Episode 52: Lead and Mercury Poisoning with Camille Thornton-Alson

Episode 52: Lead and Mercury Poisoning with Camille Thornton-Alson


Camille Thornton-Alson is a classically trained actress, coach, and teacher. A longtime friend of Lauren’s, the two met while studying abroad in London – right before Camille began a stint in Paris at L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq. Following her stay in France, Camille returned home to the Bay Area and was immediately stricken with a mysterious illness…one that took her almost a decade to break through. Mistakenly diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, for years she struggled to find her footing while maintaining an active career in the arts (and graduating with a MFA from the University of Washington). Eventually, she was diagnosed with lead and mercury poisoning…and after years of inner remediation (think major detoxing and every change in diet – and in mindset – that you can imagine), she now lives a full and functional life, mindful of her sensitivities. She teaches acting at Santa Barbara City College and USC, among others, and is the co-founder of Speak LA, an organization founded to help actors find their way in Hollywood. In this episode, she sat down with Lauren to share her journey – long and winding, but with a happy ending indeed.



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Camille Thornton-Alson sits with her knees up, arms crossed across the top of her knees. She wears a navy hat that reads "Los Angeles" in white script. She leans against a wooden fence, and greenery grows overhead. She is smiling, and it is daytime.

Lauren: All right guys, thank you so much for joining us. We're here today with Camille Thornton-Alson. She's waving hi!! (laughs) Camille’s one of my old friends. She is an actress and an entrepreneur. She's one of the co-founders of SpeakLA, which we will, of course, link to on the website page when this episode is live. And she's a survivor of lead and mercury poisoning — which for a long time was misdiagnosed as ME or chronic fatigue syndrome. So Camille, thanks so much for joining us.

Camille: Well Lauren, it is my pleasure! So happy to be here with you, to see your face.

Lauren: And we're recording in Camille's lovely bedroom right now. It’s a very intimate environment.

Camille: It’s beautiful. Lauren really has the setup.

Lauren: Yeah, well Camille's got the bedroom setup. (laughs) So I thought we would just start with the basics. Can you tell us when and how … I know the story, but no one else does … when and how you first realized that you were sick?

Camille: Well, I got sick when I was 19. And I was still in college. Actually, you know, it's funny.

It was a progression of being sick. I just kept getting sicker and sicker and sicker and sicker. And it was really scary.

But it was actually when I met you … I was in London with Lauren. We were studying acting, I remember that, and having quite a fun time.

Lauren: It was last year! (laughs)

Camille: It was just yesterday! I think I got bronchitis, and an ear infection over and over again. I was on a ton of antibiotics. I came back from my year abroad … I was in London and Paris … and Paris was when it started getting really difficult. I just was exhausted all the time, and couldn't figure it out. I got home and I remember going to this Brazilian dance class, and actually fainting; I collapsed. It was sort of inexplicable; the fatigue was so extreme, I could not even explain it. I remember, I would try to lift pans and pots and I couldn't do it. I couldn't walk up stairs. I would try to walk down the street and I couldn’t; I was breathing really hard. That was when I was 19, when I was in London with you. Then I came home, and I was dealing with

this crazy thing for the summer. We started going to doctors. It was really fascinating, because I remember going to doctors and saying, “Okay, here's my history. It's X, Y, and Z.” And I remember this one woman at USF Medical, I think it was, or UCSF … I went to a doctor there, because we had no idea what was going on. And I was just this cute little 19-year-old, and of course, I looked fine, because I was 19.

Lauren: Oh, the irony.

Camillle: Yeah, nobody could understand that I was like dealing with this really extreme illness. And this woman was, like, “No, don't tell me the whole thing.” And I remember stopping her and I said, “Excuse me. You need to know every part of my medical history to understand what's going on.”

Lauren: Why would she say that to you?

Camille: Because I think a lot of doctors — and this is obviously a generalization, because there are some amazing doctors out there. But I think a lot of them … right away they don't listen to the history. And there's really a history behind it. But that summer, I had an integrative health doctor at UCSF, I believe … I mean, it was such a long time ago now, it's actually kind of nice that I can't really remember …

Lauren: I’m actually impressed that there is an integrative health facility at UCSF.

Camille: Yeah, there is, and he said to me, "You know, you're just going to have to live with this, and hopefully it will go away.” And I decided because of what he said, to go back to UCSD …

Lauren: Which is where you were in school …

Camille: Which is where I was in school, to continue studying.

I thought, well, if I have chronic fatigue, I need to learn how to live with chronic fatigue.

And it was incredibly painful to feel. I was 19, you know. So I did end up going back to school. It was very hard. I had turned … I feel like maybe I'm getting all my times wrong, but I had just turned 21 …

Lauren: This happens a lot, because you have brain fog and then you have to try and remember the timeline and tell the story again!

Camille: I remember turning 21 and I was in the midst of it and was very sick again. What would happen is, I would be on campus and to walk from one side to the other side of campus was almost impossible for me. I'd have to stop at one bench, then walk to another bench and stop, and walk to another bench and stop. And I would sit there and watch people, and think, ‘You’re so lucky that your bodies aren’t betraying you.’ Especially because I had no clue what was going on. So that was kind of the beginning of not understanding and trying to figure things out.

Lauren: So how did you end up finding out what you had going on? How long did that take?

Camille: ...

It took seven to eight years to find out I had lead poisoning.

I think I went to … God, I mean, over 30 doctors. I was doing everything.

Lauren: It’s sad how often we hear this story repeated. Especially among women.

Camille: Yeah, I think people that deal with invisible illnesses, as you call them, there are two choices you have … you decide to either be, like, ‘No, I'm going to do everything I can to get better.’ Or you just say, I give up. And it's a real easy thing to say, I give up. And then there's a fine line between it, too, because there is a point in the illness where you do, in a sense, have to admit that you're sick, and make some big changes. And then once you get better, then you have to be well again. So it's a very complicated, scary kind of tightrope to walk when you're in this place where there's so much mystery to what's going on. I remember I was going through all these tests, and they tested me for HIV. Here I am, this really young girl just scared out of her mind, with people saying, you know, many things … one of which is, “It’s not true.”  And not being able to kind of acknowledge … like, I was obviously depressed, and the things that I would have done in order to make myself feel better — exercise, going out with friends — I couldn't do anymore. And that was incredibly painful.

