• Stephanie Kiah

Art Inspired by Personal IlIness

My “Failure to Thrive" sculpture series is meant to spark dialogue regarding the dire status of our food and pharmaceuticals in the USA and how they make and keep people sick, often by design. My recent struggle with illness was an eye opening experience for me to see how conventional healthcare in many ways is outdated and lacks proper knowledge, insight, and research into the connection of diet and disease.

I have been battling with a serious illness since December 2018. I was silent for a good while because it was such a heavy thing to deal with and I had no idea what was specifically wrong with me for so long. I’ve had intense waves of fatigue, weakness where I was temporarily unable to stand, walk, or even talk at times, nausea, and terrible sharp abdominal pains that sent me to the emergency room, among other things. Unable to discover anything out of the ordinary from the tests they ran, the ER sent me home feeling about the same as I did going in, and they recommended that I see my primary care physician (PCP). I booked that PCP appointment for the very next day, and thus began a long succession of appointments with specialists unable to solve the mystery of what was bringing my life to a stand still. I was largely unable to work for more than three months! 

Over the course of five months I saw over 10 specialists (cardiologist, gynecologist, radiologist, otolaryngologist, endocrinologist, rheumatologist, ophthalmologist, neurologist, etc.), a few of them more than once. I was constantly hitting dead ends along my journey with nothing but negative (normal) lab/ blood work results which left me frustrated, lost, and concerned for what would ultimately become of me. Inconclusive test results got old real quick when it was no longer possible to perform basic tasks or function on a regular level. I was determined to find a name and remedy for my ailment. 

I even went to The National Institute of Health (NIH), the U.S. government’s leading research institute for seven hours of testing (including a lip biopsy) to see if I had an autoimmune disease called Sjögren’s Syndrome which was in line with just about all of my symptoms and can be difficult to diagnose. My testing ultimately came back negative for Sjögren’s. At this point I was about five months in, and hearing news that the most promising lead of what was ailing me was in fact not the issue (putting me back at square one) could have easily derailed me and left me feeling defeated. Believe me, I had partially reached that point within this process for a time, but this time I didn’t feel defeated, I felt empowered. I had already begun a healing process and was managing my symptoms on my own without an official diagnosis. 

Around one month in, hot off the heels of my first specialist appointment with cardiology, I followed up with my PCP. Upon seeing the results that cardiology had cleared me, my PCP looked me in the eyes and said “Well, I don’t know... I can write you a referral for a rheumatologist but I don’t know what’s wrong with you!” It was in that moment, terrified and determined, that I decided I had to take complete ownership of my health. Right away I began eating “healthier”, and started reading and learning on how the systems of the human body operate, nutrition, and wholistic health and healing. I immediately improved in many areas of my life, but my debilitating symptoms persisted. Finally, in the latter months and based on research I did on naturopathic treatments for autoimmune disease, I decided to start a food diary and begin an elimination diet, avoiding all major food allergens. 

I discovered through months of very clean eating, careful record keeping, and trial and error that I have a VERY serious gluten intolerance. I observed that upon consuming gluten (provided I went back eating clean directly after) I would be at my sickest for the following seven days, no matter if I ate only residue or a large meal full of it. The intensity of the illness/symptoms, however, would be in direct correlation to how much of it I ate. A full plate of pasta could have me to the point I couldn’t stand for more than a couple minutes at a time or function really at all for a week.

Full disclosure: I hadn't completely felt 100% health wise since I was a child. I’ve had unexplained symptoms that have been accumulating and progressing over the years, and I’ve gone to doctors multiple times a year since college seeking answers to no avail. I have eaten gluten products my entire life and it appears to be the main trigger/contributor to much of my discomfort over the years. I have also been able to determine other food sensitivities of mine which have been flying under the radar & plaguing me over the years as well. Though successfully avoiding all these foods has its challenges, my body feels so much better now that I do. I often feel more youthful, vibrant, and centered than I ever have.

I am still in search of a physician to diagnose and help treat my mysterious condition - ideally one with a deep understanding of naturopathic or functional medicine.Though in many ways I feel better than my old self, it is a constant balancing act/ trial and error to feel the best possible daily. Nevertheless, I am so grateful for the chance to be able to live life again and am very proud that as of yet I’ve been able to manage my most debilitating symptoms without the use of pharmaceuticals!

My “Failure to Thrive” sculpture series was a true labor of love which I began working on as soon as I felt my body had the energy to pull off such an endeavor. This was my first time sculpting professionally as well as my first time ever working in polymer clay. It was an excellent medium for me to work with to convey this particular message. I plan on adding more to this series in the very near future.

"Failure to Thrive" and other wonderful works are on view in Norfolk, VA at the Make Me Wanna Holler group art exhibition through August 9, 2019. Come by to view them and bring a friend. Also, please share and spread the word:

Make Me Wanna Holler

Offsite Gallery

1 World Trade Center

101 West Main Street

7th Floor, Room 730

Norfolk, VA 23510

Gallery Hours: 8:30 am - 5:30 pm Monday - Friday


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