HOW TRYING TO HAVE PERFECT HEALTH ALMOST KILLED ME
My whole life is about health. I study it. I help others build it. And I strive to improve my health every day. So how did my attempts to be healthy go so terribly wrong?
The beginning of weird health problems
Both of my parents are vegetarian. So naturally, I was raised as a vegetarian. I never thought much of it. I didn't eat hamburgers or steak or bacon. As a result, my cholesterol levels were low and my blood pressure was immaculate. So In my early 20s, when I started to have health problems, I combated them the only way I knew how - by getting even healthier.
As I continued to improve my eating and exercise habits, I started to develop a strange pain in my ribs, I had to pee frequently, and my hands developed this itchy, burning sensation at night.
I went to the doctor, who tested my fasting blood sugar, my liver function, and my gallbladder. The doctors found nothing and sent me home with a clean bill of health.
My health problems grew
A few years went by and I started to get really tired. My memory was failing me, I had weird issues with hormones, itchiness, and digestion. Again I went to the doctor. They tested my blood for Thyroid issues, diabetes and gluten intolerance. When they got the results, they told me I was dehydrated and needed to eat better. So I did.
When it got really scary
A few more years went by and I started getting migraines. I began to get tingling and numb sensations in my arms, legs, and back. My hearing would get fuzzy when my heart rate elevated and I started getting vertigo regularly. My back pain - which I'd had since about age 7 - was spreading to my hips and shoulders. And my memory... wait, I can't remember what I was about to write.
This time the doctors seemed quite worried. They sent me to get an MRI and did another blood test. They found nothing. "You must have hurt yourself at the gym", they said. So I scaled back my workout routine.
I am now the "healthiest" person I know
As this point, I ate more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains than any person I knew I ate mostly organic. I made sure to eat a range of colored fruits and veggies. I did an experiment where I ate 356 different types of plant foods in one year.
I also exercised 4 days per week, every week. I did both cardio and weight lifting. I did dynamic stretching before working out and static stretching afterwards. I kickboxed. I walked to work.
I studied happiness and well-being. I learned how to think positive and be resilient. I learned to manage stress and figured out how to work part time to have better work-life balance. I had good friends, a loving family, and a wonderful husband.
I didn't consume caffeine and I used Stevia instead of sugar. I rarely drank alcohol. I didn't smoke. I slept 8 hours every night. I buy bath products without cancer causing chemicals.
I even donated all my polyester clothes to charity and started wearing 90% natural fibers.
And you know what? I still felt like shit!
Is this what living feels like?
I was only in my early 30s, but I had accepted that this is what living feels like. I told a friend that I had had chronic back pain my whole life and she was quite concerned. People asked me what I did last weekend or what my favorite part of the movie was that we just watched, but I couldn't answer... I didn't remember.
Finally, I went to the mountains with some friends. I had to stop to pee every hour. My long-time friend joked that I had a small bladder. I had to pee 20 times per day, maybe more. The lie I was telling myself - that this is normal - started to fall apart.
This can't be normal
One afternoon I dug up 2 of my old blood tests. With a little help from Google, maybe I could find some answers.
Hmmm... MCH was flagged as high. MCV was high too (this is when my doctor told me I was dehydrated.) Both blood tests (spaced 1 year apart) clearly showed that I had Macrocytic anemia.
It turns out that people develop Macrocytic anemia from a vitamin b-12 deficiency. But, to develop this type of anemia, you have to be deficient for at least 2 years!
Now, as I sat on my couch reviewing these results, another 6 years had gone by.
Every single symptom I had has been linked to vitamin b-12 deficiency. You see, b-12 is makes DNA, keeps cells healthy, and helps create hemoglobin (the tool that transports oxygen around the body). Without vitamin b-12, the body can't make myelin or red blood cells - leading to a host of neural and bodily symptoms... and even death.
And you know how people get vitamin b-12? From eating animal products. I had been a vegetarian my entire life. I had eaten healthy... I had done this to myself. A simple multi-vitamin could have prevented this all.
The rocky road to recovery
After an entire lifetime depriving my body of vitamin b-12, I know that recovery will be long and slow. It is likely that parts of my body will never recover.
I feel sad that I didn't catch it earlier, angry at the doctors who missed it, and scared that the damage can't be undone. But the only thing to do now is to move forward.
Recovery Week 1:
Recovery is really weird. My body is kind of shaky - like when you drink too much caffeine. It doesn't know what to do with the extra energy. I didn't really think I felt tired before (although I do sleep a lot). That's just the way Ive been my whole life.
And unfortunately, my symptoms are worse since I started taking b-12. Apparently this means the b-12 supplements are working. Some people say that the cells are "waking back up" and that recovery is like experiencing your symptoms is reverse. Indeed, the patches of numbness across by body are more widespread than ever. Now, as I am writing this, the back of my left arm - shoulder to wrist - is numb. It feels like when the dentist gives you Novocain and it's starting to wear off. So when I poke my arm, I don't quite feel the full impact of my finger.
And my memory? It's pretty freaky right now. Yesterday I was wondering why my friend hadn't responded to an email about our dinner plans this weekend. So I checked my inbox. She actually had responded... and I had already replied back to her. I have no recollection of this.
And my knees really hurt. My knees used to hurt a lot when I was in elementary school, but not so much since then. Had that been an early symptom? Am I getting the feeling back in my knees? I didn't even realize I was missing feeling in my knees. And that's kind of scary.
I've decided to write this down for a few reasons. First, I don't want to forget. I have this vague recollection that I discovered this deficiency years ago and have since forgotten about it. I do recall that I took b-12 supplements for a while. I recall that some symptoms got better and others got worse, which is similar to what I'm experiencing now.
The second reason is that these symptoms have been denied for years. The doctors said I was fine, so I changed my definition of "fine". I don't want to do that anymore.
The third reason is because I really do care about health. I'm hoping that this can be a learning experience for me and hopefully help others from making the same mistakes.