A couple of weeks ago I talked about the ups and downs I have faced in the past year with my health. Today I want to specifically write about the Vital Plan Restore program and how it has helped my recovery over the past 10 months.
What is the Vital PLan Restore Program?
The Vital Plan Restore program is a fibromyalgia, CFS and Lyme disease recovery program. It has been designed by Dr William Rawls to follow the protocol set out in his book “Suffered Long Enough“. The healing herbs work to heal the gut, boost the immune system, suppress pathogens, support mitochondrial function and to help your body better cope with stress.
Alongside the herbal regime, the suggested diet and lifestyle changes enable you to create the best healing environment for your body.
I started the program in January 2015
After reading the book “Suffered Long Enough” I began taking a few of the suggested herbs in November of last year. In January 2015, I then started the Restore program. I saw quick benefit from the Restore program and I would say I in a good place by mid-February. I was able to go out and walk my dog each day, was managing self-care and some daily living tasks and overall felt the best I had in a long time.
It pains me to say that I then undid that progress and experienced another physical crash in late February. This was caused by returning to work too soon. I got ahead of myself and I was not ready to return to work at that stage. Isn’t hindsight wonderful?
At the time I didn’t know this and I was desperate to get back to work for fear of losing my job. As I was feeling the best I had in such a long time I wanted to give it a go. Sadly the two-hour commute plus a few hours at work was just too much of a leap from what I had been doing.
This was the third physical crash I had experienced and– though it wasn’t as bad as the previous two– I was left feeling exhausted and symptoms that had subsided frustratingly returned, along with some new ones.
From that point on progress has been slower than what I experienced when I first started the Restore program. I will talk about the reasons why I feel this is shortly. However, I feel it’s important to say that I’ve seen improvement in symptoms that I am extremely thankful for.
My fibromyalgia symptoms before starting Dr Rawls’ protocol
- PAIN: I averaged a 6 or 7 out of 10 on the pain scale every single day. There was not a moment that I wasn’t in pain. The pain was intense, stabbing, burning and widespread. A good day was rare and the best my pain would be would be a 4 out of 10. On those days it was more of a dull ache. I started on gabapentin in October 2014, one month prior to starting the herbal protocol. It took the edge off my pain but it was still problematic.
- STIFFNESS: My muscles were not only sore but they were incredibly stiff. I struggled to even bend down to tie my own shoelaces some days. I was always very stiff when I first woke up and I held myself funny because of this stiffness, which didn’t help with the pain.
- FATIGUE: Fatigue has been a prominent fibromyalgia symptom since 2011 and has always been a challenge. In 2014 I experienced two physical crashes that resulted in me experiencing fatigue as I had never done before. It became overwhelming and completely draining. My limbs felt like a ton weight and everyday tasks were extremely difficult. At the point, before I started the Restore program, I was finding self-care and daily living tasks incredibly difficult and I often needed help from my husband with basic things like getting in and out of the bath and getting dressed. The delayed fatigue (aka post-exertional malaise) from doing the simplest of tasks was relentless.
- FEELING ILL: After my physical crash in October last year I spent every single day feeling terribly unwell and I felt like I had the flu (complete with a sore throat).
- HEADACHES: I had tension headaches most days and experienced stabbing pains behind my eyes frequently.
- EYE PROBLEMS: In addition to the eye pain I also experienced moments of blurred vision.
- POOR QUALITY SLEEP: When I was first diagnosed in 2013 I had really poor sleep– I woke frequently through the night and always woke up feeling unrefreshed. I had worked hard on my sleep for a year prior to starting the protocol. Though my sleep improved and I only awoke 2-3 times through the night, the quality of my sleep remained poor and I still awoke feeling unrefreshed.
- DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS: I felt nauseous every day and I experienced sore, bloated stomachs.
- POOR IMMUNE SYSTEM: I tended to get every cold and bug going. My immune system was terrible.
- BRAIN FOG: I had difficulty concentrating and I struggled to remember things or recall memories. I muddled up words and would forget words mid-sentence. I would be easily confused. I was clumsy and constantly lost things.
- ITCHY SKIN AND DRY EYES: I would get random rashes and experience itchy skin almost every day. It drove me mad. My eyes were also dry and itchy.
- DIZZINESS: I experienced dizziness, light-headedness and often felt off-balance and not “with it”.
- NUMBNESS & TINGLING: I had pins and needles, numbness and tingling that I experienced down the left side of my body and in my feet. It drove me crazy and was really horrible to experience.
- TINNITUS: Constant ringing in my ears.
My fibromyalgia symptoms after 10 months of the Restore program
I think it’s important to say that my symptoms are improved so long as I pace myself and stay within my limitations. If I ignore warning signals from my body and push myself I will experience symptoms. Not as bad as before, I should add, but you can’t expect to take the herbs and improve without addressing other issues. Flare-ups still happen if I don’t look after myself– something I’m still working on, which I will talk about below.
Interestingly, I have found that increased fatigue precedes pain. In other words, so long as I pace myself for my fatigue I experience lower levels of pain.
- IMPROVED PAIN: I no longer experience stabbing, intense or burning pains. The exception to this is that I occasionally get intense pain in my hips but I believe this is related to a back problem rather than being directly associated to my fibromyalgia (I’ve had this issue since long before the fibro). Experiencing no pain at all is becoming more and more common at rest and if I do feel pain, it averages a 2 out of 10. I do wonder if this will increase when I start to become more active though. It is now a general achiness, which tends to affect my neck, shoulders and back. I occasionally get some joint pain, which seems to often correlate with the weather. A bad pain day is what I considered a good pain day before– a 4 out of 10– and this happens occasionally but I can get it under control quickly. NB. I stopped taking gabapentin soon after starting the Restore program. I take no painkillers.
