I posted last week on Instagram about my experience these past several months with vitamin depletion and got so many questions and feedback that I want to go more into depth about it all here. If you haven't yet read my story yet, check it out HERE for a high level version. Long story short - after dealing with several months of escalating fatigue, mental cloudiness, lack of energy and subsequent depression, I went to a functional medicine doctor who diagnosed me with vitamin deficiencies in several very key areas. For the past 5 months or so I've been following a specific protocol of vitamins and other new routines to help get me back on track.
I want to talk a little bit more about that journey here, because although it may seem that I just started taking a bunch of vitamins and was cured, it actually has been a much greater effort than what you may see on the surface. I'll explain a bit about why I chose a functional medicine doctor, then wrap this up with some absolutely huge lessons I've learned this past year that have completely shifted my entire mindset toward wellness.
*Disclaimer*: I do not have an MD, and am not a qualified nutritionist. What you'll read in this post is simply a reflection of my own experience. We are all vastly different, if you are feeling that something might be off with your health, I'd start with a qualified medical professional and take it from there.
The Diagnosis: If I'm being honest, my lethargy and mental cloudiness started over a year ago. The first time I gave voice to my concerns was in my annual exam with my OB. As with many western practicing doctors, she only had a few minutes for me and in that short time together we didn't really have a chance to go into the detail that I really needed. Of course, I didn't realize that at the time. She surmised that it was probably a mixture of hormones and some depression, and sent me off with a prescription for Zoloft. I just assumed this was the best course of action, but looking back I knew in my gut that it didn't feel right.
I started taking a light dose of the Zoloft, but it really didn't do much. I started feeling more and more depleted and soon my hair started falling out in clumps. I was eating quite healthy, and just couldn't understand what was happening to me. It got harder and harder just to get through the day without sleeping, and my appetite for things that usually light me up - reading, cooking, writing and exercise really started to wane. Toward the end of the year I made an appointment with our local functional medicine doctor -- Dr. Allison Fox -- and settled in to wait.
Short Aside: At this point, I decided that my next step should be with a functional medicine doctor because I wanted someone who would give me the attention and time to really look into the issues I was having. Someone who would pay close attention to my own bio-individuality rather than the disease or illness. I believe that functional medicine is going to become more and more common as people seek to become more proactive about their health, and frustration with our traditional health care system grows. Not to mention the drastic increase we are seeing in chronic illness.
In my first meeting with Dr. Fox she asked me a litany of detailed questions and listened for over an hour. That alone felt so good to me and was something I desperately needed at that point, as I was starting to feel like a crazy person! She ordered specific blood panels based on our discussion and we scheduled a subsequent meeting to review them. When the results came back, they indicated that I was low in several very key vitamins. I was surprised, but so very relieved to finally have a plan. Why the low vitamin levels? It's likely a mixture of things, but the short story is that my plant based diet although very healthy was leaving me without several key vitamins that I needed. Apparently this is extremely common with folks like me who aren't necessarily vegan...just eating less meat. I never realized that I needed to be so proactive about upping the vitamins I may not have been getting or eating more to compensate. Admittedly, my nutrition was starting to look like borderline orthorexia followed by strange episodes where I just wouldn't care at all what kind of junk I ate...almost in retaliation. Pair this with my tendency to push myself constantly in exercise and life, well it pushed me right over the edge. At the time, it seemed normal to me but once again, in my gut I knew that things were very out of balance.
The Treatment: Based on my symptoms and the results that my blood panels have shown (myalgia, iron deficiency, Vitamin D deficiency, Vitamin B12 deficiency and anemia), Dr. Fox recommended a specific protocol for my treatment. However, we also discussed trying to rotate in other self care practices in order to get back to stability, and I now feel they are also a key part of my recovery. It has taken months, and some adjustments but I can now say that I'm finally starting to feel more like myself. Although the vitamins have been a key part in my recovery, I also now feel strongly that the other pieces below have helped me greatly.
1. Vitamins (these were specficially recommended to me by my doctor):
Ortho Molecular "Balance" to help balance menstrual related fatigue and symptoms
I also take daily greens supplements from Hum nutrition, as well as probiotics.
2. Accupuncture - I started off seeing an accupuncturist about once a week, and now go every other week. Believe it or not, I had never done accupuncture before all of this but my doctor recommended it, and I truly took everything she said very seriously. You can read more about the benefits here, but I have found it to be a much needed way to relax, reduce anxiety and take a break from the fast moving current of my life. I see this as another person on my "team" who listens to my symptoms with compassion and proactively tries to address them. I can't tell you how good it feels to receive that kind of care from a positive and higher vibe professional.
