May 27, 2021
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Illustration by Brittany England
Modern-day purveyors of false hope are the snake oil merchants of old.
Living with a chronic condition means there will always be people promising cure-alls — traditional remedies repackaged as biblical miracles for the incurable.
The grief that accompanied a multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis sent me spiraling down a rabbit hole of wellness websites.
Ridding myself of illness became almost nihilistic. The more I tried, the sicker I became, as stress and cortisol gripped my body. The pressure to achieve “wellness” inevitably led to a massive relapse, which resulted in multiple trips to the emergency department.
MS is a chronic neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system and is predominantly diagnosed in women in their 20s and 30s. My immune system is on overdrive, attacking the protective layer of my nerves.
This can result in symptoms ranging from optic neuritis to mobility problems.
In my case, muscle spasms, peripheral dysesthesia, and chronic fatigue meant I was put on vats of steroids, which was like being darted with elephant tranquilizer. Steroids gave me the appetite of a baby dinosaur, as well as moon face.
I was devastated.
Despite my best efforts with natural remedies, elimination diets, and so many supplements, I wasn’t miraculously healed. I had tried CBD, tapping meditations, tinctures, and nutritionists — none of which cured me. Nor did celery juice.
Modern-day purveyors of false hope are the snake oil merchants of old. They prey on the vulnerabilities of people desperate to feel better and make money along the way.
Self-anointed wellness gurus, like those who sell the myth that celery juice will cure autoimmune diseases, can be damaging. This is particularly true when they have millions of followers on Instagram, no medical qualifications, and promote information with no scientific backing.
Of course, celery juice isn’t bad for you. It contains many essential vitamins and minerals — but it’s not going to cure my MS.
Along this journey, I also read a lot about those with MS who say they cured themselves through diet, positive thinking, and lifestyle changes.
While it is incredible that it has worked for them, I believe a lot of illness “inspo” stories ended up being quite detrimental to my mental health.
There was an expectation that if I did everything they were doing, I would be cured. When I wasn’t, I felt like a failure.
I would chastise myself if I had symptoms the day after an indulgence of any kind. I became increasingly anxious. There was a presumption of laziness or weakness, that if only I had fought harder to get better I wouldn’t be in this situation.
Chronic neurological disorders don’t work like that.
I now know that managing a chronic condition takes trial and error. One size doesn’t fit all and what works for one person may not work for another.
Being your own advocate is so important. Knowing your limits and what works for you is crucial. It takes patience and time, something a lot of wellness “gurus” don’t tell you.
I spent the better part of a year trying to figure out what I had done wrong. It was like prodding an open wound, raw and fruitless. Ultimately, I had to forgive myself for being sick and realize that I am not to blame for my condition.
I think with any diagnosis, you go through the stages of grief, which eventually leads to acceptance.
Perhaps deep diving into the world of cure-alls is part of this healing process, but there is a danger in becoming too consumed.
I do believe the body has an incredible ability to heal itself on many levels, but MS is, ultimately, an incurable disease.
Despite living in an era of amazing medical gains, misinformation online encourages people to reject science and seek ‘natural’ alternatives instead.
On the flip side, many doctors’ nutritional knowledge is fairly rudimentary, favoring medication as the only solution to most ailments. However, poor nutrition is a huge component of disease, and lifestyle is a major influencer on health outcomes, particularly for those of us with chronic conditions.
Yet, I was never asked about my diet or lifestyle. I was simply told to stay on my medication, which was largely unhelpful.
I have since found that following the Overcoming MS diet, which is loosely based on the Mediterranean diet, helps with my symptoms. It encompasses the basic tenets of well-being: Don’t eat processed foods. Don’t smoke. Eliminate stress. Eat the rainbow. Spend time outdoors. Exercise, meditate, love, laugh, live.
It’s evidence based and doesn’t claim to offer a cure.
Doctors should offer a more holistic approach to MS, so that it doesn’t force those newly diagnosed down the wellness trap, forking out hundreds of dollars trying to get better or delving into fads that ultimately aren’t going to help us in the long run.
That’s not to say that alternative medicine is bad. There’s often a stigma attached to complementary therapies like reiki, reflexology, and acupuncture because of charlatans preying on people’s vulnerabilities. Yet, these therapies are steeped in tradition, and I have found them to be really beneficial.
I think we need a balance. Incorporating modern medicine, good nutrition, and healthful complementary therapies that aren’t going to harm you is the best way to improve general well-being.
My diagnosis meant getting answers to the years of inexplicable symptoms. And while I wish I didn’t have to go through my experience with the wellness trap that followed, ultimately, the journey has led to more connection.
Many people choose not to disclose that they have MS. For me, sharing my thoughts, worries, and hopes was cathartic.
I believe in the power of human connection. So called Blue Zones with the oldest populations are linked not only to healthy diet but to relationships and engagement with others.
You find your true friends when you are sifting through the detritus of your broken life after an earth-shattering diagnosis: The ones who stand by you, who take the time to learn about what you’re going through. Those who know they will never fully understand, yet try anyway.
It can be a lonely journey and it takes time to build yourself back up, but once you have, life is infinitely more meaningful, relationships deeper, every success all the sweeter.
Article originally appeared on May 27, 2021 on Bezzy’s sister site, Healthline. Last medically reviewed on May 27, 2021.
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