Posts Tagged ‘Women’s Health’

This Brain of Mine

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I had some concerning dizzy spells pop up in December. These persisted for weeks and weeks. The dizziness was so persistent and intense that I stopped driving for a couple of months just to be on the safe side. I went to various doctors and had lots of tests to try to find out what was going on. We finally got to the bottom of it, but December through February were difficult months with all of the dizziness, doctors, and medical appointments.

It was difficult to know what was going on and whether the dizzy spells were anything truly worrisome or just one of the non-life-threatening quirks of being me. Considering my infertility saga, my ongoing issues with depression and anxiety, and my IBS, I seem to have a lot of non-life-threatening quirks of being me.

I’ve had dizzy spells like this in the past and I’ve seen doctors about them in the past and never really got answers about why I was having dizzy spells. All the obvious causes were ruled out. I was healthy–wasn’t that great?! But it’s frustrating to be told that my tests are “normal,” when the dizziness in my head has me feeling really off-kilter. I don’t consider “off-kilter” to be a normally functioning state.

Nobody ever said it, but whenever I got my dizziness checked out in the past, I always felt like the implication of the “normal” test results was, “it’s all in your head.”

In time the dizziness would pass on its own and I would go back to normal functioning, not really clear about how or why I got back there, but grateful that the dizziness was gone. Life would go on for weeks or months at a time before another dizzy spell would come on.

Sometimes the spells would come just once and then be gone and that would be the end of it. Other times, the dizziness would come in spell after spell, over and over, multiple times a day, for days at a time. These times were more rare, but always got my attention in a way that forced my hand to seek medical attention whether I wanted to or not.

It was one of those spell-after-spell, day-after-day times that crept up back in December. I felt this dizzy offensive provoking me to go to my doctor but I resisted it ever as hard as I could. I did not want to go through one more round of tests that would all come back normal. I knew the message I would hear was that this was all in my head.

But, I tell you, there is something wonderful about community, about family, about my dear husband, in particular. He saw the way I was suffering from my dizziness, the way I was barely making it through each day, and he urged me to get it checked out. So I did.

I started with our family medical practice and right away something felt different about the care I was getting. After describing some of my symptoms, I asked the doctor, “Does that make sense?”

“Anything you say makes sense,” he replied. “It doesn’t fit what I know to diagnose, but anything you say makes sense.”

To me, him saying, “Anything you say makes sense,” were the most important words of the entire appointment. It was as if he said to me, “I believe you. What you’re experiencing is real. It’s not just in your head.” Well, that’s what I heard anyway. Those words encouraged me to persevere from there to the Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist (ENT) to which I was referred.

The ENT I saw was also very supportive and encouraging and gave me that same, “I believe you” vibe. I was so very grateful for his approach. He ordered some tests. Those turned out to be normal except for one having to do with my balance system. Nonetheless, the ENT felt strongly that my symptoms indicated a neurological cause, so he referred me to a neurologist.

That’s when things got serious. I mean, I thought I might have an inner ear problem, and now all of a suddenly, we’re talking about my brain!

A lot of doctors will tell you to stay away from the internet. “Don’t google your symptoms,” they say. And I know a lot of folks freak out when they read about diseases on the internet because they imagine the worst.

But I’m not one of those people. The internet is my friend and it’s a very helpful and informative friend at that. I read medical articles with a grain of salt and only look at trusted medical websites.

Reading about symptoms and causes helps me get a better understanding of what I might and might not be dealing with; this gives me peace and helps me take charge of my health instead of just waiting around for my next appointment. So I was thrilled when my ENT offered a couple of possible neurological causes of dizziness and suggested I look them up online.

There are a lot of neurological causes of dizziness. Some of them are pretty serious, even life-threatening. It was good to know about these–even the life-threatening ones. Quickly I realized that a lot of the worst neurological causes of dizziness didn’t fit my symptoms, so that was a relief.

Still, my dizziness remained a bit of a mystery to me.

When I saw the neurologist the first time she keyed in on some really obvious things about my health situation:

  1. I wasn’t getting enough sleep.
  2. I was way over-caffeinated.
  3. I had a history of migraines–since I was 8 years old.

“You’re a migraine sufferer,” she said. “You’ve had migraines since you were…” she looked at my chart, “8 years old,” she looked up and held eye contact with me.

“This is a hand you’ve been dealt in life,” she laid one hand inside the other as if holding a poker hand. “As a migraine sufferer your body is very sensitive to things like sleep habits, and how much caffeine you consume.”

And so she ordered me to get more sleep and wean myself off of all caffeine. Then she prescribed a new medication that is supposed to be really good for treating the dizziness associated with migraines.

She also ordered blood work, an EEG, and an MRI. She had to rule out all those serious and life-threatening neurological causes of dizziness, you know?

