On Health

Remember wayyyyyy back in February when I moved to San Francisco to embark in a new chapter of my existence?  Well much like the construct of Appalachian Trials, this chapter was pithy.  And now, like my favorite movie starring a golden retriever, I’m Homeward Bound (sorry Air Bud).

In many ways, the past nine months has been the most exciting, fulfilling, and surreal period of my life.  I published a book.  People didn’t hate it (including one of my idols).  I’ve crossed public speaking off the “gives violent diarrhea” list, and instead added it to the “am moderately comfortable” file.  Hell, I got to give a half hour Appalachian Trail presentation in front of Tony Hsieh (the CEO of Zappos & billionaire mastermind behind a massive rebuilding of Downtown Las Vegas).

I had the privilege of entrenching myself in a city brimming with culture, technology, ubiquitous intelligence, and world class restaurants.  And my personal favorite, I got to live in an area of the country whose beauty is second to none.  Northern California is hands down the best backpacking country I’ve ever been exposed to; Yosemite, Emigrant Wilderness, Big Sur, Big Basin, Mt. Tam State Park, John Muir Woods, Salt Point State Park….you are immaculate (AT still has a monopoly on my heart-space however).

All this being said, 2012 has been, by far and away the most challenging year of my life.  The sole cause being my health.

As you may already know, while on the AT I contracted a rare (although increasingly more common) mosquito borne illness – West Nile virus.  During this time, I battled intense headaches, blurred vision, confusion, fatigue, and irritability [less commonly known as FYFNRS (fuck you for no reason syndrome)].  I wrestled with these symptoms on and off for the better part of the last 1,000 miles.  Although not ideal, I was comforted with the idea of resting and healing upon reaching trail’s end.

That didn’t happen.

Although the symptoms are less intense, they still persist.  Some weeks, I’m a normal dude with good health.  Other weeks, there’s non-stop tension in my brain.  In these instances, I genuinely am not myself; the “Zach Davis” part of my brain is rust-ridden.  There are days where I have to fight to get out of bed after 10-11 hours of sleep.  I regularly avoid social activity out of fear of being too far from a comfortable area where I can lay down and meditate/sleep the discomfort away.  This has been going on for more than a year with little reprieve, it’s taking a serious toll on my quality of life.

This is not a woe-is-me Tumblr-rant.  Instead, this marks the beginning of a tremendous opportunity.

Challenges are opportunities for growth 

I could’ve just as easily entitled this section ‘everything happens for a reason,’ but there is often a loss for what that reason might be.  In my opinion, this frame of mind more clearly highlights the opportunity that can result from your obstacles.  For me, this point was the single most important strategy in overcoming challenges.  I want to emphasize this point.  This isn’t a tactic only for enjoying yourself on the Appalachian Trail.  This is a tactic for making life your bitch. 

Remember the obstacles in front of you are there for a reason.  This is your test.  This is your opportunity for growth.”

As you probably guessed, this is an excerpt from Appalachian Trials.  I reference it not because it’s the most ego-centric thing possible (is it?), but instead to demonstrate that I’m putting my money where my fingers hit the keys.  This is my next opportunity for growth.

And I don’t want to come off as some positively charged robot.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  For the last few months, I’ve felt sorry for myself.  It’s easy to do.  There were a shit-ton of questions- and no answers.  “Why?  Why the fuck?  Why the fuck won’t this stop?  What’s the most sadistic way to mass murder mosquitoes? Why are there two American Idol’s? Etc.”

In other words, I was asking the wrong questions. I have now settled on the three that matter:

1) What do I need to do to fix this? 

2) How can I not only stop the symptoms and improve my health, but reach new heights of physical and mental performance?

3) How can I impart this wisdom to benefit others?

I have other questions, such as: is West Nile virus even the cause?  A visit to an infectious disease specialist in July revealed that I have been harboring giardiasis in my gut for a long while- likely since the Trail.  Some anti-biotics took care of the parasite, but alas, not the headaches.  This opened new doors in my mind.  The literature on WNV is thin, and after much research, I have added to the list of theories as to what’s happening.  But that’s neither here nor there…  What matters is that I’m determined not only to improve, but to ultimately use this as a catalyst to reach peak performance.

In 2010, this website dealt with important matters ranging from cat infographics to videos featuring cats.  In 2011, it was about a 2,181 mile footpath. Although the subject matter changed, it was consistently a peek inside the chaos that is my brain.

What I’m trying to say is: the Good Badger is about to take a trip down the rabbit hole of super-human healthI hope you’ll join. 

