Here is a condensed version of My Story… an in-depth version of my healing journey is beneath this shorter version:
I suffered from chronic migraines for nearly two decades, averaging about 25 migraine days a month. Migraines have been in my family for four generations, with my father, brother, and grandmother experiencing them. I bounced around to migraine specialists all over the country and willingly tried every medication they recommended, eventually resorting to Botox treatments, and then as my disability continued to worsen over many years, I attempted suicide. Fortunately, I was spared death and awoke realizing that I had the ability to get well. I decided to pick myself up and fight, unable to settle for the slow death sentence of chronic migraines and pharmaceutical dependence. This led to an experimental journey of trial and error seeking as many natural healing options as I could find… and without realizing it, I found myself pursing the path of functional medicine and nutritional healing. I am happy to say that I am now migraine-free and have regained the health that I never seemed to have. I have found healing by focusing on nutrition, detoxification, addressing underlying biochemical and genetic imbalances, and stress-reduction techniques – a holistic combination that led me to functional medicine.
This has led me to obtain a Master’s of Science in Functional Medicine & Nutrition from the University of Western States, pursue training in Dr. Kara Fitzgerald’s Functional Nutrition Residency Program, and obtain national board certification as a functional medicine health and wellness coach. My family has established the Herdell Migraine Institute, dedicated to sharing our story of healing chronic migraine, as well as spreading awareness and education about healing.
I feel a responsibility as a result of my own healing journey and experience to offer migraineurs hope to heal.
“Those who bear the mark of pain are never totally free, for they owe a debt to those who suffer.“
(Excerpt taken from “A Time to Heal” by Beata Bishop).
My health challenges started when I was one month old – I was hospitalized with viral meningitis and received IV antibiotics for one week. After that, I suffered from colic as a baby. As a native Texan growing up in the 1980s, my diet consisted of delicious homemade pizza, ice cream, fried chicken, french fries, brisket, chicken and dumplings, meat loaf, biscuits and gravy, chicken soup, and anything fried, plus lots of candy. My mother was a wonderful cook and baker; we spent many hours playing in the kitchen making southern dishes and yummy cookies. I spent much of my youth and early adulthood experiencing many signs of illness, but never fully acknowledged them. I started studying classical piano at the age of six and eventually attended the High School for the Performing & Visual Arts in Houston, Texas. After a continuing decline in my health, I attempted suicide while a sophomore in school. This led to doctors prescribing a variety of pharmaceuticals in hopes that the medications would solve whatever was wrong with me.
At the age of 18, I developed chronic migraines while living in Panama as an exchange student. I have a genetic predisposition for migraines. My paternal grandmother, father, and younger brother have migraines, as well as family on my mother’s side. Over the next 10 years, doctors tried every possible migraine medication on me, eventually resorting to Botox injections, which involved a series of injections in the face and neck. All of these options were a dead end. In fact, the various medications and treatments only made me worse. During this time, I juggled an abusive relationship, finished my BA in Journalism, and worked as a radio producer for NPR in San Diego, CA.
At the age of 25, I again attempted to end my life. Suicide actually seems to be another family trait; tragically both my maternal grandmother and aunt took their own lives. My point being that there are some underlying issues in my genes that need to be dealt with, imbalances I was probably born with and then nurtured through poor life choices. And those imbalances showed up in various ways as I matured, eventually leading to an average of 25+ migraine days a month. My migraines consisted of severe pain radiating up one side of my body, often stemming from the neck and occipital region, and spreading over my jaw, up my temple, behind my eye and forehead. The pain left me unable to move, sensitive to light, smell, touch, sounds, and unable to eat or digest food properly due to nausea and gastroparesis. Migraines caused me to be in a constant state of “fight or flight” – they took days, sometimes weeks, to recover from, which was further complicated by the many medications I juggled. Slowly, I found myself no longer able to work or participate in daily activities. I spent years immobilized in bed and on the couch with muscles atrophying – my body starving and traumatized by the cycle of chronic migraines, toxicity, and nutritional deficiency.