The EEG and MRI were loads of fun. And the price was right too! (Read those two sentences with a heavy dose of sarcasm.)

I felt pretty weary with all the tests I was doing. I had this growing understanding that my migraines were a bigger factor in my overall health than I had ever realized. I was frustrated that the doctors who investigated my dizziness in the past never linked it to my migraines! I was ready to just go with that diagnosis and not have to go through all the tests. But once we had set this neurological testing in motion, I had to see it through.

Finally though, when the blood work, EEG, and MRI results came back, everything was normal. There was nothing life-threatening wrong that we found! And that was great news!

So that meant we could be sure about the “dizziness associated with migraine” diagnosis. It was a relief to finally have a firm diagnosis for my dizziness. And it was a relief to know that if there was something going on with my brain, it was related to a condition of mine of which I am already aware.

Still, there was a part of me that felt embarrassed. Even though it was confirmed by a real medical doctor–a brain specialist even–that the cause of my dizziness wasn’t “all in my head,” the cause was something pretty obvious. I mean, I felt like I should have figured that out! My migraines are the longest-running, non-life-threatening quirk of being me of which I’m aware. Migraines have been part of my life since I was 8 years old!

I felt guilty for all that I put my family through just to find out that I needed to take better care of myself because I had been dealt the “migraine sufferer” hand in life. I actually already knew that in a way. I had done some work on identifying migraine triggers in the past and was really disciplined about those I knew about. I just didn’t realize how much my sleep patterns and over-caffeinating were messing with me. And I didn’t realize that the dizziness was a symptom of my migraines.

It was sobering to realize how out-of-control I had let my health become.

Since I started seeing the neurologist, I’ve worked hard at the changes to my sleep habits and caffeine consumption that the she ordered.

I can be a bit of an absent-minded professor type and forget to eat or sleep when I’m supposed to. I get easily absorbed and hyper-focused on one thing and forget about everything else around me. To get a project done, I would often end up working at late hours and consuming a lot of caffeine to see it through.

I thought this was all just fine, despite the fact that I was tired all the time.

At first, changing this pattern felt like an imposition on myself. I didn’t want to be bothered with a schedule! I’m a free spirit!

It was important to stop thinking about the changes as an imposition and to reframe this work as me learning to love myself (that old song by Whitney Houston, “The Greatest Love of All,” with the lyric about “learning to love yourself,” has been the soundtrack in the back of my mind). I needed to accept the non-life-threatening quirk of my migraines as an integral part of who I am and love myself enough to give myself the care that a migraine sufferer needs.

So I’ve been sleeping more and better and feeling more rested than I have in years. I dutifully weaned myself completely off of caffeine and my neurologist approved me to add back in one thing with caffeine per day. With my sleep habits being better, I don’t even miss the caffeine. I’ve also discovered a whole world of herbal teas that are naturally caffeine-free and simply wonderful.

The dizzy spells are down to once-in-a-while rather than the spell-after-spell, day-after-day, and for that I am truly grateful. And I’m glad that I know now how important my sleep habits are in the overall picture of my health, you know, as a migraine sufferer.

Learning to love myself has also meant lightening up about not figuring this out sooner. Even the neurologist said that the medical community is still learning about dizziness associated with migraine.

It’s hard work, but I’m trying to take care of myself the best I can, non-life-threatening quirks and all. I’m learning to love myself, to love this brain of mine, and to play fair with this migraine-sufferer hand I’ve been dealt.

When Infertility is Big Business

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I was at the hospital today (just visiting, that is) and by the hospital pharmacy was a sign welcoming IVF (in vitro fertilization) patients and it reminded me of how much the “business” of infertility treatment irks me.

Back in the day when my husband and I first sought treatment for our infertility problems one of the best pieces of advice we got was to decide ahead of time how far we were willing to go with treatment. We took this advice very seriously and tried to look at the situation from all angles.

(Before I go on, I want to acknowledge how very personal these decisions are for couples. In what follows, I am simply describing what we chose and not trying to tell anyone else what they should decide.)

We made two important decisions up front:

  1. We wanted to address my overall health, not just make a baby. My infertility condition is part of a syndrome–meaning there are a variety of symptoms involved. In other words, infertility is not my only problem. Women with this syndrome, called Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), are at greater risk than other women for developing a variety of complications as well. We wanted my treatment to deal with the PCOS on fronts other than the infertility issue.
  2. We did not want to do any treatment that would significantly increase the chance of multiple pregnancy. There is a progression of infertility treatments and the mildest options have very low incidence of multiples. We wanted to stay with the milder treatment options and were willing to accept not getting pregnant at all rather than risk multiples.