Lauren: It disconnects you from your humanity in some ways.

Camille: And your friends can’t understand how you feel at 19.  I lost a lot of friendships. It was such a heavy experience. All the things that I dreamt of … Will I be able to have a career? Will I be able to have a family? These are the things I was starting to kind of grapple with in my brain, and not knowing. During that time … this is an aside, but it's kind of funny … I did this tai chi class, it was a senior tai chi class…

Lauren: And they were all, like, “What are you doing here?!”

Camille: (laughs) And I would stay afterwards and have tea with them. And it was so much fun because it was my speed! Here I was, this 21-year-old hanging out with these 80- to 90-year-olds. The woman who ran it — her name was Miriam — and she had burns all over her face and was incredible. Her soul was just amazing.

I remember saying to her, “I am in so much pain right now.”

My body was in pain. My heart was in pain. My brain was spinning. When you're so fatigued, your brain cannot right itself. There's just so many things that happen to your body and to who you are. The tiredness I felt was indescribable. And that's what was so hard for people to understand. I felt almost as if I was like a bank. I would put some energy in, and then I would go out into the world and it was just taken for me; it would be drained. But the draining of it would put me in bed for three to four days. And when I got my period, I would spend a week before my period almost unable to open my eyes; the week of my period, again, sleeping. And then my brain thinking, your life is passing you by … your life is passing you by… you’ve gotta do something … you’ve got to do something. It was just so hard for me to even acknowledge … you will be okay. Because everyone was telling me, there is no answer to this, you’re not going to be okay. So this woman, Miriam, said to me: “Go out in the garden, and sit in the garden and look at something beautiful.” Because there was no beauty. I couldn't find beauty in any part of who I was at that time. And I did that. It was like taking it one step at a time. Anyway, I did end up going to grad school. It was very challenging, again.

Lauren: You were sick the whole time.

Camille: I was sick the whole time. I got mono. I got Epstein Barr. I was working with this energy woman, and that was kind of crazy. And finally I went to see this woman … I think I was 27 at this point … and she said, “You’re 27. You shouldn't feel like you’re 80. There's something wrong and we're going to figure it out. I think it's heavy metal toxicity.”

Lauren: Was she a medical practitioner?

Camille:  She was an integrative health medical practitioner. I don't know if that's the right term …

Lauren: Yes, an integrative health/functional medicine doctor.

Camille: And she was phenomenal. She had the medical background, and then she had the integrative background. She had the ability to test you, and she said, “I’m going to test you until we figure this out.” The first test that came back, there was a thyroid problem, and the thyroid problem was connected to the lead poisoning. And she said, “I don't think it's a thyroid problem. Let's go deeper.” And then we did the test, and I had lead and mercury poisoning off the charts. I don't even know how I was alive. It was that extreme. But I think I managed to survive because of the supplements and the nutrition and everything I was doing.

Lauren: So you had already taken some steps to control what you could.

Camille: Oh, yeah. I made a decision very early on that I was not going to die — which was a very big thing to do, because I was dying. My uncle visited when I had just gotten back from France …when I got to meet you, Lauren. I wasn't processing food. I was so skinny. I could not eat. My digestive system, everything wasn't working. Because the lead, which I found out later, was so in my body. It was in the tissues; it was everywhere. And it's painful. It hurts your body. The whole thing is incredibly painful. And I remember he pulled my parents aside and said, “If you don't figure out a way to feed her, she's gonna die.” I wish I could have, at that point, gone to the hospital, because that would have been a year of my life. But I decided very early on I was gonna fight it. I did everything. I figured out ways to cope with it. I went to grad school, which I can't even believe I was able to do. And I did really well there. But I was always working with this underlying fear. There was always an underlying fear of, will my body work tomorrow? Will it collapse? Will it be okay? Which is why I say there's a tightrope that you're walking when you deal with these illnesses. The tightrope is, I need to rest and this is okay. But then in your head, it’s, like, how many months is this going to take? And really, our lives are long and glorious, so that span of time — as intense as it feels – you don't have to look at it as if it's your whole life. But when you're in it, it's so hard to be, like, if I do this for two months, I'll feel better. Because you’re, like, well, nothing made me feel better. So there is this weird thing of …

Lauren: You can't see the forest for the trees.

Camille: No. But you do have to give in eventually and say, well, this is what's working, I'm going to keep doing this. I'm going to keep living my life the best I can, even though it's imperfect. Because my fear was hard to explain to people; they couldn't understand it.

Lauren: Especially young, vital people.

Camille: They'll understand later in their lives, what that feels like.

It was actually once I got better that I went through a grieving process.

Because in order to survive, I couldn't even think about … oh, you could die. You have to keep going. But then when you're through it, your whole body is, like, Oh my God, this happened to me! And you go through a whole process of acknowledging the past and how scary it was.

Lauren: I wonder if it'll make the future more bearable, too, you know, when the aging process sets in. Fifty years from now!

Camille: I think so. Because I think you really learn, when you deal with these illnesses, how to take care of yourself. And that's the gift, and the silver lining. And I think that you get a jumpstart on what many people don't know how to do yet. And I have to say, I felt a lot of resentment about that. I’d think, why does that person get to have pizza and I don't get to have it. But the truth is, I can have pizza. But I also know how my body feels with it. And now I'm 100% healthy and I've survived it. I don't have lead or mercury. I'm so good. But I still know what makes me feel better. I can't ignore that; that's a whole education that I got. Why would I discount that part of the process too?

Lauren: You mentioned, you know, sort of making adjustments in your diet, and supplements. What steps did you take to manage your symptoms and control your health, particularly once you had the diagnosis?

Camille: That's such a good question. I did so many different things.

Now I feel like I can pick a good practitioner out of a lineup …

... be, that's the person you go to.

Lauren: When I got sick, you were one of the first people I went to!

Camille: Yes. And I can really say, this is the person you go to. Because you learn so much about what real health is.

Lauren: And what compassion is, from a practitioner.

Camille: Yeah, exactly. But I think the biggest thing I did was change how I eat. That was huge. We talked about that, remember? I said to you, “Just take a month and just eat really clean.”

