My Healing Journey by Makeeda Swan

Last week I held my first event with some friends and followers through my health blog, Taste and See, and it was a wonderful success. It warmed my heart to have so many lovely people, so dear to my heart, gathered together in celebration of the journey I’m on to holistic healing, and specifically in celebration of my completion of 3 months on a Raw Vegan Diet.

Mary-Ann Shearer advised me to follow this very strict diet for 3 months in order to give my body enough of a break to allow it to repair itself. My digestive system – and many, if not all, of my other bodily systems – was in a terrible state and had got to the point where it was unable to digest even plain vegetables in their cooked form…

I remember eating a very simple bowl of sweet potato with some diced red onion and a dash of parsley one day… I ended up regretting that decision, as harmless as it may have seemed. I used to suffer from these agonising episodes, where I would double over from abdominal pain. The only way I can describe this pain is by asking you to picture a wet dishcloth being tightly wrung until no more water drips out. It felt like that very thing was happening to my digestive organs. Now, I have a pretty high pain-threshold so for me to be hysterical, screaming and crying all the way to the hospital is a big deal. (For me, hospital = absolute last resort) This happened several times (not the hospital part, the screaming and crying part) and eventually these episodes were occurring 3 or 4 times a week. It all started in November 2016, after a series of very stressful events one weekend..

My husband & I own a start-up business; it’s about 2 ½ years old now. Back then, when this breakdown of mine happened, our business was just short of its second ‘birthday’. We were in the process of opening our first official retail store at the V&A Waterfront and were functioning on very little sleep because of it. Also, because all of our time was being spent on the shop, we weren’t able to eat very healthily and we’d already been living on takeaways for some time. And, of course, exercise had long gone out the window too. So, fair to say, neither of us were in the healthiest mental or physical space. But we had to keep going. (Note: all of this was happening on the back of an awful winter season, which had left us with R100 to our names – out of all of our banking accounts, including our business account, that’s all we had left. We were updating our CVs and looking for “real jobs”; there was no other choice. This means we were just emerging from a period of severe emotional strain as well) So there was this one weekend after we’d just opened the shop, where everything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong. My scooter broke down on the highway, and subsequently got stolen before we could get back to it with a bakkie; my laptop fell on the floor and broke; I skipped breakfast after pulling an all-nighter, and then had to man our shop for a full 9 hour day. While I was setting up our display I noticed there were a few things missing from the stock cabinet and, although I knew they hadn’t been stolen, just forgotten, I broke down. I didn’t have the mental energy to deal with that one tiny issue and it was all just too much. I cried and I cried and I cried. My husband had to leave the conference he was attending as a panel judge and relieve me from the responsibility of manning the shop because I was hysterical to the point where I couldn’t even interact with customers. All I could do was cry. It was as though something had broken inside of me and couldn’t be fixed, even though it had been threatening to break for a while; I simply wasn’t prepared.

I spent 5 days crying in my bed at home. It was like I couldn’t turn the tears off. They gushed forth from within me relentlessly, without control. (I’m using very dramatic language here, not just for effect or to be a drama queen, and not just to be funny; this is truly what it felt like) I developed a tremor in my hands, which lasted about 3 weeks. I had social anxiety and freaked out at the thought of seeing another person besides my husband. As a result, I couldn’t even go grocery shopping and my fridge stood empty while I wept behind closed doors and Stuart worked himself to the bone, having absorbed my (very heavy) workload and taken over my responsibilities – over and above his own – within the business. It was one of the darkest, loneliest times of my life. I felt hopeless. I felt afraid.