In reflecting on the many years I worked with migraine specialists, I continue to be deeply disappointed that doctors did not discuss lifestyle modifications, dietary triggers, and stress reduction techniques with me. The doctor appointments consisted of a quick 15-minute follow-up of my current list of prescriptions and which ones I should try next. There was no compassion, no empathy, and absolutely zero education. I was shocked that it took nearly a decade for any doctor to explain to me why I was constantly struggling with one the most challenging of symptoms associated with my migraine experience, gastroparesis, which explained why my digestion slowed down or completely stopped leading up to and during a migraine. This symptom is connected with the sympathetic nervous system. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, the body experiences the “fight or flight” response, causing the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline, an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, an increase in blood-glucose levels, and non-essential systems (digestion) to shut down. Had I understood this initially, I believe I would not have suffered from what I describe as a strange “eating disorder” related to gastroparesis – constantly feeling starved and then over-eating in response to my body sending me signals that it needed food for energy – but due to my digestion not working properly during a migraine – never absorbing any of that food until after the migraine subsided. So I would eat and eat and eat and continue to be ravenous, starving, and nauseated. This basic level of education about what was happening to my body would have been tremendously helpful. Instead, every doctor’s first and foremost concern seemed to be pharmaceuticals.
Here’s an incomplete list of medications I have tried for migraine:
Imitrex, Hydrocodone, Toradol, Zofran, Xanax, Doxepin, Maxalt, Relpax, Amerge, Indocomethacin,
Pamelor, Topamax, Cymbalta, Depakote, Neurontin, Amitriptyline, Axert, Nortriptyline, Elavil, Vicodin, Frova, Inderal, Zonisamide,
Dihydroergotamine, and Botox.
Here’s an incomplete list of supplements I have tried for migraine:
Petadolex, Primrose oil, Migralief, Feverfew, Magnesium, Calcium, Progesterone, Adrenal support, Liver Gallbladder support, Paleo detox powder, COQ10, Vitamin B complex, Vitamin D, Digestive enzymes, Nature Throid, Methylguard, Amino d tox, Probiotics, Jade calm, Berberine, Antioxidant complex, Carnitine, Chromium, REM sleep, pancreatin, liver glands, Iodine, mineral sea salt, potassium, Acidoll, Selenium, Niacin, Vitamin C, and Castor oil packs.
My husband and I met a few months after the suicide attempt and he introduced me to a relationship with God, which has become an integral part of my healing. My background as an angry and confused atheist made it a challenge for me to open up to the idea of God – and it took years for me to work through my baggage. I began to realize that my distaste for religion stemmed from a sensitivity to the hypocrisy I saw permeating religious culture, which was a distraction from the true message of Christ and a personal relationship with God. Spirituality has filled a hole in my heart and soul – a void that I spent most of my life trying to fill with toxic foods, substances, and relationships. It challenged the person that I had grown into – someone who hated the world, hated that I was part of it, and hated the sadness and suffering around me. My anger, hatred, confusion, suicidal tendencies, & disharmony have since been replaced with love, joy, compassion, & peace. Spiritual healing has helped me recover from the years I spent practicing self-hatred and self-sabotage. It led me to seek counseling in order to heal from the trauma of my past and my migraines. Exploring my spirituality also helped me veer away from the allopathic approach to treating migraine and instead focus on the body’s miraculous ability to repair and renew itself when given the correct tools to do so.
It wasn’t until I started researching holistic healing and nutrition in 2011 that I was able to start putting the puzzle pieces together regarding why I was sick. I decided to take a variety of tests – a hair tissue mineral analysis, a comprehensive hormone test, a metabolic panel, thyroid test, methylation test, genetic test, and food allergy test. I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance and other food allergies, hormonal imbalances including hypothyroidism and HPA axis dysfunction, poor liver function, genetic mutations including a methylation problem via theMTHFR gene, histamine and tyramine sensitivities, and various nutritional/mineral deficiencies & toxicities. Another issue that had come to my attention was the Essure tubal ligation procedure I had in 2009. After having the outpatient procedure done, I noticed new health issues emerge over the subsequent two years, and eventually connected them to Post Tubal Ligation Syndrome. This led me to seek a complete reversal of the procedure – and within days of the reversal, my symptoms began to disappear. Since Essure came on the market as a sterilization method for women, thousands of women have had serious health complications; a class action lawsuit has since been filed.
