Me: Alex, I’ll take “Mystery Illnesses” for $1,000 please.
Alex Trebek: This elusive condition consists of chronic headaches, fatigue, insomnia, weakness, chemical sensitivities, irritability, gas, bloating, intolerance to heavy exercise, and requires excessive rest.
Me: What is…chronic fatigue?
Alex: No, I’m sorry, chronic fatigue is incorrect. Janice?
Janice: What is…hormonal imbalance?
Alex: Sorry no, that’s also incorrect. Oh wait, I’m just now getting word that answer may be partially correct. But not entirely. Ted, would you like to attempt to answer?
Ted: Uh, what is…actually, I’m sorry, I have no idea.
And so goes the game of my life. In reality, it’s not nearly as fun or glamorous as a game show, but it’s definitely as challenging.
My story really has two parts. And I’ll just tell you now that the first part has a happy ending. But I don’t want to spoil it all, so you’ll have to read through and find out how the second part ends.
The first part of my story begins with me at about age 12, in the sixth grade. This is when I began to regularly fall asleep during class — not out of boredom, but because I absolutely could not stay awake. It wasn’t too bad in the beginning. (At the time I did think it was boredom; I mean how excited can a person get about dissecting a sentence, and while we’re on the topic, who the hell cares, anyway?) So I dealt with it, but it only continued to get worse. In eighth grade, I clearly remember reading Lord of the Flies and thinking that this must be the most boring book ever written because for the life of me, I could not stay awake throughout it. And this is how my life progressed, to the point that, later, my high school teachers asked me if I had some kind of illness.
“No, no.” I’d tell them. “I was just up late last night, or I was up all night trying to get my English paper done,” et cetera. And on and on this went, until when in college, (I kid you not), I stayed fully awake during an average of five classes per year. My friends would always ask to see my notes because they thought they was hilarious. I would try so hard to stay awake by pressing down extra hard on the paper when I wrote. But invariably there would be long straight lines drawn out from the end of words toward the edges of the paper. That would be me drifting off, but trying valiantly not to.
I became an expert at showing up where I needed to and then sleeping all the while. Hats were a necessity of course, and I had lots. Keeping quiet was also another necessity. If no one noticed you, they wouldn’t notice if you weren’t there, or if you were, say, sleeping. And did you know that you can catch power naps at a red light? Totally true. I can’t tell you how I’ve managed to get through life so far without a major car accident. But I do know that if you press your foot as hard as possible on the break pedal, you can relax the rest of your body and you’ll still have enough pressure on the break so that the car doesn’t move. (This is probably terrible for the actual longevity of the brakes.) Eventually the person behind you will honk, and there’s your alarm clock.
Over the years, I developed a lot of neat little tricks like this. But it was a challenge, and I mean a huge challenge. I was so tired all of the time that I would tell people it was as if I were walking through water all the time, or like I had a huge magnet under my feet. All I wanted to do was sleep. I simply didn’t have the energy for anything else.
Every doctor I saw would run a lot of tests and then tell me I was fine. Then a sleep doctor finally told me I was narcoleptic. “Finally! Someone had figured it out, now lets fix it,” I thought. So on to popping pills I went. I took various forms of speed to wake me up and give me that energy I was lacking. And let me just cut right to it — that was one of the most horrible experiences of my life. I became extremely anxious, lost a lot of weight (which, as a naturally thin person, I didn’t really have to lose), became jaundiced, never ate, and couldn’t stop talking. I developed annoying stomach problems. My doctor would just change the dose or instruct me to take some other medication. After a few months of sleepless nights, no food, and horrible stomach issues, I quit the pills cold turkey. It was just too obvious that they weren’t working.
Eventually, I recovered from this mess, and several other doctors ensured me that I was not, in fact, narcoleptic. Okay, so I exercised more often and ate better. I did everything I thought was right. But I continued to walk through taffy and made it through the day however I could. Then when I was around 26 I went to Venezuela. I committed to a year-long mission there working with sponsor children. (I ended up only staying for four months, but that’s another story.) My time there was great, yet upon my return to the States, I found that I was sick. I hadn’t felt unwell at all in Venezuela (tired, yes), but after I was home every single thing I ate made me ill. I couldn’t even eat an apple. I would get awful stomach pains when I took a bite.
The more I tried to figure this out, the more it started to become clear. A parasite? No. Turns out, I had eaten very fresh, local, and (probably) organic food when I was in Venezuela. Yet what was I eating at home? Crap, bascially. So I tried some experiments. The more organic food I ate, the better I felt. That was it; it was the food. This whole time, it was the food I had been eating. I became more and more obsessed about food. I read everything I could get my hands on. I realized that for my whole life I was eating the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet), which was totally devoid of nutrition. Whole foods were the only way to go for me. And let me tell you, whole foods changed my life. Once I stopped eating things out of a bag or a box or a can, I suddenly had more energy than I knew what to do with. It was miraculous. I had a totally new life.
I just couldn’t believe that throughout all this time, not one doctor, not one, had ever mentioned the slightest thing about nutrition or diet to me. In my opinion, that’s inexcusable. Sure, those doctors threw plenty of pills at me, but they should’ve been throwing broccoli instead. I can’t help but think that a huge amount of our world’s problems could be solved if people just started eating with a tiny bit more of awareness. But again, that’s another story. For me, this was a very happy ending indeed. Unfortunately for me, I got hit with another health problem entirely just four years later…