I don’t even know where to begin. Looking back at what I went through still leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
I grew up in a household full of energy and a love for life. I was a very active child; I swam competitively and was actively involved in dance, music, and the arts. I was always a little bit sensitive to my environment and the people around me, but I had only ever suffered from mild eczema as a child. Then, one day, when I was about 22 years old, I woke up to huge, swollen hands. My face was puffy, my eyes were nearly swollen shut, and I had strange red rashes all over my body. I had no idea what was happening to me and was rushed to hospital where the medical staff had no explanation either. I was prescribed antibiotics and steroid creams, and then sent home.
I struggled to sleep at night because I felt like I had a million ants crawling all over me.
I was in pieces. No one was able to tell me what had happened. I refused the antibiotics but took antihistamine, which helped calm the swelling. Over the next four years, I was constantly applying steroid creams and, as a result, my hands became wrinkly and paper thin. I struggled to sleep at night because I felt like I had a million ants crawling all over me. I would scratch my skin raw and would stand under boiling-hot water in the shower as this was the only thing that made the itchiness go away – in spite of the fact that it left me with burns.
Desperate for a better solution, I contacted my family homeopath and began to seek her advice. She had only come across one other patient with similar symptoms, which included chronic fatigue, bloating, mood swings, rashes, and swelling in the joints. After some digging, we discovered that I was allergic to costume jewellery and that I had developed a candida overgrowth from birth-control pills.
I went on a strict candida diet and cut out most of the foods that would allow an overgrowth of yeast. I stopped taking the pill, and began to starve the parasite. I was hoping that this would be enough to cure me, but whatever had gotten a hold of my body refused to let go. What I experienced on my skin was living not on me, but in me.
By that point, I was depressed. My arms and chest were red and raw, like a burn victim’s, and I didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t want to be touched and I couldn’t sleep. I went to bed every night wishing I would wake up in a new body, normal, like everyone else. I needed help.
I went from doctor to doctor and all they did was prescribe me antibiotics and steroid creams. Specialist dermatologists said I should be careful of sweating, as this was a trigger, but at this point of my life I lived in Lycra and all I did was sweat. I was dancing and training professionally, and I also taught group fitness and dance classes. My life revolved around moving my body, rolling on the floor, and being in close contact with others. Every doctor I saw said that I would live with this skin condition forever and their solution was to prescribe me anti-depressants. I just couldn’t accept that, and I couldn’t accept the idea of not being able to express myself through my movement practice.
I had spent half my teens dyeing my hair all sorts of colors.
I scheduled a series of allergy tests, but they all came back negative. At that point, it seemed like all I could do was accept my fate and carry on as normally as I could, monitoring my flare-ups. I was really into CrossFit at the time and on a high-protein and vegetable diet, which was beginning to have negative effects on my body. I felt lethargic, bloated, and carried around a lot of water weight. I had little to no knowledge about the dangers of eating processed foods and was suffering from too much acidity as a result of consuming poor-quality animal protein.
I decided to make one last attempt at figuring out what was happening to my body and arranged to see a doctor who conducted Biomeridian Stress Tests. She looked at my food sensitivities and other markers, and she was shocked by the amount of toxicity in my liver, which led her to ask if I also dyed my hair. Of course, the answer was yes; I had spent half my teens dyeing my hair all sorts of colors. As it turns out, the toxins and heavy metals in the hair dyes I was using, such as formaldehyde, were one of the culprits behind the most traumatic decade of my life.
The doctor diagnosed me with a condition called leaky gut syndrome, a precursor to many autoimmune conditions caused by your gut basically becoming “leaky” due to inflammation in the digestive tract. This leads to abnormally large spaces in between the cells of the gut wall lining, allowing toxic material into the bloodstream and therefore the rest of the body. Finally, I had some form of diagnosis. I now understood that stress manifests itself in many different forms. For years, I was stuck in a vicious cycle of physical, toxic, and emotional stress, which were all feeding off each other. The little light that was shed on my condition helped put my mind at ease, but the road to recovery was going to be a long one and I would need to be very patient.
To begin tackling the issue and healing my gut, she prescribed Gastro-ULC tablets, alongside glutamine, digestive enzymes, probiotics, and fermented foods. I also reduced, as much as possible, all the toxins and chemicals that were interacting with my body and putting it under even more stress. I changed my diet and became vegetarian before shifting to veganism for a short period of time. Today, I am a conscious pescatarian. I make an effort to eat natural and organic foods and to stop using any harmful chemicals on my skin.
Awareness of the dangers of toxins and their presence in many of the beauty products we use eventually led me to create my own skincare range called SOMA Skin. I now have a strong interest in the benefits of plant-based healing and helping to develop and be part of a world free from toxins.
Healing starts from within. Only then can the external healing begin.
Pavlina Rai is a dancer, yoga teacher, and Pilates instructor based in Dubai. She’s also one half of the husband-and-wife duo behind Soma Culture and a self-proclaimed “student of life, immersed in the movement arts, human ecology, and ancestral principles”.