From Bedridden to Helping Hand by Kristina Carlton, USA
I thought I was a fairly healthy person, but knowing what I know now, I realize there were signs of a deeper issue even when I was a little girl. I don’t have very many childhood memories, but I do remember dealing with anxiety from an early age, I constantly had tonsillitis until I had my tonsils removed at age 18, and I struggled with an eating disorder starting around age 10. It started with anorexia and later I also struggled with bulimia. I didn’t know I would eventually go from bedridden to helping hand.
My life was consumed with thoughts and fears around food and my body. I tried 12-step groups, I had sponsors, I read self-help books, and went to therapy, but nothing helped. I continued to go back and forth between anorexia and bulimia.
I grew up in a small town in Germany. My parents were both from Germany, but my dad moved to the US when he was 8 years old. He became an American citizen, joined the US military at age 17, and was stationed in Germany close to where my mom grew up. They met, got married, and he eventually left the military and started working for AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange Service) in Germany. When I was 10 years old, he was transferred to Dallas, TX and my mom, my dad, my brother and I all moved to Dallas. Because my brother and I couldn’t speak English, we hated school. We couldn’t talk to the other kids and didn’t want to go back. So my mom took me and my brother back to Germany and left us with her parents.
While this wasn’t abandonment in the true sense, I am sure as a 10-year-old I felt abandoned and rejected by my parents. In addition, my grandparents were 66 and 67 years old when my brother and I came to live with them, and they were unable to show emotion, tell us they love us, or help us with our homework. They had a small, one-bedroom house, and my brother slept on a twin bed in their bedroom, while I slept on the couch in the living room.
I always minimized what we went through, but it was very hard. I felt lonely although I wasn’t alone and I desperately wanted a real family. I now understand that this is, in part, what led to some of my personality traits such as perfectionism, caretaker, people-pleaser and others. It also led to low self-worth and low self-esteem, and ultimately to the eating disorder and physical health issues I dealt with later in life. Reading the book “Childhood Disrupted” helped me to understand how childhood trauma causes the brain to develop differently, sets you up for living in fight-flight-freeze mode, and why the resulting physical health issues don’t develop until you are an adult.
Although I grew up in Germany, I have always been an American citizen because I was born in a U.S. military hospital in Germany. When I was 24 years old I moved to Austin, TX to go to college. I was very introverted and didn’t really want to be around people, but also felt incredibly lonely and was filled with anxiety and struggled with depression.
When my dad died in 1997, after a 6-year battle with lung cancer, the depression got so bad that I chose to take Prozac. I started having side effects so my doctor added Wellbutrin to help with said side effects, but then I couldn’t sleep. So he prescribed Xanax to take at bedtime.
After some months I felt slightly better but not truly well. I also used Xanax a few times in the afternoon so I could just sleep the day away and wouldn’t have to deal with my emotions. One day I decided that this was not the answer and I stopped all the medications cold turkey. If I had to do it again I would choose to wean off the meds slowly, because the withdrawal was awful.
I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in 1996 and started taking thyroid medication. I finished college, obtained a degree in management information systems, and started a career in computer programming. From the outside my life looked great – I was successful in my career, I eventually bought my own house, and I was in great shape. I had friends and an active lifestyle. On the inside I was miserable. The eating disorder consumed my every thought. I felt inadequate at work and in every other area of my life, and I was still depressed and battling anxiety.
September 2000 I was going through an extremely hard time in my life and friends took me to their church. That Sunday at age 34, I became a follower of Christ and became active in my church. I started therapy with a Christian counselor at the church and for the first time was making some progress with the eating disorder.
April 2002 I got married to my husband Bob. Right after coming home from our honeymoon, we got involved in church planting, which was exciting but also stressful. When we came home we also found out that my dog Dakota had run away and he never came back, which was a rough start into our marriage.
With continued stress, my health started to decline. People at our church prayed for me, but they also said that healing isn’t always for today anymore, that God is mysterious, and He doesn’t heal everybody. That’s not what I thought the Bible said, but I was a new believer and had a lot of brain fog, so I believed what I was told. I started going to conventional doctors who did not have a lot to offer, so eventually I switched to naturopaths, functional medicine doctors, ostheopaths, and chiropractors.
I had been struggling with endometriosis for many years. It had progressed to the point that my doctor prescribed a powerful narcotic so I could deal with the pain every month. I had two laparoscopies to remove the lesions, but it always came back. In 2003, one year after Bob and I got married, I had a hysterectomy at the recommendation of my doctor, leaving us unable to have children.
My health continued to decline and each doctor I saw added another diagnosis and prescribed more medications, supplements, and treatments. I eventually had to stop working because I was so sick and my at-home treatment plan was like a part-time job.
