[00:00:00] Detective Ev: What is going on, my friends. Welcome back to another episode of the Health Detective Podcast by Functional Diagnostic Nutrition. My name is Evan Transue, aka, Detective Ev. I will be your host for today’s show on the connection between mast cell activation and mental health.
Before we get into anything today, really quick announcement. If you are listening to this, then you are in the very early stages of our June Summer Open House event. This is where we have over 21 free Live events in the month of June, focusing on both health and business, but mostly the business side. So, whether you are a health coach, an aspiring health coach, you’re an FDN practitioner, or an aspiring FDN practitioner, we have something for you this month. And it is free.
What you want to do is go to fdntraining.com/summer if you’re still listening to this in the month of June in 2023. We will get you hooked up with some of the content. You’ll actually be able to see the speakers and the topics on that screen at fdntraining.com/summer so you can figure out if one or more of those talks will be worth it for you.
I will be hosting the vast majority of them; I think there’s only one that I am not hosting. So, hopefully you like me at least somewhat, cause you’ll be seeing a lot of me. But we have other guests that we’ll be talking to throughout the month.
About Jen Donovan
Now with that said, we have a great guest today. This was someone that I wasn’t really expecting. Because a lot of the times how the booking process goes for this is, I end up talking to the person first, we get connected, and then we do the podcast. This was a connection made for us by one of our other staff members here at FDN. So, when she popped on my invite, I’m like, okay. This seems like a cool story.
I checked out her stuff, seemed really interesting. But man, the more I got to listen to her in this podcast, the more connections I was making, the more revelations I was having. It’s pretty rare at this point for my own personal health journey that I find stuff that changes my perspective or adds to it. And our guest, Jen Donovan, was just doing that the entire time. So, I think you guys are really going to enjoy this one, especially if you listen often and you know some of the stuff that I’ve dealt with. Cause we made a lot of connections there. But this is still a podcast for everyone for sure.
A little bit about her, she completely rebuilt her life and career as a result of her experience with severe chronic illness. After finding no answers from conventional medical approaches (You know, when does that happen?), she took matters into her own hands, and with the help of key mentors found a path to healing. With her diverse training and mental health systems theory, polyvagal theory, nervous system regulation, ancestral nutrition, and the gut microbiome, Jen has developed Six Support Protocols to provide a clear structured, all-encompassing approach to finding a thriving life again.
Mast Cell Activation: What Jen Has Learned
When she’s not working with clients, she spends her time traveling with her husband, Mike, seeking out regenerative farms, natural hot springs, and wondrous natural places. That does not sound too dissimilar from what I do with my lovely Madeleine. We definitely are always trying to explore nature. How cool is that? That something that we were supposed to do naturally can actually be considered recreational and just a break from the day-to-day?
Anyway, we’re not here to talk about that; we’re here to talk about mast cell and the other things that Jen learned. Without further ado, let’s get to today’s episode.
Alright. Hello there Jen. Thanks for being with us today on the Health Detective Podcast. How are you?
[00:03:23] Jen Donovan: I’m doing great. Thanks so much for having me.
[00:03:25] Detective Ev: Yeah, I’m happy to have you.
I’m actually disappointed. I don’t think we got to fully chat at KetoCon. But Jen and I were just talking off air, and she was there with us. It was such a great event. Robin does an amazing job putting that all together. You get to literally talk to such cool people. Everyone has a story there, I feel like, and everyone was surprising me.
I saw some before-and-after pictures of people. You would just never know that these people dealt with the illnesses that they had. They’re like vibrant, super healthy, super happy now. It’s cool. That’s a really cool conference. And we get to meet and attract great people there like yourself.
I’m excited to talk today because there’s a variety of things that you do and that you offer that I wasn’t even fully aware of. So, this is exciting.
Mast Cell Activation: Mental Health & Physical Health Connects
But I told you, we always kind of start off this show in the exact same way because I’m a big believer that the facts tell, but the stories sell. It’s not that we’re selling anyone anything in particular, but we’re always trying to sell this idea of owning your own health and really taking it seriously. We have one life to live; we don’t want to waste any of this sick if we don’t have to be. And if we’ve already been sick, we don’t want to waste any more minutes doing that. I think the stories are always the most powerful part.
So, Jen, if I can ask, when did your health symptoms start and what did they look like for you?
[00:04:38] Jen Donovan: Yeah. I was always one of those people that thought I was healthy until things crashed. But then, of course, looking back, you can really see how things built up through my whole life.
I actually always identified as a person who had more mental health issues than physical health issues. But now looking back, like I had allergies my whole life, I had some digestive issues, I would get random skin issues and rashes and things like that. And I just thought that was normal. I think a lot of people do.
But I always had a lot of really significant anxiety, some depression, really obsessive-compulsive behaviors, intrusive thoughts. Honestly, I always thought that mental health was really my issue. I was really kind of indoctrinated into that conventional idea of medicine where we divide the body into all these separate parts. So, I didn’t even think about the fact that my mental health would be connected to my physical health.
Mast Cell Activation: Bizarre Symptoms
But then I had a series of events where I had a series of chronic infections, really got loaded up with antibiotics. I was about 24 or 25 when that happened. From there things went bad pretty quickly.
