Cary woman details fight with copper toxicity

Deb Sheesley Tokarz of Cary holds up her book, "I CU Copper".
Deb Sheesley Tokarz of Cary holds up her book, "I CU Copper".

CARY – It begins in a hospital bed in the aftermath of a suicide attempt. This story is nonfiction and is part of Cary resident Deb Tokarz’s journey to find a reason, and to find sanity.

Her book, “I CU Copper,” tells the tale of her battle with uncertainty and life-crippling symptoms in search for answers in relation to an unknown and undiagnosed case of copper toxicity. The book incorporates 15 years of journal entries dealing with this hidden attacker.

In her early 20s, Tokarz began taking birth control pills to help manage her endometriosis. The added estrogen from the pills was a catalyst to the roller coaster of severe anxiety and depression that Tokarz would endure, on a never-ending loop, for nearly 30 years.

“After I began the birth control, I went into sudden despair,” Tokarz said. “I had no idea what hit me. I had just gotten married and moved into a new apartment. There were many things going on. I didn’t attribute any issues to the birth control pills because they were giving me relief.”

Tokarz experienced high levels of anxiety, depression and fatigue. Doctors prescribed her anti-depressants. She didn’t know anything about anti-depressants and only associated them with the thoughts of that time, that it meant she was crazy.

She thought she could deal with it on her own. The symptoms worsened. She was constantly on edge and became a severe perfectionist. Feeling out of control and without hope for relief, Tokarz attempted to take her own life. Fortunately, she survived.

Tokarz would recover only to return to an even worse state. What doctors didn’t know was that Tokarz is estrogen-dominant, which means her levels of estrogen outweigh the level of progesterone in her body causing an over-abundance. It doesn’t sound extremely serious, but without this knowledge, Tokarz was increasing her copper toxicity. She was creating the perfect storm of events to keep her in a constant spiral out of control.

“The reason copper was causing such an issue is because I’m estrogen-dominant,” Tokarz said. “Estrogen causes copper to remain in the body. I didn’t know I had copper toxicity. I was living with it unknowingly. Copper leads to high amounts of stress which leads the body into fight or flight, making it hard to calm down. The copper would attack my adrenal glands causing tiredness and attack my neurotransmitters causing depression.

“When I went to my doctors, unfortunately, for any mood-related symptoms, they would automatically prescribe anti-depressants which would actually make it worse. They don’t think copper toxicity.”

A copper-toxic person has high levels of copper in their system. The copper in the body is retained instead of naturally eliminated, causing it to build up. This can lead to minor as well as severe physical and mental issues, can cause long-term health issues such as kidney or brain damage and can even be fatal. Not having this knowledge, Tokarz essentially was poisoning herself unknowingly.

“It’s also called copper overload. It’s very different from Wilson’s disease that doctor’s do know about,” Tokarz said. “This is the copper unbound that floats around like a free radical which has devastating effects on mental health.”

When she became pregnant with her daughter, Tokarz began taking pre-natal vitamins. They contain estrogen, causing estrogen-dominant Tokarz to hold more copper in her system, increasing the copper toxicity. More copper also naturally comes into the body to support the pregnancy, again, increasing the copper overload. After the birth of her daughter, Tokarz fell into a deep postpartum depression.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Tokarz said. “I just kept trying to find help, but the answers weren’t there.”

On her second pregnancy, Tokarz was again in a state of fear and anxiety, but this time, at an even more severe level. She was nearly 40.

“I became more copper toxic and I imploded. I thought I was going crazy,” Tokarz said. “I was fearful for myself and my unborn child because I didn’t know what was wrong. I terminated the pregnancy out of fear, for myself and fear for my child.”

Tokarz said she basically went into a state of PTSD. She was living with guilt and shame from the termination, she was severely depressed and didn’t know how to make the constant severe anxiety go away. She left her job that she loved, ending her over 20-year career in human resources. She was at her lowest point but knew she had to pull through and get some answers.

“I felt I couldn’t do it anymore. I was struggling so much and not understanding what was going on,” Tokarz said. “I gave up my career and had to figure out why my life was spiraling out of control. My daughter was the driving force. She was the reason I kept searching for answers and trying to be healthy. I lost a child and my career already and my marriage and relationships were in trouble. I had to do something.”

