Some of the greatest stories I love hearing and sharing are the ones where people overcome illness by changing their lifestyle. I find these people amazing: to not take a diagnosis as final and instead take responsibility for your own health is courageous and inspiring.
Monique Richards was a teenager and an elite athlete when she fell ill with a mysterious condition that had her bed-ridden for periods as long as 20 hours.
At only 15, it was a shock to her and her parents that the incredibly fit gymnast who was training six hours a day should be struck down by an illness doctors couldn’t diagnose and which would leave her completely exhausted and bedridden.
Eventually she was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), a condition that extends well beyond simple fatigue and at the time of Monique’s illness, it wasn’t considered ‘real’.
“It took a good year and a half to get a diagnosis. It’s still to this day, 15-17 years from when it first showed up in me, it’s still a misrepresented chronic disease.
“Even now, some medical doctors don’t believe it really exists.
“People associated it with adrenal fatigue but CFS is very different. The fatigue never goes away when you have CFS.
“Whether you sleep for 20 hours, meditate or have massages – the fatigue just doesn’t stop.”
CFS is a neurological condition that is chronic and complex. Symptoms can vary between patients, treatments are varied and it can be triggered by an array of factors. It can effect any age group and any background. According to the organisation ME/CFS Australia, the peak body representing Australians who have CFS, there are 180,000 Australians with the illness.
Even now, there is no specific test that can diagnose CFS – it is a case of eliminating other illnesses first and matching symptoms to a checklist.
It was even harder 15 years ago when Monique and her parents were trying to find answers.
“I went through having brain scans and different medications. We went to health retreats, we had people live with us – health gurus – because we didn’t know what it was all about.”
Eventually, Monique took her health into her own hands and adopted a wholefoods and low-toxic lifestyle in order to help her body heal itself.
“I can only say I’m fully recovered now, 15 years later, but I will always continue though to live in a healing way, to prevent the return of the symptoms,” she said.
“My CFS journey was the best thing that happened to me because my body-mind connection is the best it can be.”
Monique, a health coach at Mama Chia and mother to two-year-old Tallis, has maintained her health even in motherhood.
She said her health was a priority since becoming a mother as the thought of relapsing back to CFS was strong motivation to stay healthy for herself and her son.
“To me my health is over-riding. I’m not afraid to put my boundaries up.
“Without my health I can’t look after my child or be of service to anyone else.”
Monique said self-care was an issue many mothers struggled with.
“It’s a huge thing that they have to overcome and it’s challenging on an everyday basis. It stems from being busy and wanting to do more and more for your kids.
“The way I approach it, is to peel back the layers – your children have got all they need. Everything else you’re trying to do for them is just adding on.
“If you give them proper nutrition and love, then everything else is an add-on. We don’t need to give more and more, provide them more.
“We’re looking for so many things outside of ourselves but without our health, we have nothing.
“We’re so accustomed to living half-healthy: half energised/half fatigued, we come to think that’s normal.
“Optimum health is not just functioning, it’s about feeling energised.
“Every woman can only do her best within her limits. She needs to find where her starting point is.”
Monique’s tips for Health & Happiness:
- Making myself a priority – without my health I have very little. When I have health, I have everything. When you become a mother you don’t stop being a human being.
- Wholefoods – eating nutrient dense wholefoods. I spend a large portion of my weekly income on what I eat. That’s a priority and focus for me.
- Balance – it’s not just about nutrition, it’s looking at all areas of life and having balance in those areas.
- Self love – being kind to myself. The story I tell to myself every day is really important.