Standing naked before you

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.

Good.  I told everyone I was crazy in the first place.

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.

17 Replies to “Standing naked before you”

  1. Good to hear you’re seemlingly on the mend! I went through a very similar health situation in the last 1.5 years. I hit the big 30 and was experiencing the odd dizzy spell and chest pain. I voluntarily visited my GP one day (apparently the “man exam” starts around the ripe ol’ age of 30) and before I knew it, I was laid up in the hospital with about 14 hoses and electrodes plugged into me. Turns out I had Atrial Fibrilation (irratic heart beat). They put me on Atenolol and blood thinners, gave me about 7 echos and a stress test on the treadmill that got my heart rate up to 287 BPM if you can believe it. Anyway, I’m a bit of a workaholic so the GP told me to slow down a bit, get away from the office more and keep healthy. That was 1.5 years ago and on many levels, I feel better for having done so. Everything in moderation… work, tech, junkfood, etc. I spend more time with those I love and less stressing over the mundane things I won’t care about when my time is up!

  2. So glad to hear that things look to be on the up slope for you, Lisa. Stress is a horrible thing, and dealing with bad breakups straight sucks. I think it’s very cool of you to post this little synopsis of your health issues, because even tho it seems a great deal of your recovery can be related to your diet switch, I think it’s important for everyone to know how important it is to take notice of our own bodies and take action when we should. It’s so easy to get caught up in web work and not allow ourselves to spend time noticing how our lives are affected by the day to day. All too often we let our bodies simply serve as the means to code, and thus we cram fast food and energy drinks down, ignore sleep, forego exercise, and overload on everything. I know I wear these attributes like badges of honor. But those programmers who can relate, we’re killing ourselves. *applause* to Lisa for taking notice, seeking diagnosis, and making changes. I hope things continue to get better for you so you can continue to live the smiley, open, oft semi-nude life we all enjoy.

  3. Thanks for being vulnerable and posting this update. As a fellow survivor of deep stress, I can sympathize with the damage that it brings. it’s cool that you were able to finally start eating again, not only things you enjoy, but things that don’t make you sick. It’s so fantastic to hear that you are feeling (and getting) better, and I hope that things continue to progress in a positive manner. looking forward to seeing you @ barcampsd3. Take good care, and remember to b r e a t h e ! :)

  4. 287, how in the crap…?! I thought I was going to fall over and DIE at 190. But yeah, we’ve all heard the same story about moderation, but it really does take a swift kick in the ass to make you realize just how fragile we are.

  5. I’m a workaholic for sure, but how many late nights will I have to work now to make up for being out almost the entire month of December? The extra hours just aren’t worth it.

  6. I’ve had a really warm reception from sharing all this, and it’s definitely good to get off my chest. I’d only told two or three people what’s going on so far, which feels like I’m protecting myself and not creating drama, but it also felt flat out wrong from time to time. Not like telling a lie, but I definitely found myself dealing with the guilt of not telling the whole truth.

    This conversation will definitely continue for me at barcamp, because I’ve learned so much about the shortcomings (and overindulgences) of the standard American diet that I’m just itching to share my new knowledge with the world. I’ll also be using the food planning as a platform to help promote the importance of nutrition information and alternate diet choices. I’m pretty damn excited. =]

  7. While I’m not a doctor, quite a few of your symptoms sound quite similar to those I had when I came down with diabetes. Type II Diabetes Mellitus tends to sneak up on people. There’s an increasing chance of it as your age goes up, but it’s not unheard of for even people in their 20s (I was in my mid 30s when it hit me.). Stress tends to aggravate it, and high carbohydrate meals also do. The good news is that, as far as major illnesses go, it’s one of the best to have, since it’s pretty easy to control. The bad news is that it’s often misdiagnosed, and, if left untreated, the complications are extremely scary (e.g., Things start falling off that shouldn’t, such as hearts, eyes, kidneys, feet, legs, etc.!). The best part is that a quick finger prick will give you an idea, or an HbA1C test will tell your doctor for sure (ask him about it).

    In any case, I’m glad to hear that you’re feeling better, but don’t stop looking for the cause until you’re sure you’ve correctly identified it.


  8. Glad you are feeling better. As an alternative to your current fiber supplement, I was going to suggest

    I don’t work for them, but I have been going here for the last 3 years for my fiber supplement. Its called Acacia (i think) anyway its completely tasteless and dissolves in water completely. Its cheap and works awesome. The website also has good information on IBS in general. Anyway, good luck.

  9. I’m compelled to chime in here, after reading your daring confessional. Taking heart meds at a young age is not really incongruous. I know someone with a condition called Mitral Valve Prolapse. It’s target demographic is an adult female under the age of 32. I don’t imagine that’s what you have; it’s a condition that’s rather easily diagnosed. But here’s where you dovetail with my friend: The condition seems to self-perpetuate due to stress. Panic attack/anxiety causes a lot of cardiac-like symptoms. The friend was ultimately put on Halcyon to deal with the panic attacks. I had a time of panic attacks as well (break ups can be devastating to deal with, I concur). Instead of happy drugs, I opted to fall back on my martial arts training. I’d throw out as a suggestion-a softer martial art like tai chi, aikido or even yoga (hell, even taiko drumming). One where you learn that great proficiency needs to be preceded by a fair amount of inner calm. FWIW and good luck.

  10. Hi Lisa, glad to know that you take care of your body, that´s a wise choice. I my case of stress/executive work/daily workaholic marathon I got the sugar as a main suspect on my digestive problems. I found that obliterating the sugar on my coffee was a great improvement on my health. I learn that hot carbohydrate are a nightmare for the normal functions of hormones from pancreas+liver+Adrenal Cortex. Kuddos

  11. Vegan places in San Diego – I’d be interested to find some. Right now the only places I go out to eat are unhealthy and if I want to be healthy I cook for myself. There’s an awesome place in santa barbara called the Sojourner – I would love to find something in SD like that. However, I still find my weird fruit for breakfast/lunch meat+veggies for dinner diet to be the most energizing and ‘make me feel great’ diet I’ve tried.

  12. *hugs*

    Very glad to hear you’re feeling better.

    Erin and I are always down for a good meal at any of the several uptown vegetarian/vegan/friendly places, such as Jyoti Bihanga (which we affectionately refer to as the crazy cult place), Cilantro, Rancho’s, Mama’s Lebanese, etc.

  13. I’m glad to hear that things are slowly working out for you, and I’m really sorry that I’ve forgotten about you the past few months. I’ve been neglecting a lot of people due to school and work, and I’m working hard on changing that. Continue to remain healthy! You can do it!

  14. I thought we agreed late nights and extra hours weren’t worth it. And yet I check your feed to see this new ipod storage drawer, and what do you know, you are still at work and its past 1am. Tsk tsk. (Just cause I’m up past 4 workin on the east coast doesn’t justify it either) Haha, will us web geeks ever learn?

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