The following month, in December, I started seeing a counsellor. It helped a great deal and I wondered what had taken me so long!? The process of sharing and working through your thoughts and emotions and experiences in that way is truly invaluable. The stigma I’d attached to therapy/counselling/psychology etc. went right out the window as I realised I’d needed this all my life. (If you’re reading this and you’re a human being and you don’t have a counsellor yet, please do yourself and your loved ones a favour and start seeing one; I genuinely mean that from the bottom of my heart. And yes, counsellors who offer their services for free do exist; it just takes some intentionality on our part to seek them out. You’ll be all the better for it.) Once I had sifted through my short-term emotional trauma with my counsellor, things seemed to settle in that area of my life. The tremor stopped, the social anxiety eased up (that took some time), and my perspective began to shift enough to make me a more functional human again. However, it was just as the mental / emotional “stuff” began to settle that my physical body started malfunctioning worse than ever before…

Now, all my life I’ve struggled with my health. I was a sickly child and this battle continued into my adult years. The last time I can recall feeling healthy, if I think about it really hard, is when I was in primary school, at say 11 years of age. That’s 15 years ago! From asthma and hay fever, to anaemia and chronic fatigue, to lactose-intolerance and migraine headaches… You name it, I had it as a child. And then as an adult I developed chronic joint and muscle pain, to the point where I couldn’t even walk, sometimes. My menstrual cycle was very short and my period extremely heavy, which caused me tremendous pain and confined me to my bed for at least 2 days every month. If these two days fell on weekdays, I had no choice but to call in sick and take those days off varsity or work.

I lived off of NSAIDs (very strong anti-inflammatory painkillers), immune boosters and vitamin supplements. I couldn’t lead a normal life. I felt like a sick, old woman trapped inside a young adult’s body. My husband and I have been married for 4 years now. Over those years we have spent hundreds of thousands of Rands seeing doctors and taking medical tests – all without any meaningful answers or results. Living in this uncertain place, with the unknown looming over us as it did (asking questions like, “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why can’t the doctors help?” “When will I ever be well?” “Will I ever be well?”) was torturous and put a lot of strain on our marriage.

We’re a spontaneous couple by nature and we love living life on the edge, going on adventures and doing things in the spur of the moment. So not being able to live this way because of my condition was killing the very thing that drives us as a couple; it was killing us, and we were desperate… So; fast-forward to the beginning of this year, 2017, when I met Mary-Ann Shearer through a series of divinely-timed events. This is when everything changed.

Mary-Ann & I connected over one of her health talks. She & her husband Mark had come through to the Southern Suburbs all the way from their home in Gordon’s Bay to educate a group of us over a wholesome Vegan meal (complements of her Health Emporium Mary-Ann’s Emporium & Eatery) in a cosy family home. She spoke to us as we ate and allowed space for questions throughout. It was a conversation rather than a lecture, which I liked. I was also struck by the passion with which she spoke and the sincerity with which she shared her heart for humanity to find healing, health, wellness and vitality the natural way. She & Mark are the authors of a best-selling book entitled Perfect Health: The Natural Way, which explores and unpacks exactly that – attaining perfect health using simple, natural methods that allow the body to heal itself, as it was created to do. (If you haven’t read this book, again, do yourself a favour and read it.

It’s very reasonably priced and it’s available in both digital format and hard copy via her website: www.mary-anns.com

I left that talk feeling hopeful for the first time in a long time, and I contacted her for a formal consultation the very next day. After assessing my health history and current condition, she explained why a fully-Raw-Vegan Diet was what I needed. Contrary to popular belief, raw food is easier to digest that cooked food because there are vital digestive enzymes that are destroyed (sometime partially, sometime fully) during the cooking process. These enzymes remain intact when food is eaten raw, thus assisting the digestive system in breaking down the food. Another benefit of eating raw plants is that it corrects any problems in the endocrine (hormonal) system – which controls every other function in the body, from digestive health to mental health, reproductive health etc. – and thus catalyses the body’s holistic healing processes, bringing balance wherever misalignment has occurred.

I’d be lying if I said I was excited at the prospect of only eating raw fruits and vegetables for 90 days but it was my only hope. I’d tried everything over the years and nothing had worked; I had hope that this might just do the trick. Speaking to Mary-Ann in person and hearing the genuine testimonies she shared that night (her own as well as those of many others) had stirred up my faith. I was ready.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, the first 6 weeks were torturous. The cravings were intense. One day I wanted sugar, the next day I wanted salt. And some days I wanted both, but I couldn’t have any of it, and for good reason – as much as we may think we want certain foods doesn’t mean we need them. The foods we eat feed microbes in our bodies, which bring on the cravings that we experience.

