Selling my car, leaving my jobs and going sailing opened my eyes to the things in my life that were brewing the perfect storm. For years despite doing things that I thought were right I had been unknowingly harming my health. I’m sharing with you, a probably too detailed description of my this, so for those who are not interested in how I brewed a health storm, hormonal imbalance and well being skip to the end. For those who are, this is my story and I hope it may help others to see the importance in tuning in to your body and changes anyone can make to improve your overall health.
Without knowing it my lifestyle was having a snow ball effect on my hormones and as a result my health. Hormones play many important roles in our bodies, both for females and males and if yours have ever been out of whack than you will appreciate the importance of their equilibrium. Many woman and men who suffer from hormonal imbalances, are mis diagnosed, ignore or mask early symptoms of endocrine disorders and on a daily basis un knowingly disrupt the harmonious balance and homeostasis of our sensitive hormones. Common contributing factors are diet, nutrient or mineral deficiency, environment, lifestyle and some medications. Helping others to restore hormonal balance, become more in tune with their own body and INDIVIDUAL health and well being through nutrition and lifestyle changes is something I have now focused my life on as a nutritionist.
Now that I look back on my early twenties I see a pattern of health complaints, bad lifestyle choices, irresponsible over use of antibiotics, uneducated dietary choices (including taking pre-exercise caffeine loaded supplements and choosing low fat supermarket products) and various stressful events that no doubt played a part in the lead up to my hormones being out of balance. Throughout my twenties I had some of the most amazing times of my life and gained life experiences that I wouldn’t change as they have shaped who I am today. However sometimes we are unknowingly our own worst enemy when it comes to our health. I feel grateful that I had the opportunity not only to witness the changes in my own body but to step back and observe my history with a new perspective.
So, let me start by telling you my case history, keep in mind this is me now looking back and analysing myself, at the time I had no idea I was throwing my hormones out of control. In my very early twenties, 20, 21, I was hairdressing full time, working indoors all day with chemicals in the air around me and on my skin. I was using steroid cream for my hands with repeat scripts to keep contact dermatitis under control, taking broad spectrum antibiotics regularly, Panadol or Panadol Forte, the oral contraceptive pill, cold and flu tablets, nasal sprays. My diet was not terrible however It wasn’t assisting my liver, digestive tract and immune system cope with all the above. I was consuming too much caffeine with 3 coffees a day + pre-work out drinks before sport or gym. I was eating processed carbohydrates, refined sugars and inflammatory fats along with too much animal protein. On weekends I was clearly partying, cheap bubbles and vodka drinks, the social cigarette and a toxic relationship. Little did I know at the time I was creating a ticking time bomb.
Signs and Symptoms: Poor immune system, reoccurring urinary tract infections, sinus infections, dermatitis on hands, sensitive skin, itchy rash if I ate things with too many preservatives, headaches, emotional.
A couple of years later I had reduced the amount I was working as a hairdresser. I wanted to follow my interest in physical health science as well as travel. I studied health science and became a Personal Trainer and Fitness Coach, and I loved it. I love helping people feel good, improve their fitness and reach personal goals. One of my hairdressing clients was diagnosed with lung cancer, she continued to come to me weekly to have her hair washed and blow dried. I saw her through the whole journey, chemo, hair loss, pain, weight loss, sadness, hope. Her weekly visit to me was her therapy. I made sure when she showed up I was positive, made her laugh and feel fabulous, it was this experience that made me decide I wanted to be able to help people on a deeper level. I decided to stop taking the contraceptive pill as I suspected it wasn’t helping my emotional state and mental health. My dermatitis improved by reducing the amount I was hairdressing and the reoccurring infections I had been suffering with also improved. I also escaped the toxic relationship and was feeling better emotionally and spending more time outside.