You know, I was in the mental health field at that point. I had my master’s degree in mental health therapy and was starting my career as a therapist at a community mental health clinic. My first really significant symptoms were an increase, actually, in mental health issues. I started having these panic attacks and I’d always been anxious, but I had never had actual panic attacks. You know, I started feeling like I was having this wave of just doom and dread come over me. I almost call them dread attacks. At first, I thought my mental health is really crashing, I need to figure this out.
And this is my career, so I should be able to figure this out, but I couldn’t. Everything I knew coming from the conventional mental health world, nothing was working, and it felt very physiological. Like, it felt very in my body. Then of course, along with it, I started getting these really bizarre symptoms in every system of my body.
I started getting hives all over my body, getting rashes, my lips would swell up. I started having really intense sensations of air thirst where I just felt like I couldn’t breathe properly. Also, I was getting a lot of autonomic nervous system issues. My heart rate was really irregular, my blood pressure was really low. I started having just crushing chronic fatigue. And I thought I was having a mental breakdown. It got to the point where I was like, I actually can’t work anymore.
Mast Cell Activation: A Diagnostic Label
I was 25, 26, in my prime, just starting my career but everything was crashing down around me. And it got to the point where literally every day I felt like I was dying. I really had this visceral sensation of my body shutting down. It’s amazing how quickly things crashed for me.
I kept going to doctors and I would just sit in the office and cry because I was like, something is really, really wrong, but I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know what to do. They were, basically, like, we don’t know either. It was terrifying and devastating. I really thought my life was over for a while. It got very, very dark.
But I happened to stumble upon an allergist, and this was back in 2016. You know, these issues are still pretty rare in terms of not a lot of people know about them. But unfortunately, I think in the last few years a lot of these complex chronic health issues have gotten a lot more common.
Back in 2016, it was still really unusual to know about this kind of stuff. So, I happened to stumble on an allergist who said, you know what? You fit the diagnostic criteria perfectly for mast cell activation syndrome. I had never heard of this before and none of my doctors had ever mentioned it. And I was just so lucky that I stumbled upon someone that at least gave me a name for it, you know?
But she basically said, this is just something that happens sometimes. People sometimes just develop this. We don’t know why, there’s no treatment. You’ll just have to be on high dose antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers the rest of your life.
Mast Cell Activation: Not Buying It
You know, I was very grateful to get a name for what I was going through because it helped me realize that all these bizarre symptoms I was having, they all were under an umbrella of a specific thing that was happening in my body. But even with my conventional medical knowledge and background, I said, I come from a very conventional mental health background and western medicine focused background, even with that, I just did not buy it.
I just said, that cannot be right. This cannot just be like a spontaneous thing that breaks in your body randomly without cause. I just didn’t believe it. Somewhere in my heart, I knew there had to be other answers. So, I really struck out on my own. I just said, you know what, okay, if Western Medicine does not have answers for me, if they’re just going to say that I’m going to be sick the rest of my life, I don’t buy it and I am going to figure this out on my own. That was the start of my journey.
[00:10:01] Detective Ev: Wow! A lot to unpack there.
First thing I gotta start with is just the fact that I totally understand this validation aspect. Because in one sense, since you’re going through all of this, it is kind of, I guess quote\unquote “nice” to get a label. It’s like, okay, this isn’t just I’m crazy or something. Because that’s unfortunately what many of us end up thinking because of this stuff. But no, oh no, there is something here. But then you get to this other end where you’re saying, okay, well there’s something here they don’t have many answers for.
Mast Cell Activation: Taking Matters into Your Own Hands
I used to emphasize this point all the time on the podcast, Jen. You saying this actually made me realize I need to do this more and extract it out of people more. So, you talked about how even with the Western Medicine background, you just knew this didn’t make sense. Obviously, you weren’t buying it.
I, again, always try to emphasize this part as well. I am not saying to people or our audience that you just blatantly shouldn’t trust your doctors or make your own decisions because these people are professionals, and Jen’s not saying that either. What she’s saying makes sense. She gets a quote\unquote “diagnosis” that really is not a formal diagnosis in a certain sense, because there’s no treatment, there’s nothing to really do with it. In a certain way, they’re kind of giving you an idiopathic label. It’s like the IBS thing where it’s like, okay, we can’t do much, but here’s a name for this that we’re starting to figure out.
At a certain point, it is appropriate to not buy certain things or not stop at those conclusions. Because quite frankly, what’s your other option? I mean, you’re not going to get better with what they’re offering because there isn’t anything at that time. So, I don’t think it’s inappropriate at all. I think it’s very appropriate to take some matters into your own hands.
And what we see on a similar, it’s a little bit different, but it’s a similar concept, is we’ll also see people, Jen, and I’m sure you’ve worked with many people like this, they are dealing with this stuff for 10, 15 years trying to get a diagnosis. No one can ever figure it out, or they got seven of them and the treatment is not working.
Mast Cell Activation: Mislabeling
That’s another really common place where I think it’s appropriate to trust your gut and say, wait, I am doing everything these people have been talking about. This still isn’t working.
If you don’t mind, I actually want to go back a little bit earlier in the story too. Like I said, there’s a lot to unpack there. I know Lindy might not have told you this. Lindy is the person that got us connected, for those listening. We really relate here quite a bit with the symptoms that you’re talking about. Mine started a bit earlier in life, but conceptually similar to the symptoms.
