*warning- lots of gory medical details*
I went vegan for animal rights reasons in New Year 2005, after realising my 12 years of vegetarianism wasn’t quite enough to not be part of the problem of animal exploitation, and that even free range products didn’t guarantee an animal wasn’t being exploited, and the only way to be part of the solution was to avoid using animal products altogether.
I found the prospect of giving up so many favourites rather daunting but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was a lot easier than I had anticipated it being. Despite my initial disappointment in dairy free cheese subs, I discovered lots of new favourite foods, and taught myself how to cook. My repertoire consisted of ready meals, stir fry and omelettes, and I enjoyed expanding my horizons and veganising old favourites. (And about two years after going vegan I even rediscovered cheese subs at a vegan fayre I was volunteering at, and found I actually enjoyed them)
So I had no desire whatsoever to go back to eating animal products, I did not miss them and had come to find the idea of eating them quite repulsive if I’m honest. I never had any cravings The one and only thing giving me any doubts was my health.
I’d suffered health issues including IBS, asthma, and eczema, as well as very heavy and painful periods and some mental health issues all my life, with the severity ebbing and flowing over the years. In early 2006, about a year after going vegan I had a massive gastric bleed, losing so much blood that I’d become anaemic and needed a transfusion. Doctors performed an endoscopy at the time but couldn’t find the source of the bleeding and were very dismissive after that. I wasn’t to have another massive gastric bleed until 4 years later in 2010, then for the next few years I had rather a lot of them unfortunately, and for a long time they remained a mystery to the doctors.
Between the first episode which landed me in hospital in 2006 and the next in 2010 I had a lot of issues with my periods moving into a shorter 21 day cycle and seeming to get more heavy and painful by the month. I was tired a lot, and blood tests showed that although I was not actually anaemic, my iron levels were still fairly low so I was given liquid iron supplements on a few occasions to get it back up to normal again. It frustrated me to have to take the supplements as I’d liked to have got adequate iron from diet alone! I did my research and tried to maximise my iron intake with lots of leafy greens and dried fruit- sadly things that I can enjoy in moderation, but seem to be an IBS trigger whilst eaten in large amounts for me. 😦
So I was tired, had IBS flares, asthma and eczema playing up, and also frequently felt nauseous for no apparent reason (at the time- it later became clear to me that the nausea was partly due to some gastric inflammation and partly psychosomatic due to my emetophobia- fear of vomiting- turning any little twinge into a vicious circle of anxiety causing nausea).
I wasn’t a vision of health, and hearing of any ex vegans who complained of health issues gave me doubts. I was miserable feeling so ill and wondered if for my health to recover that it might be a necessary evil to no longer be vegan. But still I had no desire to ever go back to a lifestyle which exploited animals. The idea broke my heart. I looked at vegan dietitians such as Ginny Messina and Jack Norris’s articles debunking these vocal ex vegans for reassurance. I knew that the dietetic associations said that well planned vegan diets were appropriate for all stages of life. I had a healthy vegan husband, and healthy, sporty vegan friends, so I knew it was possible to be a healthy vegan. These people, particularly my husband, were also a good support for me when my health was bad and I expressed some of my concerns. I think I have them to thank for keeping me vegan when in different circumstances without that support network and living evidence, I might have strayed off the vegan path.
After that second gastric bleed I had a lot more and the local hospital was beginning to feel like a second home. The drugs I was on for inflammation found under the many endoscopies I had, further exacerbated my IBS. Before getting a colonoscopy I had to eat a low residue diet for a few days- very limited for a vegan, as it’s basically low fibre- and a dietitian at the hospital said that if this colonoscopy showed up certain conditions such as Crohn’s then I might have to stay low residue until it was in remission- but he said that I could indeed stay vegan and still do it, and he could work with me to develop a meal plan and supplements if needs be. But it would have been a very limited diet so I was very relieved to find out it wasn’t Crohn’s.
I finally had a lot more tests done, to cut a long story short what they actually found was that I had a congenital birth defect resulting in abnormal spider of veins in my stomach, and a form of haemophilia known as Von Willebrand’s slowing my blood clotting so I lost excessive amounts of blood. I may have had stomach bleeds slowly dripping between those larger ones which landed me in hospital contributing to my low iron, and the heavy periods were also a symptom of Von Willebrands.
I asked a gastroenterologist if there was anything I was doing wrong or anything that I could do with my diet to prevent the infllammation and bleeds, and he said no, some people were just unlucky. I’m on a low dosage of proton pump inhibitor drugs which has helped stop the inflammation and nausea.
To treat the heavy periods, I had an endometrial ablation operation and now have the far lighter periods of a normal person, no longer having to double up on super heavy towels and tampons or mooncups and change every hour or so like I used to.
This has vastly improved my quality of life and energy levels. I enjoy good health now and have even joined a gym and go to classes 4-5 times a week. 🙂 My asthma is virtually non-existent and although the IBS is still there I have noticed some improvement.
I’m glad to be a healthy vegan, although I can completely empathise with those whose health concerns drove them back to animal products in desperation, and the feelings of self-doubt and guilt associated with this. It’s a horrible place to be and choice to feel faced with. This post was inspired by Sayward Rebhal at Bonzai Aphrodite’s blogs on ex-vegans* and her own challenges. It can be a taboo subject and difficult to ask for support when you’re having doubts, so it’s good to know we’re not alone and that there is hope that we can stay vegan and regain health xxx