No, Seriously. Well, deep down many of these posts are, but sprinkled with humour, self-deprecation, and fun facts. But, I want to do a little shout-out of encouragement for all those people out there suffering from unknown ailments. Listen to your body – not your brain and not others. Feeling like crap and not knowing why is pretty much the worst feeling alive. You think it’s in your head, you get labelled a hypochondriac or fragile, and eventually you really believe that all your ailments are being caused from stress, or at least your inability to copy with it.
Many people, particularly women go through their life being labelled by mystery illnesses. They know they feel awful and they know what it feels like to feel good – but they don’t know what is causing the days they feel bad. Over the years it’s labelled as “hysteria”, “fits”, “dizzy spells”…we blame it on corsets, we blame it on periods, we blame it on boredom, and we blame it on the microwave. Being a girl and having battled some things on and off for 12 years, others my whole life…I know how frustrating this can be. The funny (and amazing) thing about the body is how everything is interlinked. Almost any ailment, be it seasonal allergies, be it cancer…will present with some of the same symptoms.
Your body only knows how to react so many ways; it is often a histamine reaction. So one way is through your chest, throat and sinuses. This can cause runny nose, congestion, watery eyes, impaired breathing and clogged ears. That sounds like a cold…or allergies…or asthma – right? It can be in the forms of chills, sweats, fever, aches, pains, muscle weakness, numbness, headache and nausea – sounds like the flu, ya? It can present in forms of skin and nail conditions – itchiness, flakiness, red skin, dandruff, weak nails, and odour. Well, that simply sounds like not enough calcium, the wrong kind of shampoo, or some sort of dermatological issue – eww gross. Lastly, it can present in forms of pain. Pain in your muscles, pain in your stomach, cramping in your hands or toes. This sounds like a nerve, stomach or muscular problem…maybe you pinched something, maybe you just worked out, or maybe you have food poisoning. If you ever have problems breathing, sore muscles, tingles and dizziness all at the same time, well then, you must suffer from panic attacks. Or maybe, just maybe….
Well, what happens when you present some of them all? Sometimes you blame it on flu, sometimes you blame it on stress, sometimes you blame it on a desk job, sometimes you blame it on past sports injuries…on your period, your birth control, your workout from the weekend, your big boobs, being a redhead or maybe, just maybe you blame it on monumental life changes. Sound familiar?
What happens when you have had telltale symptoms that something is wrong since you were a child and nobody ever took it seriously? Everything has a symptom, but the key here kids is finding out the cause, not the symptom. And, since that is difficult to do and since so many GPs aren’t specialists they just run down the usual suspects. Young teenage female presenting with migraines, weight loss, dizziness, fainting and fatigue? She must have anemia, thyroid, anorexia, or depression. Check. Answer – eat more, ditch your boyfriend and get some glasses. Women in early 20’s presenting with migraines, problems with effects of alcohol, and a 3 month cold that causes insomnia and frequent bathroom visits? Check. She must have the wrong birth control, stress at school, a chest, sinus and bladder infection. Throw her some sleeping pills, change the birth control and administer antibiotics. Check. Good enough. Women in her mid – late twenties presenting with increased fatigue, extreme muscle soreness, constant headache, numbness and neck pain? Check her for anemia, thyroid issues, talk to her about stress. Oh, she starts vomiting blood and can’t eat because of the pain? Well, I guess you can scope her, call it acute gastritis brought on by stress and virus, medicate her for 4 months and call it a day.
So, that little lady decides she needs to change her life. Obviously stress is a major problem; obviously her immune system is weak. Even though her vitals are healthy as a horse, she labels herself as fragile, decides she has a stressful job and takes up yoga and chiropractics. Well, 4 years later, it emerges again.
Since those mixed-up olden days, terms like “anxiety” have become synonymous with worry or coping with stress. How many people do you know now that no longer say “I guess I’m a worry-wart” and have switched it to…I guess I have an anxiety disorder? Might as well take a low-dose serotonin boost. Trust me, I have a family member…or 6 who have taken this route.
Up until now you didn’t want to make a big deal of it because you know what everybody is thinking. You know what whispers are going on about the state of your health and therefore ultimately, the state of your mind. You tell a doctor about the numbness and they tell you not to worry about it unless it’s constant. You tell a friend about your inability to breath and they tell you to do more yoga. You tell your mom about blood sugar issues and fainting and she says, yes, it runs on your father’s side of the family. You tell a friend that you seemed to have a very bad reaction to food or sleep-aids and they think you are trying to kill yourself. You tell your boyfriend that your shoulder is sore and they think you are trying to wheedle a massage. Scary words like (sshh…)…Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Anxiety Disorder, and IBS are thrown around…these are all the crazy people illnesses. These are all illnesses given to women who can’t identify an illness.
So, in case this wasn’t apparent. I’m that girl. I have spent years trying to self-diagnose and self-regulate some things I clearly wasn’t in control of. There are times it’s worse and during these times I know something is seriously wrong…but, others don’t necessarily believe. You are visibly ill, but it’s too often to be a flu. Your friend tells you that you must have SAD (I’ve always loved how that acronym relates to how people with it seem). But, when it’s better, it’s still only half good. I want to feel like I felt as a kid. I want to feel on par with the healthy life I actually lead. And believe it or not…I’m starting to get there.
For the first time in my life my new GP said, “This is a symptom, not the cause” and believed me when I said I may have a problem with food. I have seen an allergist, I have seen a nerve specialist and I have seen a naturopath. I have since discovered that some of my co-workers, some of my clients and some of my friends have been down this road too. One of my very good friends battled this all 7 years ago and knows that she needs sleep, she needs exercise and she needs to heavily moderate her diet or she feels like crap. And here I just teased her about her OCD…but terms like “hit by a truck” come out often when you eat the wrong foods. Somehow, by some strange new miracle I am becoming the “go-to-girl” for possible food-allergy reactions. I know more than I ever wanted to know about BIE, supplements and the horrors of Marketing in the food industry. Apparently it is unbelievably common for food intolerances to surface for women…and they get worse as they get older…and they get labelled as nuts in the interim. Aw, shucks.
So, I’m modifying my portions, I’m taking medications, I’m exercising. I am navigating through this new horrible and yet amazing world, but I definitely know when I’ve eaten something wrong. It’s difficult to pinpoint as most processed foods have sugar, gluten, and yeast in them, and well….I’m a foodie. There are differences between celiac, candida, fructose malabsorption and histamine intolerance. It’s amazing to discover how many people out there are suffering through the same thing. You can have severe allergies or you can have moderate ones that only present if you eat too much of a certain type of food. Food-related allergic reactions can also keep occurring for up to 2 days…so; try to pinpoint that suspect, GOOD LUCK.
But, as it turns out….I may have been poisoning myself for 31 years, definitely the last 12, definitely during times of stress. Good to know. I’m surprisingly upbeat about this most days because I see an end in sight. In fact, the fog has already started lifting. Not a miracle cure-all…it’s going to take hard work and patience friends (oh, and patient friends). But, hearing others say the option is work hard to moderate lifestyle or feel horrible all the time? I guess I’ll take the more difficult path.
Today is the first day of the rest of your life and I know for one I’m going to embrace that. I’m going to screw up, but isn’t that what life is all about?
The Ginga Ninja