Hi, I’m Caitlin! 25, recently married, and trying to figure out this thing called life one day at a time.

I am a strong believer in sharing the knowledge we gather throughout our life with others. If someone has already done the hours, months, and years worth of research, why not share it with the world in an easy to digest way? We could all use a little help figuring things out along the way!

Just recently I was diagnosed with Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), a progressive, multi-system, multi-symptom illness characterized by exposure to biotoxins (The Virginia Center for Health and Wellness). Because this is such a complex illness, I am already deep in the trenches of research, learning all the ways to help my body fight this inflammation and prevent additional flare ups. I knew immediately I needed a way to document not only my journey with CIRS itself, but all of the other life changes being made along the way. Things you wouldn’t normally consider but that all go hand in hand, such as switching out common household items for less toxic alternatives, nutrition changes (and recipes to follow) that promote gut health and help reduce inflammation. Everything I learn that could help not just myself, but others as well.

That is exactly why I am starting this blog. While I don’t expect a mass of readers, or any readers really, this blog is a way for me to document my journey to a healthier life, from just surviving everyday to actually THRIVING!

Path to a Diagnosis

My journey to thriving has been a long one. At 25 years old, I cannot remember a time in my life where I truly felt well. My health issues started early and just continued to mount as I got older. My first traumatic experience with a doctor was at age 10, when I was told I was overweight and had high blood pressure. “Cut out all salt from your diet and lose weight” my pediatrician barked at me while I tried to hold back tears. As we all know now, you can’t cut all salt from your diet. But 10 year old me didn’t know that, thus starting me down the path of disordered eating and a fear of food.

Cut out all salt from your diet and lose weight!

My pediatrician to me at 10 years old

Next, at age 12, came the depression and anxiety diagnosis along with a prescription to “fix” these feelings. While I had always struggled in some way with joint and muscle pain, things came to a head in my early teens when the pain became debilitating. Doctors were quick to take a shot in the dark on what may be wrong, with things like lupus and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis being tossed around. At the end of the day, though, all my bloodwork was coming back normal, so I should have felt normal right?

Eventually, I was referred to a pediatric rheumatologist that I had to drive 2.5 hours one way to see for each appointment. He quickly dismissed the other doctors’ ideas and diagnosed me with fibromyalgia, hyper-mobility of my joints, and chronic fatigue syndrome. All a nice way to say “It’s probably all in your head”. He sent me on my way with another anti-depressant and referred me to a pain management therapist. Yes, you read that right. Not a pain management specialist, a doctor with specialized training to evaluate, diagnose, and treat pain, but a pain management therapist, also 2.5 hours away from home. In the few sessions I actually went to, we didn’t work on how to relieve the pain I was in, but how to use deep breathing techniques to cope and continue with life as if my pain did not exist. It was this experience that made me realize there would be no easy answers for my pain and I may have been the only one taking it seriously. I was left feeling ignored, invalidated, and ultimately alone.

It’s probably all in your head…

Over the next 10+ years, through high school, college, and even into adulthood, I had little faith in doctors. Occasionally, I would reach my breaking point and see a new primary care physician or get a referral to specialist (rheumatology, cardiology, neurology, you name it), but in the end, no one could agree with what was really wrong with me, even taking away a previous diagnosis for their new theory. After a battery of tests, though, each would send me on my way with a new prescription, most likely an anti-depressant or some form of Tylenol, and to come back in 6 months. I rarely went back for that follow up. These experiences only deepened my feelings of invalidation and that maybe I was crazy, even though my symptoms were very real and well documented. All I wanted was a diagnosis, something that made my issues real.

But, my outlook on life changed when I met my now husband, Michael, in 2020. I went from not seeing a future past the age of 25, no desire for kids, no real hope for life, to desperately wanting to build a life with him, to be here long past 25, to create our own family. Finally in 2022, I worked up the courage to say “let’s give this one more try”. But this time, I searched for a different kind of doctor.

Let’s give this one more try…

I knew I wanted to see someone practicing functional medicine that would assess me as a whole person, from birth to now, with no symptom or issue being too small or irrelevant. One Google search later and I was scheduling an appointment with Kelly Engelmann, FNP-BC, at Enhanced Wellness Living. I knew I was headed in the right direction when my pre-appointment intake forms took me over 2 hours to complete. I knew I had hit the jackpot when to start my new patient appointment, Kelly already knew everything in those intake forms and didn’t make me rehash it all, looking for any deviations in my story. Instead she simply asked me, “tell me about your first few years of life…were you born early…any health issues as a baby….”, questions I had never been asked before. After the most thorough history review and intake appointment, Kelly said something that changed my life. She looked at me and said, “So it sounds like to me, you have never really been well your entire life”, and let me tell you, my heart stopped at that moment because I knew someone finally saw and understood me. At the end of our appointment, Kelly already had a game plan. The first steps included bloodwork, saliva samples, and stool samples, all checking things no other doctor had thought to check in what they considered a healthy young patient. It also included supplements and an overall diet change focused on reducing inflammation throughout my body. Not once did Kelly question my symptoms or complaints. Everything I said to her was real, whether lab work or other tests could prove it. She believed me.

So it sounds like to me, you have never really been well your entire life.

Kelly at the end of our patient history review

And then, after a month long wait for labs to come back, I went into Kelly’s office and she gave me the best (and worst) gift I have ever been given. She had a diagnosis for me. For once, my lab work wasn’t normal. I wasn’t crazy. After reviewing all of my labs in detail, it was clear my body was full of inflammation and met all the criteria for a Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome Diagnosis (CIRS). Not only did I meet the criteria, but it was and still is wreaking havoc on my body.

CIRS is a progressive, multi-system, multi-symptom illness characterized by exposure to biotoxins. The ongoing inflammation can affect virtually any organ system of the body and if left untreated, can become debilitating (The Virginia Center for Health and Wellness). CIRS patients are often misdiagnosed as having depression, anxiety, PTSD, allergies, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome, all of which I have been diagnosed with at some point in life.

CIRS has been hiding in the shadows for almost all of my life, doing damage that has now left my body completely off kilter. CIRS is complicated and treating it is not easy. It involves expensive medications and therapies typically not covered by insurance. It’s an entire shift in the way you live to get the inflammation under control and hopefully bring your body back, or for the first time, to a state of calm.

While this diagnosis is still very new to me, I am already knee deep in research and almost at information overload. So why not bring something positive out of every obstacle life throws at you? My positive is the decision to start this blog. Here I will document not only my journey with CIRS itself and more about leading up to my diagnosis, but also all of the life changes being made along the way. Things like switching out common household items for less toxic alternatives. nutrition changes (and recipes to follow) that promote gut health and help reduce inflammation. Right now, there is no limit to what I will include. Only time will tell. I hope you will join me in this journey to go from merely surviving to thriving!

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