  • Ginkgo

    Hang in there Zach! I’ve had lupus and migraines for decades, and the biggest thing I’ve learned is that my feelings will change. It sounds simplistic, but just knowing that change is coming can be a huge help.

    Check out Superbetter.com. It’s a great game for helping focus limited energy on the things that are most helpful.

    Also know that your stories have been a huge inspiration to me. I’ve done more backpacking this summer than I have in a long time, and I’m pushing 60. Thanks for the push!

  • Kelsie

    Sorry to hear you haven’t been feeling well! But, you’re on the path to correct that. Super-human health? Excited to hear more.

  • Pervy Sage

    I have two words that might be relevant to your research, chronic inflammation.  There is emerging research on conditions and symptoms that have no specific traditional infectious component, yet create symptoms involving nearly every bodily system.  Considering your description of recurrent or sporadic symptoms and the previous multiple infections, an auto-immune related inflammatory condition might be prudent to investigate.  Just a suggestion for what it is worth.

  • I am sending all the positive energy + thoughts your way. If anyone can achieve Level Supreme in Super Human Health, it’s you. Godspeed, Good Badger.

  • Peterkersley

    Before you go off and try any drug to help relieve your symptons, watch a couple of movies, one called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead and then watch Fork over Knives,(Netflix)
     I am no way connected to any of these movies in any way but six months ago i saw them, really as a way to lose weight but on the other side of the coin, I felt better than i have in years, i had alot more energy and also all the minor( not saying yours are minor) medical conditions went away, Psorasis, constant Itching of the legs etc that no doctor could ever help with.
    The idea behind these documentaries is basically you are what you eat and that eventually the body can heal itself,
    Well about 2 months ago i went back to my old eating habits and within a month all the symptons came back again, so yes i have started again.

    Its worth a go,


  • Pervy – yup, I’ve been researching religiously over the last few weeks – and inflammation is currently my leading hypothesis.  I exercise regularly and my diet is by-and-large clean.  I’m now trying to pinpoint a diagnosis. 

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Yeah – I’m a big proponent of juice fasts (https://thegoodbadger.com/a-weakened-weekend/).  Sincerely that’s AWESOME you were able to you were able to treat your Psoriasis with the green-fast. 

    I tried a longer cleanse (which I broke prematurely for personal reasons, and am considering giving another shot in the weeks to come) after watching FS&ND a few weeks back.  Although my skin cleared up and I was able to snap my caffeine addiction, the headaches still persisted, if not intensified.  Although I don’t think my headaches are related to a toxic build up (still possible, though), once I get to the bottom of this, I look forward to more regularly incorporating organic juice fasts into my diet.  I really believe they’re beneficially to anyone whose diet is less than perfect (i.e. most people) or those who endure a good deal of stress.

    Thanks for sharing and good luck with fast 2.0. 

  •  The density of the Jas positive vibe stream is powerful enough to start a Frankenstorm…. Although the rest of the country may not, I thank you 🙂

  •  Thanks Kelsie!

  •  Thanks Ginkgo!  I appreciate it.  Let me know if I can help push you onto the AT 😉

  • Zach, that sucks. A lot. I know how exhausting it can be to go to gobs of doctors and not have them fix you. I’m really glad to hear they found the giardia.

    I feel like a jerk for saying this because the last thing I wanted when I was suffering inexplicably with  of a wide array symptoms was another opinion…but I’m a huge believer in the chronic inflammation thing. I came down with symptoms (headaches, brain fog, digestive, and more) during a year in post-Katrina gulf coast (not the most sanitary environment) and only began to feel better when I cut gluten out of my diet and limited other common triggers (nightshade vegetables, peanuts, etc.). As an aside, it’s not at all uncommon for food allergies/sensitivities to change in your 20s.

    If you haven’t already, an elimination diet (longer term than a juice fast) might be helpful.

    Whatever approach you take, I wish you the best. Good luck.

  • Kellitammone

    I read your latest entry regarding your health.  It sounds like you’re on the right path now and I look forward to hearing about this journey.  Kris Carr is another great source of information.

    p.s. I had a dream we met and you made me wear your pajama bottoms.  :-/

  • Thanks for the recommendation on Kris Carr.  It’s always fascinating to hear about how someone recovers from a seemingly incurable disease.  More often than not, it’s diet and some form of mindfulness/attention- this just reaffirms the importance of the interaction between health and diet.

    P.S. Mandatory PJs are not beyond me.

