One of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever hiked is the Green Lakes Trail in Central Oregon. I first hiked there with my dad when I was 20 years old. It was a truly amazing experience to hike it again 30 years later, after he died.
I went running down the mountain after completing the 9.5-mile hike, gloriously singing in my head.
My biggest WHY...
Why? Because for many years my life was like this:
I sat in my bed wishing I could just walk up Mount Tabor again, the 600-foot (extinct!) volcano behind my home. I couldn’t make it downstairs, let alone around the block.
That was back in 1996.
I was pretty sure I was Wonder Woman till I landed in bed.
I decided to be a physician when I was six months pregnant and single. And my knee was so badly damaged at the time that I couldn’t do what I had done for money anymore: bake.
I was totally broke.
Deciding to be a single momma forced me to see myself in a way I had not before. Making a commitment to medicine the same year was the act of boldly embracing my truest self.
I made a lot happen that year, with an insane amount of grit and love: I parented my kid alone while doing pre-med courses. Somehow the stars aligned and his dad and I reunited, fell back in love, and did it right that time. We got married when our son was two and a half. I entered medical school full-time when he was three years old, still not having slept through the night, because I was clueless back then about sleep training, like many a good momma in the early ’90s.
Life became GREAT: My son decided sleeping all night was a good thing! Woo-hoo! I loved medical school. I got my doctor kit . I dug up my garden. I skipped the class with the terrible teacher and worked out instead (don’t tell). I aced my basic science board exams, getting honors in the class I skipped (promise you won’t tell?).
Clearly it was time (enter WONDER WOMAN) to have another kid!
I got pregnant. Long story short: I miscarried. There was lots of grief and growth. More stories for another time…
I got pregnant again. All was good at 13 weeks—
I lost a baby at 17 weeks. We had also lost five close friends and family members in a few short months. Did I tell you I was in medical school with a kid? I was tired and grief-ridden. I crashed so hard I ended up in bed with IVs in my arm.
The expectation was that I would be OK in a few weeks. The weeks in bed rolled into months, and then years. I dropped out of school and had to find my way to what I called “my new normal.”
I struggled. I returned to school. I remember walking down the hall with the director of the residency program. She said she wanted to live to be 120. I was in my mid-30s. I already felt old, tired, and like I was 90. That made me realize how sick I still was. I did not understand why anyone would want to live to 120! Life felt hard.
Despite my fatigue, I continued to do everything I could as a new doctor to get myself better.
Last Piece of the Puzzle
The fog finally lifted. I found the last piece of my “ME/CFS (MYALGIC ENCEPHALITIS/CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME) puzzle,” as I called it back then.
I had my mercury amalgams taken out. I felt my life force return, my vitality.
I climbed up: I built clinics, programs. I taught students to be physicians and I had another kid. I worked out, got more fit than I had ever been in my life. I meditated and ate well. I was getting close to super-woman status again.
I worked with the very ill. I loved the most challenging cases, the ones no one else could figure out. I had been so ill, had nearly died, then gotten better. My experience of being in the dark places allowed me to see what was possible for my patients, even when they or other practitioners had lost hope.
I have learned that illness can be a catalyst for a sacred journey. In the process of illness, when our whole life comes to a stop, we are healing something deeper, something more profound than we can know. We need to allow space and compassion for this journey to take place so we can absorb its treasures.
To this day, I say that the first time I got ill, as terrible as it was, I grew spiritually, and this was a gift I would always be grateful to have. I gained wisdom and perspective that has served me as a human, a mother, a wife, and a physician. I give thanks for that.
However, I now know that the last years of my illness were unnecessary suffering. I did not need to be exhausted for YEARS. The deep learning came soon. The fatigue lasted forever. I could have resolved my health in months if I knew then what I know now.
I did not think I would ever get ME/CFS again. After my first bout, I was truly healed. Not like some, who say they got used to being tired: “If I keep my expectations low, I feel OK.” NOT ME! I was ALL THE WAY HEALED. I pushed HARD in the gym. I worked 17-hour days in the clinic. Then I came home and was house-momma.
I had it DIALED IN.
Until I crashed, literally. I had an accident, was in pain, could not sleep… and I went sliding down the hill into ME/CFS so fast. First, I denied what was happening to everyone, even myself, continuing to work out, work long days, and keep up appearances. I was not happy, though. Far from it. I was terrified.