I came to my first naturopath desperate and uneducated. She quickly started me on an elimination diet, which led to me losing 25 pounds, bringing me to just above 100 pounds total. This process helped me become aware of my food sensitivities, such as gluten, corn, dairy, eggs…the usual suspects for many with a chronic illness. I began to eat strictly organic meat and produce and added bone broth to my diet. I started to put weight back on as I progressed through the elimination diet. Eventually, I moved on to working with another healer…
My healing journey truly began after meeting a global naturopath who works with patients regardless of their financial situation. This allowed me to seek help while I was unemployed and unable to afford the local naturopaths in my area. I strongly believe that a true healer, whose heart is dedicated to helping those who are sick, will provide services to you regardless of whether or not you can afford them. This global doctor is part of my inspiration to help others who are desperate and barred from getting help due to financial constraints. After working with her for some time and continuing in my journey of holistic healing, she referred me to a local doctor for further support. My first visit with this doctor was encouraging – I liked that she was an acupuncturist as well as a naturopath. She recommended a paleo diet for me and asked me to get a few tests – a metabolic panel and hormone analysis. The test results showed estrogen dominance coupled with low progesterone, as well as mild hypothyroidism, liver dysfunction, and deficiency across the board with minerals and vitamins. This resulted in a protocol of natural progesterone cream, natural desiccated thyroid, and about 15 different supplements. She also gave me a few homeopathic Unda tinctures which, to my surprise, helped abort my migraines. What a wonderful alternative to pharmaceuticals!
I really liked this naturopath. I trusted her wholeheartedly and she helped me very much. I went from having chronic migraines (about 20-25 migraine days a month for me) to having only a few per month. This was excellent progress! After being under her care for about two years, the migraine cycle picked up again. Other health issues persisted, which were present when I first came to this naturopath. Issues such as adrenal fatigue, liver toxicity, digestive problems, a recurring skin rash, and hormonal imbalances. These issues had lessened, but they were still present. The doctor recommended that we retest with a comprehensive metabolic panel and hormone test. After the results came in, I was shocked. We compared the new results with the original test results from two years before and many of my levels were still off and in fact, now there were other issues to address. It appeared that most of the supplements I had been taking weren’t helping that much. I was struggling financially to afford all these supplements, and I felt like a complete fool. The doctor said I needed to try new supplements to resolve the problems.
I left her office in a daze, confused as to why we hadn’t retested sooner and why what she had been doing with me wasn’t working very well. I had a bag of 10-12 new supplements and promptly started taking them and stopped the previous supplements I’d been on for two years. Within a week of taking the supplements (which included liver/gallbladder support, digestive enzymes, probiotics…), I was having intense pain in one kidney and severe emotional imbalances. I woke up every morning exhausted and found myself headed to the couch and staying there for most of the day. I was depressed, anxious, confused, and felt absolutely terrible (I understand now this was related to a heavy detox the supplements had thrown me into – something my body was unable to cope with). By the second week, I decided to contact my doctor and explain my symptoms as well as the mental conflict I was experiencing regarding such a heavy emphasis on supplementation and minimal focus on nutrition. She responded promptly and helped me understand her approach. I felt like I was at a crossroad and needed to pursue a new direction that would heal the remaining persistent health issues I was having. It was time for me to explore new options… so the healing journey continued.
That’s when I found myself slowly easing up to the idea of the Gerson Therapy (GT). I didn’t come to GT as a desperate last-resort cancer patient, which is what brings most folks to this therapy. But I did come as someone who had tried all the other options, had experienced great healing, but was still struggling with fundamental biochemical imbalances. I was dissatisfied with the treatments I had tried and unwilling to settle for still being sick. Gerson Therapy was a large part of the answer to these questions for me.
Dr. Max Gerson healed his chronic migraines in the 1920s using a program of nutrition and detoxification and went on to develop a protocol in the 1930s to not only cure migraine, but other degenerative diseases such as cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, hypertension, fibromyalgia, and more. The Gerson Therapy is offered for free to patients around the world, and Dr. Gerson himself provided his services to patients regardless of whether or not they could pay. He is my strongest inspiration and a true healer. You can find blog posts about my brother’s journey at the Gerson Clinic in Mexico – he went from having chronic daily migraines for over 25 years to being almost migraine-free within two weeks at the clinic.
