I’ve had a really hard week, both physically and emotionally. While I’ve had anemia caused by iron-deficiciency for over a year, it has never, ever, kicked my ass as thoroughly as it has this past week. And in reality, it snuck up on me. I knew I was feeling more tired; I knew I was having more problems keeping up to my life. But it very, very quickly spiralled into something I had never experienced–an unignorable feeling of exhaustion, of tiredness, and ultimately it has let me, for the better part of the last week, unable to function.
I would not be surprised if other nutritionally-based deficiencies were able to kick peoples’ asses the same way that my iron-deficiency kicked mine. The problem with nutritional deficiencies, though, are that people automatically perceive that you are not eating properly. I have to be extremely clear here: I am in no way a vegetarian nutrition superstar, and I am NOT solely trying to defend myself. I know that I do not always make the best choices. But even if you see somebody’s nutritional choices for one hour, one day, or one weekend, you are not getting the whole story of what is going on in their overall life–or in their body.
Last Thursday, I hadn’t been feeling well–well, nor had I been as of Tuesday of last week, either. I was extremely tired, but for the most part was pushing through. Maybe I took a nap when I got home from work in the morning, and maybe I didn’t feel quite right, but I was functioning. It had happened before, and I assumed that eventually things would balance out as had happened before. I kept taking three iron supplement pills a day as I had been for the past six-plus weeks consecutively, and figured that I’d catch up on sleep over the next weekend, and that I was feeling run-down from spending the past weekend in the US with my coworkers. I got home from work before 10:30 that morning after a typical 7:30-9 shift, took a nap for an hour, and felt okay. Not great, but okay. A couple hours later, though, I was feeling much worse and made the difficult choice to ask my boss if they were able to cover me for the afternoon.
And thank God I did, because by 6:20 on Thursday night, I experienced some intense dizziness while doing dishes, and for some reason wandered into the bathroom. Where I nearly passed out and pulled a towel rack out of the wall in the process. In a flurry of dizziness, I stumbled from the bathroom to my bed where I spent the next nearly five days. I realize now that it is completely possible if I had pushed myself and gone to work when I wasn’t feeling right, I could have crashed at work.
I’ve slowly been recovering. Very slowly. I spent nearly five straight days in bed. Yesterday, I spent about eight hours simply sitting at my kitchen table on my laptop, and I was exhausted. I have never experienced tiredness like this, and the feeling of slowly coming back from a place where my body had become extremely depleted, of not only iron but potentially of blood. We’ve been in contact with my primary care doctor and my gynaecologist, both of whom I see tomorrow. I am working really hard at timing the consumption of my iron supplements better with added vitamin C, like I have tried previously, I am working at increasing the iron in foods I am eating . . . I am trying.
My diet may not be stellar. But it is only part of the story. And it is seemingly the only part of the story that people seem to want to pay attention to.
Because it has a simple solution. Because I can make the choice to modify that part. Because it is easy to lay blame.
I have spent a year beating myself up over this thing. About how my hemoglobin keeps dropping despite the fact that I’m taking the pills that frequently make me feel sick, that I am trying to modify other choices I am making. But the reality is, is if my body can’t keep up with the iron that it is losing, it is never going to be able to replace it regardless of how hard I try.
Regardless of how much I blame myself. How much I blame myself for not trying hard enough. How much I blame myself for not being more proactive in my medical care earlier. How much I blame myself for what has happened this past week.
Because it is easier to blame myself for everything, than it is to accept that I don’t have control over 50% of the problem. Because with any chronic disease, lack of control over the situation is half the emotional battle.
When you’re feeling physically exhausted, it is much easier to blame yourself and experience all the associated anger, guilt, frustration and sadness all that more deeply.
And it is much easier to lay that blame on yourself . . . when others are laying it on you too. When they’re lecturing you about how wrong you’ve been in the choices you’ve been making for yourself. And when it’s coming at you from all sides: family, friends, coworkers–people who are trying to be well-meaning, but are the ones who are completely contributing physical, emotional and spiritual burnout unintentionally.
I am already blaming myself. I do not need another lecture or a reminder that maybe I’ve fucked up.
And neither does anybody else with symptomatic iron-deficiency, or any other sort of nutritional deficiency or medical condition–yet many of us experience it too frequently.
I’ve experienced too many full on lectures or related comments from well-meaning people this last week. People who I love deeply, who I know are just trying to help me be healthy. But you know what? When my body is already feeling like shit, that means my mind is already feeling like shit: a lecture is not helping. What does help?
The support of my friends. I love all of the people in my world. But like most things, once the first couple days pass of being sick from whatever cause, people fade out. If you want to help, stick around–even if we are not too interesting laying in bed, we really do appreciate that you are taking the time to simply be there for us.
Being supportive doesn’t mean giving me a lecture on how to manage my health–you are not in my body, and you are not my doctor or dietitian. It can be as simple as talking to me about something completely unrelated to distract me from how I’m feeling, or shooting me a quick text. Or posting something goofy to my Facebook or tweeting at me. Or learning alongside me–it is so simple, but my friend Steve simply asked me “What foods in a vegetarian diet are rich in iron?”–not only was this in no way judging or condescending, it showed that he cared enough to want to learn more.
Support doesn’t have an agenda. Neither does friendship or love.
Note: This post is not aimed at anybody in particular. Its more about the force of accumulation.