  • Hey Jordana,

    You’re right, everyone has an opinion 🙂  In this case, however, your hypothesis appears to be spot on- some lab work has revealed high inflammatory markers.  Unfortunately, as I’m learning, “chronic inflammation” is kind of like the mechanic telling you that your car is broken- it doesn’t really identify the root cause.  I am in the process of overhauling my diet, amongst other things.  Gluten (and all other grains), most dairy, legumes, and soy have been removed.  I’m also learning that food allergies can be a symptom of a deeper problem, sometimes not.  Either way, the last week+ has been one of the healthier stretches in more than a year.  I’m hopeful that trend continues.

    Glad to hear that you were able to get your inflammation issues under control.  Do you plan on following a strict gluten free diet on the trail?  That would be a super interesting blog post 🙂  (btw – I owe you an e-mail, I know.  I’m slow)

  • Mountain Slayer

    Depression can present this way… could this be a subtle case of post AT blues? Maybe your WNV triggered migraines. Encephalitis is unlikely. Fibro myalgia… neurpopathy…It could be anything. Syphillis?

    If its inflammation secondary to autoimmune disorder, steroids/anti inflammatory medications would be a treatment option… like prednisone… but being on steroids for an extended period is not ideal and sometimes worse than the symptoms all together

    Im assuming you’ve had all radiology studies (ct brain, mri brain) and lab panels which didnt show critical abnormalities… such as a tumor, cyst, or brain troll which could be causing your pain… ?

    I liked your book, Im thinking about doing it (the AT). I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. Good luck 🙂

  • Jordana

    Yep, strictly gluten free. I also try to avoid soy, corn, and peanuts (and a few other foods) as much as possible. And I always have lactaid pills in my pocket for dairy. I’ve definitely been spending a lot of time trying to find a decent variety of edibles for the trek (along with product reviews on my blog). I may eventually have a blog post that talks about my overall diet…but I fear people’s pity. 😉

    Glad to hear you’re improving. No place to go but up, right?

  • P. Sage

     Just a point on the chronic inflammation issue.  The trouble with C.I. is there may be no discernible root cause as much as there was an initial trigger, in your case the long untreated infections.  Everything that comes after is just an irritation or reinforcement to the condition.  C.I. is more a state of being than a disease, one that is difficult to shift to a more healthful state once it gets out of whack.  To use your mechanic metaphor, it is like loosing a wheel weight.  The wheel then becomes unbalanced and causes the whole car to shimmy.  The mechanic then proceeds to charge you for “fixing” everything else when all that is needed is to get the wheel back into balance by replacing the weight. 
    The dietary “natural” method is always a good start to getting back into balance, but if your body feedback loops have been shifted so far out that self regulation no longer functions correctly, more drastic methods may need to be considered.  One promising study done by folks at Univ. of Minn. involved low dose oral steroids that was extremely less adverse than other steroid treatments.  Here is a link to the abstract.:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19001164

    Other treatments include plasmaphoresis to remove excess inflammation response components from the blood, as well as pentoxifylline (or PTX) that inhibits certain inflammation chemicals.  DHA fish oil, so I’ve heard, does the same thing.

    My point I guess is you may not be looking for a specific cause, but fighting an out of control system that is being affected by everyday things which under normal circumstances would not have such an ill effect on you.  I think may folks start to see certain foods as bad that aren’t, unless you have C.I.  Fix the system, then you can have your peanut butter and corn chips…in moderation of course.

  • Depression is certainly wrapped into it, but I think it began as the effect of whatever ails me- but I’m fully aware that can quickly add to the cause. 

    No brain tumors, no brain trolls, no syphilis.  Although it wouldn’t be the first thing Al Capone and I have in common (I run a prostitution ring on the side so I can pay for the medical bills).

    Keep me in the loop with your AT happening and let me know if I can help in any way. 

  • I had no idea Good Badger readers also doubled as medical savants.  I kind of assumed that fart jokes would entice more of a Family Guy crowd 😉

    This “systems health” is a term that has been repeatedly of late.  I somewhat serendipitously discovered the field of Functional Medicine (which roots itself in systems health) about a month or so ago, and have since been working with a fairly prominent doctor in that field.  His approach is evaluating three key systems – adrenal, gut, and kidney health – and adjusts his treatment accordingly.  Because he’s in high demand, the waiting list for an appointment tends to be long, so I’m still in the middle stages of treatment, but am optimistic due to my improvement over the past month or so.  It’s been night and dawn.  Hoping to see day soon. 

    Pervy – you seem to be very well learned on this subject.  Are there any websites, personalities, or other resources you recommend?

  •  People appreciate and connect with honesty.  It’s not pity but care. 

    I, for one, would be very interested in reading such an article.   