Lauren: When I was doing really badly at one point … I’d sort of gotten better and then dipped again … Camille called me. I remember sitting in the parking lot at the supermarket. And I guess I'd just gone food shopping. Camille called me and she said, “Can you just for a month change the way you're eating, so that what you're putting in your body is cleaner — and see if that helps.” And damned that wasn't the magic ingredient for me … changing my diet. Well, one of the things that really helped. And I probably wouldn't have done it if I hadn't been as low as I was. I hit rock bottom and then had a friend pull me out of it — like you did. We’ll get into that, and support systems, as we go on. But I imagine with metal poisoning, you're going to have to do chelation, right?

Camille: Yeah. When I finally got the diagnosis … because again, I had been managing the lead and the mercury poisoning with supplements and that kind of thing. I was working with this healer, and she was helping me. And then I stopped working with this woman … and I was sort of, like, I need something. That's when I got the diagnosis, and that’s when I did chelation. I went in three times a week, I think.

Lauren: And this is proper chelation. There are other forms of curation where it's a supplement, super light. And there are some you can do it at home — with different charcoal-type smoothies that they have you swallow. But this is proper chelation, where you have to go in and be hooked up to an IV, right?

Camille: Yes. And I did it for a full year. While I was in grad school, in my third year of grad school, for acting. So you’re in shows. And it was so hard.

Lauren: And it was not covered by insurance, was it.

Camille: It was not covered by insurance. And it was so expensive. What happens with chelation is, it's pulling the lead out of your body. It's literally pulling it out.

It feels like shards of glass being pulled out of your body. And then basically it binds to the lead, and then you pee it out of your system or you sweat it out.

That's how it gets out of your body. And when you're at a place that I was at, it's impossible to get it out on your own. The things you can do when you have heavy metal … or even anyone should do, really, are … make sure you're sweating. Go once a week to hot yoga just to get it out, or go to saunas. Make sure the circulation is moving. Because I was so backed up. It was in my liver; it was everywhere. Then after you do it, you have two days where it's coming out of you — and the symptoms get amplified. So your exhaustion is off the charts.

Lauren: Like a Herx among Lymies, a Herxheimer reaction.

Camille: Yeah. And your brain fog gets worse. And then you have to go back and they actually connect the IV and put the good stuff back in, because you've lost everything. It's a real intense process.

Lauren: Well, it’s got to be a little bit like chemo … a few hours, hooked up to an IV, in a room full of other people who are probably doing something similar.

Camille: Yeah, it was exactly like that. I can't remember exactly, because it varied. But I would usually be there an hour. And then I’d go home, and I’d just be wiped. And then I’d have to go perform!

And I was getting ready for my showcase!

Lauren: The adrenaline involved in performing, too … I can relate to this because we both have backgrounds as performers. You learn a discipline when you are a drama student of any kind — the show must absolutely go on. No matter what's going on, you get up and you do it. But then afterwards, you collapse.

Camille: Exactly.

Lauren: I imagine, those extremes must have been really hard to manage, as well.

Camille: Oh, they were so hard.

I felt like I was walking around all the time with this sort of very open heart and a deep vulnerability that I couldn't really explain.

Lauren: Which is also really scary!

Camille: It's really scary. I think our culture and our society … especially in the US … we're not kind when it comes to illness. And we really need to be kinder. Because I think, on a bigger level, you can use it as a real transformational process in your life; it can really transform your world. I don't think I would have the compassion and the empathy … well, I'm a pretty empathetic person … but I think it gives you an understanding of humanity that is much deeper. And if that's how you choose to look at your journey here — which I certainly do — sickness is not a curse.

Lauren: It's really interesting that you bring up the concept of compassion and empathy, because this, to me, is like a running theme throughout all of these interviews — that survivors walk away with this whole new appreciation for the fact that their bodies are vital again. To whatever degree that is. That you've learned to live in this new body, but you've also learned to relate to people in such a different way. You were also at school studying human behavior basically, and doing a deep dive into performative psychology, if you will. So I'm not surprised that you walked away with an even deeper feeling for those around you. So, in terms of how you went through the healing process … did you, at any point, have an advocate in that wellness journey? Was there anyone that you turned to who sort of stuck up for you, when you were too weak to do it yourself? And if so, how has that impacted your relationship with that person?

Camille: Well, my parents have always been amazingly supportive. Honestly, financially, I would not have survived this if they hadn't been able to help me with medical treatment. My friend base that I did have was incredible.

Lauren: So, the ones who stuck around.

Camille: Yeah, they were amazing. I dated somebody in grad school, and he was amazing. He took really good care of me, and it must have been so hard for him. Because it was scary for me, so I can only imagine what it was like for a partner. But I think, I was my biggest advocate. I always was. It was so hard for people to understand what I was going through.

Lauren: And it sounds like, early on you were the one in doctors’ appointments saying, "Excuse me …"

Camille: It was always me. And I will say, I don't think doctors know best … ever. I'm the first person who will say, “You're not listening.”

Lauren: Well, some doctors might know best.

Camille:  But you know your body the best. You know your body, and if they're not listening to what you're saying about what's going on with your body, they're not the right person to go to. And I think there's a wealth of knowledge that you gather as you go along.

But I always had to advocate for myself. It was lonely. I was very lonely in this journey.

Once I went on a chronic fatigue forum, and I immediately got off of it — because people were living in the illness and sort of given up in it. And I was, like, there's no way in hell I'm going to spend my life with this. There's no way. This is not how my life is going to be.

Lauren: It's interesting, because a lot of people who are on the show say, we turn to online forums, because often there's a really educated patient population. But on the other side of that, there are some forums that … I've had a guest say … they're all symptom porn. They’ll just sit and say, woe is me — and everyone sympathizes, Which can be very helpful for people who are in that place.

Camille: I don't like that. I don't think it's healthy. I think, get away from that … run from that … because it's not going to help you get better. And I just want to say, as an addendum, I truly believe, after my experience, that there is always a diagnosis. I didn't believe that at first. I remember talking to the person I was with in grad school and saying, “It's chronic fatigue. You’re not going to understand it, but it's like this deep fatigue and it's horribly named … and blah, blah, blah.” I do not believe anymore in chronic fatigue. I absolutely believe there is …

Lauren: … something else?

Camille: Absolutely. Because our bodies are amazing and really smart. And there is something going on.

Lauren: But we know that there's potentially some link to encephalitis. Myalgic encephalomyelitis is the other name for chronic fatigue. I understand what you're saying …

Camille: But I don't believe that anymore. I had fibromyalgia too — and that's a symptom of lead poisoning.

