Ok, so I have a confession to make. For the last several months I’ve been pretty doggone sick. It started back in October right after the fires, but I’ve been through a number of seemingly unrelated phases. Breathing problems, high blood pressure, severe loss of appetite…the list goes on. As public as I tend to be with my life, there are certain kinds of vulnerabilities that I’d rather not disclose. But now that I’m one follow-up appointment away from being pretty sure that I’m ok, I’m more comfortable telling this part of my story. Plus it makes my recent twitter messages come less out of left field.
My problems really started in October, when I found myself unable to fall asleep because I’d catch myself forgetting to breathe. I was certain this was due to stress because I was going through a nasty breakup, had a minor nervous breakdown, was organizing a BarCamp, and oh yeah…San Diego caught on fire. During all this I happened to have my blood pressure taken at my eye doctor’s office, which they said was “a bit high.” I started monitoring it at my local drugstore, and I started consistently staying around 140 over…I never remember the bottom number, so let’s just say it was 140/bad.
I got even further behind when I flew to Virginia for Thanksgiving. The day after I got there, I seemed to come down with a wicked case of food poisoning. I was able to manage myself by the time my flight was scheduled to leave, so I expected I’d get my strength back in a couple of days. But I never did. I stayed fatigued and without much of an appetite until a month later, I had another digestive fire drill (think about it…”everybody out”). After the third time, I started calling them “episodes” and became officially concerned.
I started going to the doctor sometime in the middle of January. I admitted up front that I expected all my health issues to be related to stress, but he informed me that I was almost a classic presentation of hyperthyroidism, so he sent me off for bloodwork. On a whim, the doc did some airflow testing as well, which I apparently failed miserably. That got me a chest xray and more bloodwork, but all of these results came up clear.
By this point, I’d already lost almost 20 lbs due to malnutrition. Not only was I not hungry, I found myself being scared to eat. Scared that something in my diet would trigger another episode. Doc said my digestive problems were due to irritable colon (yay), and to start taking a fiber supplement twice a day. Begrudgingly, I bought some chews at Henry’s that said they tasted like chocolate, but ended up tasting more like an almost-tootsie-roll-flavored Tums (which I’ve since discovered are actually one of the more palatable on the market). They helped, but eating was still a chore.
About a week later, @emp invited me to drive up to LA with him for Hollywood Hill to see @ori, and afterwards we ended up meeting @boogah, @seanbonner, @escapist, and @mikipedia at a vegan joint called Pure Luck. I really didn’t want to go, to be honest, but I’m so glad that Alex talked me into it because it actually ended up being a pivotal moment in my life. The seemingly uninteresting seitan and sweet potato burrito I ordered was the first meal I’d had in ages that didn’t make me feel like shit. I’d always considered trying veganism, but I’d always felt like there was no way I could give up my precious meat and cheese. But since I was in a state where I really didn’t care if I ate or not, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to try an alternative diet. So that night, I secretly turned vegan.
Fast forward a couple more weeks to my next appointment, and the doctor is puzzled with my stream of flawless test results. He ended up putting me on a type of medication called a beta-blocker, Atenolol in my case, which reduces the effects of adrenaline on the heart. He admitted he was treating the symptoms and not the cause, but he really wanted to see my blood pressure lower than it was. So at 26, I was officially taking heart medicine. But the drugs plus my new diet helped a ton. Within a week my blood pressure was down to 100/80 in the mornings, and as long as I actually ate all the fiber I was adding kept me regular as clockwork.
Follow up appointment in late February, and now I’m sharing concerns with my circulation. It’s worth noting that at this point I started feeling quite hypochondrial since I was functioning well enough to consider normal, but the doctor seemed to take all my concerns seriously so I kept telling him the weird little things that were out of the ordinary for me. So with my circulation, I’d notice my hands and feet would start turning blue. The worst of this was one night where my thighs looked like they were bruising right in front of my eyes. Doctor ran another set of blood tests, including rheumatism and something else rather unexpected, which of course were all perfect. Since I was reporting occasional palpitations as well, He did an ECG in his office (normal). That’s when he referred me to have the echocardiogram and stress test that I had yesterday.
I was really nervous, but the procedures weren’t bad at all (although I admit I was more nervous about what they might find rather than the process). The echo took about 10 minutes and only involved three electrodes and that nasty ultrasound gel (which they had thankfully warmed), while the stress test required ten electrodes and an intimidatingly large belt pack that hooked into the recording machine. Some days my heart pounds so hard that I have to stop after a flight of stairs, so I’m kinda surprised I was able to stay on the treadmill for the full 10 minutes to hit my target heart rate of 190. But as far as they could tell, all my pipes are hooked up the way they’re supposed to be.
All in all, I really do think I’m ok at this point. I’m eating and sleeping within normal specifications, I haven’t noticed any circulation problems in a while, and I haven’t been relying on the Atenolol to regulate my blood pressure for several weeks now. I still get palpitations if I get really stressed for a few days, but as long as it won’t kill me I’d rather listen to my body and adjust accordingly instead of relying on medication. I’m expecting one more follow up appointment with my primary physician, but after that I’m confident that I can be back in control.