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I had the chance to chat with T.J., who has created an amazing online community for those with vitiligo. Like me, T.J (aka the vitiligo girl) was able to cure a lot of her vitiligo by changing her diet and lifestyle. Now, she runs a site where she documents her own journey and brings together various individuals who have been able to cure their vitiligo using non-traditional methods. You can see some of the pigment that has come back to spots on her shins! There are even more impressive before and after photos up on her site (my measly computer can’t hold them all) so I definitely recommend you check her out. And without further ado, meet the Vitiligo Girl!
Tell me more about your blog. What inspired you to start it?
Initially, my blog started out as my own special place where I could talk openly about my vitiligo and document my journey to stop and reverse my vitiligo-for my own benefit as well as for others. I found it therapeutic to share with others what I had learned through the things I was reading, which was anything and everything about autoimmune disease and why the body begins to attack itself. I quickly realized, though that I could do something more with my blog.
When I was first diagnosed with vitiligo three years ago, I desperately needed hope and reassurance from others who had overcome their vitiligo-I wanted to hear that I, too could heal. However, I wasn’t able to find very many personal experiences. Besides yours, there was Caroline’s over at TheVitPro.com, Dr. Wanakee Hill’s in her book, and the free online book, Emily’s Vitiligo. That’s it.
I knew that there were likely hundreds, if not thousands of other people just like me who were searching for answers. It was then that I decided that I wanted my blog to be an inspiring and comforting place where all of those people could go and ease their fears. I felt it was important that my blog be a place that would help reduce that terrible stress we all feel about our vitiligo by showing that it isn’t the hopeless condition many doctors would have us believe it is-because as we know, stressing about it can make it worse!
The blog has now grown into a little community where I’ve gathered and continue to gather the experiences and success stories of others with vitiligo as well.
How long have you had vitiligo? When did it start?
I was first diagnosed with vitiligo about a year after I had my son, so I’ve had it for about 3 years now. I was horrified to say the least. It is incredibly distressing to watch your skin color disappear before your very eyes. It’s indescribable, really.
I got my first spot on my left thumb after I had been taking my son for swimming lessons at the city pool. I have always felt that the swimming pool had something to do with my vitiligo starting, but I could never pinpoint the exact trigger. Was it the chlorine? The sun? Fungus? All of the above? The swimming pool was definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I scoured the internet night and day looking for answers. I bought books on Amazon, purchased every eBook online I came across, and checked out books at the library.
I read the experience you have on your blog about overcoming your vitiligo over, and over, and over again to reassure myself and try to find commonalities that would allow me to gain some sort of insight into myself.
What do you think caused your vitiligo?
Looking back over the last 10 years, I’ve realized the tremendous amount of stress I had/have been under.
I believe that I became especially nutritionally depleted after a series of both physical and emotional traumas that ultimately set me up for developing vitiligo.
I had been in a bad car accident and subsequently diagnosed with fibromyalgia a couple of years later. Fast forward a few years later to a happy marriage, but severe financial struggles, a miscarriage, and then a physically stressful and difficult pregnancy that caused me to develop sacro-iliac dysfunction. Caring for my son (who never slept) and nursing him for two years further depleted whatever little nutritional reserves I had left.
By the time my son was a year old, I was struggling to make it through the day due to my severe exhaustion. My complexion was gray, I was very thin, my blood pressure was extremely low, I was cold all the time, and I had terrible dizzy spells when I would get out of bed in the morning. I had developed severe adrenal fatigue, and my thyroid was suffering as well.
What do you believe has helped the most with vitiligo?
#1 of course has been stress reduction.
But I’ve learned something very interesting about stress through my Nutritional Balancing program, and that is that stress can be from both internal and external sources.
Usually we tend to only think of stress in terms of being external, as in our jobs, relationships, emotional trauma, etc. But we don’t really think of the daily internal stress we put on our bodies. The wrong diet, or an unhealthy one that is high in refined carbs, sugar, processed foods, and that is nutritionally deficient puts a tremendous amount of stress on the body. Add to that toxic exposure from the air we breathe, the pesticides we eat on non-organic fruits and vegetables, and the medicines we take. These things clog our livers and ruin our digestive tracts.
As for external stress, it’s impossible to eliminate it completely since it’s a part of this life that we live. However, many times we can be the cause of our own stress to a certain degree. I found this to be true of myself. I had to change the form of exercise I was doing, change my thinking, and change the way that I do things, which included getting more organized and minimizing as much clutter in my house as possible…which is still a work in progress with a four year old running around ☺.
We can also change the way that we respond to upsetting situations. I know you mentioned in your interview on my blog that meditation helped you. For me it’s my shower that I turned into a near infrared sauna. Walking is also a wonderful stress reducer as well.
What advice would you give to readers with vitiligo?
I agree 100% with you when you say that stress reduction is probably the most important thing when it comes to vitiligo. Stress depletes us nutritionally which ultimately causes a breakdown in bodily functions, and can contribute to the development of autoimmune disease.
