I love this legend. This was the reason why I started bringing in the flower books to the hospital when Dad was so sick. I was trying to remember the story but was falling (very) short. I felt so badly for dad who had gone to so much work to put together all of these treasures so that we could remember what he taught us forever. So now this story to me is more than just a beautiful legend, but a treasured memory of time with my dad.
Blackfoot legend retold by Annora Brown, photos by John Ramsay.
I have always been an anxious sort. I was a kid in the ‘70s and anxiety wasn’t really a thing back then – or if it was I certainly didn’t know about it. I just felt like I was always afraid of doing things – and then pushed myself as hard as I possibly could to prove to myself and the world that I wasn’t a total chicken.
But while I struggled, I didn’t really encounter debilitating anxiety until the beginning of 2007 when I discovered that my husband had been cheating (I found his online dating profile – actually I found the bill while going through our visa and then found the profile). I didn’t handle it well. If I could go back in time that’s the moment I would have walked out of the marriage. It would have saved me and the kids years of trauma and pain. But I didn’t – maybe I didn’t know how to. He dismissed it as nothing and blamed me for overreacting, and we were getting ready to move from Quebec to the States. So I put my feelings on the back burner and carried on.
SIBO can be caused by many things: antibiotics, low stomach acid, food poisoning – but also stress, anxiety and trauma. So being someone who has a history of pushing my feelings waaaay down deep really came back to kick me in the butt (or the small intestine in this case).
I went through the last years of my marriage often barely able to function because of the anxiety I was struggling with (which was also PTSD and trauma – it all kind of got mixed in together). Some days were better, some were terrible. I was not living an authentic life at all, in fact I had become completely disconnected from myself. I used to say that my superpower was my ability to disassociate completely from my body and my life as it was the only way I could handle my marriage. Unfortunately it’s a pretty shitty superpower to have and one that is taking me a long time to retrain myself from.
After I left my marriage, I still battled my anxiety (and trauma) demons on a constant basis. But I didn’t just dance away from an abusive relationship. I returned home to help care for both of my parents as they were dying, I almost lost both of my children to their own traumas, and I found myself in a very nasty divorce situation. So I continued to have reason to feel anxious to say the least.
Then I started studying psychology and slowly I felt my understand of myself beginning to change. I learned that there were ways to train my brain to think differently, and that I could change my perception of who I was. I began working diligently on my mental health and really saw some huge changes.
But that damn anxiety would just pop up out of nowhere. I would work and work, see massive improvements, and then BAM out of nowhere I would literally become debilitated by my anxiety. And for no reason. Nothing had to trigger me, I could be sitting at home happily watching a show on tv, out with friends laughing, or driving down the road singing along with some music. It left me feeling really frustrated. What was the point in working so hard on myself if this anxiety was just going to keep popping up and interfering in my ability to function?
Last summer (2021), I noticed that my joints became much more painful when I ate anything with gluten in it. At that time I had no idea that pretty much everything I liked had gluten in it. I cut out the obvious; bread, pasta, that kind of thing. Then I had sushi and got sick – so the discovery was made that of course gluten is in soy sauce. I slowly learned how to better avoid gluten and started feeling a bit better. I was still anxious, but the joint pain lessening made life a lot easier.
Then around Christmas time (2021) I discovered that certain foods I was eating gave me anxiety. Dairy was a big one (sob), but also weird things like mustard or anything with garlic in it. So I started cutting all of that out too. Essentially I was living on oatmeal, rice, chicken, ghee, and zucchini. Bleh. Still random bouts of anxiety, but not as bad.
So when I went to the naturopath and explained to him how I was feeling after eating certain foods he tested and diagnosed me with SIBO. Holy crap. What a revelation! So my constant battle with anxiety wasn’t just shitty mental health, it was a physical reaction to a physical issue (plus my regular anxiety).