I tried to hide my condition from others. I did not want to see my family stress out over me being sick again!
I could tell I was very, very close to that big looming hole—me landing in bed again, staring at the ceiling.
But to STOP everything would bankrupt my family. I had clinic overhead to meet and was supporting my family with my income.
I had very few choices.
I could give up. Or I could figure out how to heal my ME/CFS.
The thing was, the first time I healed from ME/CFS, it made me realize what was possible. I had honestly never felt that good in my whole life.
I knew you could heal from ME/CFS completely, but I didn’t know HOW. I didn’t have the steps, the map, the path.
The second time I crashed, I had 17 years of doctoring behind me. I had a lot more experience and frankly a A LOT of motivation (read: fear) to figure out how to heal.
Since I was awake at night with searing pain, I’d get out of bed at 3 am and study. I researched, dug up papers, read books, consulted experts and shamans. I was trying to figure out what caused ME/CFS and HOW we can get better.
I trialed and errored and trialed again—until I uncovered something quite revolutionary. Something that no one else at the time was discussing.
Deep-seated fatigue—ME/CFS—and its cousin, fibromyalgia: they are not caused by only one thing. There are 5 root causes. And someone may have 1, 2, or all 5 of those causes at work.
You can rule these in or out based on how you feel and how you respond to treatment. There are even tests for some of them.
I got better, and then I saw my patients get better.
Actually, in all truth, they got better than I had.
I was sicker than many of them. I feared I would be stuck under that glass ceiling where I could function, but could not EXPAND and EXERT without FEAR. I was afraid I had found the land of BEIGE. I hate BEIGE.
I had to go further. I had to go deeper in. I understood the first four causes, but I had to figure out the fifth one. When I did, I began to see my patients, even the most challenging, move through healing faster. And I too was able to break through my own glass ceiling.
That hike I mentioned before: I was terrified to walk it. I didn’t think I could. I was worn out from grief, my dad’s death, hosting two big events for friends and family, and then packing up and driving to Bend for a family vacation.
I drove alone so I could hike just a few miles while my cousins went on up the mountain.
I planned to sit and relax by a stream and be content with my own limitations.
Instead, I kept walking. Oh, I huffed and puffed and was the last in line. BUT I did it. And then I plunged into the lake, and my JOY filled the whole mountain range as far as I could see.
I ran down the trail, only stopping to take these pictures.
My uncle was trying to have a serious conversation with me, but I just kept singing in my head:
“I can do it, I did it, Jenny Tufenkian just hiked nine and a half miles . I broke through my own glass ceiling!” I was overjoyed.
Then I drove two hours, cooked dinner, and got up the next day and felt great. If you have ever suffered from ME/CFS, or you suffer from it now, you know how big a deal that is!
My BIG WHY for doing this program?
I want YOU to have what I found. I want YOU to get what my patients who have healed now have.
To know WHY you got ill. To have the tools and know-how to set up your own individual path to vitality based on which of your foundations need strengthening and which root causes underlie your fatigue.
I want you to have the confidence that you can heal. It may take time. It WILL take effort and focus.
I believe ME/CFS is a disease that has been misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and mistreated for too long. It leads to unnecessary suffering.
Some suffering is part of life. It makes us deeper and stronger. It is the valley that allows us to appreciate the mountain when we rise to the top.
But unnecessary suffering is just that: unnecessary.
It also causes others to suffer: your kids, your loved ones, and all those who are not blessed by the light you are meant to shine.
You, your family, the world needs you to be your best right now, more than ever. And if low energy is what is holding you back, and I can help you get your sparkle back, I will be a happier woman.
My years of suffering have given my work a reason, a purpose. That’s why I am here, doing this work now.
Let’s rise and shine together.
If you want to experience your full potential, join me!
And the other thing I found out? Once you have ME/CFS, you are ALWAYS at risk for relapse.
Never again will I think I am invincible. Wonder Woman has become wiser over the years. She has some invincible powers, though, and one of them she has to shine on herself more than anyone else ( a topic for another time).
I want you to get better now and to stay better.
You deserve it—and I believe the world is waiting for you to shine. Don’t you agree?
Want to join me? Check out the link here.
Whether I see you in the program or in some other place, or all we do together is this email thing, I say: Thank you for reading this.
I wish you the most health and vitality on your journey!
~ Dr Jenny Tufenkian ND