Faith Ashenden is the founder and CEO of That Healing Feeling. She is a global patient empowerment mentor, master mindset coach, and biohacking expert who helps women hack the system and get their health back holistically, using 1-1 coaching, online courses, a podcast, and social media accounts with over 40k+ followers. Faith empowers people to ask the right questions, bust through limiting beliefs, detox their environments and bodies, and start using food as medicine. She’s also overcome Graves’ disease and Adderall addiction…and she’s on the show to share her story!
Tune in as Faith shares:
- that she underwent radioactive iodine treatment for Graves’ disease
- that she has also healed her gut from Candida and SIBO, and her immune system from EBV — all through holistic methods
- how she developed Adderall addiction, and kicked the habit
- why her Graves’ disease was so difficult to diagnose
- how she’s detoxed her day-to-day and reorganized her life with her wellness as a priority
- why the root-cause approach to healing is so important to her — and why it can be financially inaccessible to many
- some suggestions to switch-and-ditch and reduce daily toxin exposures in your home and life
Lauren: Okay, guys, thank you so much for joining us. I am here today with Faith Ashenden of That Healing Feeling. She lives with numerous chronic illnesses, including addiction and thyroid disease. Faith, thank you so much for joining us.
Faith: Thank you for having me.
Lauren: It’s such a pleasure to have you on. We've been trying to make this happen for a minute, and we finally did it.
Faith: Life has been hectic lately!
Lauren: It definitely has, for both of us at various times. So I'm just glad to be able to sit down with you today and properly chat.
Faith: Me, too!
Lauren: So why don't we start from the very beginning. You deal with a number of different chronic illness concerns. So can you talk us through what you are living with, how you've begun to manage everything, and when you realized something was goin’ down?
Faith: The biggest thing is Graves’ disease, which is a thyroid, autoimmune disease, and which causes hyperthyroidism.
Lauren: So for people who don't know, it's the opposite of what I have.
Faith: Yeah, it’s the opposite of Hashimoto’s, which people usually seem to be more familiar with, the hypothyroid. So hyper is just really the opposite symptoms. Like rapid heart rate, a lot of adrenaline, hair loss, you’re really hot because you have so much adrenaline, you typically lose weight, lose your period, all of that stuff. And you're really hungry, because you're burning fat really, really quickly. You just go into starvation mode. You see a lot of the opposite symptoms of what people are familiar with, with hypothyroidism, or Hashimoto’s. So I was diagnosed with that in 2012. Although I think that I was living with it pretty severely for at least two years, and the year running up to it was the most severe year.
But for multiple reasons it took a really long time to diagnose, which in retrospect is very surprising to me.
Lauren: We're gonna dig into that for sure.
Faith: That is the case with many people. This story is not unique. And so I did a radioactive iodine treatment. Basically, the thyroid is the only organ that can absorb radioactive iodine, so you swallow a pill that is full of radioactive iodine, and your thyroid absorbs it and it dies. The other option was surgery. Well, that was the only other option they gave me. More recently, as I've gone down a more holistic path, I realize that there could have been other options. But I was given two weeks to decide which one I wanted to do. I just was in college and I thought, well, I think that taking a pill would be easier than surgery because I want to go back to school.
Lauren: And far less invasive, too. I guess it's the question of whether or not you want to expose yourself to radioactive materials or not, right?
Faith: When you think about Chernobyl, that was radioactive iodine, in a very large amount. But if you read about it in school, or you happen to watch the HBO series, you hear people talk about the concerns with the thyroid, of course, because the thyroid is absorbing that. So to think that you're putting that in your body voluntarily is kind of interesting, but I did do that. I took a year off school, because it made me really sick. And then, once my thyroid died, and I plummeted into hypothyroid, I was able to take synthetic thyroid hormones. And then up until, I would say about a year-and-a-half ago, I never really got back to my baseline until I dug deeper as I got older, and I was more informed and just generally more educated. I had more resources at my disposal, and I was able to get to the root cause of why I wasn't feeling very well with that. So it was pretty poorly managed. It's a long story long, that’s the biggest overarching thing. And I think that throughout that time, my immune system has been really compromised. I flared up again a year ago, and I had issues — a lot of gut issues, candida, and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). I'm not alone with the gut issues unfortunately. And some Epstein-Barr virus, which is like chronic mono. I'm actually better now, but it took me about a year to holistically take my life back. That’s where I am now.
Lauren: And one of the things that you've been very open talking about over social media, and that you and I have discussed, is that you've also dealt with addiction.
Faith: Yeah, I took Adderall … I think I started at age 18, in college.
Lauren: Was it prescribed for ADHD?
Faith: Well, what's interesting is, I'm probably the least ADD. It's controversial the way it's defined, but from the regular definition, I am the least ADD person; I'm so zoned-in and focused. I don't really know what it was prescribed for, if I'm honest, because I don't show any of those signs. But a lot of college students, especially in our generation, were given Adderall for nothing, basically, just to study. I was in my freshman year of college. And of course, I was, like, this is amazing. I can have a photographic memory, and it's gonna make my life easier when it comes to studying.
So I took that all through college. And then after college, I was in a startup, and I was working really hard. So I was, like, I'm not going to stop yet because I don't have to.
It helped me work long hours and get promotions. And then I think it was two years ago, I finally stopped taking it, again moving into this more educated position of being informed and taking my health into my own hands. And I think that also comes with age, because you're not 21 anymore, and you can't just get away with putting trash in your body and waking up and feeling good. I was like, I need to take control of my life and my health.