Tokarz decided to go on anti-depressants which turned out to be yet another mistake. Anti-depressants heighten anxiety in copper toxic people. Tokarz gained weight and developed restless leg syndrome on top of it. She felt like a zombie, for 8 years. Wanting to feel again, she stopped taking the anti-depressants. She felt again, but they were only feelings of anger.

Soon after she went through menopause and was experiencing night sweats and hot flashes. Enter hormone replacements, which contain large amounts of estrogen. The anxiety and depression were back in full swing. She was not prepared to go back on anti-depressants. Tokarz needed to address the cause, not cure the symptoms.

“I searched the Internet looking for doctors treating depression naturally,” Tokarz said. “I found a group of MDs that treated biochemical imbalances naturally and they also now treat holistically. When I walked in, they said right away that they thought I was copper toxic but needed to confirm.”

After nearly 30 years of searching for answers, Tokarz found herself in a doctor’s office, where they were searching for the cause, not just treating symptoms.

“This was the first doctor that ran any tests,” Tokarz said. “I had been to countless doctors over the years and none of them ran a single test. They found that I was highly copper toxic and estrogen-dominant, and they told me I was lucky to be alive.”

Near the start of 2013, Tokarz started a targeted nutritional supplementation plan to get the excess copper out of her system and normalize her brain chemistry. They rebalanced her nutrients and started her on a proper diet. Did we forget to mention that Tokarz was a vegetarian and vegetarian diets are high in copper?

“I started feeling better right away,” Tokarz said. “There weren’t any side effects like on anti-depressants. It took about 4 years for labs to come back normal but I kept feeling better every month, every year. Once my body got balanced again, I was able to eat meat again. I was so out of balance the copper gave me a distaste for meat and zinc-rich foods. It was a slower process and you have to be patient and work with it, but it works. My symptoms are almost non-existent today.”

Tokarz’s doesn’t hold back from telling every trying detail of her search for answers in “I CU Copper.”

Her husband of 37 years, Joe, and daughter, Natalie, were very much in support of her sharing her story, though Natalie was oblivious to many of the details until she read the book.

“It put a huge strain on my marriage,” Tokarz said. “I was in a dark place for a long time. I hid my depression from Natalie for a long time. I was trying to be brave and strong for her. She doesn’t remember my depression stage because I did hide it, but when we talk about it now, and me being open and telling my story, she just says ‘mom, everybody has problems’. She’s very proud of me for writing the book and trying to help other people.”

In October of 2017, Tokarz joined a co-working organization to pitch her book idea and see if it might be worth pursuing. She did a think tank with the group.

“I was nervous but once I got up there and started talking about it, they told me I had to tell my story,” Tokarz said.

A month later, her father, Bill Sheesley, died. She put the project on hold. In early 2018, she picked it back up again as a distraction from his death, penning the book as Deb Sheesley Tokarz in his memory.

“I wrote it to create an awareness so other women don’t suffer unnecessarily,” Tokarz said. “One of the reasons I went into detail and shared such personal moments is because there are so many people suffering from depression and anxiety that I want to get people talking about it and sharing their experience. It’s the only way we can get doctors to listen. Traditional doctors don’t test for it.

“They don’t learn about traditional supplementation in medical school and they’re not going to test for something they’re not going to treat. One of my biggest hurdles was having doctors listen and hear me. No one was understanding. No one was connecting that my issues were hormone-related. They kept treating the symptom and not the cause.”

The 210-page “I CU Copper” was released by Eckhartz Press on July 1. It is available for purchase in paperback at eckhartzpress.com, debtokarz.com and mensahmedicalstore.com for $20.

Though her road was a long one, the now 60-year-old Cary resident feels lucky to have found the answers she needed, and wants to help others that might be dealing with these unknowns.

“I feel blessed. I did survive and that’s why I want to help others. I have to do it. I want to and I have to because I did survive this. It brought me back to my faith. There’s a reason I’m still here. I’m meant to create this awareness.”

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