It was an epic fail on my part and as an early fortysomething woman and mother, I should definitely know better. But it’s something we are all guilty of from time to time, no matter how good our intentions. Earlier this year, I didn’t look after myself and my health (both physically and mentally) failed in a spectacular way. I’m not talking about something serious or life threatening thank goodness and for that, I am very grateful. But after a period of intense work, taking on yet another job, setting up unrealistic expectations for producing and completing this blog and general crazy busy life/parenting stuff, I was diagnosed with a quadruple whammy of an infection I couldn’t kick, low mood, anaemia and wait for it… a vitamin D deficiency – whoppee.
I know, I know, it’s very ‘zeitgesty’ to talk about and reveal ‘feeling down’ these days. Everyone is at it. But surely this is the point? After all, part of the problem is that people feel so alone with it, so any transparency can only help to reinforce the notion that it’s entirely normal and can affect anyone. I for one, am all for this new era of openness and honesty about the subject and think it should be embraced.
It’s a lot to reveal in one of your first posts but I thought I might as well stick my head above the parapet a little, what else is a personal blog for I guess? In fact, I felt total relief when the doctor acknowledged my feeling low, as it gave me the permission to let go, shelve everything (to a degree) and get the rest I desperately needed. Many friends who’ve been through the same also speak of this sense of release.
I’ve spent nearly all of my adult life being aware, interested in and committed to, what it means to live a ‘healthy life’. There have been a few, fun, intentional and unintentional detours along the way for sure, but health in all its forms has always been fascinating to me. Blame it on growing up with a doctor for a dad and a nurse for a mum. Our household lived and breathed medicine. Despite not becoming a doctor myself (much to my poor dad’s disappointment, though I did work in health to some degree), the health bug (argh) remained. So much so, that recently a GP asked me during a consultation, if I was in fact, a medical professional myself. I almost punched the air with an inner smugness (at least dad would have been pleased).
Anyway, “Me Time”, “Self-care” – modish phrases, bandied about for years now, have really hit the big-time lately via social media and the like. I’m not ashamed to say I’m a total sucker for them. Probably because I know they are things I never quite fully and consistently achieve and am in an eternal search for the golden formula to do so (I love a Sisyphean task, me).
Of course everyone’s notion of self-care and health differs, but you can exhaust yourself with a rigid, bordering on obsessive ideal of what this should be. And the ongoing quest and yes the guilty dialogue we have with ourselves to be fit and healthy, can sometimes add to this stress. I totally fed into this earlier this year and I’m certain it contributed to the quadruple dose of aforementioned health issues. Back in March, I felt I had to look a certain way to appear ok in photos for the blog, so ‘prepped’ myself by cutting down on calories just a little, eating a low carb diet and upping a rigorous exercise regime of HIIT classes and power plate – all things that worked for me in the past. Tiredness and an uncharacteristic lack of motivation for everyday things meant I forgot to take the vitamins that I swear by, causing things to spiral. I wondered why I felt so ‘off’ – turns out it’s hard to function with a haemoglobin count of just 9.0. It is well known that iron is essential in the body to transport oxygen through the blood, so that explained the breathlessness I felt at times, which as a fit, active person, I found baffling.
One thing’s for sure, it’s clear that all these things fed into one another and overlapped like some pitiful Venn diagram. Aside from the crushing lack of energy, a low iron count has been known to contribute to, yes that’s right..symptoms of low mood and anxiety. And it’s not surprising to hear that anaemia is common in women of childbearing age due to the monthly cycle. So, I was prescribed a high-grade ferrous fumarate iron supplement by my GP three times a day to bring iron levels up to par, as well as a vitamin D tablet. Vitamin D deficiency has also been liked to depression and a host of other health issues including musculoskeletal health and even cancer. According to medical research one in five adults in the UK population are deficient and advice last year from Public Health England concurred that adults and children (aged one and over), should have ten micrograms of the ‘sunshine’ vitamin every day throughout the year.
Aside from all this, what shocked me the most, was how quickly I went downhill after feeling a bit under the weather and crucially how incapable I was of being the anchor to our busy, noisy little household. No child likes to see their mum laid low in bed for a week, even though it did give mine some respite from requests to turn off the TV and do some homework.
So I learned the hard way, the consequences of failing to look out for myself, pushing myself unrealistically in every department and trying to achieve perfection for an imagined ideal situation. Eventually something gives, you suffer and so do those close to you.
Though I’m sure I’ll get back to it, I’ve haven’t done any rigorous exercise for weeks now – doctors orders! And it actually feels good to let go. My world didn’t cave in because my regimented regime went to pot for a bit and I looked fine in the photographs for the site (I sucked my stomach in a LOT and the photographer was a genius). Above all, I’ve learned a good lesson about adjustment. My new approach is still prescriptive, in that I take my vitamins religiously each morning, and make sure I’m eating properly and regularly. However, I’ve chilled out a lot more on the exercise front. I walk more (great for the soul). I play badminton in the garden with the children and run around the house playing Nerf wars with them (also good for the soul but not the paintwork). When I’d normally be rushing frantically in the car after the school run to get to an exercise class, scrabble to park and hit the ground running with no warm up – instead last week, I drove to Brighton for a change. I got myself a coffee, sat in the sun for my dose of Vit D, browsed the shops (with no mewling boys in tow) and walked along the seafront. Now *that* really was good for the soul.
Now I’ve got my mojo back and am back to my old self, I’m sure this will change when I feel the urge to do something more vigorous, or when I realise even my elasticated waistbands feel tight. But for now, all of the above works well for me, and more importantly, it will do just fine.