I would say, do what you gotta do.
If somebody is brand new, I would say, get together about five grand to really go see one of these doctors and be able to do the testing and be able to see what’s going on.
Lauren: Give it a try.
Sascha: I think a really stressful way to do this is little by little “as I get money” — because the expenses can be so massive when we aren’t used to spending them, that I think if you’re making that decision every time it can feel so resentment-building. I really think one of the best ways to do it is, if you have to do a Go Fund Me, do it. I have a client who’s a Lyme coach who raised $18,000 for herself, when she was on food stamps, to treat her Lyme. And she’s now recovered. I pulled $5,000 out of a trust that I was given by my parents; it was a small investment they had gifted me for grad school at one point. I pulled money out of there; I literally cashed stocks out. Another way would be to start a new savings account and just move five grand into it. Do what you have to do.
Lauren: Start a nest egg.
Sascha: Start your health nest egg. And if that means having conversations with people, do it … you get the idea.
Lauren: I think it’s also the idea of making it a priority financially. And, you know, if you’ve got to call those people for those loans, call them.
Sascha: And I think, knowing upfront that this will be expensive is actually helpful. If there’s some denial going on … like, maybe I can do this for a grand … if you really think you have something going on that’s autoimmune related, on the spectrum, nope. You got to get together some money. Then you’ll be equipped and ready. I would say, it’s hard enough. Give yourself that push to say, ‘I have this money. I’m going to do it.’ And the last thing … I’m going to do a two-parter. One would be to find a functional or osteopathic physician, and/or get on a patient forum. Patient forums are unbelievable!
Lauren: Where would you suggest people look for a patient forum?
Sascha: Facebook. Start searching for Facebook groups, Hashimoto’s patients, LA. Or, LA Lyme Group. SIBO LA. Google what you think might be going on; Google your symptoms all in a row.
Lauren: Don’t go down a WebMD rabbit hole!
Sascha: That’s right. Just so you get a couple of names. If you search “bloating, low blood pressure, cravings”, SIBO might come up, and then you can say, ‘Okay, I’m not gonna go down the rabbit hole. But I’m going to go on Facebook and get into a SIBO group, and see what other people are saying. Time and again, especially for Hashi’s … there’s a specific Facebook group called Stop the Thyroid Madness. This is the most educated patient population I’ve ever met. They will interpret your thyroid labs better than your doctor will. It’s incredible. My life was saved many times over by patient forums. I never would have had the courage to start coffee enemas if I wasn’t on patient forums, being, like, ‘Guys! I’m stickin’ a tube up my butt! What will I feel like afterwards? Do I need electrolytes? I’m scared because it cramps.’ Patient forums are literally life-saving, and what I’m finding is the autoimmune community is way more educated than their doctors, most of the time.
Lauren: They’ve been through it and they’ve tried everything, just like you have.
Sascha: Yeah, so if you really can’t get to a doctor, find a Facebook group and start asking all your questions to other patients. They generally love to help because they’re also upset and ready to be well, and love helping others.
Lauren: I want to know your top three secret indulgences, your pleasures! And your top three favorite comfort activities, which can be, like, treatment.
Sascha: Okay, so … my favorite indulgences! My first one is gonna be so obvious to my boyfriend, who I’m sure will listen to this one day … coffee! I should not be drinking coffee with my bladder conditions.
Lauren: It’s so good, though!
Sascha: It makes me so happy, Lauren.
Lauren: And that’s the most important thing, isn’t it?
Sascha: Yes! I read … so, Dave Asprey, who founded Bulletproof. He is, I would say, probably the most visible toxic mold survivor out there. He’s doing incredible work for the mold community and chronic illness community. And in his big mold article … he also has a documentary called Moldy that I haven’t even watched … but he has a big article as well about what toxic mold is, and how to recover. He talks about how, honestly, a couple of beautiful cups of coffee can be deeply motivating to somebody who’s really struggling. Look, this is an indulgence. If somebody has an adrenal issue, I’m not going to recommend it. No. I’m not going to say I’m going to recommend this to my clients.
Lauren: Maybe a decaf, or some kind of coffee alternative?