Lauren: Yeah, well, in a way our bodies send us signals, and know better than our subconscious does. So it's allowed you to find healing for yourself and to wean yourself off the drugs, right?
Faith: Yeah, I think that the Adderall was kind of masking the fact that I didn't have enough thyroid hormones, so I wasn't feeling very well. And I took it all through the radioactive iodine treatment; they kept me on it. That was really a stupid idea, because my heart rate was already 181 per minute without it because I had the Graves’ disease. So it was very dangerous. No one seems to be educated about the drug. You have these really “educated and intelligent” practitioners that I'm working with. And every single one of them says, stay on the drug. And I love that they're saying that because I'm in college, and I want to keep studying and making good grades. And so yeah, I loved Adderall because I'm very type A, so I really want to be an overachiever. I'm a perfectionist, and blah, blah, blah. And so it really played into that. And only that. That was the only way it was advantageous. But it was masking the fact that I wasn't really healthy without it. And my baseline was already so low. And I needed to remove it and get to the bottom of why I don't feel well, to get better naturally.
Lauren: It’s really interesting to me that so many doctors encouraged you to stay on it throughout that entire ordeal. I understand, at bottom, it's that they were addressing your energy reserves, so that you wouldn't dip, I guess. But knowing that you've been on it for so long and had developed what is essentially an addiction, because you had to wean yourself off as if you were in withdrawal, right?
Faith: Yeah, I took the approach of weaning off versus stopping cold turkey, because I just felt like it would be easier?
Lauren: Not that either is easy, but yeah.
Faith: Just in my experience … I studied neurobiology. I was thinking, well, it’ll probably just be easier on the body, on the mind and everything, to just wean. So every two weeks, I just did five milligrams less. And honestly, it was fine. I acclimated so quickly. I felt it, but it's the week where you stop taking it, really, where you feel the difference. I have never wanted to take it again since I stopped.
People say, “Oh, are you tempted?” And it's like 0%.
I have Adderall everywhere still — in my purse, in bags, because I had so much of it. And I’m never like … oh, I am just thinking about this pill in my purse. I've had a million people try to prescribe it to me since then. It’s really weird. I stopped and I was, like, I really don't like the way that felt all of a sudden now that I feel good. So it was a really different story than most people. Most people still struggle with the temptation towards it, versus me who was almost happier and happier every week that I stopped taking it. So I don't really know what went on there. But I'm really grateful for the experience that I had. It was hard. I was tired. But beyond that, I was grateful and I felt better.
Lauren: At what point, also, were you on it where you said to yourself … this is an addiction problem and I need to change this?
Faith: It was mostly that I just couldn't feel good without it.
Lauren: You were dependent.
Faith: Yeah, I was dependent on it to do things like go to work, or go out, because my energy was so low. Without it, I felt like I couldn't get out of bed. So I was, like … either something is really, really wrong with me, or I just completely need this drug. It was that something was really wrong with me, and I wasn't able to feel it out because I was masking this exhaustion running on Adderall fumes, versus natural energy.
Lauren: And it's very different from replacing thyroid hormone, which you're gonna need to continue to do for the rest of your life, and you don't have a thyroid anymore. So right now, are you on thyroid hormone? We know you’re off Adderall. So you're still on the synthetic thyroid hormone?
Faith: I have to take a thyroid hormone, because my thyroid now doesn't really do anything.
Lauren: It doesn’t exist.
Faith: Yeah. So if I didn't have that hormone, I would just continue to plummet into hypothyroid. And I take a very high dosage compared to someone with Hashimoto’s, because at least they would have some thyroid function. I take a mixture of synthetic and natural. Unfortunately, I can't just take the natural because I don't have a thyroid function, it's not strong enough.
I have spent a lot of time playing around with it, and was able to at least get it incorporated into my protocol, which was helpful.
Lauren: Yeah, that's great. So while you were going through this journey with addiction to Adderall, with trying to figure out what was going on with your health with the Graves’ disease, did you find that you needed a personal advocate at any point in the journey to getting better?
Faith: Honestly, I became my own personal advocate about two years ago. Before that … I think, in society, the perception of not feeling well is very much like you're weak. And so you just push through and you push harder. I didn't want to not be able to do the things that everyone else my age was doing. So I was still taking my Adderall and going to UT Austin … I don't know if whoever listens to this knows that school. But it's a fairly difficult university. And on top of that, working out, and on top of that, doing internships, and blah, blah, blah. And going out with my friends. I wanted to do everything, so I just kind of ignored my symptoms. And part of that also was that I was younger, and again, I think you are a lot more resilient when you're younger. It wasn't until I decided to stop taking the Adderall that it was not possible for me to do any of those things anymore.
Lauren: Do you think some of that's also tied into that culture of crashing, around college students and grad students? You pull all-nighters, you party all night, and then you work all day? And it’s not just that it's accepted, but that that kind of behavior is encouraged?
Faith: I know, it's really dangerous. It's hard to have balance in college. And I think it's okay to not be so balanced because you're young, and it's fun. But it gets a little bit extreme. I didn't advocate or listen; I just kind of suppressed any of my symptoms prior to about a couple years ago.
Lauren: I think that's probably quite common.
Faith: Yeah, especially when you’re young. Because, health is not gonna be at the forefront of their mind.
Lauren: You might be able to push through. And for someone like you, if you're on the Adderall, you can.