We’ve dealt with various doctors over the years with respect to my reproductive health. Most of them totally get our decisions and have respected them and worked with us within the parameters we have set.

But before we had our son there was one particular doctor who ignored our concerns about my overall health and pushed advanced reproductive treatments on us despite our objections. Pictures of babies–even multiples–lined this doctor’s bulletin boards while the expensive treatments lined the doctor’s pockets.

Meanwhile all the emotional ups and downs of treatment had left us weary. We were ready to revise decision #2 to be no treatment that involved shots or scheduled sex. We felt our marriage was on increasingly shaky grounds and we wanted most of all to preserve us.

People I know and love have had children through advanced types of infertility treatment. Babies are a gift, so I’m happy for them.

Still, it left a bad taste in my mouth when that particular doctor did not seem to care about our needs and values in the treatment process. The doctor just wanted to give us our little miracle even if that bundle of joy had to get sent to a broken home.

It was shortly after that appointment that we walked away from any treatment that wasn’t related to our decision #1. Consequently, I credit our decision to address my overall health with my eventual ability to conceive our son.

I know that infertility treatment can work. I also know it comes at great cost–both financially and emotionally. And while, of course, the couples that have successful treatments get the priceless gift of a baby, plenty of other couples go home with empty arms.

But either way, there’s big money in it for the professionals involved.

$o, of cour$e, welcome IVF patient$, we’re $o glad to $ee you.

Weighty Matters: Learning from My Body

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I’ve been losing weight and people are noticing. I’d like to tell you how this came about and what I’m learning from my body.

I see this as related to living out my faith because God created this body of mine, so to ignore my body is to be at odds with my creator. And really, being at odds with God just never ends well for me.

Some Background

I really, really hate to talk about this, but I have what is called Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). I hate talking about it because it is embarrassing to admit yet another way (besides my infertility problems) that my body doesn’t function properly, plus bathroom issues are just not a topic I enjoy–ever.

On top of that, IBS is a really frustrating diagnosis. Doctors don’t know what causes it, it’s not life-threatening, and there is no known “cure” for it.

There are ways of managing it, but they are often highly individualized solutions–the kinds that require a great deal of patient trial and error.

I have been in and out of doctor’s offices trying to get more answers. I wished for a long time for a different diagnosis–one for which the answers were more clear.

For quite a while I kept a food diary trying to figure out what foods made it better or worse. I could not find a pattern about specific foods, but in time I began to suspect that large meals exacerbated my symptoms.

Too Much to Handle

One might suppose that the solution was rather simple: if eating too much at once was a problem, then just eat smaller meals! While this sounds good in theory, it was harder in practice.

I did try to eat smaller meals, but I continued to have times when my symptoms would flare up and I was in a lot of pain. Still, the better I did at keeping my meals smaller, the better I felt.

I was actually doing pretty well until a few months ago when the pain got so bad that I ended up in the Emergency Room. It was pretty embarrassing for the only problem to have been my IBS.

New Discipline

After the embarrassing ER visit, I resolved to redouble my efforts to keep my meal size down. Putting less food on my plate was an obvious first place to start.

What I found though, was the most reliable guide for how much was too much was something even simpler still–to “listen” to my body. This was not something I learned as a kid in a family where the idea of “too much” of a good thing was laughable.

It has taken me a good deal of practice to actually key in to my body’s sense of fullness. And it comes surprisingly sooner than I would have guessed.

But in addition to the improvement in my IBS symptoms, listening to my body about my eating habits has also resulted in me losing some weight. I wasn’t looking for a weight-loss solution, but I’m glad that some good can come from this embarrassing condition.

Note: I am not a medical professional and my experience may not be typical. Please be sure to check with your doctor about your own weight and eating habits before making changes.

Secondary Infertility and Layers of Angst

I wrote on my blog before about my history of infertility and how I lament that I can’t have another child, I lament my broken body. And while that is true, there is more to it than that. I alluded to it a little in that previous post:

Is there still hope that I could technically get the right treatments, eat the right foods and eventually conceive again?

Probably.

See, that probability could be more in reach than I let on. I mean, there are some relatively simple steps with my health that I could take but I am not taking. And partly why I don’t do those things is because there is part of me that doesn’t want more kids.

I wrote once before about my history of depression and anxiety and how that is a factor in why I am reticent about having more kids:

I sunk to rock-bottom depression in my early days post-partum and at some point after having my son the anxiety kicked in…I mentioned before that my history of infertility is the biggest reason why I don’t have more than one kid, but this depression/anxiety stuff factors in pretty prominently too.

So, I’m disappointed yet a little glad that I can’t because I don’t want to anyway because I was such a depressed mess the first time around.

But there is more.

There is the part that I don’t want to tell but somehow I feel like God wants me to work out. There is the plain old reality that I just don’t want to for my own reasons.