Sascha: Sure. Except the problem with coffee is that it’s moldy. It’s a moldy food. So if you have a mold thing … you asked me about indulgences, and this is not something I should be doing. I also want everybody to know, I have given up coffee for years at a time. And as I started to heal, I started to play with bringing it back. So I want to make that clear, too. I did not f*ck around when I was really, really sick. Because you’ll do anything to get better, right? So coffee is the one that I keep letting go of — and bringing back, even though it’s not good for me. But I’m obsessed. So – coffee. Then there’s this incredible 100% dark chocolate at Trader Joe’s called Montezuma’s that is just really handling my dessert desires, without putting any sugar into my body. Is this just food-specific?
Lauren: No! It could be like taking a nap.
Sascha: Well, that’s the comfort thing, right?
Lauren: If you have other guilty pleasures like wine, do you know what I mean? It could be food or drink, but it could also be a lifestyle thing. Like, ‘Some days I like to skip my workout!’ Or, ‘I’m allergic to cats but I’ve got acat!’
Sascha: I am allergic to cats, and I’ve got a cat.
Sascha: Honestly, I’m actually incredibly disciplined. And I think it’s important to say that … I’m incredibly disciplined. And I’m not perfect! I would say, when I go out to a party … I’m never going to cook this food for myself. But if I go out to a party, I’ll cheat a little bit on, say, corn. I’ll cheat a little bit on dairy.
Sascha: But I’m never gonna eat any gluten. Girl, hell no! And I’m also never going to spend an entire week not cooking. I’ll never not go to yoga class for an entire two weeks.
I love that I’m well. It cost me so much to get here.
I’m actually incredibly disciplined. I would say the thing that I’m really bad with is coffee. I just can’t seem to let it go. Even though I did for years. And now that it’s back, I don’t know that I’m gonna let it go again.
Lauren: I love it. So, speaking of coffee … coffee enemas!
Sascha: Okay, great!
Lauren: I’m really good at segues!
Sascha: I appreciate that about you as a podcast host! First of all, I’m having a little Hashi’s hot flash right now …
Lauren: Which is something we talked about before we started recording. Sascha said to me, ‘Hey, I may have a hot flash if we turn off the air conditioning.’ We had to turn it off because of the noise. She and I are both on high doses, and she’s on an even higher dose of T3. And that can cause hot flashes. So, what’s happening? Girl’s fanning herself right now. You’re doing great! You’re not even flushed.
Sascha: I am damp, though!
Lauren: But you don’t look it! She looks “normal”!!
Sascha: Till somebody touches me and I’m like a rain slicker! You know, T3 is so funny, because I’m actually on the right dosage. It’s not high. But it gives me hot flashes anyway. It’s one of these weird side effects.
Lauren: I’m crazy heat-sensitive myself. I just live in air conditioning sometimes. But then you think, I can’t live in air conditioning. Because what about mold?
Sascha: I’ve never thought about that! And it’s so funny, too, because I was cold forever. So it’s actually still kind of delightful to me that I can be too hot! I was just cold!
Lauren: Now I’m warm! I’ve suddenly gone tropical!
Sascha: So, let me do some comfort. And then we can talk about coffee enemas. I would say, going to Korean spas is my number one.
Lauren: Oh my God, that’s the best! And here in LA, it’s so easy to go. What’s your favorite one?
Sascha: Olympic Spa!
Lauren: I love Olympic Spa!
Sascha: I love Wi Spa, too. But Olympic …
Lauren: I think it’s just a little more intimate.
Sascha: I know. It feels very tucked-away and girly. And I love it. So that’s my treat. If I really need a treat, I’ll get the milk and honey scrub that they do. Because they just lay you naked on a metal table and pour honey all over your body. I mean, it’s the sexiest, most wonderful thing in the world.
Lauren: That’s amazing! I love nothing more than a Korean scrub. They get in all the nooks and crannies!
Sascha: They do not leave a stone unturned!
Lauren: We just love to be touched! That’s a huge thing.
Sascha: I really like anything that brings me pleasure.
I think there’s so much pain involved in being chronically ill. Pleasure is really essential.
I go to hot yoga at a studio called Urban Exhale— because sweating is a part of my regimen.
Lauren: Are they on La Brea?
Sascha: Yes. Enemas and sweating are the ways that I get things out of my body. So I’m about to buy my own infrared sauna, which is going to be incredible.
Lauren: Oh my God. Do they take up a lot of space?
Sascha: They can be pretty small. It’s still going to be, like, annoyingly large for a one-bedroom apartment. But honestly, it’s worth it because of the impact it has on my health because it’s so incredible.