I was dealing with panic attacks; it was actually one of my first mental health symptoms. Which knowing what I know now is kind of odd because, normally, it does start with a more generalized anxiety. The generalized anxiety came years later for me. I went from totally fine most of the day, most of the week, to full out panic attacks and then would be fine again for another week. It was very strange how that happened.
But I want to bring this up again just to help some people out there listening, or maybe they share this with someone, or whatever. You said specifically how I had always been anxious, but I never had a full panic attack. And I think nowadays as anxiety and mental health is getting more awareness, which is a beautiful thing, by the way, I’m in that space. That’s one of the things I try to do outside of FDN. But the downside of it is we get a lot of mislabeling of things that are not anxiety attacks, or sometimes people have anxiety attacks, and they think they’re just too stressed. There’s a lot of mislabeling.
Mast Cell Activation: An Intelligent Immune System
So, when you brought up that idea of a panic attack, it really feels like you’re going to die. It feels like there’s an urgent emergency. If I don’t do something, something bad is going to happen. That’s pretty scary, right? Like, you meant that literally when you called them dread attacks, correct?
[00:13:36] Jen Donovan: Yes. And this is actually such a common symptom of mast cell activation that a lot of people don’t recognize. I mean, your immune system is in a complete crisis state by the time you develop something like that. It’s kind of an extreme end of like, something’s probably been imbalanced in your immune system for a very long time. Right? But when it gets to this critical point, that’s when you develop these conditions or these constellations of symptoms that end up becoming something like mast cell activation.
Your body is kind of in this constant low grade, like almost anaphylaxis. And if you look at the symptoms of going into anaphylactic shock, It’s a very psychiatric experience. You get this overwhelming sense of dread in your body, that is like one of the primary signs of going into anaphylaxis. And it’s because your immune system is intelligent. It is telling you, hey, something is very, very wrong here that needs to be addressed immediately.
So, if you have a very serious imbalance in your immune system and your body is reaching a critical state, it’s going to give you those sensations, right? It’s going to communicate to you through that mental experience, and it’s going to make you feel like you are in this crisis state of panic and dread. Because it’s trying so hard to get your attention and it hasn’t been able to any other way.
Mast Cell Activation: Physical Symptoms Leading to Panic
[00:15:06] Detective Ev: Listen, I’m not an expert and everyone knows that. I think, hopefully, the listeners actually appreciate this. I’m not an expert in a lot of things in the health space. I’m good at the functional medicine side, but I’m always learning.
And we’ve really only had one other person on named Nicole, she’s a clinical advisor for FDN, that has come on and actually talked about mast cell in depth. It was actually the main point of that podcast. But I didn’t hear her talk about all this because her story is just different.
What you’re saying is kind of fascinating to me cause it’s very rare that I feel like at this point in my own personal journey, I’m getting enlightened for my own symptoms. I’m always getting enlightened in other areas, but I’m like, for my own journey even, I’m thinking about what you’re saying. I’m like, well, wait a second. That was one of the biggest issues I had as a kid is I’d walk around and what they called generalized anxiety was because I felt like I was having trouble breathing, I mean, constantly. This wasn’t just a panic attack thing.
There were multiple years where this was just occurring on a daily basis. It took me out of sports. If I had to wear a helmet for when it was super-hot outside, I always felt like I was choking and something was happening. And these almost felt like very real physical symptoms that led to panic, not really the other way around. So, I honestly had no idea that this was so correlated with the anxiety side or what seems like anxiety. And I’m not saying that that isn’t an element here.
Mast Cell Activation: Our Bodies Are Talking to Us
But just to be clear, you are saying that a lot of the symptoms of maybe a generalized anxiety or a panic type thing could actually be this mast cell thing. And then of course it actually causes anxiety because it’s so scary. Is that correct?
[00:16:36] Jen Donovan: Oh, absolutely. I actually think that it can even get as extreme as like a lot of people who have really intense mast cell flares, for example, they’ll actually feel a little bit psychotic, you know? And I actually really think that a lot of our mental hospitals, a lot of our people who have treatment resistant, so-called, mental illness, are actually having mast cell activation. Sometimes it is very, very psychiatric.
I mentioned that I thought like, oh, I just have mental health issues my whole life. Now that I look back, symptoms like being very obsessive or compulsive in your behaviors, whether you fit the official criteria or not, but just kind of those type of behaviors, having very dark, intrusive thoughts that just kind of come out of nowhere, sometimes they’re accompanied by suicidal ideation, sometimes they’re just very disturbing or violent or negative to yourself, kind of thoughts, these also can be symptoms of elevated histamine levels in your brain.
It really completely changed my life to understand the body in this more holistic and systemic way. You know, I was a mental health therapist. Everything I had learned about mental health suddenly came crashing down of like, oh my gosh, this is actually our body talking to us in a lot of cases.
Mast Cell Activation: Looking Back on a Baseline of Weird Symptoms
[00:17:58] Detective Ev: Yeah. You really got me thinking. This is actually kind of fun.
I don’t want to get too ahead, but I know that there’s something that Lindy was going to team up with you for our practitioners, which we’ll mention at the end. Now I’m like, darn it, another thing, I’m going to go through.
I’ve never studied the mast cell thing in depth, and I’ve never heard anyone connect this in this way for me. And I’ve been studying this for nine years. Again, maybe it’s just, there’s so many stones to overturn in the functional medicine space. Right? You get one condition; you could study that for 10 years and you’re still not halfway an expert into it.