I know my great longing is not a secret, because it is all over this blog. I want this blog to be something to serve others, but so often I am absorbed in all my own drama here. So I have already revealed what I really want.

I want to give birth to more speaking and writing.

You can have it all, just not all at once.And I just can’t give birth to that if I am to have another baby. They say you can have it all, just not all at once, and I believe them.

When my son was small, he required so much, so very much of me. From breastfeeding to bed-wetting, the demands were around-the-clock for so many of his younger years. Add into that the hours-on-end of hands-on involvement during the day–I took seriously the caution not to allow screentime until age 3, the advice to not leave a young child unattended even for a moment. So, I spent a lot of time right there with him, shaping his days, playing games, and telling him stories.

I don’t begrudge him any of that.

I just know myself well enough to know that if that was my reality all over again, then I couldn’t do the speaking and writing that I want to do, you know, with grown-ups.

My son is 9 years old now and halfway to college already! And with his advancing years, he is more independent than ever. Now he is reading fluently and can lose himself in a National Geographic while I write a bit. And the older he gets, being a guy and all, the more he wants to spend time with his dad–so that means more time for me to work on preparing for a talk I’m going to give.

My son still needs me, of course. But more of me is freer now than when he was little little. And I like it this way, this me-being-freer way.

So, why do I feel so guilty about wanting what I want and enjoying my freedom?

I mean, all the time, women of “normal” fertility decide to stop making more babies. They could have more, but they don’t. So, why do I, for whom baby-making does not come so easily, feel so guilty for “I don’t want to”?

Maybe it’s not the “I don’t want to” that I feel guilty about so much as the hiding behind the “I can’t” narrative.

Hiding behind “I can’t” has been an excuse to not directly seek God’s will. If I just stick to the “I can’t” script, then I don’t have to know what God wants for my future. If I can’t, I can’t, right? So God can’t possibly expect me to do what I can’t do.

But, what if I stop hiding behind, “I can’t” and just be honest with God about “I don’t want to because there’s other stuff I want to do instead”? What if I invite God into this complexity of emotion, into these layers of angst?

Ah, though, the trouble with that is what if God doesn’t affirm what I think I want to do? What if this whole speaking and writing stuff is just my will, my want?

I wrestle all the time with sorting out my motives. I want to believe that what I want is what God wants. I have an inkling that this other stuff is where God is calling me. I have a pretty clear vision about what that work might entail.

But for me, moving more fully into the speaking and writing entails having that baby-making stuff behind me. And until I stop hiding behind my assertion of “I can’t” and really ask God whether it is okay to not to, then what I actually can’t do is move forward in anything with any degree of certainty.

Lord, I submit this to you. Grant me the courage and confidence to know and move forward in your will. Amen

Hello Anxious My Old Friend

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I usually only have one commitment on Sunday mornings, but this Sunday I had three things for which I was responsible. I kept meaning to fit preparation for those Sunday commitments into my week, but the week went by with very little progress on my Sunday prep. When Saturday finally rolled around I was anxious all day about what I had to do on Sunday.

They say that anxiety is closely linked with depression. I have a history of depression, dating back to my teen years. I sunk to rock-bottom depression in my early days post-partum and at some point after having my son the anxiety kicked in. I have been on and off meds, and in and out of therapy. (I mentioned before that my history of infertility is the biggest reason why I don’t have more than one kid, but this depression/anxiety stuff factors in pretty prominently too.)

I’m better nowadays than I was even a couple of years ago, but I feel like I am still not back to my pre-baby self. The depression doesn’t surface as often as it used to and the anxiety, well some days are better than others. I can attest to the two being in cahoots because when the anxiety does kick in the depression buries me.

It works like this, I get stressed out about something I have going on. I am aware of what needs done, I may even make small efforts to do some of it. Still I don’t get done what I know I should because I am too anxious. Then I get depressed about not getting things done and I get really down on myself. The less I do, the more anxious I become. The more anxious I become, the less I do. This has the appearance of unforgivable laziness. I call this my shut-down mode.

So, that was my Saturday. I felt the weight of all that was coming for Sunday and I shut down for most of Saturday. Somehow, I managed to get everything prepped that I needed to do for my Sunday commitments and you know what, it wasn’t that much to do after all. And you know what else? My Sunday went fine, I would even say it went well.

That’s the thing about this anxiety stuff, it’s just not rational. There was really nothing to be anxious about! I learned early on in my anxious days that I need to pick and choose my commitments and focus on things that I do well. Everything I committed to today is stuff I do well. Not to mention the fact that our congregation is a loving, gracious lot by which I need not feel afraid or intimidated.

I sometimes think about getting back on meds or getting back to therapy, but when I think about that I get really anxious…