By age 23 the next phase started. Little did I know that coming off the oral contraceptive pill after 9 years would cause a shit storm to my own hormonal and microbiome balance. I started working for myself part time hairdressing and part time personal training as well as still maintaining my job at the time as floor manager of a gym. Outside of work I was playing soccer on weekends plus training twice a week, gym training daily and still partying pretty regularly on weekends. I was eating a reasonably healthy diet but my meals were generally scoffed down before I ran to the next client. I was still taking pre-work out supplements and drinking way too much coffee. I indulged in what I thought were healthy foods as they had the heart tick or had healthy ingredients like olive oil, said low fat and foods that were fast and easy like banana bread, sushi rolls, sugar laden commercial bought “healthy” smoothies and I neglected, if not avoided, healthy fats.
Signs and Symptoms: Anxiousness, difficulty concentrating, irregular periods, hair loss, difficulty falling asleep, night mares, stiff neck and sore tight shoulders, muscle twitches and cramps, sugar cravings, short attention span, headaches, dizzy spells when I got up too quickly, extreme tiredness at with my period, bloating and stomach discomfort after eating certain foods, my weight would fluctuate despite so much exercise.
Despite any of the above symptoms I thrived on being busy, I enjoyed my work and I loved my clients. I didn’t see the symptoms as compromised nervous system or slight insulin resistance and possible mineral deficiencies. I just put it down to muscular soreness and ignored the rest. I wanted to help my clients on their health journeys and understand their concerns and how to achieve their goals on a deeper level. So, at 24 I decided to study Nutritional Medicine.
This is when my body was trying to tell me to listen up, my own “engine light” turned on and I was now so deep up to my eyeballs in responsibilities, running my own businesses, relationships, studying, house moving, a boss that was not paying me correctly, absorbing other people’s negativity, waking at 4.30 am for work getting home at 8.30 -9.30pm studying and getting to bed at 12.30 am. I neglected to take time to look at my own health. I was eating a healthy diet, I had stopped taking pre-workouts as they made me feel jittery and itchy, but I was still consuming way too much coffee to get me through the day and craving those hidden sugars in my mid-afternoon soy milk chai late or “healthy” green fruit smoothie. As we humans do I just pushed through. I felt guilty for not having enough time to spend with family, friends and loved ones and I put a lot of pressure on myself to hold it all together. Most nights I would get around 4 hours sleep. I’m sure many Uni students, shift workers, business owners and working parents would relate to this?
Signs and Symptoms: anxiety, sudden feelings of overwhelm, sore neck and shoulders, and hip flexors, numbness in my fingers, headaches, dizzy spells, twitches in eye lids, poor concentration and memory, no period, sore pimples around my jawline and chin, tender breasts and fluid retention around my hips and belly at certain times of the month, cramps in my abdomen, occasional constipation, dry skin, nightmares, sleep paralysis ( a terrifying experience), feeling bloated, sugar cravings, thrush in times of stress (combined with too much sugar, dairy or yeast products) foggy head, poor wound healing, and skin infections when I injured myself ( bike crashes mainly), feeling cold, my body weight would go up and down and fluid retention made me feel puffy.
To most people including myself I seemed fine, I was happy, I had met a great guy (who happens to now be my fiancé and Captain) I held myself together. Despite my life being “on track”, I knew my hormones were out of whack. I wasn’t getting my period and it was starting to worry me. The other symptoms were pushed to the back of my mind the last thing I thought I had time for was to chill out. The correct thing to do here would have been to take the time to make an appointment with a good G.P, a Nutritionist or a Naturopath and explain my symptoms, request a full hormone panel blood test as well as have my blood glucose, iron and lipids checked… I didn’t. I didn’t even talk to my closest friends about it. Instead of communicating clearly to those I knew I could talk to, I was afraid to and just chose to keep it to myself. I had created a ticking time bomb that luckily going sailing, for me, forced the changes that needed to be made in my lifestyle.