Faith: Exactly. Until you want to just get it right, which is going to require sacrifice. I wasn't really in a position to do that in college. I didn't want to leave school, or fall behind, or anything like that.
Lauren: Of course not. So you learned to advocate for yourself, but you were mentioning that it took a couple of years to actually even get the Graves’ disease diagnosis. So how did that shake out?
Faith: It took a long time to get the Graves’ diagnosis … and that was in college … because it's really hard with Graves’ disease, because the main symptoms are really that surge of adrenaline, if you will.
How do you pinpoint … “Well, I always feel a little anxious, and I’m a little sweaty, and shaky.” People are, like, “That's anxiety.”
And it's really hard to pinpoint when “my heart's racing.” Well, yeah, it's the same exact thing as anxiety, which of course has a root cause of some sort — and in this scenario was Graves’ disease. It was hard for me. They would test things, and like, “Oh, you're vitamin deficient, let's get you B12 injections every day.” Okay, that's not helping this, that and the other. A lot of times its was, like, take a multivitamin or take these prescriptions, which I didn't want to take, except for the Adderall. And then finally I went to my cardiologist, because I have high cholesterol genetically. I have a mutation that causes that, and my cardiologist was, like, “Your cholesterol is so low, that's impossible. It could never be that low.” And then she was, like, “Unless you have Graves’ disease, because you're burning fat at such a high rate and you're in this weird survival mode. Let me check your heart rate because I'm sure you have Graves’ disease.” It was actually she who figured it out, of all things.
Lauren: Yeah, and she's not even an endocrinologist. I think that's really fascinating.
Faith: Yeah, but it's all linked. So it takes someone who really is willing to look at the whole picture when it comes to some sorts of chronic symptoms. She happened to have known me my whole life and would know that it'd be impossible for my cholesterol to be that low. But why it took so long, it's beyond me, because I was a walking billboard. If you sat me in an endocrinology class, and you studied Graves’ disease, you would put me at the front of the class and just say, “Look at her symptoms. This is what Graves’ disease is.” It's so obvious, I hit every single checkmark. So why they didn't know for a year? I don't know!
Lauren: Do you think it's a combination of under-education or mis-education, something about the way in which doctors are being trained that they're missing obvious things, and very common illnesses like Graves’ disease that are in front of them? And also the fact that you are a woman and they were, like, ‘Take a Xanax, you just have anxiety. Here, have a vitamin infusion.’ Like they kind of brushed it off?
Faith: I think that the majority of practitioners I've seen up until more recently, where I've chosen very specifically the doctors I see now, typically the approach they take is symptom Band-aid or pharmaceutical, if you will. And so even though, to me, Graves’ disease … I wouldn't even consider that an in-depth root cause. I would say, what caused the Graves’ disease? But in a sense, it is the root cause of the symptoms. Even with something that obvious. I just think that it's easier to say, “Take a Xanax,” or. “Take a vitamin drip.” I think that's the number one reason, and that's how it's been my whole life. I had a kid in med school message me the other day saying, “I follow your profile, because I find it really interesting from the patient perspective. But just FYI, we're not tested on any of these root cause approaches that you preach about.” Which I know, because I am related to doctors and I have a lot of friends who went to med school and they're now doctors, and I get that that's the case. And that's the problem. So that's why I talk about it, because I think it's important that we do advocate for that. But yeah, I think the number one reason why is because it's symptom Band-Aid approach. And then in terms of being a woman, and you know, historically, women tend to be taken less seriously … I've never personally felt victimized by that. I think that probably being a young college student could have been a reason why, because, of course, I was less educated and less informed than I am now. I probably came across that way. And I think that probably played into it.
But I think the biggest reason that lies front-and-center of these misdiagnoses is the symptom Band-aid approach that too many of us have experienced for too long.
Lauren: So our system is really designed to put a Band-aid on something rather than prevent the thing from happening in the first place.
Faith: Prevent it, or try to understand what caused it and reverse it through things like lifestyle changes. And, of course, the food you're eating, the products you're using, the air you're breathing, the water you're drinking, your mental health, and everything that really comes together as it does in your body to cause the symptoms — which are warning signs of something being imbalanced really.
Lauren: Well, it's interesting, because you've obviously moved more into a holistic approach with thing, and you're utilizing elements of Western medicine and elements of integrative medicine, if you will, in your approach to wellness now. So I'm wondering how you're balancing work and life, what a typical day looks like for you now, as you manage the symptoms of your chronic illness. And as you manage those symptoms, and your wellness lifestyle plan, if you will, around being pregnant now?
Faith: Balance has been kind of interesting, because I'm still sort of new to it. And it's also kind of shaken up my world, because it's been harder than I thought it would be. Part of that is normal, because it is hard.
Lauren: But there's a payoff at the end.
Faith: That’s why you're doing it, it’s different than being sick. You’re, like, okay, I'm doing this for a baby. So obviously, it's exciting — but very nauseating!
Faith: So, in general, my life had to switch a lot. I think I came to this realization initially, when I got into this world of you know, you can change your lifestyle and heal. And that's not to say that everyone out there with every type of chronic symptom or condition can heal completely. No.
Lauren: You can't heal from not having a thyroid that functions.