Lauren: So you got diagnosed with it?

Camille: I got diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. So I think that even if it's fibromyalgia … there is an underlying cause that you can find. And I find that very hopeful to think of that. Because I think the hardest part is having this vague diagnosis that’s sort of, well, what does that mean? I'm going to be tired for the rest of my life? That doesn't make sense. That doctor saying to me … ”Absolutely not. You are 26. You should not be feeling like you’re 80.” She's right. I've always thought that. Going through what I went through, I was, like, well, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there is this vague kind of thing? But it's so weird, because wouldn’t your body know how to come back? It does.

Your body’s smart. Your body loves you; it’s on your side. There are reasons why it’s going through it.

It’s kind of like what we talked about … how much better you felt with the nutrition. There's things you can do, and maybe you don't find the exact cause. But you find solutions along the way.

Lauren: To manage the symptoms, yeah.

Camille: And when the symptoms go away. I believe that now, and in a very deep way, and in a way that I didn't when I first got sick. But through my experience, I really, really do. I even had the Epstein Barr virus while I was sick. But they say that's another underlying cause of chronic fatigue.

Lauren: Yes, that's right. Because the Epstein Barr virus can actually live in your system for years and years. Like the strep virus.

Camille: Exactly. So, you know, just to throw in a little hopeful …

Lauren: Yeah. Maybe it's just digging deeper, and doing more and more tests.

Camille: And finding the right team of doctors.

Lauren: And for the people who are perhaps at the end of their rope, who have done every single test and are, like, I've done all the tests and they’ve come back negative … maybe you need to return to some of those tests. Maybe you need to find a different practitioner who's more hopeful for you.

Camille: ...

Even for those people out there at the end of their rope … I promise you, there's a cause.

And just to give you guys some insight … there was one time when I remember getting home from grad school from a performance or something, and I think I got another diagnosis of mono. I was so sad. I took a bunch of plates, and I threw them and I broke them all over the floor. I was so upset.

Lauren: You were angry, too.

Camille: I was angry. I thought, ‘This isn't fair. I don't deserve it. My body's betrayed me. This has happened.’ And now I will just tell you … I'm so healthy, it’s ridiculous. I really say that because it was a trail of doctors, a trail of experiences, that got me to the next place.

Lauren: And you were lucky, too. There’s a certain amount of freedom and a privilege, right … once you have a diagnosis. It took you seven, eight years to get there. There are some people, who seven, eight years in, are still in the darkness.

Camille: Absolutely.

Lauren: And it's just about sticking it out, isn’t it.

Camille: And to those people I would say: Look at your diet. Just start there. Because the other thing I remember saying to you was: Take a month and do nothing. Which is the hardest thing.

Lauren: That’s right! I forgot about that. When Camille suggested that I change my nutrition and my diet, she also said, “Just stop working for a month.” And I was, like, “I can't stop working! I can’t not work, because I've got bills to pay. And I've got projects I'm working on. How could I possibly stop?” And to be fair, I didn’t, because I'm a workaholic. But I did pull back on a lot of stuff. And for that month, I was very much, like, I'm not going to commit to things that are not going to serve me.

Camille: That’s the biggest thing. I said, if you can't take a month off, don't go to any events with friends. It's your month of watching fun movies and cooking and caring for your body. And I also said, stop going all those doctors’ appointments. Take a month.

Lauren: Which I also didn’t do. I kept going to the doctor!

Camille: Which is fine. When you're that sick, your body is tired. And the energy it takes to drive somewhere is energy that is being used to drive and not to replenish. You have to really trust that taking that time … I think the hardest part about taking that time is thinking, well, what if I take the time and nothing happens? A little bit of it is saying, I allow myself to be sick. Which is, again, that tightrope that I was talking about.

Which is so hard to do, because if you allow yourself to be sick, the thought in your head is: Am I ever going to get well?

Lauren: And then it is that your identity is …

Camille: … as a sick person. Which is a very hard thing to do. And I will say it was very hard for me to do, because that's like the opposite of who I am and my nature.

Lauren: Yeah, and I think the difference between letting it become your identity and giving yourself permission to rest — those are distinctions.

Camille: Yeah. And making that distinction … Because I work really hard. I'm a perfectionist. I have very big ambitions and goals and dreams. Getting sick really, really checked my ego. It really was like: What does your heart want? Not what society wants, or what you think looks good in the world.

Lauren: And what can your heart handle?

Camille: And what can your heart handle right now? And it becomes this very precious communication with your body and your soul and your being.

Lauren: And that is the spiritual aspect.

Camille: Exactly. And the part where it’s, like … sometimes I wish I could go back to that 19-year-old girl and say: “Hey, you're going to be okay.” I was forced to rest because I couldn't literally do anything. But the entire time my brain was spinning. And again, that's normal, too, because when you're that tired, your brain cannot stop spinning. So I just want whoever's listening to this to know … you’re okay. And it's okay. And it will be okay.

Lauren: And what you're going through may not feel normal, but your psychological reaction to it is okay.

Camille: Yes, it is okay. And if you can just keep saying to your brain … I hear you, I know you're freaked out and scared. I get it, but I'm going to give myself a week. I hear you. I'm gonna watch the movie. Just keep checking your brain so you can keep resting. Because when you start to feel replenished, you'll be able to handle more and you'll be able to see more solutions than if you're just down and out, down on the ground.

Lauren: So can you also walk us through … I know you mentioned a little bit about when you were back at campus at UCSD, which was your undergrad, and you would walk from one bench and have to rest and then go to the next bench. The difference between what a day looked like for you then, and what a typical day looks like for you now.

Camille: Oh, well, I mean, night and day. I was so sad. I felt broken. I felt like this bleeding wounded heart walking around campus in this young person's body. Not knowing what was going on. And I was exhausted all the time. Now, I do a gazillion things every day. I run around. I exercise every day. I meet new people. I cook all the time; nutrition is still really important for me.

Lauren: And I'll add this … Camille’s not preachy about it, not like “You must fix your diet!” For me, that was such a huge change and it took prodding, but Camille was very gentle!

Camille: (laughs) I was gentle because it’s a hard thing to do! The thing is, you think that you've made the changes — but then in reality you haven't.