But I’ve never heard someone describe what I felt so well where it’s like a lot of this did seem like these almost allergy type symptoms. I felt like I was just reacting to everything. The physical symptoms seemed real, and they caused the anxiety. Now, eventually my conclusion was, well, mental health issues can cause physical symptoms, which is also true. So, it gets confusing cause it’s kind of a chicken or the egg thing.
But looking back, especially in those teenage years, I know what I felt at that time, and it felt like I had this constant baseline of weird physical symptoms. The breathing thing was huge. When you said that, that’s really what got my brain lighting up. I’m like, I always felt like I was having labored breathing. What did you call it? Air what?
[00:19:12] Jen Donovan: Air thirst. Yeah, it’s very specific.
[00:19:14] Detective Ev: Air thirst. I know exactly what you mean and it’s scary as heck.
Mast Cell Activation: Defending Against Invaders
[00:19:18] Jen Donovan: Yeah. It’s really like hypoxia, on a cellular level. I mean, it can also be accompanied by wheezing and more classic asthma symptoms.
And I had my lungs tested. I was like, I’m suffocating; I can’t breathe. When I had my lungs tested, they were like, well, you seem a little tense, but your lungs are working fine. I’m like, that cannot be right. But it’s really happening on a cellular level a lot of times with this.
[00:19:41] Detective Ev: Okay. Well then let’s dive into this more. And thank you again for sharing your story with this stuff and connecting this for people.
Jen Donovan: Yeah.
Detective Ev: With the mast cell thing, I understand that if I ask you what is the cause of this, it’s probably, we’re going to continue to research this. It’s going to go deeper and deeper and deeper as time goes on. So, maybe the best way to ask this is from your understanding now and your expertise, like, what does seem to be causing this in people? Because it’s a pretty serious thing from my understanding.
[00:20:06] Jen Donovan: Yeah. And like I mentioned before, I really see this as kind of like the last-ditch effort of your immune system to save your life in the face of extreme toxicity. Because even if you think about allergies, even as extreme as anaphylaxis is, I mean, obviously anaphylaxis can be fatal, it’s a serious thing. But your body is actually trying to defend you against some kind of invader that it is perceiving as being very dangerous. And your body is always going to have your short-term survival in the forefront of its mind.
Mast Cell Activation: The Perfect Storm
Like, long-term thriving is not necessarily your body’s goal. It’s great if we can get there and I think we all should be able to get there. But really your body is focused on how are you going to survive this moment, this next minute, this next hour. The body will make you chronically ill if it thinks that is going to save your life in the short term.
So, when we have something like mast cell activation, when things get that serious in the immune system, usually it’s because there has been an onslaught. This is something that tends to develop after things have been going wrong for a while. You know what I mean?
It’s like, usually, in my experience, people, and this was my story too, they kind of have everything. They have bacterial overgrowth, they have parasites, they may have like a chronic viral infection, they probably have heavy metal toxicity. And then on top of that, usually, some kind of history of trauma or chronic stress.
There is definitely a personality type that I’ve found. I mean, I’ve worked with hundreds of clients with mast cell now and there’s definitely a personality type that I relate to very much of people who tend to be very extreme, very all or nothing, who really will go all the way with something, you know? And their bodies tend to have extreme reactions. Their nervous system kind of gets stuck in this pattern of doing all these very intense things and then crashing and doing all these very intense things and then crashing. There is this perfect storm of this high toxicity and this chronic nervous system dysregulation that really feeds into itself.
Mast Cell Activation: A Place of Despair
Because once your body starts seeing the world is threatening, it’s going to react that much stronger to things that should objectively be innocuous. That’s why people can get stuck in a corner with this kind of condition. I was like this too. You know, at my worst I had less than ten safe foods, I could barely leave my house cause I was just reacting to everything. I was wearing a mask outside before it was the thing to do because I was just reacting to everything I smelled or came in contact to.
People can get really trapped, and clients are like this too, where it’s like, okay, I can eat these five foods and stay in my house and not use any products. It can be a place where you get a lot of despair. Cause you’re like, how can I possibly get out of this bind at this point?
[00:22:58] Detective Ev: Nicole had talked about this as well. You guys are both describing this. And maybe I was and don’t know, but you’re talking about this reaction to the environment as well.
I always hated the strong chemicals and stuff. My mom, God bless her, loves cleaning, like literally loves it. So, she would use those strong things. It bothered the heck out of me. She was being nice, she was trying to make sure the bathroom is spotless for my sister and I, cause we shared one as kids. But the chemical smell would get into my room, and it would bother the crap out of me. I never, to be clear, contributed that directly to a reaction. But those things always bothered me or the scented candles or whatever. That’s kind of interesting.
Mast Cell Activation: Skin Issues
Where I can relate to this though, cause now I’m quite frankly dissecting this, is the foods thing. I’m like, you know what? I did the same thing with the foods; it became so extreme. It actually took a while.
I don’t know if this is something that your clients or yourself relate to, but almost psychologically it took me a while to get out of this. Like, oh wait, no, I can expand my foods here. Because you almost become so safe with it, or you feel so safe with it. It’s about as safe as like a zoo, right? Like, you have everything that you need, but you’re still trapped in a certain sense. So, it’s like a pseudo safety. You don’t really want to be there, but it’s the best that you know.
