eczema health resources

Become Your Own Personal Health Investigator

If you’ve read my last blog post on my journey to healing with eczema, you’ll remember that I identified stress as a major trigger. In this post, I’m going to describe the process I followed to uncover it.

The process is similar to what I’d imagine an investigator would follow:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Ask questions
  3. Collect information
  4. Verify & validate information

Sometimes the trigger or root cause of an injury or illness isn’t so obvious. Several years ago, my friend tweaked his lower back after bending over to pick up something from the ground. The pain prolonged even after days of rest. He saw a spine specialist who told him that his spine was fine structurally and recommended him to work with a physical therapist first before getting any scans done. My friend said he didn’t notice any significant improvements during physical therapy and that the pain actually heightened at one point. Eventually I found out that he had lower back issues for most of his life and when he tweaked it, it was during a difficult period in his life. When he began working with a psychotherapist, a life coach, and an Asian bodywork therapist, he started noticing significant improvements in his lower back. It appeared that emotional stress was linked to his lower back pain.

This is why I think being your own personal health investigator is so important. The more knowledge and awareness you have of your own body, the more empowered you are when you need to make important health decisions.

Steps 1 and 3 are self-explanatory so I’ll explain steps 2 and 4 in detail.

What Questions Did I Ask Myself?

I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned so I asked as many questions as possible because I knew the information would come in handy when identifying potential triggers. Here are some questions I asked myself:

  1. When did the problem first start?
  2. What was happening in your life around that time?
  3. What have you done to try and resolve the problem?
  4. Has this happened before?
  5. What is your health history?
  6. Does anyone in your family have this problem?

They were a great start but I decided to go deeper. I applied the 5 Whys technique which highlighted underlying issues that I could work on to either prevent the problem from occurring again or better manage it. I first learned about this at a business event. The 5 Whys is a simple technique where repeating the question “Why?” at least five times can help identify the root cause. Why five? Probably anecdotal. It’s possible to identify the root cause with less than 3 or more than 5 whys. There may also be more than one root cause so I continued the process to identify those.

Here’s an example of how I used it:

What was happening in your life around that time?
About 6 months prior I had a toe injury on each foot, I started teaching a high-impact fitness class, and I started a new full-time job that was stressful.

Why was your job stressful?
I was new to the field and didn’t fully understand a lot of what I was doing and learning.

Why didn’t you fully understand a lot of what you were doing or learning?
I hesitated to ask for help because everyone was heads down busy.

Why did you hesitate to ask for help?
I didn’t want my colleagues to think I was incompetent.

Ah ha! See what happened there? By continuing to ask myself why, I found out the real reason why I was stressed out at my job. When I felt I got all the information I needed, I continued on to step 4.

How Did I Verify and Validate the Information?

I experimented and documented results. I knew that my job situation would take a while to work on so I started with the lowest hanging fruit which was to stop teaching fitness classes. To stay active, I participated in lower impact fitness classes. After a year of experimenting, there were no significant changes to my skin. While I identified teaching fitness classes as a potential trigger, the experiment failed to validate it as one.

I didn’t experience significant healing of my skin until I made the decision to leave my job. That’s when I knew that I had validation that stress from my job was a trigger. I was also able to validate the root cause (feeling incompetent) by comparing it to a previous job where stress was also high but I had no symptoms of eczema.

The more I experimented the more I uncovered things about myself that I didn’t expect.

What Would I Do Differently Next Time?

Do one experiment at a time.

This would have allowed me to validate results more accurately. I was running multiple experiments at the same time. It led to a lot of confusion and frustration because I had no idea what was working and what wasn’t. When I decided to stop teaching dance fitness classes, I was also experimenting with elimination diets but I wasn’t consistent. I switched to using more natural products and I also started seeing different practitioners. You can see why it would have been difficult to validate a trigger or root cause in this scenario.

Doing one experiment at a time could also have shortened the duration of the symptoms I experienced. Instead of spending a couple of years trying to figure out what was going on, it’s possible I could have figured it out much sooner had I been more patient.

Get the support I need at the beginning of my healing journey.

This one is really important. When I first embarked on my healing journey, it was difficult for my friends and family to truly understand what I was going through let alone understand the decisions I was making to heal myself because I wanted to do it naturally. It was especially difficult for my parents to get on board because they had little to no knowledge of natural remedies or treatments. It was frustrating and I felt isolated at times. I had support from my husband and family but I needed more. About 1/2 way through my journey, I decided to join support groups for eczema sufferers on Facebook. I was relieved to have found a group of people that I could connect with who understood what I was going through because they were too. That type of support made a difference in my healing journey.

Assess and Iterate.

Our bodies can do miraculous and powerful things and but it also changes over time. This can be due to changes in our environment, age, lifestyle, family, work, diet, etc. I need to remind myself that if I were to have another flare up in the future, there’s a possibility that the triggers and root causes could be completely different. Can I be open-minded and accept that possibility? I think so. This is what it means to be embodied.

* * *

There are many benefits to becoming your own personal health investigator. One is sharing your experience, like me, to help others. Another is that I am now able to work on bettering myself by giving my mind and body the love, attention, and respect it deserves. This journey brought my attention to awareness. Eczema was a signal my body was sending me to tell me that something needed my attention. I am thankful for this experience even though it sucked. 😉

What have you done to figure out the triggers or root cause of your health issues? Tell me about it below!