Lauren: And also going to places that have infrared are so expensive.
Sascha: Super expensive, it’s so expensive. It’s so much cheaper to buy. So, enemas and infrared saunas are in the same category of getting toxins out of your body more quickly than your liver and kidney can do on their own. Sorry, kidneys … hopefully you have two! An infrared sauna is different than a normal sauna on a couple of levels. First, it heats you from the inside. So you aren’t walking into heat. If you go into a normal dry sauna, it’s like a hot room. When you go into an infrared sauna, the infrared rays heat up your insides. That sounds horrifying, but it’s wonderful.
Lauren: It’s like the interior massage you get with yoga. Like when you twist your organs. I was like, the other day, ‘I’m goin’ to yoga today! I’m gonna massage my kidneys!’ It feels great!
Sascha: So, it heats you up from the inside, which means you sweat more profusely, and also it’s more detoxifying. It actually can liquefy fat cells …
Lauren: What?! I need to go to an infrared sauna!
Sascha: With infrared, you can like sweat out your fat. Hi! But the point of that is that often, chronically ill people have extra fat and extra water on our body. It’s because our bodies are hiding toxins in fat cells and in water. So when you go to an infrared sauna, you can get rid of fat that never comes back because it was hiding toxins. It’s incredible. It’s also amazing for chronic pain, which all of us have. Although be warned if you are toxic, I get migraines after infrared saunas commonly because once you move things through …
Lauren: Your body reacts.
Sascha: Your body can react. Generally, I leave saunas feeling incredible, and my clients do, too.
If you have an autoimmune disease and have not tried an infrared sauna, it’s like walking out into a healthy body for a couple of hours. It’s incredible.
Lauren:Where do you go for infrared saunas?
Sascha: I go to Sweatheory in Hollywood. I love it. And actually, it’s perfect for comforting because one thing I love about Sweatheory is, they really make it a beautiful, luxurious experience. You get this private room with this beautiful organic cedar. Everything smells like wood. You get this fluffy robe. You get a cayenne shot. And a face towel. It’s a beautiful spot; it’s really a spa experience. And here’s the thing … with infrared saunas, 15 to 30 minutes is enough.
Lauren: Oh, so they’re short.
Sascha: They’re short. Maybe a healthy person would be able to do longer. But for us, when we start moving toxins around, your body can’t take so much of it. I would say around 20 to 25 minutes is when I have to open it up and be like, ‘Whoa!’ I don’t know if that’s because I’m on T3 or if that’s just because I am a chronically ill person.
Lauren: It could be a little bit of both.
Sascha: It could be a little bit of both. But they’re incredible. They penetrate more deeply, they heat you up from the inside. So I see a doctor named Dr. Bernhoft; he works out of Ojai. And he says, ‘the difference I see when my clients are in five saunas a week versus when they aren’t, is insane.’ He’s basically, ‘Do you want to get well three times faster? Get in a sauna five days a week.’ But get in an infrared sauna; don’t go to your gym sauna. It’s just not the same.
Lauren: And probably filled with mold!
Sascha: And probably filled with mold. So with an infrared sauna, the way the rays penetrate your body is very special. It heats up your core temperature, almost like a fever so it can kill nasty things that are in you. I sweat black things out onto the towel, like heavy metals.
Sascha: You gotta try it. It’s incredible.
Lauren: I really need to try this.
Sascha: So those are my comforts. I go to a K spa. I go to infrared saunas.
Lauren: And your coffee enema.
Sascha: And my coffee enema. And I let myself sit around and watch TV if I’m really in a low, and I get lots of hugs from my boyfriend, and order in and stuff because I have some Paleo places that I can work with.
Lauren: I was gonna say … wait, you can order in?
Sascha: I would say Belcampo is like one of the best. We can also eat in a Vietnamese place as long as I don’t go too crazy with the rice or sugar. I just have to be kind of judicious. Okay … so coffee enemas! So the science behind a coffee enema is … well, I think I have to back up a little bit.
Lauren: (laughs) Do you?! That’s a double-edged sword, that one! Don’t back it up! Get yourself an enema! I had to go there! It was right there!
Sascha: (laughs) I hope our audience is laughing with us!
Lauren: She’s having another hot flash!
Sascha: I’m fanning it out!