I just remember realizing, dude, we can try other things now, man. I don’t know that it was extreme reactions in terms of like the breathing stuff even, but it was like acne and skin issues. Is that something that would typically happen to someone with this, or is that not the case always?
[00:24:20] Jen Donovan: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, that was actually one of my first major physical symptoms I noticed and one of the last to resolve is these big welty rashes and hives. That is very common.
Basically, your skin will often get very red and swollen. Sometimes it’s a lot of really little itchy hives. I personally usually had the bigger, really painful swollen welts all over my skin. Yeah, it can manifest in a lot of different ways, but it’s very common to have those kind of skin symptoms as well.
Mast Cell Activation: The Holistic Route
I would also say, just what you were saying about the food, how it becomes like this comfort zone, right? And I think that it’s important to remember like, again, some of the symptoms of this are being pretty obsessive, compulsive, and being very anxious and fearful. This is a symptom that happens with high histamine levels because your body is on alert trying to be aware of any potential threats in your environment.
But then that makes it very hard to try anything new, or kind of veer off what you feel like is your little, tiny safe zone you’ve created for yourself. So, you can see how this illness can really perpetuate itself without a whole body, holistic intervention.
[00:25:36] Detective Ev: Okay. You obviously, I know this now, have completely shifted the career in a certain sense. You’re still supporting these people just in a very unique and different way. And I noticed like multiple certifications, clearly well versed and studied in this stuff.
So, I guess the bigger question is how did you decide that this is what you want to go do as work? And then we’ll talk about what that actually looks like for clients and patients. But I’m more curious, like, when did you decide, hey, I’m going to go from, Jen, the therapist to Jen, the holistic person? Like, this is cool.
[00:26:06] Jen Donovan: Well, I’ll bring it back to mental health. I decided to go a holistic route in terms of trying to find treatment for myself. And I knew nothing about alternative medicine at that time. So, I was really just like Googling things and reading blogs really at that point. You know, it’s just how a lot of people start.
Mast Cell Activation: A Doorway to Deep Transformation
At first, I was still kind of using an allopathic approach where I was like, well, let me try different supplements, or let me try this magical superfood that’s supposed to help my immune system. But honestly, I just kept reacting to things. I was still looking for the magic pill at that point, just through a more natural, so-called, lens.
But I hadn’t really shifted my whole mindset yet. I knew that I obviously was experiencing a lot of anxiety and trauma and stress from this whole experience. Because I am a trauma specialist in terms of my mental health work and I do a lot of nervous system regulation practices, I really launched into doing that work for myself. And so, I started really delving into a lot of these somatic nervous system practices just to try to get myself a little more calm and grounded through this massive life crisis I was going through.
I actually had this really profound experience that happened when I was really lying still, when I was engaged in some of this somatic nervous system work. I don’t know what we want to call it, but I just had this message basically come through to me that was like, look, this is an opportunity.
Like, this illness is your doorway to really deep transformation that you have actually needed to do your whole life and you’ve resisted. Basically, like, if you do not take this opportunity, you will just keep getting sicker because this is the universe extending a hand, being like, hey, there’s another way to be, there’s another way to live. You have to go through this illness kind of as the initiation to that. That just completely changed my entire approach.
Mast Cell Activation: Dissipating Mental Health Symptoms
I started seeing this as like a way to actually become a better and healthier person than I had ever been before in my life. And at that point, it didn’t even really matter if I got better or not. I just realized that things really needed to change for me no matter what the outcome was.
So, I just was like, okay, I’m going to start from scratch. I’m going to start from the beginning, start rebuilding my diet, rebuilding my lifestyle. I cut out all the processed foods I was eating, stopped drinking alcohol. You know, I’ve been sober for like seven years now, so it doesn’t seem like a big deal. But at the time it was like a really big deal to just do those basic things, cut out sugar, cut out alcohol, cut out the processed foods, all these high inflammatory foods. I started doing a low histamine diet just to try to get my symptoms under control.
The most bizarre thing happened, even though I was still incredibly reactive and severely, chronically fatigued, and all these dysautonomia symptoms, my mental health completely changed. That was the first thing I really noticed. Suddenly the anxiety and the obsessions and the compulsions that I had had my entire life, and it just made me identify as just, oh, I’m just a mentally ill person, they just started dissipating.
That was just an astounding experience for me, and it made me rethink my entire career. Cause here I had been doing all this talk therapy and nervous system regulation work with my clients, and I still think that’s really beneficial.
Mast Cell Activation: A Beacon of Hope
I’m not saying that therapy isn’t important; it is. But suddenly I was like, wow. I was a mental health therapist who could not fix my own mental health issues. And I start going back to the foundations and just making some basic changes in my diet and my daily lifestyle, and suddenly everything shifted in a way it hadn’t before. So, I was like, all right, that’s it. I bought in. Like, there is a world of knowledge here that I need to just completely delve into.
I was so sick at that point that I really wasn’t working hardly at all. And I was really lucky that I had some support where I could really dedicate myself to healing for about two years. So, I really put my career on hold and just dedicated myself to getting better for about two years. And once I got into remission, it was kind of one of these things where it’s like, well, I could go back to my career as it was, but now I kind of know too much. You know what I mean?
