The room was dark aside from a street light shining through the blinds. I’d been lying in bed for hours, strategizing how to get to my landline on the other side of the room.

Eventually, I gathered up the strength to roll over and slid onto the floor with my face pressed against the mattress. It took about half an hour to crawl-rest-crawl my way over to the phone, but it seemed like half the night.

I could hear the worry in my mom’s voice when she answered.

“I feel like I’m dying,” I sobbed. “I want to come home.”

I don’t know what felt worse at that moment. This flu that wouldn’t go away or the fact that I was failing in “the real world.”

My parents came to get me early the next morning, and Mom drove my car so I could have it with me when I felt better. Despite my fears, I still believed this was all just temporary, and I’d be back on my feet in no time.

Beauty school dropout

I slept for several days—only getting up to go to the bathroom a few steps down the hall.

If I ever did make it into the shower, all I could do was sit on the stall floor and let the water wash over me. I didn’t have the energy to care about hygiene, anyway.

Six weeks later, I started feeling better, but I think it was mostly sheer will. I knew if I didn’t go back to school immediately, I’d have to forfeit my enrollment. This wasn’t an option in my stubborn teenage mind, so the moment (and I mean the moment) I thought I could make the 4-hour trip, I packed up and headed back to the city.

I made it three-quarters of the way there before I totaled my car in an accident that I was lucky to walk away from. Granted, it was a confusing intersection that was notorious for collisions, but I should not have been driving that day.

A nearby family member gave me a ride to Portland, and Ryan met me in the lobby to help me with my bags. As we headed up to the apartment, I caught a glimpse of myself in the elevator mirror—pale, sickly, and scraped. Neither one of us said a word, but the judgment was palpable. I was a mess.

Despite my dysfunctional state, I tried going back to class. It might’ve been for a day. Maybe a couple. The only thing I remember is the cold, gray concrete bathroom.

I had no choice anymore. It was time to officially withdraw from cosmetology school.

I stayed in Portland for a few more weeks until I finally admitted I was too sick to take care of myself. Once again, my parents came to get me. This time, indefinitely.

A classic case

I spent the next few months alternating between my bed and the couch—watching figure skating and Anne of Green Gables while drifting in and out of sleep.

Aside from debilitating fatigue, I also had a low-grade fever, swollen glands, and a gnawing ache under my left rib cage, but the worst part by far was the nausea. It was now constant and intensified with everything I ate, which wasn’t very much. My once hearty Maine diet was now reduced to bird-size quantities of Cream of Wheat, mashed potatoes, gravy, toast, Saltines, and Ginger Ale.

Determined to help, Mom shuffled me from one doctor to another, who ran all the usual GI tests—the chalky barium drink, endoscopy, motility scans, and more. But no matter how much they poked and prodded, no one could tell me what was wrong. Instead, they just gave me more antacids and antidepressants, which only made me feel worse.

The most conclusive diagnosis I ever received was Chronic Fatigue Syndrome from a well-known specialist at Cambridge Hospital in Boston. He watched me closely as I answered his questions, and then he walked me through a series of exercises. When he was finished, he took a deep breath and said, “Whatever this is, you’re a classic case of it.”

Part of me was relieved to finally have a diagnosis—something to prove to myself and others that my sickness wasn’t all in my head. But another part of me still didn’t want to accept it. The term “Chronic Fatigue” seemed like a massive understatement, and even worse, “whatever this is” didn’t seem to have a cure.

My head was spinning with assessments and statistics, and I didn’t know what to believe. I wanted someone to explain why I felt so sick and what I could do to feel better, but the more I searched for answers, the more lost and confused I felt.

Not knowing where else to turn, I did something I’d been avoiding for a very long time…


Before I tell you what happens next, I need to rewind a little and share some things that happened before I got sick. I don’t often talk about it, but it’s a key part of my healing, and this story wouldn’t be entirely true without it.

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8 Responses

  1. Sharon – you have learned the hard way to listen to your body – it is trying to tell you something. What an amazing story and so brave of you to share this with anyone interested in health. Thanks for offering to share this with people – where we might learn from your experiences. Take good care of Sharon and i appreciate your thoughts and concers and direction your life has taken to help others! Love M

  2. I love your story. I came to see you years ago for acupuncture when my tummy was still healthy. I was diagnosed with colitis a couple years ago and appreciate your gentle approach ❤

    1. Wow, it’s so nice to hear from you, Dawn! And thank you so much. I’m sorry to hear about your colitis. I can only imagine what you’ve had to deal with. Thinking of you and sending healing wishes your way… ❤

  3. Sharon
    Thank you for sharing this difficult and painful journey with all of us that are trying to figure out our own gut health. It’s Amazing! that you survived these years of ill health traipsing through the medical system. Sad to say that they have a hard time saying the words: I don’t know.
    But your teenage spirit chose life over the alternative. And here you are today. To share your story for our benefit.
    I can’t wait for the next installment.

    1. Thank you so much, Joanne! Yes, some docs had a harder time with those words than others, but that’s okay. I know they were all trying to help. Sometimes I have a hard time saying, “I don’t know” too. It’s a good thing to practice though because (as you know) it opens up a whole world of possibilities! 🧐❤

  4. Hearing these memories and accounts of your journey, the FULL story, is so many things all at once! It is beautiful, (because you beat it and are now healthy and so much more than alive!!). It is a lucky story, (because you found your way to Bastyr and your wise and wonderful career you have now, along with such wisdom of how to listen to your body). But it’s also profoundly heartbreaking too.. loving you as a sister I can only imagine what your mom and step dad went through and while you went through all of this dis-ease. I wish I had known you then, so I could make you soup. Love love love S

    1. Thank you so much, Sara! I feel VERY lucky. And yes. It was pretty rough on my parents, in fact, it’s still hard for them to think about that period of time. Of course, you’d consider what they went through, being such an empathetic and compassionate mom. And I would’ve loved your healing soup! :) With HUGE love, S

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Hey there.

This post is part of a series called “Peeling the Onion” about my adventures healing from life-threatening digestive issues.

To view the full story, click here.