I’ve seen a few posts over the last several months from bloggers I admire sharing their personal health stories to help spread awareness. And for that reason, I am feeling inspired to share mine. Mostly because I had to stand up for my health. I knew something was off and I went to several different doctors before finding one who was willing to listen and run additional testing. I’ll explain below.
First, I want to start off by saying that I am generally a healthy person. Things could much worse. My results are just a bump in the road and I am truly grateful for all that my body allows me to do and accomplish.
Recently, I got a bit of news that sheds light on what’s been going on over the last few years and explains why I have a plethora of symptoms that have recently become my new “miserable” normal. Obviously, the results weren’t what I wanted to hear but it was a breath of fresh air to have affirmation that what I was experiencing wasn’t totally fictional.
Let me start from the beginning …
Fall 2015 I had just set a personal record at the Portland Half Marathon and my spring training was going better than anticipated. In the gym, I was feeling strong, healthy and fit. Above all, I was feeling fast! With the Chicago Spring Half in sight, I was really pumped for the flat course as I was hoping to build off last fall and possibly PR again.
Unfortunately, a few weeks before the race, I got strep throat. It totally knocked my socks off. Despite being ill, a few weeks later, I did the Wanderlust Mindful Triathlon, hopped on a plane that afternoon and got up the very next morning to run the Chicago Half. I’m elaborating quite a bit here on this piece of the pie because this is where it all started going south. That race was a different kind of difficult. A blanket of fatigue fell over me that still exists to this day. Running really hasn’t been the same for me since.
After the race, work got more stressful, I started my blog as my passion project, I was hosting charity workout events around town, we sold a house and bought a new house, moved, got engaged, started planning our destination wedding … yada yada. All mostly really exciting life moments but additional responsibility and stress nonetheless.
Not long after, I started spotting between periods. My anxiety got worse, I started having trouble sleeping at night, I felt even more lethargic, I was bloated and had gained weight around my lower mid-section, I was always freezing, I got melasma on my face and my immune system weakened — I was always getting sick. I simply wasn’t feeling well.
My mother and many of her siblings have thyroid issues so I immediately went to my gynecologist to get some answers. We did blood work + my annual and everything checked out okay. She didn’t seem worried and told me to get on birth control to regulate my period. I simply said thanks but no thanks and left feeling a little discouraged.
After that first visit, I did research on my own. I started reading articles, read books like Woman Code (<– highly recommend!) and listened to podcasts on the topic. I realized quickly that we didn’t check off all the boxes. First off, we only tested my TSH, which is only one tiny piece of the thyroid puzzle. Additional testing needed to be done to measure T4, T3 and Free T4. We also didn’t do any testing to rule out PCOS, ovarian cysts, fibroids or endometriosis.
After moving to Portland and realizing this, I found another gynecologist to hopefully help me out. I had originally wanted to see an endocrinologist but no doctor would refer me. So during that appointment, I made sure to check off all the boxes to get peace of mind. I also wanted to do hormone testing to see why the spotting was occurring but this is something I could not convince the doctor to do. At this point, Chance and I were married. Not only did I want to feel 100% again but I also had our future in mind in the form of family planning. The doctor told me if and when I had trouble conceiving, only then would they consider hormone testing. I just found that completely unacceptable. Why wait until after the fact? Why not be proactive? Especially if it is the root cause of many of my symptoms.
I left feeling even more discouraged. I knew that I had to get to the root of the problem so that I could start feeling better. This is when I decided to see a functional medicine doctor (naturopath). This approach considers many factors of health and disease, taking into account physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social and other factors. Naturopathic physicians seek to discover and address the underlying cause of a disease, as opposed to treating symptoms as isolated and unrelated problems. I was extremely wellness curious by this point and also desperate so I knew this was something I had to give a try.
After my first visit, I immediately felt at ease. I had someone in my corner. Someone that believed me and wanted to genuinely help me. We discussed family history, all my symptoms, my lifestyle, my diet, how I exercised and how often … etc. After chatting, we came to the consensus to do hormone and cortisol testing. And after that, we’d further evaluate my gut, since I was already diagnosed with IBS in 2006. (Gut health is responsible for the critical functions of the body’s digestive and immune systems, beneficial bacteria in your digestive system have the capability of affecting your body’s vitamin and mineral absorbency, hormone regulation, digestion, vitamin production, immune response, and ability to eliminate toxins.)
In conclusion, my results showed that I have a hormonal imbalance. Additionally, my cortisol levels are also elevated and higher than the normal range at certain times in the day. This information supports that I have Adrenal Fatigue, also known as HPA-D (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal dysfunction). HPA-D can be caused by chronic stress. And not just mental and emotional stress from daily life but also things like anxiety, illness/infection, inflammation and excessive exercise (overtraining) to name a few.
For me, I think it was a combination of things that created the perfect storm — work + life stress, gut issues, overtraining and illnesses like chronic sinus infections.
In the next post of this series, I will explain what HPA-D is and how it affects the body. I also plan to share more about my plan of action moving forward too. But the moral of the story is, listen to your intuition. You know your body better than anyone else. If something doesn’t feel right, stand up for your health. Seek attention from a doctor who is willing to listen and come at your symptoms from all angles. Get a second opinion, or a third and do your own research. Become informed and above all don’t give up.
I hope that sharing my story with you might inspire you to look deeper into your own health because knowledge is power when it comes to how we are feeling in our own bodies. Your “normal” does not have to be less than stellar or miserable.