Hope in Her Chronic Fatigue Illness with Mandy Meehan
Mrs. Mandy Meehan is an amazing woman. I'm so grateful to call her my friend. She is a pastor's wife and a pastor's daughter, and she is living out an incredible story right now of struggle and triumph...3.5 years ago, she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.
She got sick right before (like, 2 weeks!!) she was about to walk down the aisle to get married and has been on an adventure to heal her body ever since. Her illness has taken her life in many new directions. One of the most significant has been her journey to becoming a functional nutritionist where she helps women who are going through very similar journeys to hers, to heal and find freedom.
Mandy married James almost 3.5 years ago. They absolutely love marriage and think it's the greatest thing ever (I can totally relate - I love, love, LOVE being married to Derick and talking about marriage!). They are really passionate about talking about how amazing marriage is in a world where people can be really negative towards marriage. James is on staff at their Church as a pastor and before Mandy got sick, she was a part of the Church Ministry as well. She's still a part of it, just in a different way. She serves as a volunteer alongside James. Church, serving the community and leading people to become fully devoted followers of Christ is a huge part of their lives.
Mandy's illness started out as mono and turned into 3.5 years of chronic illness; chronic fatigue syndrome, catalyzed by mold toxicity, chemical toxicity, and chronic Epstein-Barr virus. It forced her to leave her job. She just did not have the energy or the health to work. Along her healing process, she began making YouTube videos to share her story and what she was learning on her journey of living with chronic illness. Her pain literally fueled a new passion for health and wellness and a desire to help people find hope in the midst of suffering.
She's now a functional nutritional therapy practitioner, AKA nutritionist, functional nutritionist, or holistic nutritionist. She's in the beginning stages of starting to see clients and helping them heal with nutritional therapy as she is still doing a lot of healing herself. She's so grateful that she has the physical ability to get to even be able to share and guide people. To her, it's a sign that she's made enough progress in her health to now be able to use her struggles to have an impact.
Shifting Your Perspective From Enduring To Embracing What Life Throws Your Way
To some extent, Mandy has lived in pain every single day for the last 3.5 years and one of the biggest lessons that she's learned through this is that whatever you're dealing with in life, whether you're going through a hard time or your life is great, it's really important that we don't just endure.
For a while, she didn't want anyone to know what was going on. She just wanted to keep it all to herself and move through it quietly, thinking that once this tough season was over, she would move on with the rest of her life and get all the things done, work super hard and make up for lost time. When it became apparent that the season of illness wasn't ending and she had to quit her dream job that she thought she was going to be doing for the rest of her life, it got real. At that time, her world totally shifted. She was facing a really dang hard, new reality. Will I be able to work again? Am I actually dying? What on earth is happening to me? These are just some of the thoughts she had...in reality, she just had a huge question mark over her entire life. And because the change in this season of her life was so massive, she realized that her perspective needed to shift from enduring to embracing this new season.
To embrace suffering and hard times can sound counter-intuitive because obviously, we fight to get past our challenges. Endurance can be important, but sometimes, we need to make the decision to embrace where we are at, and in doing this, so many things change. For Mandy, part of her embracing this season was to share her struggles and be vulnerable. She knew she had to do this; she had to tell her story if she was to make a difference in the world. That's when she began making her YouTube videos. And around this time, she also began focusing on nutrition as a way to help herself heal - she knew she couldn't be passive about her situation. She knew she actively had to work to heal.
This journey of embracing her struggles led her into a new season of a career in nutritional therapy. Her message in this is that there is hope for healing. Whatever it is we are facing, if we embrace it and accept that God has put this on our paths for a reason, we can find purpose in our lives and find comfort in knowing it is just one of our many seasons He has in store for us.
Holding Onto Hope As You Are Healing
Mandy's never been in a place of complete hopelessness, which I think is incredible. She attributes this to her faith in Jesus. She really believes that God does work for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. So, from the beginning, even though she struggled, she could hold onto hope knowing this. I talk about this a lot in Chasing Freedom...that anchor; that faithful anchor we have is truly what makes us resilient when something like this comes up.