Lauren: Because our relationship to food isn't about being nurtured. It's about ‘Do I look good when I eat this?’ ‘Am I gonna get skinny if I eat this salad?’ So, because of the association with the focus on weight — particularly for people in the entertainment industry — and appearance to shift … that was huge for me, too, shifting from appearance to health — in the way that you look at food and what you're putting in your body. And seeing food as fuel.

Camille: Yeah, absolutely. I recently was doing an experiment where I was allowing myself to eat everything and anything I wanted. And I say “allowing myself”, because when I was so sick, if I had a slice of cake, I would be in bed for a couple of weeks. It was that kind of do or die. If I eat the wrong thing … again, just hearing those words … it was wrong and right/wrong and right/black and white/black and white. It was terrifying. And the thing is, I love food. So to not be able to go out with friends and have the sushi or have the pad Thai was really hard for me.

Lauren: It’s also in your family too, because Camille has an international background. And one of the ways that your family expresses love is through cooking.

Camille: Is through cooking, is through food.

Lauren: And you're very much like that.

Camille: And I'm like that, too.

Lauren: She’s feeding me after this!

Camille: I'm gonna make Lauren some food!

Lauren: And we’ve been excited about this for about a week! (laughs)

Camille: (laughs) It's true! I love cooking. But that changed, too. Because when I was really sick, I had to start cooking. And I hated it. I resented it. And then I got out of it. And then I was resentful that I couldn't go have a burger or whatever, with bread. And so recently, I did this little experiment where I was, like … I don't want to be afraid of food, in terms of getting sick. There was a little bit of a thing in my head. This was literally a month ago, a couple of months ago. So I started doing that.

But at the end of the day, when you know what works for your body, you know what works for your body.

And I almost instantaneously didn't feel good.

Lauren: But you're much more sensitive to it than your average person at this point, too.

Camille: I am. Exactly. But when you have been through what we've been through … and what most of your listeners have gone through … the idea of doing anything that makes my body have to work harder …

Lauren: … it's too precious.

Camille: It’s too precious to me. And I really do. I think about smoking. And I think about what it does to my lungs. And for me, even drinking …

Lauren: Well, the sugar in alcohol does not agree with you.

Camille: The sugar has never agreed with me. And I'm also particularly sensitive. So please, enjoy a glass, whatever. But I feel it in my body in a way. And then I have to do the sweating and go to the gym because my circulation … I’m still getting it back on track. So I just makes me feel like, why am I doing that?

Lauren: Well, it's funny … even this evening before we recorded this interview, Camille sent me a text message and she said, “Can you actually meet a little later? I just really need to sweat.” And when I got here to Camille's house, she said, “I think I ate something funny yesterday. I just needed to sweat it out.”

Camille: Yeah! And I feel 100% better now.

Lauren: Energized!

Camille: I’m energized. The thing is, a lot of your guys’ bodies probably work the same way. It's getting the movement of the circulation, and sweating things out. Because basically with anybody with any illness … when your system gets backed up, you're not able to push toxins out the way you normally are. And that's why it's so important to eat well, because there's toxins in sugar, for example. Sugars are a toxin.

Lauren: There’s preservatives and additives.

Camille: There’s preservatives and all that stuff. So basically, when you put it in your body and your body's doing well, you're able to push it out in a really easy way. But if your body is fighting an illness or trying to recover, it's harder to push it out. And that's why the sweating helps. It's like, let me help you a little bit more.

Lauren: I still struggle with it because I just hate sweating. But I'm also like, I know it’s so good for me. I just have to lean into it.

Camille: I know, I didn't like it either.

Lauren: So, how do you balance the demands of work and life, knowing that you're in a place right now where your health is balanced, and you're working your butt off — because you have your own business. How do you maintain that balance, and make sure that you're eating fresh food and that you're making time to give yourself self-care?

Camille: Well, that's a really hard thing. And that's always been, I think, a struggle for me because when I lean into work, I really lean into work.

When I lean into anything, I really go for it.

So I'll say this … the moment when I'm feeling overwhelmed, or I'm feeling, like, oh my God, there's so much going on in life right now … I take a moment and say, ‘Thank you so much, that I get to be in life and not be out of life.’ All the time. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. So, no matter how high the stress level is, I say, thank you. And that helps me enormously because I think, again, going back to talking about a tightrope, it’s a choice to be in life no matter where you are. It's a choice to get well from an illness, no matter how difficult it is. It’s a choice. And you don't have to choose it. And it's hard. It's a very hard thing. So, that’s kind of how I try to approach it. But also, when I start feeling out of balance, my world gets out of balance. And I get frustrated. I think, gosh, darn it, why, why? Why do I have to do these things? First of all, everyone has to do these things. There's a few thoughts that will come up into my head almost immediately when I'm feeling that kind of overwhelm. And the first one is: Well, if I hadn't gotten sick, this wouldn't have happened! I just have to remind myself  … no, no, no. That was your story. Now you're here. And now you're doing all these things.

Lauren: You’ve changed the narrative.

Camille: You have to change the narrative, all the time. But I have continued to choose — again, it's a choice — to make my health a priority. Always. And when I feel like I'm not … and I think everyone who has dealt with an illness and is in this process is hypersensitive … it’s kind of a muscle. Your spirituality is a muscle … going to the gym. And even continuing your journey of health. That's all like muscles that you're building, where it becomes second nature. So it's a non-negotiable for me. Just like there's certain words that I don't say. Non-negotiables. There are words that I don’t even say. Cooking my food is absolutely a non-negotiable; I must do it. Going to the gym and working out? It's a non-negotiable. And it wasn't always a non-negotiable for me. I have a lot of resistance towards those things. But there's certain things … if they haven't happened in my day, I make sure they happen in my day. And I push work aside now. And I say … if I didn't get to that, it doesn't matter. I must go to the gym. Because my health is more important.

Lauren: Yeah. And when you were sicker, I suppose you didn't have a choice because your body would shut down at a certain point.

Camille: Oh, when I was really sick, I couldn't work out. I couldn't do anything.

Lauren: And it’s a gift now.

Camille: It's a gift. And just recently. This is all in the last year. I've been going to the gym at night time, which I used to do in high school and I loved doing. And I wake up in the morning and I feel amazing. But I've stopped saying to myself … again, it's that fear thing … well, am I too tired to work out? When you're sick, your body is tired and your intuition gets skewed. It's really hard to trust yourself. But if you’re sick, you're tired. And then when you're feeling better, and you're tired, you can go to the gym. But it's just taking the time, basically, to check in again with your intuition — and trust your intuition again.