I was hesitant when I first heard about GT from my dad. He had been on it about three months when he decided to share with me. He told me he wanted to give it three months as an experiment to decide whether or not it was something he would invite me to learn about. It turns out those three months had such a profound impact on what had become his quickly degrading health and well-being that he had no choice but to share the therapy with me.
Like I said, I was skeptical. I listened and said, “Good for you… I’m so happy you’re getting positive results.” And I meant it. But I brushed it off like it wasn’t right for me. I was on the “right” path… A solution I had spent years working toward, which I believed had actually healed my chronic migraines. The problem was… I was starting to have a few migraines here and there again and I was deeply dissatisfied in that reality. I was also continuing to have symptoms of liver dysfunction and toxicity, hormonal imbalances, blood sugar instability, as well as a rash on my leg that just wouldn’t go away. I was also still experiencing chronic pain in my shoulder and neck that wouldn’t subside, even after years of acupuncture, massage, cupping, dietary changes, physical therapy, and supplements. What’s amazing is that as soon as I switched over to the dietary changes of Gerson Therapy plus the addition of coffee enemas, the muscular pain and inflammation completely subsided.
Let’s back up for a moment and reflect on the decade of chronic migraines that eventually brought me to the Gerson Therapy.
I have given up on my health and my life more than once before. I’ve tried to end it all. In my weakness, I was spared from death and given another chance at life. As a result, I decided to fight for my health and never settle for being stuck with a chronic illness. Doctors all over the country – migraine specialists – tried all their magic tricks via pharmaceuticals and Botox and then finally gave up on me. “Sorry, we can’t help you,” they told me. “Just keep taking these pills… And here’s a handful of other drugs to juggle while you’re at it. Good luck.”
Being stuck in the daily cycle of depressing and painful migraines, which left me unable to participate in my marriage, a professional career, and enjoying my gift as a musician and artist, etc… Just wasn’t okay with me. And so the search for true healing began. I wondered why I had migraines in the first place. What was causing them? What was wrong with my body?
I looked at every option I could find with a cautious attitude. I also tried every option I came across. This included, for example, every preventative and acute migraine medication available at the time, Botox, acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, massage, chiropractic, cupping, Rolfing, meditation, biofeedback, naturopathic intervention, many, many supplements and homeopathic remedies, the paleo diet, a gluten free diet, the elimination diet, and many more options that I’m sure I’m forgetting. At one point and time, I was spending more money on supplements than I was on food. And I was starving.
The confusing and long road that has brought me to the Gerson Therapy has fine-tuned my understanding of the options we have available to get well. I have since combined my healing journey to include a modified Gerson Therapy protocol with a functional medicine approach. This bumpy journey has helped me understand these various options intimately and has given me that much clearer of an understanding as to the importance of nutrition, deficiency, and detoxification in healing the degenerative disease of migraine. I am still on this healing journey and it will continue for years as I undo the decades of poisonous food, medication, and lifestyle choices that eventually made me very sick.
I no longer experience the disabling pain of chronic illness and I am now on a mission to educate others about the body’s ability to heal itself and potentially live a life free from the shackles of a chronic and disabling disease.
I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to accept the widespread belief that you will always be sick with migraines. There is hope! We live in a culture where it has become widely accepted to put a band-aid over an illness instead of seeking to understand and address why an illness is occurring in the first place. Healing involves taking responsibility for your health and believing that you can get well. My healing journey has been individualized to my body’s unique needs and yours will be too.
This journey has led me to dedicate myself to helping other migraineurs. I have been called to do this. As a result, I have co-founded The Herdell Migraine Institute, which is dedicated to sharing our family’s story of healing and helping guide migraineurs on the path to healing. In order to best serve migraineurs during their healing journey, I have obtained a Master’s of Science in Functional Medicine and Nutrition from the University of Western States, am a national board-certified health and wellness coach, am currently in Dr. Kara Fitzgerald’s Functional Nutrition Residency Program, and will become a Certified Nutrition Specialist.
I feel compelled to offer you hope. Don’t give up.
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