In this post, I talk a little bit about my own healing journey. It's not always fun, but becoming a patient again myself has deepened the connection I feel with my patients. It's not "me" and "you"; It's us.
Waiting For Test Results
I often joke with patients that I have a weird job. Most of the time when you go to a doctor you hope that test results come back negative. Negative is almost always the desired outcome in the "normal" medical world.
Not in my office, however. People come to me looking for "the smoking gun" that medicine could not find. I've had patients cry happy, relieved tears in my office when they get a positive test result. They may or may not have a disease or a need for a drug, but they have dysfunction and inflammation and they know that their body is not well. It's not "all in their head" and it's not "weird". These people are legitimately unwell and struggling to find someone who understands.
Perhaps what makes this situation unique is the strong desire for change and a sense of direction. Many of my patients are willing to do anything to feel better- they just don't know where to start. There's a thousand blogs and books and friends and products, and if you let the world pull you in each of these directions you'll surely be torn apart. To add to the confusion, it's really hard to make rational decisions and be your own advocate when you don't feel well (especially if brain fog is one of your symptoms!)
But let's backtrack to the normal people for a minute. We all know the most obvious reason we hope for a negative test at the doctor's office (fear of imminent death)... but what if there's more to it than that?
Negative means you can keep doing what your doing. Negative results don't come with a prescription and they certainly don't come with diet and lifestyle advice. In the normal medical world a negative test is the stamp of approval for a diet and lifestyle that we all know isn't healthy. Nobody really thinks that doughnuts and soda are healthy, but we've managed to block out all (internal and external) rational screams that tell us otherwise. In a weird way, those "normal" test results just add another layer of foam to our already thick earmuffs. For some people that yearly blood work just reaffirms that they can keep getting away with those stressors for another year.
My Own Health
I hit a wall in July of this year... a big wall made of fatigue and brain fog. Initially I chalked it up to a poor night's sleep. After a week I chalked it up to having a baby (my daughter was about 10 months old at the time). After two weeks I ran some blood work on myself to rule out anemia or thyroid problems. It all came back clean (negative). "Okay", I thought to myself, "I guess it's just a combo of baby, stress, and sleep, and I'll push through it". And pushed is what I did.
The fatigue and brain fog continued, but I think I temporarily got some combination of sidetracked and hopeless and so life marched on. I knew slowing down wasn't an option (um, I have a baby and a budding business to nurture), so I didn't even consider that. Quite the contrary, actually, I managed to stay busy with multiple health fairs, gluten free expos (Raleigh and Greensboro!), public speaking, new gym memberships, new online classes, birthday parties (both my own and my daughter's), and my normal patient workload.
Fast-forward to Wednesday of last week (mid-September). My plans for the day didn't pan-out. I had hoped to go to the gym and get home "a little late", but that turned into working late followed by an immunology webinar at the office and Thai for dinner. I listened in as the webinar host talked to the group about chronic viral infections and the inflammation/stress they create. I started to think of a couple of patients whom I am helping battle chronic Epstein Barr (mono)... and then it struck me. "Crap, I bet I have mono". I ordered the labs and got the blood drawn the next day.
Sure enough, I have a raging case of Epstein Barr (EBV) and another related virus called Cytomegalovirus (CMV). Like so many of my patients, I finally understood why I felt so bad for the last couple of months! As I told a friend about it on the drive home she said something that made me chuckle. "Good thing it's the weekend so you can go home and rest!" Except I couldn't rest. I had a health fair to get to early the next day and a lecture the day after that- not what I would call a restful weekend. I did what I could this weekend (I managed to take a nap on Saturday after my health fair and I started a new boatload of supplements), but there's more work to be done, that's for sure.
I think I'm beginning to see the problem for what it really is, but it'll take a while to fully wrap my head around this slowing down thing. I'm a pretty laid-back person to the point of being kind of lazy, so for years I've figured I need to push and try to overcome that. Maybe that's the real message in all of this- maybe we can't push our way past ourselves.