Faith: Except that you can keep your quality of life by making lifestyle changes. How much you can improve, that depends on where you are now. But it's not going to hurt you to make those changes, so why not try. And so that's the approach I took little by little. And it was hard at first because it was, like, I'm gonna have to completely switch up my diet and learn how to make things, and it takes so much freaking time — almost an entire day it takes for me to go to the store, plan all these things, buy all these ingredients, and then prep them. So now my diet can support my health, it limits the places I can go out to eat. All my cleaning products are different. The products I use, I had to try new products … okay, so all that stuff had to change. That was a shift. It's just reprioritizing everything in my life to where I spend more time researching and investing my money and time into these things. I don't really shop that much anymore. And I have to do more cleaning on my own because it's important to me to use the non-toxic products, and stuff like that.
All these changes made such an impact on the way that I felt, that it was a no-brainer from the get-go.
It was like … wow. And when you feel better, it’s, like, who cares that I can't go to that one restaurant? I'll just go to this one and feel good. So that was difficult at first, just making the decision and being, like, oh my God, I'm gonna have to cut out cheese. This is my favorite food. What am I gonna do?
Lauren: Well it’s hard because you have to put your pride aside, in a way, right. Like something you previously identified yourself with, like being a cheese lover, you have to put that aside so that you can actually feel well.
Faith: And I think also people aren't going to understand. If you haven't had a chronic condition, you haven't had to make those sacrifices — because why would you stop eating cheese if you feel great. So people around me are thinking, now Faith has become this health nut. Not necessarily in a judgmental way, but of course Faith isn't going to be able to eat here. Of course she's bringing her bag of supplements and organic bug spray or whatever. She would make a thing about it. And you do kind of become labeled as that person. It is what it is, you do what you have to do. So my life has shifted in the sense that I have to incorporate that, and I spend a lot more time on those things than I used to. I also quit my full-time job and I'm running my own business, which came to a little bit of a halt when I got pregnant because I got so incredibly sick for two months. I was bedridden, I had no idea that it was going to be so bad. The doctor said it was completely normal. I just wasn't expecting it. So that was really hard, because my cravings were very particular. If someone showed me a vegetable, I would be sick. So I physically couldn't eat the food that I know is good for me. I had to eat things like Saltines every two hours, or a piece of bread. And honestly, I just was, like, this is not really about me right now. It's about the baby. So probably my candida is gonna come back and yes, I'm bloating, but it's better than projectile vomiting all day.
Lauren: So you’ll worry about healing after you have the baby. But is that something that could potentially also affect the baby in utero? Like, the baby could be born with candida?
Faith: No. It's normal to have cravings and stuff. I talked to my doctor; he’s, like, “You eat what you can eat the first three months.” But the other thing is, your immune response is lowered when you're pregnant, so you don't reject the baby. So any food sensitivities, and those things, kind of go away to some degree. So your body really refocuses all of its energy onto the baby. Which is nice, because you can tolerate a little bit of other food, just the food that you need. Your body is really smart that way.
Lauren: Have you kept taking your thyroid medications and stuff while you've been pregnant? So that all stays the same?
Faith: Yeah, you have to take it because the baby can't produce its own T3. So yeah, I take my thyroid regularly. And sometimes people will become a little hypothyroid when they're pregnant, so I just checked mine regularly to make sure. But so far, so good.
I mean, doctors don't love that I'm on the natural medication.
Lauren: Is it NDT [Natural Desiccated Thyroid] that you're talking about?
Faith: It's Armour Thyroid.
Lauren: Okay, yeah. So it's like a natural desiccated thyroid that you have to get from a compounding pharmacy.
Faith: I actually get it from CVS.
Lauren: No way.
Faith: I know. Everyone’s, like, I can't believe you get it from CVS. They don't love it when you're pregnant. But it was one of my prior doctors who put me on it. I couldn't get anyone to put me on it until I finally was able to find one of practitioner I work with now, and she was able to do it. It's difficult, especially if you switch medications, you go hypo so quickly. It's difficult to take that risk. But luckily, we did it — obviously before I got pregnant — and it all leveled out. So yeah, I'm continuing to take that, and I'll continue to take that.
Lauren: It’s working for you. Bottom line.
Faith: Yeah, I have to take it. So yeah, so far, so good. Mine’s like the nausea …
Lauren: And having to change up the choices that you've made about your lifestyle, particularly with regard to food, for example.
Faith: Yeah, and supplements as well. I take a lot of supplements and when you're pregnant, if you put a pill on your tongue, it's gonna make you gag. Actually, today's a very monumental day for me, because I've done a lot of firsts. But up until today, I only took the pills I absolutely had to take — so my thyroid, and my prenatal and DHA and fish oil omegas. But now it's just for the baby's benefit. So I've taken the bare minimum, which is not ideal, because I've worked really hard to take all these supplements, which really contributed to my fertility and just to my overall well being and balanced everything out. And I got pregnant, and I was, like, I physically can't take these but I literally will just take what the baby needs.
Lauren: So today might be the day that you start taking everything again.
Faith: Supplements are a long game. So if I haven’t been taking things for a year-and-a-half or whatever, I'm okay. But it just goes to show, you really put your own needs aside and you do what you can
Lauren: Welcome to Mothering 101! We know that you've gone through this process of trying to get diagnosed and now you're way on the other side of it. You're well now and so well, in fact, that you've been able to get pregnant. So things are going pretty damn great for you. I'm wondering about, in the past, when you were trying to get your diagnoses, when you had to explain to friends you couldn't show up to something because you were too exhausted because you were still trying to figure out what was going on with your health. Were you ever in a position where you had to justify to others what was going on with you, or where you felt the pressure to explain to people who just didn't understand what was happening with you — because they couldn't see it?
