Seeking Balance and Health

I am really struggling right now. Yesterday was momentous --but I'm not sure if it's good or bad.

For some time (the better part of a year,) I've been fighting some undiagnosed malady. I had this really debilitating, crushing fatigue coupled with periods of intense joint and muscle pain. My mental acuity seemed compromised --I felt like I was in a weird brain fog. My food intolerances have increased --I'm kind of down to certain vegetables and nuts and seeds.

Granted, I've been under a lot of stress for reasons I can't detail here, and that's probably been a factor. I thought maybe I had some sort of adrenal fatigue or leaky gut or, my biggest fear, some kind of rheumatoid arthritis or Fibromyalgia. (I limited my visits to Dr. Google.)

But I was still battling something. I went to a lot of doctors and eventually, after a lot of research and dietary experimentation (some of which was really helpful and improved my condition,) I found a Functional Medicine doctor, who is simply amazing and brilliant and who ordered a bazillion tests trying to figure out what was going on with me. I met with her yesterday and got the results of some of those tests.

As most of you know I am vegan--I don't partake of any animal products. I try not to say too much about that, because I am as weary of the sanctimonious attitude on both sides of the vegan/non-vegan issue as you are. This is a very sensitive thing for me to talk about because every time I talk about it, somebody is offended thinking I'm judging them for eating meat. OR I get attacked by the vegans for not being vegan ENOUGH. (I eat honey. I have leather shoes.)

I'm vegan mostly because I don't want to eat anything I can't kill myself. (This leaves me with an animal protein diet of mosquitoes--haven't learned how to catch and release THOSE yet.) I'm also vegan because my guru, Sri Dharma Mittra, says that it is the first tenet of yoga --that our compassion for animals must extend beyond our pets.

But please hear me: this isn't have anything to do with anyone else but me and my choices and my path. I'm not sitting in judgment of anyone else. One of the two people I made inside my body is a total carnivore and I don't think less of her.  I LOVE her--as she is. I ate meat at various times in my life, too. I'm no longer really cooking meat for her, and she accepts that and is understanding. There will come a time when my house is meat-free --but I'm not pushing her out the door to get there.

Unfortunately, what I learned yesterday is that my body is breaking down. Some people thrive on a vegan diet. I am not one of them.

My cell membranes and mitochondria are severely compromised. I have epically low levels of Omega 3s, of Coenzyme Q10, weirdly high levels of calcium (which is not what you want --high levels of calcium in your cells means your cell membranes are weak,) super low B-12 levels. Given my growing list of food intolerances, I cannot get enough of the things I need to regain my health through my current diet.  My doctor is urging me to find an animal protein that I can eat, and to at least begin taking fish oil.

So, I'm really struggling with what to do. I am not vegan for health reasons, but if my health continues to decline, I will be of little service to humankind and I think (pray) that I have something to add to the collective good in the world. On the other hand, I do not think that I can continue to follow my Guru while knowingly ingesting animals and animal products. He is very clear on this subject. "You cannot make progress on the path to enlightenment if you are eating your animal brothers and sisters."

It's not only Sri Dharma's teachings. I don't want to eat anything that I can't kill myself and I am morally opposed to killing any sentient being. I think it would be hypocritical for me to eat animals killed by someone else. I know a lot of people who think you can honor the animal you are eating and be grateful for its nourishment of your body. I know farmers and ranchers who raise animals for slaughter and do it in the most humane way possible. I read one woman's account of her farm and in it she said, "We give them wonderful lives with lots of space and good food and then they have one very bad day." I just don't think I can do it and live with myself.

So, I guess that's the choice before me.  Either I am true to my ethical and spiritual beliefs, or I concentrate on regaining my health. I'm in a lot of pain over what to do.