  • James Arnold

    Therein lies the rub.  Most of what I’ve gathered has been in bits and pieces from articles, news reports, and general observations of my own health over decades. This “systems health” thing seems to be a mainstreaming of what was used to be called holistic medicine, which at the time was populated mostly by crystal peddling hippy aura readers with no formal education and thus zero credibility regardless of the validity of the methods used or the theories presented.

    I’ve noticed this in the reactions to my own search for treatment by run of the mill physicians.  Unless you have a Phd or MD after  your name, anything you have to contribute is disregarded.  I get instead a rehearsed response of “lose weight and take this pill” which totally evades solving the actual problem that contributed to the symptoms they are attempting to treat.  And yes, obesity is a symptom as well as a contributor to C.I.  One of the many vicious cycles and cosmic jokes of this condition. Very frustrating.

    This came to a head of late as I’ve been intently scrutinizing things related to this subject for a very close friend who is suffering a severe variety of C.I. (in my opinion anyway). She suffers debilitating migraines, severe peripheral neuropathy, painful muscle spasms, loss of coordination, cognitive impairment, digestive distress, and a most troublesome visual degradation.  All the usual suspects have been eliminated from ALS, lymes, lupus, M.S. and others.  Yet she is forced to live (barely) on disability because no regular doctor can find that single elusive root cause they have been trained to discover.  Eventually they give up and pile on the drugs to alleviate the symptoms, which by the way usually made things worse. 

    I’ve been thrilled to see some progress in this area as more researchers present studies in the light of this systems health mode of thinking, taking into account how the body reacts to disease both in the short term and long term.  I hate to use the phrase, but we are seeing a paradigm shift in medicine.  With diagnostic tools like functional MRI and cognitive problem solving tools like Watson ( http://www-03.ibm.com/innovation/us/watson/ ), we will hopefully see better diagnosis of these systemic conditions that have always been swept under the rug of treating the symptom to simply improve “quality of life” rather than fixing the damn problem.

    Sorry, wasn’t intending to rant.

    You look to be on the right path with this functional medicine group, and I’ll be watching to see how things turn out.

    Good luck.

    P. Sage

  • Sorry to hear you’re still fighting this. I finished your book over Christmas and have been perusing your site. Your information has been so helpful. The AT has been a dream of mine for years and I have finally set a date. March 9 of 2017…my 50th birthday. I’m just finishing nursing school and will have four years to stash some cash and buy gear. Just wanted to say thanks for the inspiration. Am waiting on your sponsorship page…I think the whole 50 plus female thing may give me an edge. I’ll buy whatever I need to but there’s nothing wrong with discounted either! On the health note, I know someone with autoimmune issues who went all raw for a year and never had problems again. A little radical I know but it really worked for her. Will be sending good health juju and prayers your way. Tracking down illness can be debilitating in and of itself. Slap that bitch and show her who’s boss! 😉 Take good care…

  • If u had found out WNV was what u had after like a week of getting it, would they have been able to treat u somehow, so u wouldn’t feel like shit all the time. Or were u just screwed once u got infected? Do u think finishing the AT could have made it worse because u were putting ur body thru so much?

  • StephieDee

    Hi Zach! I just received your book ‘Appalachian trails’ (it happened to arrive ON my birthday, yippy!) which took me to your fun blog! I am so sorry to hear about your illnesses!! You’re a great inspiration! Our family has undergone a health overhaul! We are Netflix documentary freaks! We found the AT through a documentary which lead to your amazing book. Netflix also lead us to ‘forks over knives’ ‘fat sick and neatly dead’ ‘food maters’ ‘hungry for change’ just to name a few of my favs. I am 46, became a vegetarian (I do fish and the occasional egg-organic) and in all honesty, I feel better now then I have my whole life!! I run now, work out and have mental clarity that I’ve never had! I’m pari-‘mentalpause’ but feel great! You’ve probably gotten a great education for raw foods especially being in Cali! Above all, I’m glad you are feeling better and pray for full restoration and beyond!!

  • Marie

    Hi Zach: I had the Pylori virus and I have been battling an auto immune disorder which causes inflammation (Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Migraines, IBS, etc..). I have days I want to jump and days I have no energy to get out of bed. Headaches, foggy brain and pain so bad, I just want to hide from the world. Run of the mill pills don’t work for me. They fix one thing and mess up another. Eating the right foods and staying clear of stressors are more helpful. Find a good doctor, find out which foods and moods trigger your inflammation. Check out Bastyr University website. They have clinics that are doing research on these issues. They also have tons of info on gluten free, raw foods and vegetarian meals. On another note…I have been viewing your website and noticed you have a gift of teaching through experience and have a great sense of humor. Thank you for helping others in their journey to reach their goals.