This is the part where the sailing and simplifying my life taught me an important lesson, It stopped a ticking time bomb. I said yes to the opportunity of a life time, I chose to put a hold on growing my own business, growing a client base, putting away savings for a land house. I always knew that travelling, and adventure would be a part of my life, but it wasn’t until I met Michael, who shared the same dreams, that the concept of sailing to get the destinations came in. I had never sailed before but the idea of exploring the world with someone who had just as much energy for life and adventure as me, he rarely has a negative word to say, makes me feel happy and who I felt a connection with that was un stoppable, this was enough for me to feel no fear and anxiety of the unknown. This is an important point in the story… Spend time with those who believe in you, trust you, encourage you and inspire you.
I had chose to study through the Australian Institute of Applied Science so that I could study via correspondence and fly home to Australia for clinical practice, making the sailing and studying together possible. In 2015, I let my amazing clients, friends, family and work colleges know I would be leaving. I sold my car I moved my belongings into storage and I moved onto Roam, a 48 ft sailing Catamaran that Michael, his father, family and friends had built. I happened to come onto the scene when most of the blood sweat, tears and sanding involved in boat building were over, I did manage still get bog on my shoe to prove I was there for part of the build though. Not one person questioned my plans and the encouragement from family and friends gave me great confidence in my decision, for once I was not feeling indecisive or unsure.
Although sailing, ocean navigating, winds, tides, ocean currents and passage provisioning for ocean crossings were all new to me, I already felt a sense of relief and freedom. I was feeling excited for a whole new challenge. The opportunity to learn to sail, to experience different cultures, wake up to a new adventure. Our first passage from Tasmania to Victoria across the notoriously rough Bass Strait, we stopped off at an island group called The Kent group islands. We went ashore to Deal Island to explore. There was no internet reception, no shops, no people accept for a couple who were the light house keepers on the island. We rode around the island on our bikes and sat on the hill in the evening over looking Roam anchored in the bay. Accompanied by a couple of warming glasses of rum. It was at this moment I had a realisation, I had a feeling of total happiness wash over me, how was this even real, a surreal and new feeling for me arriving to a remote and wild destination via a boat that was now my home, I was waiting to wake up from this dream. Yeah of course I had moments of sea sickness, rough seas, no sleep but already the freedom of sailing, the remoteness, stillness, sounds of the ocean and closeness to nature had made up my mind. I knew there were going to be challenging times but already I felt like I could handle a challenge and that this life was for me.
Fast forward, it is now April 2018 and Roams launch day is coming up on 3 years. In those three years I have sailed over 20,000 nautical miles. The incredible changes in my life and experiences have also created a change in my health and wellbeing. The lifestyle changes, knowledge understanding, cultural and social experiences, people I have met, challenges we have overcome and self-empowering personal accomplishments I have achieved have opened my mind. The beauty of nature and encounter with places less touched by humanity have made me feel much more in tune with my body and changed my perception on what creates happiness. My body is telling me it is happy and here are the signs. All the symptoms I was experiencing have now gone. For some it was quite quick and others took a little for time and nutritional adjustment. My skin has improved, and my menstrual cycle has returned. I now have regular periods, often with the full moon… crazy. No more tender breasts, night sweats, immense sugar cravings and extreme tiredness. I wake up feeling refreshed almost all the time, unless of course we are doing 6 hour shifts on passages non-stop at sea.
To put it simply, I needed to slow down, I needed quality sleep and I needed to listen to my body. My gut flora was out of balance, my immune and nervous system were compromised and for various contributing reasons my hormones had become imbalanced (very common in both males and females in todays society). My cortisol was most likely elevated without even really being aware of it or wanting to accept that I was feeling stressed. I was well down the pathway of adrenal fatigue. The fact is stress is a natural state, a protective mechanism that our body is programmed to go into in order to make us aware that its not coping so well or the environment around us is dangerous to our well being (ie cave man gathering food in the jungle sees a tiger, body recognises danger and triggers stress, cortisol so cave man can run the fuck away feeling quite anxious). Not only does running on high cortisol cause hormonal imbalance, it increases inflammation, drives up insulin resistance, decreases the immune systems function, raises blood pressure and contributes to many chronic diseases, mental illnesses and autoimmune diseases.