Lauren: Absolutely.

Camille: Which is a process in and of itself, and I'm not going to say that that's easy, because I'm definitely still working on that.

Lauren: It’s definitely a process. I think it's a process whether or not you're ill.

Camille: Yeah, it is.

And if the day gets really busy on me and I haven't gone and worked out or gone for a walk or something, I don't beat myself up about it.

But I pretty much do some form of exercise every day, like hikes or whatever.

Lauren: Hikes are your favorite!

Camille: I love going on hikes!

Lauren: It took me two years being in LA with her to say, “Camille, I hate hiking!”

Camille: Lauren never actually said it out loud. And I thought, oh, she's always busy! (laughs) I love hikes because you get your exercise and you get to meet with your friend, and then you get to go back to work. So you can combine it! But I couldn't figure out why Lauren would never want to go with me!

Lauren: (laughs) I'm more of a quick shot person. I don’t want to hike for an hour. I want to get in and get out. Then I’m done with my working out and my sweating.

Camille: And now I never ask you to go on a hike!

Lauren: She knows better than that! (laughs)

Camille: That was so funny when you finally told me that … and I was, like, really??

Lauren: Well, she was like, “Who doesn’t like hikes?!” And then she said, “Ohhh!” The realization of all these years of politely declining!

Camille: She was so polite about it. Finally, she told me to my face.

Lauren: I don’t know why it took me so long to tell you!

Camille: I don’t I know. I would have been, like, “Okay!”

Lauren: I think it was also so new to me. Because I'm such a city girl. No one ever used to ask me to go hiking! Until I moved to LA, and Camille was constantly, “Let's go hiking!”. And I was, like, “Uh-huh … you have fun!” Look, whatever floats your boat, and that's probably also a great way to connect to that beauty … going back to your tai chi instructor, who said, “Go sit outside in the garden.” And certainly, being outside and being in nature is a great way to connect to beauty and gratitude.

Camille: Absolutely. These are things I really had to work on, by the way. When you are dealing with the stuff that everyone who's listening is dealing with, this is … excuse my language … but it’s f*cking hard. I really want to acknowledge how hard it is. Because it is so, so scary.

Already as human beings, we don't know what's going to happen in the future. But then to add health issues … how are you supposed to even live, or navigate?

I'm not kidding. For a while, I would get up and write gratitude lists in the morning. And I would do these things simply to get out of the panic that I was in, about what I had gone through and what I was going through.

Lauren: There are now scientific studies that are showing that gratitude actually improves your health.

Camille: Yeah, it does! But again, tell this to a person who's been sick for so many years, and they’re, like, “Well, fuck you.” And I get that; I really get that. I felt resentful and angry and sad and lonely and despairing — all the things. And there's times now still where I wake up and I’m, like, I wish I hadn't gone through what I went through. Because it's hard. It's a very hard experience to go through these particular illnesses that … like we're talking about that … there’s no diagnosis. So you're sort of in this fog. And you look okay, so it's a very lonely kind of experience. That's why it's really one day at a time. Okay, today at this time, even though I know I'm not going to feel good, I'm going to get up and I'm going to write down five things I'm grateful for. And it's like interrupting that …

Lauren: … negative thought cycle.

Camille: … the negative thought cycle in your head.

Lauren: Well, speaking of looking fine and not feeling fine … can you give us any anecdotes, any experiences you’ve had — either then or now — where you've been forced to justify to someone … be it a friend or a family member or a medical practitioner … that something was going on, when they wouldn't believe you?

Camille: Sure. I had to get a handicap placard when I was about 20 … I think I got it when I was 22 or 23. Because I was going back to UCSD to finish up my last year. I needed to have a parking spot and I couldn't get guaranteed a parking spot. And I was mortified. I was so embarrassed about that. And people would say things to me.

Lauren: You’re also not the first person who's young and been chronically ill, and had people judge you for having a disabled sticker.

Camille: I even had a cousin who made a comment, and I just looked at them and said … I don't even remember what I said, but it was something like: “I'm really sick.” And he was, like, “Oh, I'm sorry.” Because, at that point, I was able to kind of talk about it. But when I went to grad school, I had the handicap placard and I was so embarrassed. People would say things.

Lauren: Who would say things? Was it young people, older people?

Camille: Everyone. Because it's so hard to understand. That first year was really hard. I was also falling in love, so that was a very tricky thing to navigate and to explain. Because the other thing is, you want to tell people: “This isn't who I really am.” I remember talking to my sister about this … and I love my sister … you know her, she’s amazing and super practical.

Lauren: And also super empathic.

Camille: Yeah, just an amazing person. And I was lamenting the fact that I didn't look how I did when I was 19. This was recently …

Lauren: FYI, nobody does!

Camille: And that's what she said! She was, like, "You have this idea that there's the you before you got sick, and then the you when you got sick, and then the you after you got sick. And it’s like these three kind of separate, huge points.” And she’s right. I have this image in my head of this really fun, flirty, light, young college student …

Lauren: You’re still like that, though!

Camille: Well, thank you. I appreciate that!! And then I have the image of myself as this very dark, heavy person wading through a lot of sorrow.

Lauren: But it’s interesting that you have that because you're able to summon gravitas when you need it now.

Camille: That’s true! Which, again, is the plus side that's hard to recognize.

Lauren: It makes you a more complete person.

Camille:  It makes you a more complete person. I don't really want to be that 19-year-old. I'd rather be the person I am now. But I had to walk through a lot of fire to get there. And so it's just recently that I've been able to sort of marry all those parts of who I am. And really, there were moments where I would look in the mirror and not even recognize myself. It's fascinating because I'll look back at pictures from grad school, and right after grad school when I was still really recovering from this, and be like, wow, you're beautiful! But I did not feel that way. I felt really broken and damaged. I would look in the mirror and feel this aching pain that I wasn't that free-spirited 19-year-old, that I had been robbed of my ‘20s, essentially. And it's just recently that I thought, Oh, no, you are all those facets already. You're still the same woman. So if you're going through that, I think that's another thing that can come up, too … you almost compartmentalize these different parts of your life and your world.

Lauren: It’s about finding the space to honor all of them and not be defined by one stage of your life. So, has your experience turned into advocacy on a larger scale at all?