It has been an up and down journey these last 5 months. But in general my anxiety is decreasing all the time. I’m still on a super restricted diet – but nothing like the one I was on before I started with my naturopath. Hardly any carbs, no grains, no dairy, no sugar. Lots of meat and certain vegetables, and egg yolks. Along with all my supplements. Not the most exciting diet, but I’m seeing so much improvement that it’s absolutely worth any sacrifice. Plus the hope is that it’s short term and eventually I’ll be able to enjoy a larger variety of foods.
I went to see my naturopath about a month ago in tears. After a few weeks of much lessened anxiety I was really struggling again. I was really mad at my SIBO, and then even madder at my naturopath when he suggested that we needed to address my trauma so that we could help my body heal. Who wants to hear that? I didn’t want to go there at all. But he was right (he’s been right about everything so far). I’d described to him how when these feelings of intense anxiety bubble up in me from nowhere it reminds me of how afraid I was those last few years in my marriage – where the kids and I lived in constant fear that he’d make good on his threats. And how that would just push me right out of myself. I was really mad at the SIBO for making me feel that way and that’s when the naturopath gently suggested we address some of the trauma. And he was so right.
I’m still on some SIBO stuff. I’m taking iberogast (which some days I swear is nastier than the Tincture of Death, but it’s effective, Allimax, bio-break nasal spray, ashwagandha, and turmeric. But I’m also taking mimulus and oak flower remedy, and gaba-t sap. I noticed a huge change with the gaba I can feel the stress seeping out of my brain after I take it.
It’s funny. I have spent so long really resenting this SIBO condition – even before I knew I had it and could put a name to it I resented it. But in some really weird way it’s a gift. It has forced me to stop and address some really big issues. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life walking around anxious, scared, traumatized and angry. And I now realize that unless I seriously follow this new way of being that I will not only be all of those things but also so freaking sick with SIBO: all the brain fog, upset stomach, bloating, depression, anxiety, joint pain, and whatever else it brings. So I am grateful that I have the opportunity to really dig deep and change some fundamental things about myself and how I see the world.
After getting a positive diagnosis for SIBO using the breath test provided by my naturopath it was time to begin treatment. This was a slow but interesting process.
Phase one was preparing my body for the eradication phase and included lots of liver support. I was prescribed several herbs to help my liver, was drinking lemon infused water (yum), taking Iberia’s, and digestive enzymes. I also began following a SIBO specific diet which was very limited. Mostly I was eating egg yolks and steak for breakfast, and for lunch and supper eating a soup made of ground beef, tomato paste, carrots, and kale. While not cured I certainly noticed I was feeling better. Less head fog, less anxiety – but still at uncomfortable levels for both and still lots of body aches.
I finally got to phase two and started the Tincture of Death. I was so excited because with a name like that it had to be powerful right? Turns out that while it’s a pretty amazing little tincture and does lot of good things, it got its name not because of how it would kill all my wayward bacteria (which it does help do), but because it tastes like death. Or perhaps makes you wish for death while you’re drinking it. I’m pretty used to it now – but damn it took me a minute.
This was combined with some other herbal combinations to help eliminate the bacteria in my small intestine.
I’m now kind of in phase three (the biofilm buster phase) and finishing phase two. It seems there are still some of those buggers persisting.
One thing I’ve discovered about SIBO is that it’s different for everyone. The symptoms can be different, and the recovery as well – some people heal quickly, some struggle for years. I’m hopeful I’ll recover on the quicker side – I’ve got a great naturopath who really understands this issue (and who has experienced and healed from it), and I’m following all the recommendations with precision. But life and stress certainly play a role in this disorder.
I’m discovering how much SIBO has affected my mental health and my ability to function. Next time I’ll delve more into that, but for now I’ll say that when the symptoms are quieted down I feel like I can take on the world. I feel connected to the Divine, and my anxiety is basically gone. I have more energy, sleep better, and feel joyful in ways that I haven’t felt in years. When the SIBO takes over almost immediately I get head fog, body aches, disconnect spiritually and emotionally, and struggle with my anxiety to the point that I can barely handle the day. It sounds so dramatic, but it is so fascinating to me how much my gut health affects my whole way of life.