Lauren: We’re the Kathie Lee and Hoda of Chronic Illness right now!
Sascha: This is so good! If I were recording another type of podcast, I’d have to pretend I had it together! Okay!
So basically, one thing all autoimmune patients can benefit from is more detoxification — because most of us get sick because of the gene mutations, our livers don’t detoxify as efficiently, and most of us are full of toxins just from life.
Some of us are extra full of toxins, like me, from an infection like toxic mold or Lyme. Almost everybody needs liver help when they have an autoimmune disease. What coffee enemas do for your liver … it’s actually more about your liver than it is about your colon. Really, what a coffee enema does is get antioxidants, nutrients and caffeine from coffee into these veins … I’m not gonna remember what they’re called, because I’m new to coffee enemas, actually … It’s only been about two weeks that I’ve been doing them.
Lauren: Oh, wow. Yet it’s already made that much of a difference?
Sascha: Oh my God, yeah. So there are these big arteries that go from your liver into your colon. And what happens is, the coffee stimulates the nerves in those veins to get your liver to dump and recycle all of its bile; and to increase production of the master antioxidant in your body, which is called glutathione. Glutathione is something that, when you’re doing a heavy metal detox, you take it in through your veins. Or you can take it orally. Glutathione is very common when you’re detoxing from anything, and it’s very expensive. And you have to take it intravenously, often. It’s hard to make it and get your body to take it. So a coffee enema gets your own body to increase its glutathione production by like, 700 percent …
Lauren: Ex-squeeze me?!
Sascha: It’s insane. So I did coffee enemas three days in a row. All the water retention that I get around my belly as a result of being a mold-toxic person literally went away, because my liver was handling that sh*t.
Lauren: So what does the dump look like? As the liver’s dumping everything, does it actually come out through your colon once you’ve done the enema?
Sascha: What a good question. Basically, when you do an enema with coffee, you poop out a bunch of coffee and poop. That’s all it looks like. There’s another benefit of coffee enemas … A lot of us have parasites and big yeast colonies living in our colon; we just get all this backed-up sh*t. So it also loosens those and you flush your body of parasites without having to do oral parasite cleanses.
Lauren: Magnesium can also help with that if you need to loosen yourself up in that department.
Sascha: It definitely can.
Lauren: Aloe, as well. It’s great when you’re constipated!
Sascha: I was just thinking about the cooling effects of it.
Lauren: Oh, I’m all about, take that aloe tablet!
Sascha: Oh, I haven’t done that.
Lauren: Learn something new every day!
Sascha: See what I mean about educated patients? We’re exchanging knowledge! So anyway, like I said, I am new to enemas. If people are curious, they should look up Gerson Therapy because that’s everything you need to know.
Lauren: How do you spell that?
Sascha: G-E-R-S-O-N. Dr. Gerson is a doctor who treats cancer patients with many coffee enemas a day, like three to six coffee enemas a day. It depends how sick you are. If you’re really sick with Lyme, or a bio-toxin illness, you can do three a day. I’m doing one a day because I’m still new. I’m skipping days, too, to see how my body does. But mostly it’s to loosen up old calcified stuff that might be toxic to your body in your colon. And mostly it’s for your liver and your gallbladder, to release bile.
Lauren: And to do what they’re supposed to do.
Sascha: And to do what they’re supposed to do, because ours get backed up. I’m having incredible results. And also they help with chronic pain. So, my bladder pain, which I said is really my last remaining symptom and it’s the reason I shouldn’t drink coffee but I love it … my bladder pain is way better on a day that I do an enema. It’s really incredible. But basically, toxic mold is a bio-toxin illness. People like me, with mold or with Lyme, we have so much sh*t that we got to get out.
Lauren: Literally and figuratively!
Sascha: I actually didn’t mean poop that time. I meant the toxins from the body. But all of my clients that start upping their detox practices, they all feel way better.
Lauren: I think it’s awesome. And I’m really hoping that people who listened to your episode are really going to find a lot of healing.
Sascha: I hope so! That’s literally the point of my whole life now.
Lauren: Exactly. So guys, if you’re looking for Sasha and her work, go to . S-A-S-C-H-A is how you spell her first name. And her last name is Alexander. Dotcom. And she’s an amazing health coach and an amazing human — and we’re so happy to have had her on the show. Sascha, thanks so much for joining us!