And I saw that people don’t understand this condition, you know, people really don’t. There’s not a lot of recovery stories cause this condition is so debilitating and so severe. So, I just vowed to myself like I have to be that beacon of hope for other people who are out there suffering without answers. I just reoriented my entire career towards helping other people on the path.
[00:31:02] Detective Ev: This is beautiful. I love this. This is probably my favorite part of doing these interviews with people because we have some crazy stories on here, right?
Mast Cell Activation: The Gift of Passion
Like, you can talk about this now, but I hope people truly understand what you’re saying. This isn’t a short timeline. This was like the bulk of your life you’ve had some symptoms. Then went through hell with this at one point, turned it around, and still are positive enough to say, oh, you know what? Now I’m actually going to go use this to serve other people. I think that’s the gift that us, as practitioners, are actually given throughout all of this.
Yes, we will go through a crazy part of our life. But if we are willing to do this work and the investigation, then come out on the other side, the gift that we are given is that most people wake up every day, unfortunately, and go to work that they are not passionate about and not excited about. I have the gift, you have the gift, of being able to wake up every day, and I do not know what it’s like, in seven, eight years, to say what it is like to go to quote\unquote “work”. I wake up and I’m excited. I’m on a mission, I’m on a journey. It’s clear with every word that you say that you’re in the same boat.
And so, okay, you decide that this is what we want to go do. You talked about two years, and fair enough, there’s a lot going on. How does this look now for people that you are working with or people that go through your stuff?
Mast Cell Activation: Long-Term Work
Because I’m sure you were kind of like me and many other people that hop on this podcast, we’re kind of fumbling around in the beginning. We’re seeing what sticks here and what sticks there. Like, okay, this didn’t work; this made me worse; and this actually works phenomenally. I’ll keep doing this.
So, how do we apply this now for people that are dealing with these conditions? How do you help them so it’s more concise and structured as opposed to just seeing what sticks?
[00:32:47] Jen Donovan: Oh yeah. I learned a lot along the way for sure. And I was lucky. I did end up finding some really key mentors that did help point me in the right direction.
I started learning about the gut microbiome, which is huge. That is like the foundation of a lot of the nutritional work I do, is helping people rebalance the gut microbiome just to get their immune system rebalanced. So, yeah, I really found some good pointers along the way. But yeah, it was a ton of trial and error.
But also, like I said, I mean this, once you get mast cell activation, like your immune system’s kind of on its last legs. And the body does not work on the timeline of the modern world. This stuff takes time to rebalance, to settle, and then to actually start healing and repairing. This is long-term work.
And I think that people who approach this with like, I just need to get better. You know what I mean? Like, I just need to fix this and get better. Honestly, in my experience, those are the people that don’t heal.
Mast Cell Activation: Effective Interventions
But people who come to this and say, okay, this is a long-term, full, mind, body, spirit shift that I have the privilege of doing for myself, it doesn’t actually matter what happens to me in the long term, I am going to self- actualize into the person that I always had the potential to be but never really was given the opportunity to become before, those are the people that heal. And that’s really how I had to take it.
I knew I had really deep faith, but I don’t even totally know where it came from. You know, I just had this innate sense of like, I know I’m going to recover. Like, I don’t care how long it takes, I know that my body is capable of healing. It was the only thing that made sense to me. But I really tried to approach it as like, this is just my journey in life. This is just my journey that I’ve been given, and I am going to completely rebuild my mind, body, and spirit, and will see what happens.
So, obviously, in all my experience now, I’ve been working with clients for almost five years now. And with my own journey, I do know the most effective interventions through all that trial and error, research and learning. So, I have put together some very concrete protocols that I take my clients through. But I really try to have them approach it as, again, this is really just a transformational journey that they are making for themselves as a whole people.
Mast Cell Activation: Personal Development Journey
[00:35:16] Detective Ev: It’s amazing. Okay, it’s worded differently, but it’s identical to what I believe at this point, especially hearing so many stories, right? I get the privilege of talking to all these people and it’s always the same thing, at least from the 30,000-foot view. This is as much a personal development journey, if not more, than it is a health journey.
If you think that someone like Jen can go from where she was at to where you’re at now without completely transforming the mind, body, and spirit, like you said, that’s just not going to happen. This isn’t, oh, I added a few foods to the diet and then took a few out and now I’m cured. That’s ridiculous.
This is severe, and that’s why I was trying to restate this a little earlier, you know, basically the last question that I had asked. We talk about these stories now, almost matter of fact, like, oh yeah, this happened in my life. It’s like, no, dude, this is serious. So, the transformation to get to the next place, is it possible? Yes. And is it worth it? Also, yes.
You used the word privilege. I think it is a privilege. Because again, we get that there’s many aspects. You could say the career side, if you choose to do this as a career, not every client will, of course, but if you choose to do it as a career, that’s a privilege.
Mast Cell Activation: An Embodied Gratitude
I think one of the real places that the privilege comes as well, and it applies to clients and practitioners alike, is we all kind of know, and I don’t mean to get too dark, but let’s just call it what it is. If you’ve dealt with the stuff that you’ve dealt with and you had the mental health side on top of it, I’m sure you and I both relate in that we’ve probably had some unfavorable thoughts about our lives at one point.
You know, do I even want to be here anymore? I’ll put it that way. When you get to the other side, and now again you’re waking up every day excited, there’s a gratitude for life and just the simple things that, again, I don’t think most people get to understand just because they don’t have the contrast.