- IMPROVED FLEXIBILITY & REDUCED STIFFNESS: I feel a little stiff when I first wake up or if I have been sitting/lying down for a prolonged period. However, after a few stretches, I am okay. I am much more flexible and I move freely. Stiffness is no longer such an issue for me.
- FATIGUE: I have more energy than I did before I started the protocol but my baseline is still low and I still want to improve this. However, it’s important to say that I can now manage to self-care better and tasks that were absolutely exhausting and incredibly difficult before– such as washing my hair or walking up/down stairs– are easier for me now, though I still struggle to do things repeatedly and reliably.
- FEELING LESS ILL: It is much improved compared to 10 months ago. A sore throat is rare now and only happens if I push too hard. If I pace myself absolutely right, this ill feeling leaves me completely but this is hard to achieve. There are still improvements that I need to make with pacing and this continues to be something I am working on getting better at as I still haven’t got it completely right all of the time. I’ve already talked about re-evaluating how I pace and I need to work on better pacing my mental activities too.
- HEADACHES ARE RARE: It’s rare that I experience headaches nowadays and I no longer get that intense stabbing feeling behind my eyes. I only get headaches if I push myself too much.
- EYE PROBLEMS HAVE RESOLVED: I no longer experience blurred vision.
- SLEEP HAS IMPROVED: Sleep is something that I have to continually work on but I am waking up feeling better these days and– though I can still wake a couple of times in the night– the quality of my sleep has improved; I feel like I sleep more deeply. I mentioned that I was having problems falling asleep recently in this post. This has been resolved by purchasing black-out curtains.
- DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS RESOLVED: So long as I eat the right foods I no longer experience any digestive issues.
- IMPROVED IMMUNE FUNCTION: Despite those around me falling ill, I *touch wood* haven’t had a cold since January. I believe my immune function has been restored.
- IMPROVED MENTAL CLARITY: I remember things better and can recall memories more easily. I don’t muddle up words very often and only occasionally lose things. If I pace my mental activities well I have a clear mind.
- RARELY HAVE ITCHY SKIN: As long as I used products that I know agree with me and so long as I eat foods that agree with me, itchy skin is no longer an issue. I use viscotears (artificial tears), which has alleviated the dry itchy eyes.
- DIZZINESS HAS IMPROVED: As long as I stay within my limitations, I do not experience dizziness. Dizziness is now a signal that I have pushed myself too far. If I start to feel a little dizzy or off-balance I need to stop.
- NUMBNESS & TINGLING: I rarely get this now. Like the dizziness, it tends to be a symptom that appears when I am pushing myself too far and it’s a sign that I need to stop and rest.
- TINNITUS: I continue to have tinnitus.
Finally, another big improvement is that if I do have a flare up from overdoing things I can now overcome these flares much quicker. What used to take weeks to get over, now takes 3-4 days at most to overcome so long as I put in place what I need to do to recover.
My flare ups also don’t cause huge pain spikes. My pain can increase but it reduces with rest and the use of heat. It’s the fatigue that greatly increases when I flare. From someone who experienced excruciating pain flares in the past, this is nothing short of amazing!
I also want to talk quickly about some symptoms that became problematic for me after my setback in February. After this flare up my body took a major disliking to being upright– either standing up or sitting up. Doing so would see my heart race and I would feel terribly unwell. I had to spend the majority of my days lying horizontally and even then I didn’t feel great.
Thankfully these symptoms have also improved and though they are not gone completely I am able to sit or stand for short periods of time. I still need to pace these activities but I am getting better with each day.
What has slowed my recovery–my mistakes that you can learn from
- STRESS: I have placed a lot of self-imposed stress on myself relating to my inability to work. I am learning to let go of this stress and I am feeling better for it.
- NOT WANTING TO ACCEPT CHANGE: Even though I was telling myself things needed to change, deep down I wasn’t ready to accept it. I was desperately clinging onto the past and I hoped to go back to what I knew and what was comfortable. I now know that letting go of stress and adapting to change is important for moving forward.
- UNFAIR COMPARISONS: These past few months, in particular, I have been unfairly comparing my abilities to how I was before my post-work crash in February. I felt like I should be able to do more than I felt capable of and so I pushed myself to try and achieve it.
- POOR PACING: I have found myself stuck in a boom-bust cycle. This can be little crashes within a day that require me to rest or a bigger flare-up that sees me spending a day in bed. These flares aren’t as bad as they used to be but they are still happening, mostly due to me pushing myself. Although I have been pacing myself better than I did previously, I still haven’t quite got it completely right yet but I am working on changing this.
- LETTING MY MIND OVERRIDE WHAT MY BODY IS TELLING ME: This ties in with the above two points. I let what I wanted to do override my body’s needs and wants. This is what has ultimately kept me in the boom-bust cycle and slowed my recovery.
You learn from your mistakes and I now know where I have gone wrong and what I need to do to get back on track. Now I am focussing 100% on me and my health.
It was a tough decision but I decided to go back to basics recently, re-establish my baseline (I.e what I can do without experiencing symptoms) and then start again from there. Doing this can feel like a backwards step. Sometimes though, a step backwards is exactly what you need to do in order to enable yourself to move forward.
Although life is sure to get in the way (I have a couple of trips coming up, which I know will be hard going for my body) I know I will see great improvements over the coming months so long as I take things slowly and listen to my body. Now I have established a baseline and feel well at that level, I plan to slowly build up my abilities.
I want to continue to reduce my fatigue levels and improve my stamina. I’m sure it will take a while yet but I feel these are the last two pieces of my puzzle that need to come together to allow me to recover.
I have made some amazing progress in the last 10 months– some of which I would never have thought possible in the past. I am incredibly thankful to Dr Rawls, Braden Rawls and the team at Vital Plan for all of their help and continued support.
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