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Jessica Ourisman

Of all the careers Jessica Ourisman could have chosen, it’s only fitting she decided to become a wellness writer: she’s been battling multiple chronic illnesses since she was a kid, including Hashimoto’s, the MTHFR mutation, and even mold toxicity. If you’re wondering how the traditional medical system handles someone like her, the answer is… not very well!
by Sollis Health

Tell us about your adventures in chronic illness. When did it all begin?

I was a competitive equestrian from the age of five onward—competing in shows all summer and training for hours at the barn everyday—and I was on track to go pro. Unfortunately, in my adolescence, I developed a SEVERE allergy to horses. It was so bad that I got allergy shots, took allergy pills, eye drops, nose spray, and had an inhaler; ultimately my reactions were just too much and I stopped riding after college. But before then, I had dark circles/swollen eyes constantly, an itchy throat, would get hives, wheeze, totally congested sinuses, basically all the time. Around 16, and quite possibly due to the chronic inflammation and stress on my body due to the constant exposure to such an extreme allergen, I began exhibiting symptoms of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Getting this diagnosed was when I first experienced a whirlwind of limitations in the conventional medical system.

In what ways were your doctors limited in helping you?

At first, because I am thin and athletic, doctors were very hesitant about diagnosing and medicating my low thyroid. It was technically within a broad range of what could be considered normal, but I had fatigue, brain fog, menstrual difficulties, inflammation in my body, etc. They kept saying I was just depressed! But eventually an endocrinologist was able to confirm that my thyroid’s inflammation was consistent with Hashimoto’s and put me on Synthroid. It made a huge difference in my life, but obviously had to be monitored. Not all my symptoms were alleviated entirely, but I was MUCH better than before, stable, and doing well.

“Doctors were very hesitant about diagnosing and medicating my low thyroid. I had fatigue, brain fog, menstrual difficulties, and inflammation in my body, but they kept saying I was just depressed!”

What happened as you got older?

In my 20’s, I went to a doctor that wanted me to try Armour Thyroid to help address some of the fatigue I was still experiencing. I was really adamant that I did not want to do this because I do not eat meat, and the hormone is taken from a porcine source. But she convinced me. When I started taking this thyroid medicine, I became sicker than I had ever been in my ENTIRE life. This was during grad school at Columbia, too, so my life was thrown into high-stress chaos. I was incredibly puffy, with terrible insomnia, anxiety that made it difficult to function, bloating, and felt “wired but tired” all the time. I could barely function and even took time off from Columbia, with absolutely no idea it was from the thyroid medicine. At that point, I went to a naturopath in SoHo who realized the Armour Thyroid was causing an immune reaction.

What did the naturopath recommend?

I switched to plant-based, compounded thyroid medicine, got regular acupuncture, took herbs, had detox smoothies to support my gut health, and found out that I have the MTHFR mutation—which is quite possibly why I was experiencing such inflammation to foods and products from animal sources. She first told me to eliminate gluten and dairy; while dairy wasn’t much of an issue because I had vacillated between being vegetarian and vegan anyway since I was 14, giving up gluten was HARD. That being said, I credit this naturopath—Dr. Francis—with a major turning point in my life and one where I was finally able to justify prioritizing the mind-body connection with my lifestyle. This was the point when I realized that tending to my health was always going to be a major part of my life, even though it felt like a full-time job that I didn’t have time for.

Did things continue to get better after you graduated from Columbia?

After I graduated, I moved back to California. I started seeing a functional MD named Dr. Kelly McCann, who is the founder of the Spring Center. I absolutely adore her as well! I finally succeeded at giving up gluten in addition to dairy when we took a look at how severely my body reacted to it from a test. From that point on, everything changed—so much less inflammation that it is visibly evident. My insomnia completely went away, and so has my anxiety. She also confirmed via blood test that I no longer had antibodies for Hashimoto’s! Through working with her, I came to the realization that I needed to change my career and lifestyle in order to work from home, reduce stress, and be able to address the lifestyle components that contribute to my wellness. Adjusting to the conventional path was taking a major toll on my physical health.

“I realized that tending to my health was always going to be a major part of my life, even though it felt like a full-time job that I didn't have time for.”

What’s the latest update in your health odyssey?

Now I have a career and life that supports my health, and that I love. But after moving back from France at the beginning of Covid, I was experiencing extreme fatigue and difficulty focusing. Dr. McCann then discovered that I have mold toxicity: very high levels of Ochratoxin A in my system. I am currently in the process of detoxing from it, and am still on my naturally compounded thyroid medicine, taking supplements, and following an anti-inflammatory diet—living a life that prioritizes interdisciplinary wellness as a means to optimal physical health (i.e. reduced stress, resting plenty, eating organic, etc.).

How did your unique journey help reveal the shortcomings of our healthcare system?

My challenge with the conventional health system these days is that the typical doctor’s office isn’t used to dealing with patients like me. I am the type of patient that has to be engaged with their health and manage symptoms with their doctor continually. It’s hard to even get regular lab tests in LA! Managing my chronic health issues with inflammation and my thyroid require that I truly engage with my physician and treatment plan, particularly because such an important element of my treatment planning is to take on the lifestyle considerations contributing to my body’s functioning (i.e. diet, stress levels, proper rest, detox, etc.). This is not AT ALL how most practices are run in my experience, where there are so many contributing factors that are not even addressed. I should also mention that my functional MD isn’t covered by insurance; I choose to pay out of pocket for the better quality of care because it has been the only way to find care that I feel confident can help me manage my illness and keep my inflammation low enough that I do not end up with active autoimmune disease.
The views and opinions expressed in this campaign are those of the participants, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sollis Health.
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