I’m like, I know what it is like to wake up every day and, one, feel like hell. But two, just think, what’s the point of me being here? Now I wake up, man, going and playing something like pickleball. I’m like the happiest dude in the world. And most people are when they play pickleball; it’s amazing. Shout out.
But it’s just the simple things in life, just being able to wake up and, wow, I can breathe. Wake up. Wow. I’m not in chronic pain. I’m not freaking out cause I wasn’t able to sleep more than two hours last night. There is an embodied gratitude that you can’t fake from that. And it just makes your experience for the rest of your time here all the more better.
Mast Cell Activation: Start with the Foundations
So, I know that we can’t give away all the secret sauce, and this is, again, very complicated. If we had to give any advice though to someone that maybe is dealing with the things that we’re talking about today, Jen, and they’re listening and they’re like, you know what, I want to work with her, I just gotta get this figured out first. I need maybe some basic tips cause maybe they spent a bunch of money, I don’t know. Where would be the best place for them to start?
[00:37:55] Jen Donovan: It is really the foundations. I mean, I’ll just go a little more into my story to explain how I developed my own Six Support Protocols that I use with clients.
You know, I did eventually find a naturopath that I worked with that was one of the first clinicians that didn’t just want to give me antihistamines and call it good. You know, it was really like, no, you’re right. There is a reason that your body is doing this and we’re going to figure out the root cause.
And so, I spent a ton of money on testing, you know, as you do. Basically, everything came back positive like I said before. It’s like, oh, you have parasites, you have bacterial overgrowth. Oh, you have a chronic viral infection. You have heavy metal toxicity too. It was just so daunting. Like, it did help me be like, okay, wow! My immune system really is in crisis with everything that is going on inside my body.
Mast Cell Activation: Rebalancing the Microbiome
Suddenly, I have so much compassion for my immune system now. It really is doing its best to fight for me, you know? And it’s just, I have these extreme side effects from my immune system really trying to save my life against all these really devastating threats.
But you know, I think that a lot of times, even when it comes to natural medicine, the answer is, well here, take these two pages of supplements. Right? And like I said before, when you have something like mast cell activation, you are so reactive that that’s just not real for you. That’s just not something you can do. It’s going to make you so much worse.
And these heavy detox protocols that are often recommended as well, when you have this kind of toxicity, like way too hard on the body. When you have mast cell activation, you are so depleted, your body is so weak, your detox pathways are so weak and congested, like, that will often send people into an even deeper crash. I tried to do these things and it just never took. If anything, it would make things worse. So, it really was about getting down to the minute nuance of foundational practices. I had to really pair down. Nutrition is huge.
Like I said, a huge amount of this is about rebalancing the microbiome. I am a GAPS practitioner and I use the specific carbohydrate diet principles to help people rebalance their microbiome and therefore rebalance their immune system. But it’s really tough. I was eating like chicken and a couple vegetables and then like rice and oatmeal. Then it’s like, okay, well you have to cut out the rice and oatmeal. Then it’s like, great. That’s really so classic.
Mast Cell Activation: Nitpicky Nutrition
People out there listening who have mast cell activation, this will sound very familiar. It’s like, oh, I can eat carrots, bok choy, lamb, and then oatmeal, and I’m telling them to cut out the oatmeal. You know, that’s so, so scary. But it really is about getting into those minute details of really being specific with the exact foods that you’re eating.
I always say like with nutrition, you should only restrict as much as you have to get better. Like, you don’t have to do unnecessary restriction. But when it comes to something as extreme as mast cell activation, your gut microbiome is so imbalanced that you do have to be incredibly nitpicky with every single thing you eat because it is going to make a difference when you are at that level of illness.
So, I do have very intensive dietary protocols I do with people. Some people I take all the way carnivore. You know, I think that’s a really useful therapeutic tool for a short period of time just to get people stabilized. But I have other versions of a GAPS-like, or a specific carbohydrate-like diet that I will do with people within the parameters of their tolerance.
And I think that’s the biggest thing is meeting people where they’re at and not being obsessed with just trying to add diversity in the diet just for the sake of adding diversity. Sometimes you do have to really pair down to rebalance things, but it has to be done in a very strategic way that is going to allow you to expand in the long term.
So, I did this and my clients tend to eat very, very simple diets just to get that rebalancing happening. That’s the nutrition piece.
Mast Cell Activation: Nervous System Regulation Work
But like I said, this is really a mind, body, spirit thing. So, I do a lot of nervous system regulation work with people. Usually, people with mast cell activation feel like their body is trying to kill them, and understandably. I mean, especially if anaphylaxis is a part of your picture, it’s like, wow, why is my body doing this to me? So, you get into this very antagonistic relationship with your own body.
That is just going to make you sicker and sicker and sicker because now you have an enemy that is you, ultimately, right? And that is a state of distress that cannot be resolved. So, there has to be this huge reframing that happens where you start to recognize your symptoms as your immune system trying to save your life. It just sucks that it is so debilitating, and it causes all these debilitating symptoms as a side effect.
But if you can learn to collaborate with your immune system and see your symptoms as just messages, as communication devices, and start to work with your body, everything changes. Suddenly, all the really difficult, deep, hard work you have to do, again, it seems like you’re going into battle with a buddy as opposed to just fighting something that you can’t escape.