I can only imagine how hard staying in faith and keeping hope has been for Mandy. There is still so much unknown in the area of chronic fatigue and chronic illness and a lot of the time it is trial and error. The areas of her illness where there are so many unanswered questions have been what's caused Mandy to feel the most depression and anxiety. In all the uncertainty, she has learned to be careful about what she focuses on, what she does with the research she comes across, and where she looks for answers. The world can be really negative toward chronic illness, especially in Facebook groups set up for support which is so heart-breaking.
It really can be so depressing how hopeless people are who struggle with something like this. Mandy explained to me how there are people who almost just give up because their doctor tells them it's something they're going to live with for the rest of their lives. For her, it's been important to actually find people who have healed from their issues and/or made progress. You have to focus your thoughts and your mind on hope and healing as you search for answers.
Asking For Help During Hard Times
Community is such a huge part of healing. It's not just the science and the protocols, but it's also the people and support behind you. In my own story, I recognize this so much. My environment and what I was consuming (and who from) on a day to day basis impacted my well-being as a whole drastically.
Mandy is a bit like me in that she's not naturally the type of person who is comfortable asking for help. So, you can imagine the fact that she can't even clean her own house is tough! As if not being able to work a full-time job like everybody else wasn't hard enough to come to terms with, she literally asks herself what the main thing is she has to do in a day and then she has to budget her energy around that. Recording a podcast, getting out to the chiropractor and picking a couple things up at the grocery store is a good day, doing significantly more than she used to be able to do.
The best way for someone to support Mandy is to actually be present, not just offer support, but to actually show up and help her with the practical things...like cleaning her house. When someone is willing to help in this way, it really does show ridiculous love and support.
One super hard part of chronic fatigue and other illnesses like anxiety and depression is that it's not something that you see on the outside. Sure, maybe your husband can tell you you're struggling more from your physical appearance, but the majority of the time, you look like you're fine. And this just shows the importance of telling people what you're going through or asking someone for help and support, because unless you do say something, or unless someone is in on what's going on, you can't ever expect someone to fully show up for you.
I can relate to this all too well - recently, I have been struggling with a hormone imbalance on my trying-to-conceive journey. And when your progesterone drops really low like mine did, you can fall into a hormonal depression...something I've never experienced in my life until now. It just really reinforced for me that while I looked fine, inside it was such a different story. I felt like I wasn't fulfilling the relationship roles in my life that I serve: wife, daughter, sister, and so on. So hearing Mandy's story about asking for help was an 'aha!' moment for me...any type of internal struggle in suffering or pain can't be done alone.
The lesson in all of this is to not assume because you never really never know what someone's actually experiencing. When we choose to not assume and choose to seek understanding more than anything, that's when we can really serve people and love people well. And serving and helping people deal with similar things is something Mandy is so grateful that she gets to do now. She gets to help people the way she wishes someone would have been able to 3.5 years ago for her. I love how she also expresses her gratitude for actually having the illness. As horrible as it's been, God knows that He has brought her purpose out of pain.
How To Eat Intuitively When You Have Restrictions In Your Diet
It's no secret that most women have ups and downs in their journey and relationship with food and Mandy is no different. In High School, she started to struggle with food in that she began counting calories and while she never had an eating disorder, she was definitely disordered in her food-mindset for a while. She still has to be really careful not to lean too far into Orthorexia; an extreme obsession of eating pure, clean and healthy food.
Mandy has found many times she's restricted food unnecessarily on her healing journey. It is really hard when you're dealing with health issues because you're constantly researching what to eat, what not to eat and all of a sudden there are all these rules and health foods that you're told might actually be harming your health. And it can really start to snowball when you let fear creep in.
In nutritional therapy, people are often put on elimination diets, which can be totally amazing and helpful to allow you to remove something for a season so you can slowly add it back in and see how/if you react to it. But what Mandy did far too often was restrict things because she thought it was better to be safe than sorry. She believes that when you unnecessarily restrict, even if you're not in an unhealthy, disordered mindset entirely in that moment, it can be a very slippery slope.