Once I understood this, vitiligo wasn’t nearly as scary and there wasn’t a day that went by where I wasn’t absolutely sure that I would overcome it. In my mind, it was just a matter of time. As a result I was able to relax and figure out an effective plan of attack against my vitiligo.
Another thing I would like to mention is that no regular doctor/MD is going to tell you anything positive about vitiligo, so don’t feel down-hearted when you hear over and over again that there is nothing you can do about it. Ignore nay-sayers and well-meaning family members who tell you to just accept it and live with it. You don’t have to. Have an open mind and realize that there are effective, alternative ways to deal with vitiligo.
I personally don’t feel that there will ever be a cure for vitiligo that works for everyone–not because I am not hopeful-but because there is simply no way to prevent stress and its effect on our bodies, not to mention the fact that each of us responds to stress differently. Lifestyles must be changed, and body systems and functions must be repaired and corrected before any healing can take place. And the reality is that most people don’t have any interest in taking the time to do this. They’d much rather just pop a pill and be healed. Vitiligo is much too complex for that.
I realized early on that I needed to be aggressive and take control of my health, not just the vitiligo. Sure, I desperately wanted it to stop spreading. But the more I focused on how fast it was spreading, the more anxious I became. It helped me to just simply focus on getting healthy-because really the vitiligo was a clue of a much bigger issue that was looming. My health had not yet deteriorated to such a degree that I couldn’t fix it, although it was headed in that direction. I didn’t have cancer, I didn’t have Lupus (yet)…I still had time to fix myself. It’s still a work in progress, but my vitiligo has stopped spreading and I am getting lots of new freckles with (almost) daily sun exposure.
I know that were it not for my vitiligo, I would never have made significant changes in my lifestyle and embarked on such a healthy journey, and so for me, my vitiligo has been a blessing in disguise.
Good News: I went ice-skating for the first time last weekend!
Bad News: I fell backwards, hit my head, and am now suffering from post-concussion syndrome. This means I get frequent headaches and occasional nausea, and it can last up to three weeks following the incident. In case you were wondering, this will be my first and last time ice-skating.. at least for awhile. Word to the wise: I don’t care how dorky it looks, just wear a helmet!
Some more good news: I am lucky to have received some great advice from the many doctors, readers, and friends in my life on how to treat my concussion naturally. And now I’m more than happy to pass it on to you. So my clumsy mishaps – dear readers – is your gain. They’re helping me, so I am hoping they can help you too!
DISCLAIMER: If you think you may have a concussion or are suffering from post-concussion syndrome, see a doctor. I am not a doctor, and my concussion may be different from yours. This blog in no way should replace any medical advice a doctor could give you.
Ok now that that’s out of the way, here is what I’m doing!
Magnesium is a muscle relaxant, so it has been great for me during recovery because my entire body has been a bit tense and shaken up. In addition, it has a calming effect, which has helped reduce my headaches and improve sleep. I have been taking two tablets of magnesium oxide every night before bed.
My neurologist recommended that I take turmeric extract to reduce the swelling, and I definitely feel it working. I pop it on in every time I get a headache. It’s a great alternative to Advil or Tylenol, which contain a scary amount of additives that I’d rather not mess with unless absolutely necessary.
I have been sleeping like a teenager, and it feels good. Some nights I’m in bed by 10:00PM and don’t wake up until 7:00 AM. Last night was the first night I went to sleep after 10:00PM in a week, and I definitely felt more headachy than usual today. Fortunately, I have tomorrow off so I will be able to sleep in and make up for it!
Minimize Screen Time
Wait, no screens? You mean, no computer? No phone?
Ok, I’m definitely not getting rid of all my screen time (I say as I write on my laptop…), but I’m significantly reducing it. Staring at any screen for too long can strain your eyes which will only exacerbate post-concussion headaches. If I need to write up or edit a document, I’ll do my editing or outlining of my arguments on paper before going back to the screen. I’ve also been only using my phone when necessary and reducing the brightness on both my computer and phone screens. I try to meet up with friends after work to make sure I don’t just come home and plop myself in front of my computer or tv.
Alright, time for me to leave the screen. Hope this helps you with your next injury!
This Friday-Sunday I felt super stressed. I’m talking teeth chattering, stomach churning, throwing shade to complete strangers – stressed. I was anxious, super irritable, and may or may not have fallen into the bad habit of self-medicating with a very large bag of chips. For the ladies who are reading, it legit felt like PMS to the full max. But it wasn’t.
You might be asking why. And when I finally got the chance to sit down and reflect on my week, I asked myself the same question. Life is very good for me at the moment, so what was going on?
I started to go through my week. And while there were a few minor sticky situations at work and home, they weren’t of the sort that should cause me to feel like a dragon-lady ready to bite off the heads of every commuter on the PATH train. And then I realized…I forgot to meditate.