In October 2014, two months after Bob and I had moved to Holland, MI, a friend recommended a ministry in GA that teaches about biblical healing. I had seen so many doctors that I figured I had nothing to lose, so I attended their conference. I left the conference feeling encouraged, but actually continued to get worse. By November 2014 I was “couch ridden,” on 5 medications, roughly 35 supplements, I was in constant pain, the list of foods I could tolerate had gotten very small, and I was still depressed and anxious. I thought my life was over and honestly, I wanted it to be over. I wasn’t living, I was merely struggling through each day, wishing it was bed time so I could get a few hours of sleep and not have to deal with symptoms. At this point I had been diagnosed with the following:
Anorexia and Bulimia
Adrenal Fatigue and later Adrenal Insufficiency
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid)
Digestive Enzyme Deficiency
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth
MTHFR Gene Mutation
Chronic Lyme Disease and Co-Infections
Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome
Chronic Back Pain
Part of me wanted to give up. At this point I had tried so many doctors, and we had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, I didn’t know what else to do. I felt completely hopeless and like I had exhausted just about every test and treatment out there.
One of the medications I was on back then was 47.5 mg of hydrocortisone for adrenal insufficiency. It had been prescribed 5 years prior at 20 mg a day (a physiological dose), with the intention of giving my adrenals a rest and then weaning off of it. That never happened. Instead I needed more and more to get by every day. My doctor had told me to wear a medic alert bracelet. He said after all those years my adrenal glands had become used to the hydrocortisone and had shut down. His concern was that I could end up in an accident and unconscious, and if doctors didn’t know to administer the hydrocortisone, I could die. He also said I would never be able to stop taking it, but if I ever tried, that I would need to slowly wean off over several months.
Bob and I had planned on spending Thanksgiving with his family in Florida that year, and then we were going to go on a cruise. I was so weak, and in so much pain, even the thought of going on vacation seemed overwhelming. As we were discussing what to do, Bob said, “What if you’re already healed?” My immediate response was, “That’s impossible,” but that planted a seed.
A few days later, I got up in the morning and realized that I felt slightly better first thing in the morning, and then declined throughout the day. Hydrocortisone is taken throughout the day, with the largest dose in the morning, and then smaller and smaller doses around mid-day, late afternoon, and a tiny dose at bedtime. That day I decided to skip my morning dose and for the first time in months, I had a little more energy and mental clarity. I still had horrible back pain and fatigue, but this gave me hope. However, despite feeling slightly better, I remembered that my doctor had said I could die if I just stop taking it, so I took about half my usual dose that day. The next day I decided to step out in faith, I stopped the medication, and have never gone back on it!
We ended up going on our cruise and while I still had pain, anxiety, food intolerances and a host of other symptoms, I was so excited to be off the medication, and on vacation, that it didn’t matter. It also gave me hope and increased my faith in God. I later spoke to a friend who is a nurse about stopping the hydrocortisone. She confirmed that getting off hydrocortisone in 2 days after taking it for 5 years is a miracle.
I wish I could say that things were just easy at that point, but there were many ups and downs and I know now that it was all due to stress, doubt and fear. Between April 2015 and May 2016 we had a tremendous amount of stress:
We had to leave our rental home and bought a house
We lost one of our dogs
My mom (in Germany) was taken to the hospital
She was diagnosed with lung cancer and COPD
I flew to Germany twice, to be with my mom, each time staying 6 weeks
Our dishwasher flooded a large part of our first floor and the basement
The second time I was in Germany my mom passed away
I had to go to Germany a third time to sell my mom’s house
After I was back home, I was bitten by a dog
The dog bite caused two torn tendons in my right middle finger
I had surgery to repair the torn tendons
I spent six weeks in a full hand splint
I had 8 weeks of occupational therapy for my hand
Going through all of the above in a matter of a 7 months was incredibly overwhelming. Even though I knew that my mom was going to die, I was not prepared for the onslaught of emotions that hit me when she passed. I suddenly felt like an orphan, although I was an adult. I was grieving her death, I still felt overwhelmed with health issues, and I couldn’t see an end to everything that was going on.
When I got home from Germany, after my mom had died, a friend contacted me and told me about a brain retraining program called the Dynamic Neural Retraining System by Annie Hopper. It sounded promising. They offered a full money back guarantee, and my friend said she was seeing great results for the chronic health issues she had been struggling with.
I decided to give it a try, and this program was my introduction to mind-body syndrome. It explained that the brain can cause pain in the absence of tissue damage, and that it can also cause symptoms just about anywhere else in your body through the nervous system. It also reminded me of various scriptures like:
Romans 12:1-2 (the renewing of the mind)
Philippians 4:6-7 (being thankful and focusing on the positive)
2 Corinthians 10:5 (taking every thought captive).
I started implementing the program and saw some improvements in mood and energy.
In October 2016 someone recommended inner healing prayer at a local church here in Holland, MI. It felt like the next right step so I made an appointment. I went to the appointment because I was still dealing with back pain 24/7, but something very unexpected happened. The sessions are 3 hours long and during the first session I was completely set free of the eating disorder. I walked in feeling one way and I walked out feeling another way. It was the most profound thing I had ever experienced and I realized that I had been putting God in a box. All the fears around food, eating, and gaining weight were just gone. It’s like the 40 years of struggling with an eating disorder never existed.