When your focus is on healing, getting your energy back and finding health again, you're less likely to let restrictions feel like dieting. It's about the intention behind why you are or aren't eating something. Through this healing journey, Mandy actually improved her relationship with food. She was learning about nutrition and how food really impacts our bodies. One example of this was her fear of sugar early on. Like many of us, we think that sugar can make us fat, create inflammation or even maybe lead to cancer. So, she restricted sugar unnecessarily. Through her studies, she learned that some natural sugars can actually be beneficial for your immune system, like raw honey and pure maple syrup. And since eating these, she feels good!
All whole foods can be really beneficial in the right amounts. When we are healing or even just trying to have a healthy relationship with food; intuitive eating and rejecting diet culture, it's important to focus on all the things we CAN eat and include in our diets rather than what we can't. It can take some time to find your groove in intuitive eating, but what Mandy would suggest is to just go back to those whole, nutrient dense foods that are properly prepared and eat mostly those things. While proper nutrition is incredibly complicated when you study it, it's actually also extremely simple when it comes down to the main principles: go back to basics and eat whole, real foods. And remember that stressing over what you're eating is worse than eating the food that you think could be bad for your body.
When you're having to restrict certain foods because of your health issues, remember that there is a difference between a healthy diet and a healing diet. When you are healing, you will follow a healing protocol/nutritional protocol/healing diet. And when you are no longer trying to heal, you no longer need this diet/protocol. As a healthy person, you don't need to be restricting foods; you should be including as many nutrient dense foods in your life as you can.
So, ask yourself: am I in a season of needing a healing diet right now or do I just need to focus on a broader healthy diet?
Personal Boundaries And Managing Energy
Whether or not she's dealing with chronic illness, Mandy is chasing freedom in setting boundaries and managing her energy. For her, this means saying 'no' to good things, and 'yes', the most important things. It can be really hard to say 'no' to some of those good things that come up especially where it might be an opportunity to connect, encourage, and serve in some way. But in this season, Mandy has to give her energy to the things that are going to make the biggest impact. And when she chooses those and says 'no' to the other things, that's when she experiences more freedom.
To Mandy, chasing freedom means giving up things she loves for things she loves even more. God blesses that intentionality when you say 'yes' to what is truly going to make a difference. If you say 'yes' to everything, you're gonna be asked to do more things because you create an expectation of yourself, and doing all the things, all the time is not always where God needs us.
The way that we choose to spend our time and energy matters so much. Part of managing energy well can be to give your energy to the most important things first and then use what's left. That's why it can be important to spend the first part of your morning with Jesus, in the Word, to set you up well for the day ahead.
If you want to go follow Mandy, or find more information on her nutritional therapy, go check out her Instagram @mandymeehan and her YouTube Channel: Mandy Meehan. She's working on a website that she'll have up pretty soon too!
P.S. Happy 2020! I love New Year's so much...it's the best time to take stock and set new intentions for the year ahead. If you need support with your food freedom or health journey, then remember, that is EXACTLY why I created the Freedom Method Mentorship. Registration is closing SOON (we start on 6 Jan) - it's the only way to work with me in 2020 for health coaching. I only have 2 spots left!!! The 6-month walk together is super high touch and a serious commitment where we dive into your freedom journey together. Let me join you on your walk of faith, and experience massive transformation and find true freedom in your body and mind - for more information or to register, click here. If you have any questions, shoot me a DM on Instagram or email me firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm holding space for conversations over the next week to make sure that these last 2 spots are filled with women who are ready, who are excited, who know that transformation is coming, and who are ready to walk through the freedom method with open arms.
If you liked this post, check out episode 79 of my podcast - The Chasing Freedom Show. You can find it on Spotify, iTunes, or SoundCloud. If you love the episode, screenshot and share it with me on social media @trainertanner #chasingfreedom.