Faith: That’s the worst part about invisible illness and chronic illness, to me.
It's funny that you asked me that, because I recently did a survey with my followers on Instagram. And people said that the single worst part about chronic illness is the judgment.
It's horrible, because untreated chronic pain should be the worst part about chronic illness. But the fact that the judgment is worse just says something about the overall education in our society about invisible and chronic illness, and this epidemic that we have, and people's very minimal understanding of that.
Lauren: And also just an epidemic of lack of empathy and compassion on a certain level, too.
Faith: Oh, yeah. But the thing is, and I hate to say it, and it might sound controversial … but if you had cancer, every single person would say, “Oh, my God!” I got it all the time … “It's not like you have cancer.” Well,actually, that's a really unfair statement.
Lauren: Because these conditions can be just as life-threatening if they're left untreated.
Faith: And feel just as bad. But at the same time, because people recognize and there is education there, people are empathetic. Yes, you can get that really empathetic person who, even though they're not educated, they just are an empathetic person. And they’re, like, “Oh, my God, I feel for you.” But overall, there's such a lack of education about chronic conditions, and the epidemic that it is. It’s something that I experienced a year-and-a-half ago when I relapsed. My thyroid stopped converting my thyroid hormone. And I had all these other flare-ups with my gut, and Epstein-Barr and stuff like that.
Lauren: Co-morbid condition flare-ups.
Faith: Yeah. No one could figure it out. And I was so sick. And every time I went to the doctor, they were, like, "Nothing's wrong with you. Nothing's wrong with you. Everything's fine. It’s in your head.”
Lauren: Oh, so you had people tell you it was in your head. Fantastic.
Faith: Oh, so many times, I couldn't even pinpoint and count on all my fingers and toes. Even when I went to the ER, I was crazy. As I had said, what I was doing was lifestyle changes. And they were, like, “What you need to do is eat a piece of bread and drink a glass of wine and chill out.”
Lauren: What? That was their suggestion to you?? That's as bad as, take a Xanax or an ibuprofen, I guess. Man.
Faith: I mean, don't get me wrong, I would kill for a glass of wine right now. I miss it very much, and oftentimes that is a great answer. But it was not that. I was judged by practitioners. I was judged by people in my office, not everyone. But there are people who are just, like, basically, you're a liar. Because you post this picture of you on Instagram, but then you're saying that you're too unwell? So there’s that.
Lauren: Because you were able to soldier through because you have cojones.
Faith: Most of my friends were all really great.
But there was, just again, a lack of understanding from some people who were really close to me. And that hurt the most.
Luckily, my husband is the single most important human in the entire world, and basically was just, like, all the time, “I can't even imagine what that's like.” He saw me being bedridden. He’s up close and personal with it, but he never once thought it was in my head or that I was making more of it. And same with my family. They're all on board with this kind of whole holistic, root cause approach that I was gunning for. Versus,”Why don't you take the medication, and you'll feel better? Take the Xanax, just try it.” Whatever. Again, nothing against that, but I just knew that there was more going on. And so it took me probably six or seven months, and I ended up having to leave my job even without a diagnosis. I remember crying on the phone to short-term disability because they wouldn't approve it because I didn't have a diagnosis. I was, like, “But I'm bedridden. I'm so sick, I can't physically lift my head off the pillow. Just because I don't have a diagnosis doesn't make it less real.” Obviously they don't care. So I was really just disappointed. Luckily I have like a husband and I can get on his health insurance and he was happy for me to leave my job. But most people are not in that situation, and in America where you don't have NHS or anything like that, you are really screwed when you have to leave your job and you're sick, and then you lose your health care. So that realization hit me really hard. Just for all the other people who've been in this situation who weren't as fortunate as I was.
Lauren: And you obviously sought out education and resources. You’ve empowered yourself with information. But how did you know to do that? Your default was, like, okay, I'm going to start researching?
Faith: No. It was when doctors started to turn me away. I would physically have doctors be, like, “I can't help you. If you don't want to take this medication, you're gonna have to go somewhere else.” I had never experienced a doctor not having an answer, or not trying harder. And I just thought, what the heck? How can I be so incredibly sick, and every single person is telling me that there's nothing wrong? So I started listening to podcasts. I typed “health” or something. I knew nothing about anything. I grew up eating healthy, but I never really understood nutrition. And I never understood for a second how a certain type of food could trigger some symptom. I had no association with lifestyle, beyond when I work out, I feel good.
Lauren: That food is medicine, for example.
Faith: Of course. I had no understanding of this world. And so I started listening to podcasts with people with chronic conditions, to take a root cause approach — who go to specific types of doctors who did specific types of tasks that operated outside of health insurance, that allowed them to fix things in their gut and in their body. But fix, actually heal … versus, suppress with a Band-aid.
And it would fix a host of symptoms. And that was called root-cause.
Lauren: It’s also known as integrative or functional medicine. But it's interesting, because you mentioned this is outside of the health insurance system. So this is something that's not accessible to a lot of people.
