Do you remember the first time when you didn’t feel like yourself, or completely healthy? Many people develop a variety of health issues, sometimes without an obvious cause or easy solution. Figuring out what’s wrong and taking control of your health requires determination and a plan, something we discussed with Mette Dyhrberg who successfully overcame her health challenges.
An interview with Mette Dyhrberg,
Founder and CEO at Mymee, New York, USA
Some celebrities have recently raised awareness about autoimmune diseases (Selena Gomez has publicly battled Lupus; Zoe Saldana revealed that she has Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, etc.). This awareness is very important as the symptoms are hard to detect and getting a diagnosis can be a long, frustrating and stressful process. What experience do you have with autoimmune diseases and what would your advice be for someone who thinks they may be suffering from one?
I was diagnosed with my first autoimmune disease – psoriasis – at the age of fourteen. It was on the day of my confirmation. I was all in white and I remember that I had three red spots on my neck. The next day it was all over my body. At the time, we had no idea why and it was very scary. And then, just before I turned 21, I started having a lot of strange symptoms and I remember not knowing why. We talked to many doctors, and although they meant well, the general piece of advice was: “You did this to yourself” and “It’s only in your head.” It was quite confusing and I felt guilty – it was like I didn’t even know my own body and what’s wrong with me. I was in a constant mode of surviving.
To further show my level of desperation, I went to see a psychiatrist in my early twenties hoping to be diagnosed as a hypochondriac, because at least there would be a name for it and we could move on. It just didn’t make sense that I felt the way that I did.
Young women are often misdiagnosed because it’s dismissed as hormonal and because it’s not always measured in blood work, but in reality, you need somebody to believe in you, whether it’s your father or your mother or your best friend. When you trust your instincts and believe in yourself, then it’s easier to communicate your concerns and find somebody who can believe in you.
Reflecting on this experience, if I could give one piece of advice to all girls and women that are going through similar situations, I would like them to know that when somebody questions you and tells you it’s all in your head, you must believe in your intuition and you have to trust yourself. I used to have very strong intuition when I was younger, but I started doubting whether my intuition could be the mechanism I could trust. Looking back, this was the most valuable part of me that I, unfortunately, lost in that process. I’m grateful that my parents believed me and helped me navigate how to get better during this time. You have to believe in yourself before you can have someone believe in you.
You’ve called yourself a ‘health detective’. What was the trigger or impulse for this and what were the first steps you took to understanding your own health?
Seven years ago, my doctor told me he had great news – I wasn’t going to die in the immediate future! I remember asking, “So, what’s the good news?”, and then it got exceedingly awkward because that was the great news!
Because I’m an economist and I’m good with numbers, I had questions about how to approach my health and the process. But my doctors were happy with my overall results and couldn’t offer solutions to help me improve. I was convinced that I had the best doctors, but in that very moment, I decided to take my health into my own hands. So, I started researching and paying attention to what I was doing and eating, as well as my body’s reaction to it. I created Excel spreadsheets, small algorithms, and looked at correlations between what I did and my symptoms.
I had taken lots of medication including immunosuppressants drugs, and within sixteen months, I was off all of it. My blood work was normalized and I’ve been in remission for almost seven years. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have to be careful, it doesn’t mean that I can do whatever I want. If I slip into doing things that make me sick, I can see changes – I don’t sleep much and I don’t wake up rested.
It’s fascinating how many times we talk to people that are in their 30s and 40s, and when you ask them, “When was the first time you didn’t feel like yourself?” they always mention the period between 16 and 22 years old. At that time they didn’t want to listen to their bodies and they just got used to not feeling well. It feels like you’re just a little off and then at some point, you’re just not yourself anymore. The truth is that you cannot be surprised and think “ this is not happening to me” or “I’m too young for this, it’ll go away” you have to act.
When I helped myself, it energized me and being healthy became a passion project. I thought there was something wrong with me for so long and if I can share my journey and help others to get better, I’ll become a “health detective”. I want to ask questions, investigate, look below the surface and help others understand when you notice a change in how you feel, physically and mentally.
What do you think is the importance of diet and exercise in feeling healthy? What is your advice to someone who may not have easy access to nutritious foods or opportunities to exercise?
I believe that lifestyle and exercise are important because they’re the foundation for who we are and how our body works. Also, some of the healthiest things you can do for yourself is to get enough sleep, eat a diet high in vegetables, drink enough water and eliminate sugary drinks.
If you don’t belong to a gym, go for long walks or try jogging outside. We are our habits and I get addicted to my healthy habits. If I run, it’s just a part of who I am, I get energy from it, and I miss it if I don’t do it. Join a group – it keeps you engaged and you will make new friends, you’ll motivate and support each other.
For someone dealing with a serious illness or condition – what is your advice for staying positive, feeling inspired and focusing on living a fulfilling life?
I strongly disagree when people tell you, “Be positive, put a smile on and everything will be fine.” It’s not enough and it can take you further away from where you are. Based on my experience, I would be truthful to how I feel and really listen to my intuition, knowing it will be a hardship and I’ll experience good days and bad days. It doesn’t mean you are failing, you are trying to get your body and mind in balance and its okay to feel bad sometimes and be open about it. All of us are trying to get better at something every day.
Tips and tricks:
- When somebody questions you, believe in your intuition and trust yourself
- When you feel sick or off balance you, you have to act
- You can fail many times, but it doesn’t mean you are a failure
- You have to understand that you are not alone. We are all going through very similar problems and most of us at the same time