This year I decided to make a commitment to my physical health. I’ve been dedicated to improving both my mental and spiritual health for a good 10 years now, and had been feeling pretty disappointed because I hadn’t been seeing the improvements I’d been hoping for. Don’t get me wrong, I am a much better version of the person I was 10 years ago. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how my brains works. I’ve been studying for my masters degree in counselling psychology and have had the opportunity to understand my brain, my personality, and my traumas in a completely different way. I’ve been studying spirituality and developing a completely new relationship – a healthier and more secure one – with the Divine. And yet I still felt like shit almost all of the time.
By feeling like shit I mean that no matter how hard I worked through therapy, or on my own, my anxiety was still out of control. My depression would come creeping in for no particular reason except to let itself be known. The bloating, omg the bloating. My whole body ached, I had a fuzzy head to the point where it was difficult to think some days. I was exhausted but not sleeping. I felt like a failure because I was working so hard and not seeing any improvements. Worst of all, when the anxiety would come rushing out of nowhere it gave me all of the same trauma type feelings that I felt from my marriage and that made it pretty much impossible to move beyond the feelings of being stuck in an abusive relationship.
So early this year I went to see my family doctor to see if she could refer me to an allergist. In the previous 6 months or so, I had discovered that certain foods were triggering my moods and my joint pain – particularly gluten (giving up gluten was quite the learning process- that shit is in everything). I told her that while giving up gluten had helped me I still wasn’t feeling good.
I am blessed to have an absolutely fantastic doctor who has taken the time to get to know both me and my children, she listens and doesn’t fix problems with medication alone. She told me that she also had been having some food issues and her recommendation was to go see a naturopath. That recommendation changed everything for me.
I booked myself in with a naturopath in town and really had no idea what to expect. I went in with my list of symptoms expecting to be told that I was making horrible diet choices and that would be about it. Instead he listened to me describe how I was feeling and then asked me if I’d ever heard of SIBO.
No, I had not heard of SIBO – Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth – what in the world is that? So apparently bacteria is not supposed to grow in our small intestines, but sometimes it can creep up in there and cause problems. It can be caused by many things, including antibiotics, unresolved trauma and long term stress. (Hellooooo stress and trauma my old friends). He said that food wise it was particularly triggered by onion and garlic – two of my favourite things to put in my mouth – but that there were many other foods that feed this bacteria.
He gave me a SIBO breath test to take home and use. You have to follow a very restricted diet for a couple of days to prepare, then you drink a nasty lactulose drink and breathe into vials at 20 minute intervals over the next couple of hours. I tested positive for both types of SIBO and my numbers were quite high.
I’m about 3 months into my treatment now. I’ve got a long ways to go, but already I feel better than I have in decades. My physical health has improved – I’m slowly getting more energy, I’m sleeping better. My mental health has improved – my anxiety and depression have decreased to mostly manageable levels. My spiritual connection has completely changed and I am developing a much closer connection to Source.
I’ve decided to chronicle my progress – both the challenges and successes – because it seems that SIBO is a new addition to the IBS game and one that there is very little known about and is often misdiagnosed.
A few years ago a dear old friend of mine (in years not age haha) gifted me a picture she’d found of the “old house” here. The “old house” is the one by the barn that my great grandparents built, and the house that we moved into when we returned home.
It’s cool because not only does this picture look exactly like the “old house”, it actually IS the old house.
I wasn’t sure where to hang it and have tried a few different spots in different rooms. Then today I was looking at the Braeside house where my Grandpa Ramsay lived (you may remember the story my Grandpa Ramsay told, you can find it Here) and realized that these two pictures belong together.
The house where my great-grandparents Copithorne lived, where my grandpa was raised, and the house where my grandpa, and great grandma Ramsay lived with my great-great grandparents in Ontario. And they should be hanging here in the house my grandparents built – our home.