So if we’re eating a lot of refined sugars and processed foods, we’re feeding actual living organisms that develop and grow inside our bodies, which then multiply and cause us to crave more of these foods so that the cycle can continue. So, similarly, if we’re eating less of those foods, we’re craving them less because those particular microbes are dying off. The detoxification process was also hard on my body, as it worked to expel all of the toxins that had accumulated over many years. I experienced everything from nausea and vomiting to blackouts and convulsions. And this isn’t to say that I was an “unhealthy eater” or that I lived an unhealthy lifestyle before this – not at all! I have always been a conscious consumer, opting for rice cakes over crisps and dark chocolate over milk chocolate and soy milk over cow’s milk. Little did I know, however, of the effect the preservatives and additives in those “healthy” products were having on me.

It is unbelievable what goes into our food, and the fact that we consume them without understanding the implications! Yes, it is true that some of us are just ‘unlucky’ and inherit weaker digestive systems, for example, and are affected more severely than others might be, but just imagine what the human race would be if every person were to take on a whole-food plant-based lifestyle… We’d all be functioning at our prime, optimal potential! (The documentary “What The Health” does 3 case studies on 3 individuals each battling different illnesses, like diabetes, heart issues, and high blood pressure – after going Vegan for 2 weeks their health improves remarkably and they don’t look back. They also interview a number of extreme sportsman, who swear by a whole-food plant-based diet, sharing their journeys and the incredible improvement it’s had on their performance. The film is available via Netflix, here: (Again, do yourself a favour 😉)

So anyway, I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that the latter half of my Raw Vegan journey was much better than the first – and, in fact, even enjoyable! By then I’d learnt the best places to source affordable, organic fruits and vegetables and had accumulated a catalogue of delicious recipes from the likes of Fully Raw Kristina, Megan Elizabeth, Fully Rawsome, and of course Mary-Ann Shearer, and I discovered that eating a fully-raw plant-based diet isn’t nearly as boring as I’d initially thought. You can do so much with raw food!

The improvements in my health are extraordinary. The migraine headaches have ceased completely, the body aches and pains have improved, my menstrual cycle has balanced out and my energy levels have sky-rocketed. Every winter for the last three years I have lost my voice for weeks at a time, as a result of an awful cough from some serious cold/flu or infection that I was “treating” with all sorts of different immune boosters and vitamin supplements. This winter I can count the number of times I’ve so much as sneezed – and that’s without any of the stuff I was taking just this time last year! Also, having discovered natural alternatives to Western traditional medicine, like painkillers and supplements, I now feel healthy in every part of my body, down to the very fibres of my being, knowing that nothing I’m putting into my mouth is going to harm me in any way. I am now cultivating health, and no longer feeding disease.

Other tools and methods that have helped include keeping a health journal, where I document any symptoms on any given day. This enables me to backtrack as far as I need to in order to trace patterns in my body’s behaviour, whether it’s related to my menstrual cycle (e.g. increased hunger and dizzy spells) or to my stress levels at the time. It helps to have a frame of reference to show me what my body may be reacting to, and takes away any anxiety or forms of hypochondria that could potentially creep in as a result of not knowing.

Sometimes I do still get those tight knots in my GI tract but now that I know how to ‘knead’ them out, they never escalate to the point of having a full-blown flare-up or episode. I learnt this ‘kneading’ technique from my Body Stress Release therapist, whom I’ve been seeing since April this year (4 months). Body Stress Release (BSR) has equipped me so well, and it’s amazing to be on a journey where the different forms of therapy I’m receiving (whole-food plant-based diet, food/health journaling, counselling, and BSR) are working together in a beautiful, holistic way as to bring me to a place of wholeness and wellbeing.

(To learn more about Body Stress Release, see this short clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-43k2i_UVc)
Having Taste and See as a platform to share my journey has been, and continues to be, extremely therapeutic for me. It’s an added bonus to have people, like you, looking in and learning with me as I go.

Thank you.

Makeeda Swan

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