Camille: Not like what you're doing, I love what you're doing. I do, I think it's fantastic. And I really wish I had had something like this when I was going through what I went through.

Lauren: That’s exactly why I'm doing it! (laughs)

Camille: Yeah, because it makes people feel less alone. And I like how you're doing it, because I feel like you're bringing a lot of hope to it.

Lauren: Well, that is really dependent on the guests! (laughs)

Camille: Well, I want people to know that there's hope. I promise you, you can and will get better. I really do. I would bet money on that. I absolutely know it's possible.

Lauren: And I also think there's a lot of power in sharing your story. From the perspective of the host of this interview, having people on the show who are willing to be vulnerable, so that people can hear their stories and know that they're not alone. That's advocacy in and of itself, sitting in front of a microphone.

Camille: Well, good. I'm glad I'm doing a little something.

Lauren: My gosh, I really think that.

Camille: I remember, for a long time, it was hard to even say the story out loud. It was so emotional to me. I felt so much shame around the experience — which is ridiculous. I mean, how can you feel shame around getting sick?

Lauren: But by the same token, judging it now and saying, that's ridiculous to have had that shame … In the moment, there’s nothing shameful about the reality of your emotional reaction to it.

Camille: No, you're right. I shouldn't say that, it wasn't ridiculous. I remember going on a date with someone and not wanting to talk about being sick, because it was so heavy to me.

Lauren: But also, when do you bring it up?

Camille: Yeah, exactly. Which is a whole other conversation.

Lauren: For me. I bring it up on first dates now. Because it’s my job. So I'm sort of, like, well, I'm gonna just put it all out there!

Camille: Well, I have to tell you, it's so far away from my experience right now … I don't even think about it. Whereas for a long time, it was so much a part of my experience, I couldn't stop thinking about it. And now, I literally do not think about it.

Lauren: Well, I guess that's part of your spiritual practice at this point. It's part of that gratitude that you practice every day.

Camille: Absolutely. And and I had to work on it a lot around getting sick. And by the way, I continue to work on all the layers that it has brought up in my life. I still have to work on it. I still have to say, you're well, you're 100% well. Yeah, you can do that. Yeah, you can eat that.

Lauren: I also think therapy is a really great way to work through that stuff. I'm a big believer in therapy whenever you need it. Whether it’s for life or the season.

Camille: Absolutely. And also I'll say this … I was on an anti-depressant for a while with this. I needed to be on an anti-depressant. So I think there's really no shame in getting yourself to a place where you can mentally and emotionally deal with something in a way that’s … I don't want to say stronger, that’s not the right word … but just sometimes you need a little something to hold onto.

Lauren: And something to get you over the hump. I mean, it's very common, I know at least for cancer patients, to be prescribed anti-depressants.

Camille: I didn't know that.

Lauren: Certainly, people I've known who've gone through it have been prescribed anti-depressants at different points in their treatment. Because you spend so much time being sick, and it's a very common thing in that realm. But it's interesting that it's either something that's over-prescribed in the invisible illness realm because people are, like, "Oh, you're just depressed.”

Camille: There’s also that, yes. Which happened to me as well. And I didn't need it at that point.

Lauren: Or it's that you're dealing with a lot of stuff that’s really heavy, and it’s having that little extra boost to help you get past any irrational thinking. Because it's easy to go into those extremes and those negative spirals, especially when you're tired as hell. It can be so helpful. I'm a strong believer in medication therapy, whatever you need. And acknowledging that.

Camille: Me too.

Lauren: Now this is this is a big question … How has our health system helped you or hindered you through the experience of being well? Getting well and being well.

Camille: That is a big question!

Lauren: It’s like a whole other episode!

Camille: What a shocker that you'd have such a big question. (laughs). Quel shock! It's hard to answer that question because I just think that these illnesses are so hard to diagnose that you gotta just find the right people. And there are some wonderful people and some really crappy people.

And I think it's really up to you to just keep reminding yourself that you're not crazy. You’ve got to keep going.

And you'll know within the first experience with someone if they're right or wrong. And if they're wrong, you just get the hell out of there and find someone new.

Lauren: How do you find that intuition if you're not as plugged into it as you are?

Camille: Well, the first thing is … if they listen. Having someone be really understanding, and listening to the symptoms. And I ask a lot of questions. When they say, “Well, you’ll want to try this,” I will say, “Why?” And then I researched it on my own. I’ve got tons of books … not tons, I don't want to overwhelm you … but I learned a lot about, what vitamins work for what. I remember I started seeing an integrative health person in Seattle when I was going to grad school there. And she wanted me to eat at night. She said, “Well, if you're getting hungry at night time, make sure to have crackers and you can have some cheese.”

Lauren: What? You can’t eat dairy.

Camille: Exactly. And that's what I said to her. I had Epstein Barr virus, I'm recovering from mono. A lot of the stuff I had was in my chest area. And I said, “Why would you tell me to eat dairy?” So she was not the right person for me. She also told me to have ashwagandha or something.

Lauren: That’s an adaptogen. Depending on what you've got going on, that can be helpful.

Camille: That can be very helpful, but I had read somewhere … again, don't take what I'm saying as right, because this was such a long time ago, I can’t remember … I read that it was not helpful with Epstein Barr. She also told meet have apple cider vinegar, which also feeds the virus. But again, all these things are really good things. So this person was technically telling me really good things to do, but not good for me and my body. Because I was so aware of that, I was, like, this is crazy. And that's the other thing, a lot of people are going to say to you, “Eat this or do this,” and that particular food might not be right for you. So you want to be with the health practitioner that's going to say, "We're going to try this. We're going to see what's going to work. And then we're going to closely monitor it, and we're going to figure it out together.” Because your body is the boss. It's not any of these people; it's your body. So that's what I would say … you’ll start intuiting who's right and who's wrong. And really, with the right person, you're going to start feeling better. And even if your body isn't feeling better, there's going to be a part of your brain and your heart that's going to feel better. And that's your intuition guiding you. On the greater level of health care, it's very difficult that insurance doesn't cover many of the things that we need, with these illnesses that aren't diagnosed.

Lauren: The number of GoFundMe campaigns you see, all the time, with people trying to pay their medical bills through crowdfunding … it’s so upsetting to me that our system is letting us down.

Camille: It’s really, really upsetting, and I find it constantly upsetting.