So, I do a huge amount of mindset work, nervous system regulation work. I mean, I could go on, but I have Six Support Protocols that I implement with people.
Where to Find Jen Donovan
[00:43:38] Detective Ev: Thank you. Okay. I want to kinda almost separate these two things. So, I know that obviously you take on clients directly and offer things for them. But we were talking about, off air, this thing with Lindy and this partnership, where it seems like you’ll almost be able to serve our practitioner base. I’m highly interested in this. So, let’s almost make the cutoff there because we have both people listening in our audience; I know that for a fact.
If someone is interested in working with you, they’re a client, they clicked on this because they searched for this on Google, our podcast came up and they’re blessed enough to hear this today, where can they find you for that? And then my next question will be, can we talk about what this partnership might look like with FDN and what you have to offer practitioners afterwards?
[00:44:18] Jen Donovan: Absolutely. So, my website’s wholebodyhealingwithjen.com and I have all of my different services.
I actually have a book out on Amazon that if people just want to get a little more of a feel for me and an overview of my Six Support Protocols, they can get that. It’s called Rebuild Yourself: Whole Body Practices to Heal Your Brain and Nervous System.
It is not specifically written for mast cell activation, although it will benefit you if that’s what you have. It’s written for a little bit more of a broader audience though, of just anyone that’s having issues with the gut-brain access. So, it’s more focused on mental health and nervous system health and all of that stuff, but still very, all-encompassing.
Then I do, like you mentioned, small group intensive coaching programs; they’re six-month programs. They’re long and they’re very intensive cause the work I’m asking people to do, it’s a lot. And I find that people do better when they have really, really comprehensive support along the way.
So, you have a lot of access to me during that six months to make sure we get you through the tough times that come along with truly healing yourself. It really can be a hero’s journey in terms of like kind of going through the underworld to be able to see the light on the other side. I want to make sure that I’m really there working with people closely to get them through that and to really see the potential that is going to be there if they stick with it.
But yeah. You want me to talk about my course as well right now?
[00:45:46] Detective Ev: Please. I’m asking just for myself if nothing else.
[00:45:49] Jen Donovan: Yeah. So, honestly, I feel like, unfortunately, I wish it didn’t have to happen this way, but with Covid and everything that happened in the last few years, I’m really starting to see my purpose. Because I was in pretty much full remission by 2019 and starting to start my health coaching business.
Then what happened in 2020, right? So, what was once something that no one had heard of, mast cell activation, both from the virus itself and from the vaccines, now this is becoming a condition that a lot of doctors have at least heard of.
Jen’s Course & Community Forum
Honestly, I’ve seen it being like a damned if you do, damned if you don’t thing. Half the people coming to me with mast cell activation now got it from the virus and half got it from the vaccine. It’s all across the board. People are really struggling with this now.
Suddenly, I see my purpose where it’s like, I recovered from this just in time to be able to help the massive amount of people who are now developing this condition in the face of what’s happened over the last few years. I have just had my business exploding because I’m one of the few practitioners that not only has recovered from this condition, but really knows how to work with it.
So, I made my pre-recorded course called Rebuild Your Histamine Response, just to help get this information out there more quickly so I don’t have to meet with everyone personally to teach them how to heal that. You can just get on my course and get started. It has my Six Support Protocols on there that you can start walking through on your own.
It also has a community forum. It’s a really beautiful group of people that I’ve gathered on there. I think because I focus so much on mindset and personal growth as a part of the process, it attracts just really incredible people. So, it’s not your average chronic illness Facebook group. It’s a really lovely forum, very positive, very helpful. So, yeah, that’s out there just for people to get started on.
[00:48:00] Detective Ev: We’ll make sure all this is in the show notes. And if you are an FDN practitioner or trainee, stay tuned because there definitely seems like there’s going to be something here, I’m fully convinced.
Signature Podcast Question – More Exposure to Nature
To whatever degree I can push things along, I’m going to support that fully. And man, you nailed the timing even.
So, Jen, people know where they can find you. Incredible story today. Thank you so much for that. I want to finish up today with a more general question. It could be about the mast cell stuff, but it could also just be general, like I said, it doesn’t really matter. It’s our signature question on the show and we always finish with it.
So, the question I want to ask you, with all of the knowledge you have, all of this experience, all this research, if you could get every single person in this world to do one thing for their health, (so you could either get them to start doing one thing or you can get every one of us to stop doing one thing), what is the one thing that Jen would get them to do?
[00:48:53] Jen Donovan: I would want everyone to just have more exposure to nature. That’s really, really basic and all encompassing. But I really believe a huge part of our health crisis that we’re seeing today is because we are seeing ourselves as separate from nature. And truly like no matter how you look at it, whether it’s like the makeup of minerals that’s like in our cellular fluid, or whether it’s our microbiome,
we are an ecosystem, and we are connected to the ecosystem around us. I really think true healing is coming back into balance with our environment and with nature. And so if I could get everyone access to just a natural space, where they could put their feet in the dirt and get exposed to sunlight, I just think that would be transformative.
[00:49:45] Detective Ev: Perfect, I could not agree more. We could spend a whole podcast and a few probably, on that. So, Jen, thank you so much for coming on with us today.
[00:49:53] Jen Donovan: Thank you so much. This was a lovely conversation.
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