Book Review: The Whole Health Life by Shannon Harvey

"I have been given this product as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company."

The Whole Health Life by Shannon Harvey, The Whole Health Life, Shannon Harvey

I've honestly never understood before the link between mind and body health, until my lupus started flaring up in late 2010. I transferred to a university from community college, was working at the DMV headquarters as a student assistant analyst, and I was just starting to take prednisone from a bad flare up and severe joint pain. I was prescribed to take prednisone for 40 days, 40 mg for the first 10 days, 30 for the next 10 days, etc. I stopped at 20 mg. I thought to myself, I don't need this, I'm better now! That was when my lupus started taking its toll and overcame my body. Mind you, I was 21 and also very ignorant. I was ignorant about the fact that stopping prednisone abruptly can harm you.

I was diagnosed with SLE in 2007, but my early twenties (2010–2014) were a time of turmoil for me. My first stroke/seizure was in December 2011, after going through extreme stress of being in university: though my grades were decent, I had academic probation the semester before. I had failed 2 classes due to my health issues, low energy, low self-esteem, and my dad's lung cancer diagnosis. I felt like my world was crashing down. And because of my academic probation, mediocre grades, and a low possibility to get into the graphic design program at my university, I faced an existential crisis. What if I don't get into the graphic design program? What would I major in, and why is it taking forever? I should have graduated right now, all my peers have graduate or will graduate next year, what's wrong with me? Why am I falling behind? Am I disappointing my parents? 

After a final, I hit an all time low (physically, mentally and emotionally) and my dad found me on the floor convulsing. It was after that seizure that I needed to focus on my health and take a semester off.

This wouldn't be my last incident though: I've had subsequent seizures and a kidney biopsy in Fall 2013, that detected my nephritis (lupus that affects the kidney) worsening, so I was forced to go back on prednisone. I was extremely frustrated and stressed out about it. In addition, I wasn't driving at the time because of a seizure months before. I was also starting my first semester in the incredibly challenging graphic design program, and I was not sleeping well. I loved 2013 for the good memories (getting accepted in the graphic design program, and going to Europe for summer vacation), but I also had a dark time with my dad passing away and the health issues I was going through. After the biopsy, I was getting more and more sick. As my fevers were getting higher everyday for a month, my prednisone dosage upped to 80 mg. 

When Chronic Illness Bloggers notified me of the opportunity to read and review The Whole Health Life, I was intrigued. I was also skeptical of any sort of hippy-speak or claim that there is one magic pill that will heal your body from chronic or terminal illnesses. While my lab tests last year say that my lupus was inactive and that I've been having negative protein in my kidney, I still have lupus. It's still a part of me, and I still have to take medications to maintain my good health and not risk getting another seizure. Thankfully, this book is not the be-all end-all to cure you, but it takes a holistic approach to improving your health.

The Whole Health Life was written by Shannon Harvey, an Australian journalist who was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease at 24. Harvey's doctor said that as her disease would worsen, she had the possibility of becoming wheelchair-bound. The autoimmune disease (which the doctor suspected was lupus) derailed Harvey from getting ahead in the journalism world, but it gave her the chance to search for answers on how a patient can heal by connecting the mind and body. Harvey interviewed top professors, doctors, and scientists all over the world to back up her claims. Together with her husband Julian Harvey, they produced the documentary The Connection.

The Whole Health Life covers different factors that play into your health and well-being, which are divided into chapters: stress, emotions, belief, food, movement, environment, healthcare, sleeprelationships and lasting change.

Much of what was covered was common sense: eat whole, unprocessed foods, exercise more, and minimize stress. But there was so much more than that. Rather than force a specific diet, Harvey emphasizes that each individual is different, and that the important thing is that you are eating as clean as possible (and yes, with meat too). I've read in the past about going vegetarian/vegan to heal my lupus, and it's just not sustainable for me. My iron levels are too low and taking prednisone has increased my appetite and insulin long-term, even if I am not taking it at the moment. I find that a plant only diet does not sustain me, and I need some meat. I read The Lupus Recovery Diet, which only advocates a raw vegan diet and recipes. That will not work for me, and I find that the best diet for me contains lean meats, an abundance of vegetables, whole wheat, and calcium-rich foods. I am thankful that The Whole Health Life advocates the best diet that fits the individual, and that their most profound advice is wrapped up in this little quote:


My favorite chapter was the Healthcare section. Here, Harvey covers the correlation between kinder, more compassionate doctors and patients healing faster. I must say that this resonates with me a lot. I was under the care of UC Davis Medical Center, and my doctors and nurses have been with me throughout my worst moments (my worst lupus flareups, seizures, kidney biopsy, and high fevers). When I turned 26 in 2015, I was kicked out of my mom's insurance and had to go on regular MediCal because UCDMC only accepted it and not the Managed MediCal plan. I was still able to see my doctors until I renewed my MediCal membership in June. My application was denied because the PCP provided my most recent labs, which have shown to improve. The California Department of Health Care Services did not believe that my condition was severe enough to still continue to see my doctors, and I was forced to go under Managed MediCal. Believe me, I fought to stay under regular MediCal so that I can still see my UCDMC doctors, since they knew my health history from inside out. I even spoke to a judge, and she told me to get a request from my doctors and fax the information to her. When I last saw my rheumatologist and nephrologist, I requested them to type and fax a letter to the judge on why I needed to continued seeing them, and the severity of my lupus (even if I am in remission). I was still denied. So I am currently seeing a new PCP under Managed MediCal. 