Now that I've slept on the issue, and processed some of my fear and feelings, I've decided that I have to give it one more big effort to find health without eating animals. I'm going to get really scientific about my diet --learn as much as I possible can about the nutrition involved in what I'm putting in my mouth and seek as much counsel as I can to find the highest nutritional density supplements and food. I'm probably going to add fish oil as part of my diet, since the vegan version wasn't having much effect on my low Omega 3s. I know that's hypocritical --I'm trying to think of it as a compromise.  Next week, I am going to the Dharma Yoga Center in NYC for my annual immersion back into my spiritual home.  I will talk to my mentors there and seek their wisdom.

I'll keep you posted.  Please be kind in your comments, I am really struggling.


Jeri McGriff said…
Dear Barb,
Thank you for sharing this. I understand so much of what you are going through. I have flip-flopped from carnivore to vegetarian to vegan and now back to unwilling carnivore over many years because of my health issues. I do NOT want to eat flesh, I do NOT want to contribute to suffering. Yet, with my disease and other serious ailments, I simply cannot maintain even my poor-ish health on a vegan diet, especially because I cannot eat seeds, nuts, or a gazillion other foods. And so the struggle continues, as does the stress of making these choices. My weight is currently down a good 20 lbs. I told myself, well, I will eat only fish and chicken, never a mammal, because that isn't quite as bad. Even that did not improve my health, so now I have added in beef and bison, and I hate myself and close off my thoughts about it. Because no matter how I can attempt to justify it, it is horrendous. I CANNOT accept it and, so, tell myself that it is a temporary fix, just until I feel better.
I have no answers. I can only tell you that I love you and I thank you and you are not alone, ever.
You can get Vitamin B-12 shots, also. B-12 deficiency was the first thing that leapt to my mind as I was reading the beginning of your post. You'll probably feel a lot of improvement (particularly in brain function) just from that. And then it might be easier to think through all these other issues. You do know that the Tibetan Buddhists are not vegan, right? At least, the Dalai Lama isn't - I don't think he is even vegetarian!

The premise that we shouldn't eat anything we couldn't kill ourselves is an interesting one, but not necessarily logical. I, like you, would be limited to a mosquito diet, that's for sure! But there are many areas of life where we take advantage of what others can do and we cannot, if you really think about it. I often think that it is a darn good thing that there are people in the world who are actually willing to cut open live people's bodies and fix them, because I wouldn't be able to do it if you put a gun to my head. Maybe it is better to concentrate on what we do provide to the world that others can't and think about how important it is that we remain healthy so that we can continue providing whatever that is.

Or maybe I am just rationalizing my love of bacon. That is entirely possible.
Tiny Tyrant said…
Just sending lots of love. No judgement.

You have to do what suits you in all aspects, just know that we all prefer to have you thriving health wise too because it means we get to keep you longer.

Hugs. I'm happy to have more bacon for me. ;-)

Love you sweetie.
Miri said…
Oh, dear Barb. I wish for you abundant health -- spiritual, physical and emotional -- and the gift of knowing how to achieve it. Love to you.
anne said…
"You cannot make progress on the path to enlightenment if you are eating your animal brothers and sisters."

But can you make progress if your body is sick?

"I had this really debilitating, crushing fatigue coupled with periods of intense joint and muscle pain. My mental acuity seemed compromised --I felt like I was in a weird brain fog."

"I found a Functional Medicine doctor, who is simply amazing and brilliant ... my doctor is urging me to find an animal protein that I can eat, and to at least begin taking fish oil."

I don't mean to over-step ... I think you are this awesome amazing person and it's horrible to see you suffering. I know you suffered for years with the FULF and you did what you needed to to get better from that.

As much as you love and respect Sri Dharma Mittra, do you really think this kind and gentle man would think less of you for not taking care of yourself, your body? Would he love you less? Mitochondrial disease is devastating. For many people there is no path to get better, your amazing and brilliant doctor has given you an answer, a way to get better. A beautiful soul cannot flourish in a broken body. Perhaps, if you would consider eating meat to get your health back, once you were in a better place, you could return to veganism?