Faith: It’s not. That was also something I didn't know. I ended up seeing functional medicine doctors, and that's where my journey started, to healing. And it was amazing the transformation that occurred, and it all started with the doctor saying, “I believe you. I don't really care what all this other bloodwork says. This just means we haven't found the root cause yet. Let's keep digging.” We kept digging and digging and digging, and oh my God, even with their tests, we still had to keep digging. But we got there in the end. And we made lifestyle changes. That was what we did to change and to heal. And all of a sudden, I started to feel better. And I had people around me who were skeptical of the approach, saying … because when you're healing, it's a long game. So it's not like … in three days, you should start to feel these symptoms go away. No, it's like … in three months, you should start to feel this one very subtle thing. And so you really have to have faith in the process that truly what you put in and on your body is powerful. And people around me would say, “It's not working already. I can't believe you're still doing something that isn't working. You could take this pill and go back to work.” I think the worst part about the entire journey was the judgment from people, and people doubting. And even to this day, people, I swear … not my friends who are in this world or my husband or anything, but anyone else thinks I'm crazy.
Lauren: Well, we don’t. We believe you. We know because we're all in the club!
Faith: If you haven’t been there, you don't understand why someone could say, “How could you feel better by not eating this, or eating this?” And so you live with that judgment. But you become way better for it, because you just hold on to the things that you know to be true. And that demands a lot of respect.
Lauren: And strength.
Faith: Yeah, and strength. Or they don’t, and they're gone. And that's fine, it’s easier that way.
Lauren: But obviously you've gotten okay with separating the wheat from the proverbial chaff, and being, like, okay, I'm fine with like, not having that in my life if it's a negative influence. But I'm wondering, because obviously, you've had people say they didn't believe you, and you've been brushed off. Do you think that if you were a woman of color, it might have been a different story, that it might have taken even longer? Basically, in terms of the way that you self identify, can you see your circumstances being different if you presented otherwise to people?
Faith: Like I said, I'm really privileged. First of all, I'm educated. I had a good job, which means I had tons of benefits. And so initially, it was easier for me to access doctors' appointments and things like that, because I didn't always have to be in the office. I wasn’t hourly-paid, all of that.
When I saw practitioners, yeah, they brushed me off sometimes, but in general, I feel like I was taken seriously.
And then beyond that, just the financial support … it was really everything to be able to pay for this entire year out-of-pocket. And so for really anyone who doesn't have all of those variables, regardless of their situation, it becomes inaccessible. Which is why I decided I want to dedicate my life to supporting people in these situations. Because I'm such a minority. And I can't help but think of everyone else who can't sit here and say, I've come out on the other end, and I'm so grateful, and blah, blah, blah.
Lauren: Well, people like us who are in the minority, but even more marginalized.
Faith: Exactly. And they can't come out on the other side. Or they say, oh, that sounds great, I wish I could do that. I know that it could exist, but I can't access it. That's a problem, because the people who need the support the most aren't getting it. I've been made fully aware more than ever of that huge issue.
Lauren: And for people who were looking for information, insights, they can always follow you, and we’ll obviously link to your resources on the episode page. Talk to us about the advocacy work that you do now, and how this patient experience has turned you from a neophyte, I guess, into a source of information for others. How did that transformation happen, internally and externally?
Faith: I started the journey literally a year and a month ago, that’s when I started posting the journey on Instagram. It was at the beginning, when I wasn't being taken seriously, and I thought there have to be other people out there who are also struggling with chronic symptoms who aren't taken seriously and want to get better. So I'm just gonna broadcast my whole journey of going to appointments and being shot down, finding out what it takes to get into a functional doctor, all the tests and how much more difficult and expensive it is, and blah, blah, blah, how to interpret it, and then how difficult it is to heal. And people might be interested. And it turns out, people were really interested. And most people have a chronic symptom, which is very sad. So from that, all these other things came to light to me. For example, the fact that a lot of people can't access the support they need. And that mostly came to light, as well, because I got tons of messages, like, “Oh, my God, this test was so useful for you. How can I access it without spending a million dollars?” And I was, like, I can't find the answer on the Internet to that. My FMLA was approved — meaning I could keep my job, but I wasn't gonna get paid through short-term disability. So I was, like … maybe I could go back to work. But I was, like … I'm not even gonna go back to work, I'm going to quit my job and find a way to help people. And so it evolved into spending time with different functional practitioners, trying to understand what resources are out there for people who can't afford it.
Lauren: And which ones are legit.
Faith: And which ones are legit. Yeah, because there are so many people who are, like, “I'm a health coach.” I believe that can be productive, but the amount of people who have absolutely no education who claim to support … and it's so dangerous to give advice to someone if you're not … honestly, I only see medical doctors. I'm not saying that no one else can be really incredible, I guess. But in my experience, you need someone who's highly educated. And I say this to everyone … please do not do as I do, don't go buy the supplements I'm taking, go to an MD and get your bloodwork. Because it's dangerous; even if it's a supplement, it can be dangerous to be just taking it from a random person who took a two-week course. So I educate about that. But I'm actually going to be putting together a course, if you will, on how to advocate for yourself as a patient and navigate the system. I don't believe that in the short term I can change the system. But I do believe in linking up with experts in the field of health care management and wellness, finance, planning, and making the most of your time when searching for practitioners, and what keywords to look for.
And finding the loopholes for those practitioners who practice in a functional or integrative way, but also take insurance — which I have found does exist.
There are lots of ways to do that, that people don't really know. Because not everyone has the time to do that research, or they're at the beginning of their health journey. So I'd love to be able to save people the time and the money, which are your two most valuable resources when you have a chronic symptom. HopefullyI'd love to get that together before the baby comes, so I'm working on that now.
Lauren: That’s amazing. And what a wonderful resource for other people. That's the kind of thing where you go through a really awful experience and you come out the other side going … gee, I have to be of service to other people. Chronic illness changes your perspective in that way, doesn’t it.