The benefits of meditation are numerous. When done on a daily basis, many have found that it can help with high blood pressure, depression, stress, serotonin levels, hyperactivity, and focus. Personally, I’ve found that meditation helps me cope with high-stress situations and helps me to stay focused. And when I don’t meditate, well, I turn into an angry dragon. :-P. I encourage everyone to try meditating for a month. I’m sure that you too will notice a difference. Here are two of my favorite exercises.I’m still a beginner, so if I can do these, so can you!
This is a form of mindfulness meditation (which I will describe more fully in another post) derived from the teachings of Dr. John Kabat-Zinn. During law school, I used this exercise before exams. Now, I use it when I feel scatterbrained or right before driving. It’s called the “5 senses drill.” Here’s an exert from the “mindfulness for students” website:
“1. Pause what you are doing for a moment and take one or two deep breaths to help bring you into the present moment.
2. Look around you, and silently name/focus on three things that you see in your immediate vicinity
3. Now, close your eyes, opening to the sounds around you, silently note and name three things that you can hear right now
4. Bringing your attention to your body, silently name three sensations that you can feel in this moment ( maybe warmth, tingling, contraction, coolness….. .)
5. Take one or two breaths to finish this mindfulness exercise.
Repeat this exercise every now and then to deliberately bring your awareness to what is happening in the present moment and to build your resilience to deal with exam anxiety and general pressures around this time of the academic year by cultivating mindfulness in this way.”
I find this yoga nidra to be extremely helpful for stress, lack of sleep, and particularly for – believe it or not – jet lag! After doing yoga nidra, I often find myself re-energized and ready to go about my day. It feels like I’ve slept for at least an extra 2 hours. It involves lying in shivasana (laying down, palms facing up, legs slightly apart) and concentrating on every inch of your body, from toes to eyelids. I specifically listen to an audio (free on spotify!) by Swami Janakananda. It’s also great if I’m exhausted and don’t have the mental energy to focus.
What types of meditation do you use?
It’s been quite some time since I’ve written here. And during that time, I have gone through quite a few changes. To boot, they include:
Graduating law school and taking the NY Bar Exam
Relaxing my food rules
Resurfacing vitiligo on my neck
Starting a new career path
My vitiligo began to return around this time last year. At that point in time, my diet was as “clean” as could be. Completely vegan, very little (if any) grains or nuts, and nothing that couldn’t be made in my own kitchen. Nevertheless, my skin was getting worse. As a result, I began to cut more and more out of my diet. Meanwhile, I hadn’t gotten a period for about 6 months, I was getting colds for the first time in years, and I generally felt very low in energy.
The solution to getting my period back was simple – I needed to eat what I felt like eating. This didn’t necessarily mean I had to stop being vegan, but it meant that I needed to get rid of rigid rules. I learned that eating cleanly was a way for me to feel in control of one aspect of my life. Even though I was unsure about my career and my personal life, I knew how to eat properly, and that gave me a sense of false security. As a result, the thought of eating something that wasn’t on my list of approved foods would cause mental havoc. Now, if there is nothing around for me to eat other than French fries and I’m starving, I will eat the French fries and I won’t kill myself over it. Instead, I will meditate afterwards, take a deep breath, and trust that my body will be able to balance itself out when I feed it nourishing greens the next day.
I’ve slowly learned that emotional well-being is as important, if not more important, than food. For me, this meant taking a step back from writing in legallyvegan (because writing about food only fueled my rigid food rules). It also meant I needed to stop trying to force myself to fit into the world of big law and pursue my real dream of working as a public interest lawyer (I will begin a new job as a public defender in the fall!) I began meditating daily. I traveled to Austria, Ireland, Morocco, and Costa Rica, and learned to let go of the various expectations I had set for myself in health, love, and my career.
If I’m being truly honest with my readers, I have not entirely stayed true to being vegan. I have eaten eggs three times within the past 5 months. I hate to admit this because I still advocate veganism. It is the moral choice. If we can avoid causing suffering to animals, we should. Even if we are “meant” to eat meat, we are also “meant” to live in caves, to walk around naked, etc., yet we don’t do any of these things. If we can practice compassion, we should. So in making this confession, I do not do so to say that you should stop being vegan. If you can be vegan, you should be. I admit weakness here, and I am still attempting to resolve the cognitive dissonance between my actions and beliefs.
For those of you who have emailed, I apologize for not being more responsive. The truth is I didn’t feel right giving advice about food when I was still figuring things out on my own. I debated canceling my blog altogether, and also debated turning it into a “mostly vegan” blog, and have decided against both. Ultimately, my blog has been about using food to enhance health. However, I’ve since learned that health is about so much more than food – it’s about being in touch with all our physical, mental, and- if you’re into it- spiritual selves. So I plan to write about health in all its aspects – not just food – and I invite my readers to focus on health in this holistic manner as well. I will be writing on meditation, food, sleep, and everything else that plays a role in health.
Thank you to those who have continued to follow and read, despite my inactivity I truly appreciate your comments!.<3