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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 managing chronic illness since she was a kid, including a low thyroid diagnosis, autoimmune symptoms, and exposure to toxic mold. 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, training daily, competing in shows all summer, and on track to go pro. Unfortunately, in my adolescence, I developed a severe allergy to horses. I required allergy shots, allergy pills, eye drops, nose spray, and had an inhaler, but still dealt with debilitating symptoms. By the age of 16, possibly due to the chronic inflammation and stress on my body from constant exposure to an extreme allergen, I began exhibiting symptoms of low thyroid and what my doctor suspected was the autoimmune condition Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. This was when I first experienced a whirlwind of limitations posed by the conventional medical system.

In what ways were your doctors limited in helping you?

Doctors were initially hesitant about diagnosing and medicating my low thyroid because I do not fit the typical description you would expect of hypothyroidism. At first, my blood levels fell within a broad range of what could be considered normal to a non-specialist. I also had fatigue, brain fog, menstrual irregularities, inflammation in my body, insomnia, and anxiety, among other things. Eventually an endocrinologist put me on Synthroid. Not all my symptoms were alleviated, but I felt much better than before.

“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 20s, I began seeing a doctor that wanted me to try Armour Thyroid to help address some of the fatigue I was still experiencing. I was adamant I did not want to take it because I do not eat meat, and the hormone is taken from pigs. She convinced me to try it, but I became sicker than I had ever been before. This was during grad school at Columbia, so my life and body were under incredibly high stress. My inflammation was so high that I looked puffy, with exacerbated insomnia and anxiety that made it difficult to function. I felt “wired but tired” all the time. I took time off from my graduate program because I felt so unwell and thankfully sought the help of a naturopathic doctor in SoHo, Dr. Gabrielle Francis, who recognized immediately that the Armour Thyroid was causing an immune reaction.

What did the naturopath recommend?

She switched me to plant-based, compounded thyroid medicine, and got me on a regimen of regular acupuncture, herbs, and a gut-healing detox smoothie. She recommended that I eliminate gluten and dairy from my diet to address the chronic inflammation that was fueling my illness. While dairy wasn’t much of an issue because I had vacillated between being vegetarian and vegan since the age of 14, giving up gluten was hard and I struggled to do so for years. That being said, meeting Dr. Francis was a major turning point in my life. For the first time, I understood that my health and wellness required physical, mental, and lifestyle shifts. At first, making these shifts felt like a full-time job!

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

After I graduated, I moved to Southern California and began seeing a functional MD named Dr. Kelly McCann, the founder of The Spring Center. I absolutely adore her. She performed tests that showed how severely gluten was fueling my bodily inflammation and I finally succeeded at giving it up. From that point on, everything has changed. Now in my 30’s, my insomnia and anxiety are gone and I live a lifestyle that supports my physical and emotional well-being through my career, dietary choices, and wellness practices. She even helped me understand the importance of emotional boundaries and tending to my stress levels when it comes to my physical health. As it turns out, adjusting my lifestyle to the more conventional path was taking a major toll on my physical health. Keeping stress and inflammation low is important because I do have genetic markers for autoimmune disease, which I do not want to become active.

“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. To this day, I am still on my naturally compounded thyroid medicine, take supplements, and follow an anti-inflammatory diet of organic and primarily plant-based foods. But after spending nine months in Paris for work, Dr. McCann discovered that I had been exposed to toxic mold. I am currently in the process of detoxing from it.

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

My challenges with the conventional health system are that I am accustomed to a doctor that takes an integrative approach and makes treatment plans that delve more deeply into my lifestyle than a typical MD. She might recommend a vitamin IV and a new supplement; other times, I might be sent for a session in a Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber. But the thing about Dr. McCann is that she is available to me every step of the way in tracking and managing my health concerns, and this type of care was not the norm in my experience at traditional practices. Managing my chronic health issues has meant more ongoing care with my doctor as well as making extensive lifestyle shifts that were not addressed at other practices. I should also mention that this isn’t covered by insurance; I choose to pay out of pocket for the better quality of care because it has been the most effective way for me to optimize my health and prevent autoimmune symptoms from becoming active again.

How can Sollis support you on your medical journey?

As someone whose health depends on staying in regular contact with my doctors, Sollis makes it that much easier. I can always get in touch with a doctor, I never have to make an appointment, and I can rely on Sollis to manage scheduling specialists for me. In LA, it can be difficult for me to even get a blood test appointment that works with my schedule (and this is something I have had to do every few months since I was 16). The flexibility afforded to me by Sollis and the ease with which they help facilitate my care cannot be underestimated.

The views and opinions expressed in this campaign are those of the participants, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sollis Health.
Sollis Health is a 24/7 doctor, private ER and concierge service rolled into one. Whether it’s an emergency or simply to diagnose the symptoms that you typically Google in the middle of the night, our emergency-trained doctors are ready for anything. Interested in becoming a Sollis member?


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