I feel so much gratitude towards this friend who found this picture for me, made a special trip to meet me to give it to me, and who generally has just been a great person to have in my life. We met 21 years ago when we were expecting our now adult sons and have stayed in touch throughout the years.
I found this shoved in a bookcase in Dad’s office, aka my bedroom, aka Grandma’s bedroom. I have no recollection of having given her this book – I was 13 at the time – but I’m so glad I did. I’ve always been interested in our history, probably the reason why I have this ever so useful history degree. Anyway, this is kind of interesting and I had no idea, besides being from Ontario, of any of this history.
I figure Dad must have put this all together but I’m not sure when. It certainly wasn’t 1984 because he was clearly on the internet, but it also wasn’t 2014 because he used MapQuest (although my parents loved MapQuest). Either way, I’m glad he did it. It looks like he’s put together some of her relatives. I really knew nothing about Grandma’s lineage, so it is really cool for me to read a bit about about where she came from.
September 27th, 1984
Melissa gave Grandma a “Grandma Remembers” book for her 76th birthday and Grandma wrote in response:
September 27th 1984
Thank you Melissa Ramsay for this thoughtful and flattering book for my birthday. For me, the title should be “Grandma Forgets”. Is it because I’m now 76 years old? I don’t think so. I’ve always been mentally lazy – a dreamer. I will do my best to fill it with facts.
My parents were both the youngest in their family and each family had nine children,. My mother lost her mother when she was two years old and was raised by her maiden aunt, Miss Betsy Thompson, and her bachelor brother Uncle William Thompson who lived with their widowed mother on a farm out at Westmeath near Pembroke Ontario. My mother had very fond memories of her grandmother being very loving and kind to her and her little brother Thomas who also lived there.
Her grandmother was a pioneer and lived there when the Indians were still unfriendly. Her grandmother was very popular for her skills in setting broken arms or legs and helping sick people. Her grandfather helped the Rideau Canal in “Ottawa” when it was still called “Bytown.”
Aunt Betsy used to tel her she could remember when they would put a few sacks of wheat in canoes and take it down to the Ottawa River to mill to grind it into flour. Aunt Betsy remembered as a small child being terrified of the forest fires when they would go to the river for safety sake.
My Great Aunt Betsy was a popular member of the Ladies Aid in the local church. I remember seeing a very beautiful hanging lamp above her organ which the church group had given her; it had a beautiful flowered globe with prisms hanging around it and a coal lamp under it. The organ was very beautiful too and she left it to me when she died. It is now in the Pembroke museum. Uncle William Thompson gave my mother a beautiful piano when she got married and your aunt Sheila Burger has it now Melissa.
My Mother’s father went to New Westminster British Columbia when it was called Port Moody. He went there int eh 1870s thinking it would be the terminal for the CP Railway and would become a big sea-port city, but Vancouver became that. He bought many lots in Port Moody and was preparing to reunite his family there in a home he built but he got sick and died there. I have a letter which he wrote to Great Aunt Betsy saying he bought a piano for Mattie (my mother) and there was a piano teacher there to continue her lessons but of course that never came about. You could perhaps someday try and find his grave in the oldest graveyard in New Westminster, BC.
My mother’s mother “Margaret Ruth Sullivan” was also from near Pembroke and her relatives ware still living there. There is a placebo n the Ottawa River called “Sullivan’s Point”, named after her people. My spelling is terrible Melissa, check it and correct it.
My mother’s youngest brother was a reporter on the first steamship to sail Lake Superior and it was caught in a bad storm and all aboard were lost. Another of there brothers was drowned when the ship he was on went down coming from the gold mines in Alaska in the early days.
Today is the first of an on and off series I’ll call “who are the people in these photos?” Usually Grandma was really good about writing on the back of photos, but I’ve got a bunch that are unmarked. So – anyone who remembers and knows who these people are, please let me know!! This envelope of photos was in with her hospital letters, but the ones that are dated are from the late 50s, and I think when she was in Florida finishing high school.