Faith: Oh, yeah.
Lauren: Incredibly powerful. You've mentioned that there are ways to work the system. Are there ways in which our health system is working for patients? We know that it's falling short in that it's often putting a Band-aid on things, or doctors aren't being given a functional or integrative medicine approach. But what are the ways that it is working for patients?
Faith: I think something that's cool about the American healthcare system … I don't know if this is for every healthcare plan, but I know if you have a PPO, you can choose your doctor. A lot of people with the NHS say, “Oh, it's all good and well that you talk about interviewing your doctors, but we can't do that here.”
Lauren: And you know very much about the NHS because your husband's British.
Faith: Yeah, sorry. Yeah, my husband's British.
Lauren: It's good because we've interviewed people on the show who are living in the UK. And so their health system is the NHS, but obviously ours is the American healthcare system here.
Faith: The NHS just is a wonderful thing. And everyone deserves access to health care. So I am merely pointing out the pros and cons of the two different systems.
Lauren: I think there are pros and cons to both. We need to find a happy medium between the two somehow — healthcare for everyone, but at a certain level.
Faith: Exactly. So I think what's amazing is, you can choose your doctor. I interview doctors; I take the approach of hiring them.
Lauren: That’s really good advice. I want everyone to really listen to that point that Faith just made. The first time you meet your doctor, it's an interview. You are interviewing them to decide whether you want to work with them.
Faith: Yeah, 100%. I love that I can go from doctor to doctor. I think that’s a massive pro. In America, doctors are sort of competing, because patients have the choice to hire or fire. And I think that that's amazing, because you do find those few doctors who pride themselves on actually helping people heal. So you have people who, I guess they have their own little marketing approach, if you will. They become very individualized. And you can really look for certain Yelp reviews and keywords, and it puts the power back in the patient's hands. I think that's really empowering, if you can use that to your advantage, and you understand how to. So I think that's an area where we're definitely not falling short.
Also, our system is great for emergencies. We have state-of-the-art medical care. If anything were to happen in an emergency situation, you're in the best hands.
I'm mostly speaking from the perspective of someone who has had a chronic symptom for a year. It’s not really an emergency, but in general, we have an amazing health care system. The chronic symptom epidemic is something …
Lauren: That’s not well-served.
Faith: It’s not well-served. But it’s almost a worldwide epidemic, it's not just America that's falling short. We have more toxins, I would say, than a lot of countries.
Lauren: Our environment in general?
Faith: Yeah, I mean, with our food, for example. It’s the same for makeup products. It's the same for cleaning products. It's the same for chocolate. So you inherently are going to healthier eating food from there, you don't have to be so scared of eating a piece of bread. Gluten is made differently. I can eat gluten in South America, I can eat gluten in Europe. I can't eat gluten in America; my body's telling me that's more toxic here than it is there. And most things are. The problem with America is, we're so money-driven that if the big box people say that they want to put this in their food, then it's going to happen.
Lauren: Well, it’s going to increase profit for whatever reason, but it's actually going to harm more people long-term.
Faith: But it increases profit for the pharmaceutical companies. So in the end, everyone wins minus the people. I’m not a conspiracy theorist or anything. But it's quite obvious that the reasons why we have these conditions is through the toxins that we're putting in our body.
Lauren: So, I like to round up my interviews with a couple of Top Three lists. And the first one, I'm wondering if you can give us … and I know you'll be a wealth of information on this … your Top Three Tips for someone who suspects they might have something off. Maybe they're waiting for diagnosis, maybe they're already diagnosed, maybe they have Graves' disease, maybe they have Graves’ disease and they're pregnant and they don't know what to do. What would you recommend for these people to help them manage their livelihoods?
Faith: I would say the first thing would be to find a root cause. I see a functional doctor, but there's also integrative or naturopathic. But to find a doctor who takes a root cause approach to be your primary doctor through all the different doctors that you end up seeing. Because a lot of times you have a specialist for this and for that. But to have that one person that you bring everything back to, who knows your whole health history, sees everything as a whole, and understands the root cause approach as being the most important. I think that's the number one thing people need to do in order to heal. Or even just manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. The other thing I would say is, start making diet and lifestyle changes. I always recommend people do things really slowly, because if you try to do so many things at one time …
Lauren: … you won't know what's actually causing the issue.
Faith: Yeah, so it's too full-on. But I think from a mental health perspective, you can’t do 100 changes in one day. But you could sustain one change one month or one change in two weeks. If you make a conscious decision every morning to set your intentions to make that change.
And it could be something really simple, like start with cutting out inflammatory foods.
If you have an autoimmune disease, you really should be doing that. So maybe you start with gluten if dairy is too difficult for you. Or start with changing your cleaning products. Throw away all of those toxic cleaning products and buy Branch Basics. I don't work for them, but they're my favorite because it's one product for everything.
Lauren: Oh, no way. Okay, I was gonna actually ask what some of your favorites are. So Branch Basics we like.
Faith: It's so nice. They have this big concentrate bottle, and their concentrate soap, if you will, unscented. And then you get five empty bottles that are refillable, so you never have to buy more. And you just fill up to this line with water and up to this line with concentrate, shake it, and it works on everything. I will never use anything else. It is literally the cleanest you can buy. It’s sustainable, because you'll only ever use that one bottle.
Lauren: It’s much better for the environment.