I didn't realize how much I took my previous doctors for granted, especially when I got annoyed about them not tapering my prednisone. They were just trying to protect me from another flareup. And yes, they were the kindest and most caring doctors I ever had. They knew about my struggles with health and fighting to graduate form university, while losing my dad. They relished in my happiness when I got engaged. They always asked about my family, and how school and job hunting was. They saw me as not just another number, but as a human with emotions and fears. Not only are the UCDMC doctors are empathetic, but they are some of the best trained in the US. I believe that their knowledge, extensive training, love and compassion were one of the biggest factors in my healing. In addition, they always refilled my medications without any problems. They knew about the severity of my SLE, nephritis and seizures, and I never had a shortage of refills.

With my new PCP, I ran out of medications and she denied my request to refill them because I have not taken a lab test yet and made a follow-up appointment with her. So I had to go to urgent care last week to get them refilled. I'm sorry to say, but the quality of care from this new PCP does not even compare to the doctors I previously had. Even her front desk receptionist is cold and always acts like she couldn't be bothered with patients. The good news is that after Cecilio and I marry, I will be able to go under his insurance and go back to seeing my previous doctors.

I would like to say that UCDMC goes above and beyond to treat my sister's lupus, pulmonary hypertension and scleroderma. Despite her early prognosis being 28, she is still alive and fighting at 40. And they helped my dad live for an extra 2 years (instead of 3 months) after his cancer diagnosis. So I am forever thankful for them.

I also found the Emotions chapter fascinating. They stated that those who are more happy and optimistic were more likely to heal, but having a tinge of pessimism could help you too become alert in times of danger. And that there are individuals who are predisposed to depression (myself included, from my dad), but you can nurture your outlook of the world. You can still manage your emotions through therapy, spending time with loved ones, meditation and journaling.

The Relationships chapter covers the importance of a support group. There is even an example of the town of Roseto, PA in the 1960s: even though heart disease was an epidemic during that time in the US, the men had a much lower mortality rate than the national average. And Roseto was primarily full of Italian immigrant residents who were exposed to smoke (from working in factories and smoking scigars), and had a diet of rich, fattening, delicious Italian meals. What helped with their longevity were close family ties: 3 generations living in the same household was the norm in Roseto. 80% of the men were a part of a community. My mom has always emphasized to me the importance of family and community, and how we as Filipinos are extremely family-oriented. In a lot of Asian cultures, it is not uncommon to have adult children still living at home or parents (and possibly grandparents) moving in with the child. It is all about supporting each other, whereas American culture emphasizes being as independent as possible. Having a tight support group has helped me not only heal, but graduate university. I say this because when I had seizures and couldn't drive, my brother-in-law would drop me off at and pick me up without fail. He is a saint for it too, and not complaining. 

I really enjoyed this book and appreciated how much effort Harvey put into it and found hard scientific facts to back up her claims and arguments. And it is not dry at all. Throughout this book, I found myself nodding as I could relate to a lot of the things she said. On the last chapter, Lasting Changes, she talks about setting goals and taking it in one at a time. If you want to be healthy and lose weight, but you skip a day of exercise or eat a rich meal, it's not the end of the world. It's the same thing if you're trying to get more sleep, but the business of life gets in the way. But make sure you are consistent with your goals. Because it is not the people who have the cleanest diet or the cheeriest of personalities who live the longest: it is those who are the most conscientious in taking care of yourselves. And it is a challenge to do so in our modern, GO-GO-GO world (especially in the US). 

I also appreciated that The Whole Health Life didn't emphasize that only one thing that would heal you instantaneously, but taking in different factors for overall health. If you have a chronic illness, you know that you have it for life. It's a part of you. But you CAN take steps to improve your health and quality of life, no matter how severe your illness is and how many medications you have to take.

I highly recommend this for who are healthy or have chronic illness and want insight on how they can improve their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. 

7 comments :

  1. Wow, I can't believe how much you have been through. I had no idea, I am so glad that you are sharing your experience and I love the way you related the chapters your experience. This made the review all the more interesting, I hope you are okay and if you ever want to talk or anything just drop me an email or add me on Facebook. I do think bedside manner, attitudes etc. are important and I like how the book looks at health holistically. Great post Hannah xxx

    ALittleKiran | Bloglovin

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    1. Thanks so much <3 I figured that was a way I was able to connect with the book. And thanks for being there, I really appreciate it!

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  2. In recent years i have learnt what an impact it can have on overall health. I used to think meditation or things like that were just too hippy but have taken to things like yoga and relaxation in the last year or so x

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    1. I love yoga, especially the Vinyasa kind! It really helped with my stress levels in the past.

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  3. Wow, this sounds like such an interesting book. Thanks so much for explaining it and giving a personal touch, it definitely is so important to understand all your bodily and mental health connections.

    Abigail Alice 💕

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