“When you’re trying to get to a diagnosis for proper treatment, you need empathy, direction, guidance and education…and I get it, because I lived that nightmare.”
How has your own health journey impacted your approach to healing?
For FMCA alumna Shelley Bitzer, living through a chronic illness nightmare exposed the pain and dysfunction of the conventional healthcare system.
She was dragged through appointment after appointment and got dangerous prescriptions and surgeries instead of real answers, only to finally find healing with a Functional Medicine care team. For Shelley, this journey revealed a missing link in the healthcare chain—the need for the supportive care of a health coach—and she was ready to step in and be that missing link.
Before her struggle with chronic illness, Shelley was “the Energizer bunny.” Mom to four kids, a gardener, and a keeper and rider of horses, Shelley was involved and engaged in a full life.
Then the symptoms started.
First it was fatigue—she tired easily and had to cut back on her normal exercise routine. She started losing her hair for no apparent reason. Then came heart palpitations, deteriorating vision, incontinence, difficulty breathing, debilitating migraines, gallbladder issues, kidney stones, and depression. The symptoms snowballed, and doctors had no answers.
“I was getting lost driving home and searching for words to complete a sentence,” Shelley remembers. “I literally felt like I was going crazy.” While vacationing in the Caribbean, her nightmare hit its peak; Shelley had to be MedEvac’d because of symptoms mimicking a heart attack or stroke.
That’s when the “Doctor Hopscotch” began.
She bounced around between conventional physicians looking for answers, but no matter how many doctors she saw, no one could find the root cause of her serious health issues. Even the highest-ranking neurologist at her local hospital was stumped; they told her it was menopause, though she had cleared menopause years earlier!
Exhausted and discouraged, Shelley was prescribed multiple symptom-suppressing medications and re-routed to specialists, to no avail. She was put on high doses of medications, which, if used long-term, have serious, permanent side effects. “I took antidepressants and thyroid medications,” Shelley recalls. “I had a prescription inhaler to help me breathe.” She also underwent multiple surgeries, including gallbladder removal, with little to show as a result of all her trouble.
And still, Shelley had no answers…what was happening in her body?
“It was a horrible, scary feeling that I was never going to truly understand what was wrong with me,” she says. “I honestly thought I was going to feel this way for the rest of my life.”
So she changed her approach and sought out Functional Medicine.
Shelley started to work with Functional Medicine doctors, hoping they could FINALLY find the root cause of her illness and address it holistically. And slowly, the answers started to come!
“They examined all of my symptoms, timeline, and treatments, and immediately diagnosed the multiple toxic burdens and autoimmune reactions that had resulted in years of chronic illness,” Shelley says.
She was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, Lyme disease, and associated co-infections, as well as mold toxicity.
Separately, these diseases carry numerous difficult symptoms. Shelley had been dealing with the combined effects of all of them! In partnership with her care team, she began addressing the root causes of her illness and weaning off her medications in favor of more natural options.
She began to detox and clear the mold from her life. She tried a new protocol for dealing with her Lyme disease symptoms. She took a serious look at the way stress was exacerbating her illness. And she sought emotional support from her tribe to help her heal.
It was during this time that she first learned about FMCA.
“During my treatment for Lyme/Mold with Mark Hyman, I saw a promotion on Facebook (featuring Mark Hyman) highlighting the benefits of becoming a health coach,” Shelley recalls.
“It was a defining moment for me, quite literally. Laying there, I could only think of how much easier my journey would have been, had I been able to partner with a health coach.”
She talked with Dr. Hyman about the program and decided that she would become the Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach she wished she had during her own health journey.
“FMCA and its growing community, resources, and pledge to alumni have been an integral part of my newfound confidence and passion,” she says. “Being back in school again was daunting, exhilarating, satisfying, and rewarding on multiple levels.”
And though she successfully graduated earlier this year, Shelley is still very much a part of the FMCA community. “FMCA is a past, present, and future resource of hope, guidance, information, collaboration, love, support, and networking!”
Now, Shelley continues to rebuild her health while growing her career. She recently earned her National Board Certification (NBC-HWC) through the International Consortium for Health & Wellness Coaching (ICHWC). Her own health has improved greatly: she no longer carries toxic mold levels, and she’s free of kidney stones, incontinence, vision problems, muscle pain, cramping, and pathogen-induced depression. And as she continues to feel better, her coaching career becomes even more rewarding.
“I have found my second career and feel very fortunate,” she muses. “At each coaching encounter, I feel prepared and fully trained, and making a difference in the lives of my clients is priceless.”
With her own experience of how disruptive and crippling chronic conditions can be—physically, emotionally, financially—Shelley combines her FMCA training with a unique level of empathy, experience, and expertise that make her an eminently qualified coach.
“Functional Medicine saved my life,” she says. “My body was slowly but surely being consumed by the toxic burden and illness that I could not shed without the intervention of skilled Functional Medicine providers.
“The path that I have taken led me to become a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach (FMCHC), which I am passionate about. I truly want to provide the support to others that was missing on my own journey.”
Learn more about Shelley at her website, www.thrivewithinreach.com.