Faith: It’s much better, it's cheaper. It's so effective. And you don't have to worry about … oh, put the bathroom products in the bathroom. And the kitchen products in the kitchen. And this in the laundry room. It is my laundry detergent, it is my bathroom cleaner, it is my all-purpose cleaner. It's my everything.
Lauren: Oh, that's wonderful, I'm going to look them up.
Faith: Make your life easier, do yourself a favor, throw away your toxic cleaning products that are more expensive and harmful. So, making lifestyle changes, whatever is accessible to you, taking those baby steps and then being really conscious of it and recording it. So if you cut out gluten, record the changes that you see in your gut, for example, your bathroom habits, or whatever. Record your energy levels, and your skin and your acne and look for any markers of that improving your quality of life — and move forward as such, because that will make a huge impact. And then my last one would be, just taking a look at your mental health. Your health is all one. Your mental health is as important as your physical health.
And in fact, your mental health manifests itself in physical ways. So look at things that are toxic in your life, things that you can cut out — like toxic relationships.
Or if you're following an Instagram that makes you feel bad about yourself, unfollow them. Just do small things that you can, Or take five minutes to meditate, something that you thought you'd never be able to do. But actually, you can spare five minutes. Do those things that will make a massive impact on your well being. And those are all things that are free. Access all of that for free. And it doesn't have to be, go buy this expensive sauna that's $5,000. Maybe you could do those things in your future. But it's not going to make nearly as big of an impact as cutting out inflammatory foods and taking five minutes to consciously set your intentions for the day, and unfollowing the Instagram accounts that make you feel bad or something like that.
Lauren: Which also starts with creating awareness of what's actually making you feel bad about yourself, doesn’t it. Which is a self-awareness.
Faith: It is, and it’s a learning process. As you practice exercising these small habits, you become more self-aware in every sense of the word, and more in tune with your body and you're able, most of all, to listen to your body, which then will ultimately be your guide to healing. So it is really just the practice itself that is the most important, but those are the ways to build up that skill set.
Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's really sensible advice. So my last Top Three list is quite the opposite. It’s Top Three Things that give you unbridled joy, that you're unwilling to compromise on in your life. So this could be guilty pleasures, it could be secret indulgences. It could be comfort activities when you're having a flare-up. What are the Top Three things in your life that you turn to for joy and for comfort?
Faith: So, kind of random … my first one would be, my morning routine as in my breakfast. Whether it's a matcha tea or a drink like a mushroom coffee.
Lauren: Like the Four Sigmatic stuff?
Faith: Yeah. I can do English Breakfast tea, or whatever. If I don't have my breakfast and little bit of caffeine and my water and all that before some movement, my entire day is ruined. Even on vacation, I have to go do this thing. I can't just get up and walk out the door. Even if it's my birthday and I'm in Hawaii at the Four Seasons, I still have to go down and take a moment. To me that makes or breaks my day, and has since I was in high school. Even if I'm feeling so, so sick and I'm bedridden, I will make the effort. I’ve never missed a day of breakfast in my home. And so to me, that's huge. Also, time outside. To me, being outside is one of my biggest healers. So whether I'm feeling great or I'm feeling bad, I try to find even one minute. If it's pouring rain, I’ll sit on my patio if that's all I can do. At the best of times it would be being active, at the worst of times it would be sitting. In every single scenario, no matter what, being outside helps me mentally and physically. And then honestly, if I would say guilty pleasure … okay, here's the thing. I'm not a drinker, per se, but I love wine.
So I can remember the last time I had a glass of wine. It was the day I found I was pregnant -- before I found out I was pregnant.
That was the last time I had a glass of wine. And my favorite thing in the world is having a glass of wine when I'm done with my day and I'm cooking, I have one glass of wine. And even on the weekend … I have nothing against drinking, it’s just that I'm a pansy and I can't handle a lot of alcohol. So obviously not having wine while I've been pregnant has been so hard. But it’s my favorite thing in the world; I am obsessed with wine.
Lauren: It’s a moment of peace for you the way a cup of tea is a moment of peace for someone else. It’s like your little peace in a glass.
Faith: Because I'm such a lightweight, I basically feel a buzz off a glass of wine. I guess that's something I will compromise on because I'm obviously not drinking it. But I would not do it for anything else besides a child!
Lauren: Is there anything else you want to share with us? Please, of course, tell the listeners where they can find you and your work.
Faith: So I share a lot on Instagram @ThatHealingFeeling, and then my website is that-healingfeeling.com. And if you follow me on Instagram, you'll really see my day-to-day. But also I will be sharing updates on when I'm going to be launching my course. I also have free guides and stuff on my website that kind of speak to what I was speaking to today — like, how to make the most of your doctors’ appointments and questions to ask and checklists to bring and stuff like that, that I hope are useful for people.
Lauren: That's awesome. Faith, thank you so much. It's been such a pleasure finally getting to speak to you. You’ve got such a wealth of knowledge to share with everyone, and and how wonderful that you've come out the other side of your experiences and been able to immediately give back to the Spoonie community. It’s just really great to connect with people who are on a mission of giving like that. So thank you so much for all the resources that you're providing and for sharing so openly about your experiences. And we're so excited to meet Baby Ashenden in a few months!
Faith: I know, I'm ready. Bring it on. July.
Lauren: Okay, July. Well, Faith, it's been such a pleasure and we look forward to continuing to follow your journey, and we'll definitely post links, and keep us posted about when the course becomes live.
Faith: Okay, thank you so much.