If you were diagnosed with cancer and could get better with drugs that were animal based - would you refuse those?

I am sending love and support - these were just thoughts that I couldn't suppress. I'm sorry that you are sick, I am sorry that you struggle with such a choice. Feel better, love.
Anonymous said…
2 things:
- would it help to think of the fish oil as a gift from me? Imagine I am killing the fish to feed my family (which I do) and sharing the oil from leftover parts with you so it does not go to waste. That, only on a larger scale.
- I understand why you are vegan, but your body does not. humans have not yet evolved past needing proteins, including animal proteins in our diets. ideally we would be able to love without them but some of us cannot biologically do that, no matter our values.
Becca in Alaska
Kit Finn said…
While you are thinking aboutyour diet, do supplements. Did they look at your thyroid? I could not cope without taking pills. Sending love.
Barb Matijevich said…
I have been low thyroid for more than 30 years. My new doctor actually started me on a medicine that doesn't have dairy. I didn't know Synthroid had dairy in it! Dairy makes me sick.

I am taking a bazillion supplements. Sadly, the vegan supplements are not effective in the areas where I am most deficient. If I could resolve this issue by taking different supplements, I wouldn't have to think about adding animal products. I wish.
Unknown said…
Peace and love and health to you, love you bunches.
Tenna Draper said…
Ok, here's my take on some of your issues. If your calcium is high, it could be your parathryoid...not ur thyroid, but one of the glands around the thyroid--there are 4. One can get a tumor on it, and malfunction. Result? Elevated calcium.

I know all this because my mother just had surgery on hers. Very simple surgery, Outpatient. A little sore throat for a little while. But she's as good as gold and still going at 80!

So see a specialist ear, nose and throat surgeon, get the xrays.

I can't comment on your vegan diet. I know that I couldn't kill an animal, although if I were starving, who knows? Alot of the resistance of eating meat by eastern religions is because some of them believe in the transmigration of souls. Such teachings were never taught or trusted by the Apostles, and the Bible teaches us to eat certain meats, but not others. Originally, we were meant to be fruit and veggies, but now, our bodies are so different. If we didn't need to eat meat, we wouldn't have any inscisors.

Nothing against you or yada yada, just a different belief set.
tanita✿davis said…
I'm so sorry.
Quite a bit of my family is vegan, but I, too, need more protein than that and can't live off of peanut butter and as many beans as I was eating, because I also have to watch my carb intake pretty closely. So, I feel the conflict, as I'm back to eggs and cheese, too. Obviously, no one can tell you what to do, but I just want to send a hug. You want to do good in this world, I can tell - and you want to live right, in whatever way that means for you - but as always, be gentle with yourself.
Robert said…
Sorry to hear this Barb. I'd never judge you for a choice you make and perhaps you can draw the line at what is an animal and what isn't based on size. If you would swat a mosquito, how do you feel about krill? those are minute little things in the ocean but are higher in Omega-3 than fish oil per unit.

Krill are smaller than mosquitoes so perhaps you can avail yourself of krill oil supplements?

I hate the idea of you feeling sick and your body's cell membranes breaking down for want of such things. You have your choices to make I guess.

Reading the responses here you have have a huge following of caring folk so Id encourage you to keep blogging and reading the results.. someone here may stumble on something that will help you.. I sure hope so!

Lots of love.

Dear Barb

What a place you find yourself in and yet I know you will find an answer because the universe always send it to you. Just be open to receiving it and you will do whatever is right for you, holistically. I have faith in you.
I am going through the same, SPOOKY! Celiac with low vitamin d and hyperthyroid is what it is looking like, and I know what it is like to be down to a diet of just a few things. You are not alone and I bet you can balance your nutrition. Keep working at it :)
Sue Harrell said…
Before you give up on your plant-based diet, check out these books, "China Study" (T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D), "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease," (Caldwell Esselstyn, MD), "Starch Solution" (John McDougall, MD). With some tweaking, you may find that your vegan diet will work well for you.