During that time, I continued to renew my mind to what the Bible says about healing, I had another inner healing prayer, I read books on healing, and I started believing that I am well. That belief didn’t come easily and I kept getting pulled back into fear that maybe my body IS broken. But I had seen enough to realize that healing was possible and I was going after it.
The next few months I made the following changes, not necessarily in the order they are listed.
I stopped taking thyroid medication cold turkey, which I had been on for 20 years
I stopped taking antihistamines and Ketotifen (a mast cell stabilizer) cold turkey
I started eating anything I wanted
I stopped taking hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes
I stopped the supplement I had taken for depression for 20 years
I started exercising
When spring came the following year, I had some fear that allergy symptoms would return, but I reminded myself that I am healed and I was fine. I had my thyroid tested 6 months after I stopped the thyroid medication and my levels looked great. I also tested negative for Hashimoto’s disease. I was able to eat anything I wanted without any reactions and without taking any digestive enzymes or other digestive aids.
My life was finally getting back to normal. Being able to eat anything I wanted was (and still is) amazing. But I was still dealing with chronic back pain, fatigue, trouble sleeping and significant anxiety. I had pain 24/7 and I would wake up several times through the night with horrible pain, unable to go back to sleep for hours.
A friend recommended the book The Great Pain Deception by Steve Ozanich, which led me to see Dr Howard Schubiner in Detroit, MI. Dr. Schubiner looked at some of my test results, but more than that, he wanted to know about my childhood, what my caretakers were like, stressful events in my life, and my personality traits. After a 2-hour appointment, he diagnosed me with TMS (The Mindbody Syndrome) and told me that it’s just my brain creating all the symptoms I had left.
He explained that the symptoms are very real, but that they are generated by the brain. Dr. Schubiner told me that I need to believe 100% that my body is not broken, to overcome the fear of symptoms (fear keeps symptoms going), to learn to feel my feelings, and to go back to living my life. Again, this made a lot of sense from a biblical standpoint because the Bible says that if we have received what Jesus did on the cross on our behalf, then we are already healed, and that we just need to believe and renew our minds to that truth.
Some people latch on to this truth quickly and their symptoms go away within a few weeks. That was not my story. It took a lot of work to start seeing a breakthrough. I began talking to coaches, I continued talking to Dr Schubiner, I read several books on mind-body syndrome, and continuously reminded myself that my body is not broken. I dealt with a tremendous amount of doubt because I had been told by other doctors for 14 years that my body IS broken. That doubt created fear and that fear kept symptoms going. It’s a vicious cycle but one that can be broken.
Shortly after finding out about mind-body syndrome and seeing Dr. Schubiner, I started having pain in my right foot. I was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis but I knew from talking to Dr. Schubiner that plantar fasciitis is just another form of mind-body syndrome. I continued to run, walk, and jump rope despite the pain. One day I decided to go for a jog. Within the first few steps the pain in my right foot started and it was excruciating. I made a decision to keep jogging and kept reminding myself that it’s just from my brain. The pain lasted another few minutes and then stopped and has never come back. That was in 2017.
Sometime in 2018 I started having pain in my left shoulder. It hurt to move my shoulder and I had limited range of motion. Although I had read that torn rotator cuff pain and other shoulder pain is also mind-body syndrome, it was hard to believe that pain this bad could not have a structural reason. I stopped weight lifting, I couldn’t sleep on my left shoulder, and every little movement hurt. I contacted Dr. Schubiner who affirmed that it’s probably just my brain and to go back to exercising. So I slowly went back to lifting weights and doing chin-ups, reminding myself that it’s just my brain every time the pain shot through my shoulder, and after a few weeks the pain stopped.
So where am I now? I am free of anxiety and depression. My brain occasionally tries to scare me with anxiety, but I know it’s just from my brain and it passes quickly. I exercise 5 to 6 days a week, I work part-time at a little cafe, I sleep 7 to 8 hours every night, and I even started a coaching practice. I am off all medications and I take 3 basic supplements. I continue to eat anything I want and I no longer feel like I am less than everybody else around me. The only thing that remains is some back pain. However, I have pain free periods throughout the day and I am not letting the pain stop me. I know it’s just from my brain and that it will eventually go away like all the other symptoms.
When I started feeling better I was excited about the thought of going back to work. I started with a part-time job at a lovely little cafe close to our house in Holland, MI. Then I decided to go back to computer programming. I took some online classes to get caught up because I hadn’t worked in 6 years. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t have the same passion for programming that I had when I first started in that field. I realized that my true passion is helping others find freedom from chronic health issues, which is why I became a certified life coach with a focus on mind-body syndrome, going once from bedridden to helping hand for others.
Christian Leaders has Life Coach classes! Check them out here!
Interested in free classes? Here’s more information!