You don’t actually need to quit your job and sail away to improve your mental, physical health and well being, but rather make the decision to tune in to what your body is telling you and take the steps to implement the changes necessary. Disrupted homeostasis in the body is not something we can just make disappear overnight. However, changes in nutrient intake, environment and lifestyle to reduce the possible contributing factors to your ticking time bomb is something everybody can do. Acknowledging your signs before the “engine light” comes on and treating the issues from the root cause rather than masking symptoms or trying to ignore them. Helping others recognise and understand signs and symptoms and work towards making the changes needed to restore balance is what I am passionate about doing. For me sailing on Roam enforced changes I needed in my life as well as the importance of sharing this with others. You often hear people always bang on about finding "balance" well it is kind of true, we need it and everybody's "balance" may look a little different. Making healthy changes to my lifestyle and diet helped lower my high cortisol levels, returned my hormones to equilibrium, super charged my immune system and improved my mental health. But don't get me wrong I still enjoy sharing a bottle of red, some dark chocolate, laughter and letting my hair down. Like I said... Balance.
Small Changes Can Make a big difference
Two lists of changes in my life that have improved my physical, and mental health
- SLEEP. Get more of it, your body needs it and it should not be under estimated.
- Eat to support the immune and elimination systems and reduce inflammation as well as use food and herbs as medicine
-Fresh air and time outdoors
- Daily stretching, yoga, suspension training or some sort mobility and strength exercise
-Sunshine/ vitamin D. Expose your skin to the sun daily so many of us are vitamin D deficient.
- Time to empty the mind and meditate
- Focus on what makes me happy and my passions
-Awareness of my body and its signs. Pay attention to how you feel, how foods, people and activities make you feel.
-Time spent in nature. Making time to get in the ocean or out in the bush improves my mood and my clears my thoughts.
- Bare feet walking in the dirt and sand, a satisfying connection to the earth.
- Nourishing fresh vegetables and in season fruits. Buying from local markets and trying new varieties everywhere we go.
- Meeting inspiring people. The sailing community is one that if often open wide to socialising, sun downers, story sharing and lifelong friendships.
- Cultural experiences. So much can be learnt from others. I have learnt that the essentials to happiness is not money it is health, love and community.
- Clear communication. So important to communicate clearly your thoughts, emotions and beliefs .. especially living in a small space with others but also clear communication will improve your relationships in general.
- Personal challenges overcome. If there is something you want to achieve, go get it, set a goal and work towards one baby step at a time. The reward for over coming what ever the challenge is, is self-satisfaction.
- Empowering opportunities. Don’t let fear hold you or people talk you down. Only listen to the ones who support you, do your homework and take on opportunities that arise, even if they scare you.
-Appreciation for the earth and my up bringing
- Waking with the sunrise and going to bed with the sunset
- Trying new things
- Time to focus on study and enjoy the journey
- Learning new skills
- Time spent with no clothes on
- Taking on too much and saying YES all the time
- Pushing myself until I was exhausted mentally and physically
- Eating without being mindful of the food I am putting in my body
- Drinking coffee and too many caffeinated beverages
- Stressing over what I needed to do or hadn’t don’t
- Pressure on myself to save to buy a house or build up a business
- Time spent in a car
-Less time listening to people’s negativity
- Time watching T.V or listening to B.S on the news and paper
- Less money spent on material things
- Rubbish produced from packaging and store bought items
-Time spent indoors
- Drinking too much for my little body at social events ( hoping no one noticed) and waking up with a major hang over
- Self doubt
- Emotional outbreaks
- Negative self-talk
- Worry about the future or the past
- Wearing of toxic cosmetics and body products
- Taking medications to mask signs of a underlying problem that could possible be resolved by looking at the cause
- Keeping my thoughts and emotions to myself
- Fear of what people may think of my opinion