Tips: Flax seed meal is rich in omega 3. Sprinkle 1-2 tbsp over food and will provide enough omega 3 in your diet. A variety of plant foods provides more than enough protein (it's where cattle, elephants, etc., get their protein). Vegans are deficient, however, in B12. (it comes from dirt!) It's necessary to take B12 supplementss
Barb Matijevich said…
Thank you for your helpful suggestions.

I'm not giving up my plant-based diet. It's a core value, and I believe the suffering when we violate our deepest held beliefs is greater than any physical suffering.

The China Study was initially the science behind my vegan diet many years ago, and then I read The World Peace Diet, which provided all of the ethical reasons. Since then, I have only grown more convinced that the vegan diet is the diet that best suits my belief system.

Not all vegans are deficient in B-12. I never was. Most are deficient in Vitamin D-3, though. And I'm deficient in some essential amino acids that come from meat. Most people are not deficient in those, either, but stress can cause the body to go out of balance. I'm working on my stress levels, which have been epic over the past two years. My doctor doesn't like flax as a delivery system for omega-3s because of how easily it goes rancid, so we've used a variety of other things that didn't work initially, but seem to be working better now. And I've added back in the occasional egg, as long as I know exactly where it comes from and that no animal suffered to give it to me.

The best thing I did was go spent a week at my spiritual home in NYC. That seems to have lowered my stress level so much that healing happened. I feel pretty terrific now! And eating raw and low sugar seems to be a huge help. So, we'll see.

Thanks again!

Sue Harrell said…
Barb, you're right! My statement re B-12 was poorly worded. I should have said it's possible over time to become deficient - not that vegans "are" deficient. Good to learn about the possibility of rancidity with flax seed meal. Also, please forgive me if I came across like a vegan know-it-all. We just switched to a plant-based diet a year ago and it's made such a profound difference in our lives - I'm afraid I'm turning into an evangelist! So glad to read that you're feeling terrific and have found ways to handle stress (interesting how stress wreak such havoc with our health). Best wishes for continued good health and happiness!
Barb Matijevich said…
Oh, Sue--I hope I didn't come across as defensive. I admit that I feel that way sometimes --my dietary choices are hard for people to understand -but I wasn't feeling that way when I answered you. Really, I was just excited to find another convert! I've been vegan for about 3.5 years now and it's definitely the eating style that best suits me. I've really come to realize that stress is a killer, though, and I know that's what threw my body out of balance. I'm hopeful that I'm on the right track--both in de-stressing, and in being a smart vegan. It takes work. Dr. Hyman says that you can eat a diet of potato chips and diet coke and call yourself a vegan! But to do it so that I get the nutrients I need for radiant health takes work and planning. I'm up to the task! And BOY, do I understand the evangelist part--no one invites me to parties these days! I'm so passionate about the Whole Food Revolution that I think I want to pursue it professionally in some manner!
Sue Harrell said…
Ha! Not defensive at all. I'm also happy to find another convert. Most my friends think we're nuts! It's so exciting to think about getting into the whole foods profession - if you do, I'll be interested in following your journey. If I were younger, I'd definitely look into it. My goal now is to be a strong, healthy, happy old lady for a long, long time.
SDC said…
Occasional lurker here. I've had those things you describe, stiff joints, auto immune responses. For me the stiff joints went away when I stopped eating wheat gluten. Also digestion was a huge factor, low stomach acid specifically. If you don't digest properly, no part of your body will get what it needs and chronic conditions will follow suit as you age. That was huge for me. Also are you familiar with Shreve Stockton? She writes the Daily Coyote blog. She has interesting things to say about her experience with vegan/vegetarianism and how she squares it with herself She even runs her own organic beef operation. She is one of the most intelligent, evolved bloggers out there, so her posts are not preachy or half baked. She has given this a lot of thought and she is well spoken and respectful of others.