But I also think, I am willing to spend money on my health in ways that I wouldn't have necessarily done had I not experienced this.

I am willing, when I don't feel well, to find the right person and to pay the extra money. I put that in my budget.

Lauren: It's about your health being a priority.

Camille: Yeah.

Lauren: You mentioned a couple of tips in terms of being able to suss out medical practitioners. I like to wrap up these interviews with a couple of Top Three Lists. The first being, can you give us your top three tips for people who might be entering this space of invisible illness? Who might be patients like we have been? Tips to help coping while going through diagnosis phases. What would you say to people who are in your shoes?

Camille: Oh, gosh, top three. Number one, I would say, is: You’re going to be okay. This is not your life for ever.

Lauren: And she doesn't mean that in a condescending way, either. I think sometimes you can say to someone, “You're going to be okay!But you're literally saying, there is light at the end of this tunnel, so just keep going.

Camille: Absolutely. Not, you’re gonna be okay; you are okay. This is scary and you don't know yet, but you are okay.

Lauren: Your body's trying to tell you something.

Camille: And your body is so smart. Even though it might feel like your body is betraying you, it's not betraying you. It's giving you information. And you can listen. And the more you listen, you will find out what that information is. But you are okay. That's the first thing I would say. The next thing I would say is … I guess it’s along the same line, is … give yourself a break. A true break. So, like I said to you, a month is a lot shorter time than you actually think it is. It's a shorter span of time

Lauren: Well, especially if you’re sick for years. A month is a blip.

Camille: Yeah, a month is a month, but it's not going to feel like a blip.

It's gonna feel like you are checking out of life. And that's scary, because when you are in these illnesses, everything you're doing is trying to stay in life. So what I'm saying is … I give you permission.

I give yourself permission. If you need someone to tell you who's gone through this … I give you permission to take the time, take the month. Really honor that time.

Lauren: And find ways to make that work if you can.

Camille: Absolutely. And you can. There's no way you can’t. You can cut out a ton of stuff. Give yourself that time. And by the way, when you feel better at the end of that month — because you will if you really do the diet, and you really take the time to watch some movies … Don't do the social things, you take a timeout.

Lauren: Yeah, you might not be able to cut out everything, like not just quit work for a month.

Camille: But if you're at a place where you have accrued sick days or whatever …

Lauren: Use them.

Camille: Use them. Take a week at the beginning to prep your food, get everything ready. And then you have the rest of the month where you can rest. Don’t do the social activities. And the third tip …oh boy …

I would say ... nutrition is everything. It is literally the key. I don't care what you have, on the spectrum. Nutrition is the key.

Lauren: Fix it.

Camille: Yeah, fix it. Embrace it.

Lauren: Find what feels good for you.

Camille: Find what feels good for you. Don't be hard on yourself when you eat something and it doesn't feel good. It's just more information. And allow yourself to nourish your body, because that's what the food is there for. And when you do that, I always picture my body is saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Your body is starved for the nutrition, because it needs the nutrition to heal. So nutrition is everything.

Lauren: I love that. So, one other Top Three list …

Camille: Oh boy!

Lauren: I know, but this is the real fun one.

Camille: Okay!

Lauren: So you've obviously made adjustments in your lifestyle, and obviously nutrition is a huge one. And exercise, rest time, things like that. What are your Top Three cheats, or guilty pleasures, or secret indulgences that you allow yourself sometimes — because you f*****g earned it?

Camille: Oh, I love that! So, cheats … you know what’s funny, I don't cheat that much.

Lauren: No, you don't. You really don't. Feeling good feels so good.

Camille: It does, it feels so good to me. Lately I do chocolate occasionally. Ooh, there's this delicious press juicer … they have this thing called The Freeze and it's all natural.

Lauren: Oh my God, they're amazing! It's like a smoothie had a baby with one of those ice cone things. It's like a frozen smoothie with frozen juice. Its sort of like soft serve.

Camille: Yeah, and it's all natural sugar. And you can do toppings. I guess that’s a cheat. When I travel, I eat a lot of cheese.

Lauren: That’s true. Because you’re in a lot of places where you can eat the cheese.

Camille: Yes. But I don't know if I really can answer that, because I don't really cheat. I will say the top three things that I really enjoy …

Lauren: Oh yeah, things that make you feel good.

Camille: Okay, top three things that I do when I need a timeout … one would be getting a treat like that.

Lauren: Or taking yourself out on a date.

Camille: Yeah, I take myself on a date — going to the beach, watching a movie; when I'm really tired, I just shut down and watch a movie.

All this stuff has a lot to do with self-care at the end of the day, the things that I do to regroup.

I turn off my phone. That's a big one that I do.

Lauren: That’s probably a really good thing to practice.

Camille: That’s hard for me.

Lauren: And our businesses depend so much on social media and being accessible all the time. It’s that entrepreneurial thing.

Camille: I love watching a really funny, silly movie. I love French movies; there's a ton on Netflix right now, and they’re absurd. Because my family, as Lauren mentioned … all of them live over there, so it just makes me feel like I'm back home with them. So I do stuff like that. I'll go out with a friend, And I enjoy it. Or I’ll go on a hike. I don't even consider it a cheat anymore, because I'm really trying to just enjoy it when I feel like it.

Lauren: Well, Camille, thank you so much for being with us today.

Camille: It was my pleasure.

Lauren: It was such a an absolute pleasure talking to you. And I feel, in all the years we've known each other, and we've known each other a long time … this is the first time that we've also properly addressed all of this stuff.

Camille: Yeah, we've never really talked about it.

Lauren: So it's really valuable to me to have heard all this from you, and I really appreciate it. I know that everyone listening is going to get a lot out of this. Tell us how everyone can find you on t’internet.

Camille: My business is iSpeakLA.com. It's actually called Speak LA, but the website is iSpeakLA.com. You can find us on Instagram at iSpeakLA. We're on Twitter, the twit … but we don't really use that much. And then Facebook. So if anybody's out there and you're an actor in the creative field and want to learn more about what we do — because we help actors and we have podcasts and all these things — please join the Facebook group. It's SpeakLA members only Facebook group, and I'm on there all the time. And if you are going through this and you're on the Facebook group, I would definitely be giving you extra support. I just want to say, I really understand and I really get it. And I really believe in you and your journey in this, and I wish you a lot of love and healing.

Lauren: Thank you, Camille.


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