3. Exercise - This is a big one. As I became more depleted, my interest in exercise had started to wane. As many of you reading this probably know, I did Beachbody programs (at home workouts) for quite a while and those worked beautifully for me during a season in my life when it was just too difficult to get out to a gym or classes. During the time last fall and winter when my depletion issues were at their worst, I found I just could not muster up the motivation to workout at home. I also knew that I was craving the connection that comes with getting out of the house to exercise. It also bears mention had also been recently trained as a yoga instructor, and felt very conflicted with that and my "need" to teach (more on that in another post ;)).
Once my vitamins started kicking in a little bit in late spring, I began exploring classes outside of the house such as Orange Theory and pilates. I found these did wonders not only for my physical health and strength but my entire mindset. Finally I was getting back to something I loved. Currently, I have found a newly opened gym a stone's throw from my home that is run by seasoned fitness professionals who prioritize bio-individuality and health as a lifestyle versus the "more is more" and appearance driven approach that seems to be so pervasive today in the world of fitness. I have invested in training sessions and am getting strong every day. I've always been very intimidated by personal training, but the benefits of working with someone who knows my background, my goals and actively helps to keep me from pushing myself too hard (always my instinct) are immeasurable. Once again, another person I see as part of my wellness team who will treat me with kindness and comes from a place of healing energy rather than negativity.
I've also started playing tennis again, walking, bike riding and just doing the things that brought me joy as a kid. If this summer has been about one thing it's finding the joy again in physical activity versus feeling like I have to follow certain rules or a program to reach a specific goal. For me now exercise is very much more about the journey and a way to maintain my mental health and strength rather than reaching any goals or a remedy for poor nutrition.
4. Therapy - This is another huge topic that merits its own post, but for me this has truly been an instrumental piece of my road back to feeling good again. Aside from a brief stint with a therapist in my early 20s, I've never done this before. Being able to talk with someone in this way has been such a release, and help for me. I'll talk more about this in the future when I'm ready but for now, I think it's safe to say that I'm now very happy with these weekly sessions. I am not on medication at the moment, but completely support that as a treatment if and when it is needed.
5. Meditation and Mindfulness - Meditation is still not easy for me, but I try to do it via the Calm app once a day. I also find that "softening" or just trying to remind myself throughout the day to grab minutes of calm - even just through a few minutes of breathing - can be so helpful. I also have been researching Ayurveda this summer, and am looking forward to integrating many of those practices into my daily routine this fall. You can expect to hear much more on that from me in the next few months.
What I Learned:
1. Health is not to be taken for granted. I have long considered myself a healthy person, but spent too long ignoring my intuition when it came to the way I was feeling. This experience has really taught me to get still and truly use my intuition to understand what is going on with my body. Even though I may be considered healthy on the surface, what's happening underneath the skin could be a very different story. I'll be much more proactive when it comes to my health now, as I go deeper into this journey of trusting myself.
The treatment for these deficiencies is not simple and it's still ongoing. However, I'm grateful for it all, as I'm now even more motivated to take all this learning and share it with other women who may be dealing with the same issues. A big part of my decision to get certified this year as a health coach can go right back to that moment of sitting in the doctor's office realizing that we all deserve to feel our best and get the personalized treatment we need.
2. True health is very much about a holistic approach, not just symptoms or a focus on one area. This is something that I've been learning a lot about in school, and I now know just how it looks vastly different for every one of us. For me, it means mindfulness about my nutrition but also looking at exercise as a way to stay strong mentally and also being committed to therapy, accupuncture and any other self care that I may be needing.
3. Slower is better. For me, never taking time to rest and be gentle with myself led me down an entirely wrong road. I see now that approaching health as a day by day approach to feeling good is best - versus trying to reach some long term goal. I am learning to not wrap my identity up in how productive I am or my "work", instead I'm focusing more on my intuition and what I am contributing to the world.
I'm so looking forward to sharing these lessons I've learned in the coming months. In sum, although I have been frustrated frequently on this path, I wouldn't trade it for the world. I've learned so many lessons that could never have come from reading or anywhere else - I had to live this experience myself. I see it now as a gift, one that I can share with other women so that we can all live the unique life we deserve.
Is there anything else I can share about this experience that may help you? Feel free to ask in the comments below, or let me know if you'd like to see more on this topic.
Much love and as always....