“It’s been an empowering thing for me to realize that we have so much control over our health. I’m on a journey to health, wellness and balance, one step at a time, one day at a time, year by year, to live the fullest, happiest life possible.”
When Dawn-Marie Norton was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), her exhaustion and cloudy head left her watching life pass by from the couch. As she rested, her three active boys played around her – all of them under the age of 5. And she was expecting another.
“When my lab results came back, my doctor said, ‘I don’t even know how you’re functioning. Most people with these numbers can’t even get out of bed.’ He told me I’d have to deal with chronic fatigue for the rest of my life,” she recalls.
For herself and her family, she resolved to find a way out of the fog that weighed so heavily on her body and mind, and began researching ways to get healthier.
The steps she ultimately took completely turned her health around. Within the year, her chronic fatigue had lifted.
Researching Treatment for Chronic Fatigue – on Her Own
Dawn had long relied on natural or alternative medicine, mostly out of default. Growing up, her family typically skipped seeing doctors for routine ailments such as sore throats and only sought care for more severe illnesses.
In her teens, she began suffering from recurring yeast infections, which worsened as she began having children. Soon, she started experiencing the fatigue and brain fog indicative of systemic Candida, or an overgrowth of yeast in the digestive tract.
When Dawn received the diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (now often referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or M.E./C.F.S.), she suspected underlying conditions as the culprits. Lab tests uncovered high levels of Candida and mold toxicity, which she calls “a perfect storm.”
Some of the symptoms of both Candida and mold toxicity seem to align with the symptoms of M.E./CFS, including brain fog (difficulty thinking), memory problems, headaches, extreme fatigue, weakness, muscle and joint pain, eye problems and more.
Dawn took it upon herself to begin resolving her known issues – in hopes that it would change how she felt.
“I’ve never been one to let someone tell me what my life is going to be like,” she says. “I started reading books and talking to people, found a naturopathic doctor and started applying everything I learned.”
In Dawn’s recovery, it was two steps forward, one step back. Her family moved out of the house with mold to reduce her exposure. But the birth of her fourth son only complicated matters, as they passed thrush back and forth, eventually forcing her to stop nursing him.
She was led to the book, The Yeast Connection, which provided a roadmap for overcoming Candida and yeast infections. Dawn began the 60-day plan that cut out carbs, yeasty foods, processed foods and sugar, as well as fruit for the first month. Instead, she focused on eating meat and vegetables. In the second month, she added one serving of fruit a day. She also took the anti-fungal medication Nystatin, cat’s claw, prebiotics and probiotics.
At the end of 60 days, her energy had returned, she had lost 30 pounds and she felt better than she had in years. Afterward, she continued following a low-sugar diet and avoided processed foods. However, she did begin enjoying bread again at that time.
But then she encountered another setback. During her pregnancy with her seventh and last child, she developed strep B and was given intravenous antibiotics during labor to treat it. Within two weeks, an eczema breakout covered her entire body.
For 12 years, eczema continued to plague Dawn until a little voice in the back of her head nagged her: “’Don’t eat wheat,’” she says. Thus she eliminated wheat for all but special occasions – and her eczema began improving.
Advising Her Physician Re: Hypothyroidism
Throughout the years, Dawn encountered multiple health setbacks, and took a proactive approach to each. She suffered from symptoms of hypothyroidism but her labs always tested in the normal range. Dawn knew, however, that the fatigue, mood swings, lethargy, low temperatures, and cold feet weren’t normal. Plus, her hair began falling out by the handfuls.
Again, she began researching and found the book, Stop the Thyroid Madness. She shared the book with her longtime doctor, who had recently begun practicing functional medicine. She urged her doctor to put her on a low-dose thyroid prescription and he agreed.
After a few months on the medication, a racing heart led her to suspect that she was no longer hypothyroid. Dawn consulted her doctor and he felt it was appropriate to stop taking the prescription. Upon stopping, she found her hypothyroid symptoms did not return.
Dawn continued the things she knew would provide her with optimal health: thinking positively, managing negative emotions and stress, continuing healthy food choices, and practicing her faith in meaningful ways.
Transforming Her Response to Stress
Dawn says that she couldn’t have turned her health around without also finding ways to manage a lifetime of stress. Her mother committed suicide when she was 19, leaving a lasting impact on her.
“That was the defining moment of my life,” she says. “Because of it and other childhood trauma, I dealt with depression off and on, and did a lot of work to help manage my thoughts and emotions.”
Dawn learned about EFT (emotional freedom technique), which involves tapping meridian points to relieve physical or emotional distress. She initially used it for herself, her family and friends before becoming a practitioner helping others.
When negative emotions arise, she applies EFT. She’s also helped her children resolve a variety of their own issues, including migraines, pain, trauma and even to prevent surgery. Such practices, she believes, were critical to finally clearing her eczema.
Dawn turned to meditation during a particularly stressful time last year, as she prepared for national board exams to become a national board certified health and wellness coach (NBC-HWC) after graduating from the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy.
“My real belief is that most people can’t make permanent change without managing their stress, whether it’s meditation or their spiritual practices,” she says. “If they don’t have something that grounds them and keeps them calm then as soon as they get stressed the whole plan falls apart.”
Gratitude has been a tremendous contributor to Dawn’s mindset. “I’ve learned to be grateful in and for all things, even in difficult times, instead of being resentful or upset,” she says. “It helps me see the larger picture.”
Sticking to a Paleo-Style Diet
Two decades after clearing CFS, Dawn-Marie now has all the energy she needs to keep up with life, including grown children and four grandchildren. She maintains her health through a low-glycemic/low-carb, paleo-style diet. She mainly eats protein and vegetables, and limits grains to a few meals a week.
She takes supplements such as a methylated multivitamin (because of the MTHFR gene mutation), N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), magnesium and probiotics. And despite living in sunny Arizona, she adds vitamin D to keep her levels sufficient. She adds megadoses of vitamin C anytime she starts feeling unwell.
Dawn has begun work as a functional medicine certified health coach (FMCHC) with a focus on helping women. When she learned about functional medicine, it seemed the perfect complement to all the independent research she had already done over the years on food, stress, positive psychology, relationships and movement.
“It’s been an empowering thing for me to realize that we have so much control over our health,” she says. “I’m on a journey to health, wellness and balance, one step at a time, one day at a time, year by year, to live the fullest, happiest life possible. Functional medicine brought all the pieces together and that’s my great hope for others.”
“Now I want to help women of faith who are struggling, to live out their faith and life in a powerful way in the world,” she adds. “Focusing on the four pillars of strength: mind, heart, body and soul can help them achieve it. It’s my goal to help women ultimately enjoy vibrant health in each of those areas.”
If you enjoyed this story, you might also like: Washington Doctor Fixes the Surprising Causes of His Severe Fatigue.
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