It’s been at least nine months since I haven’t felt right. Sleep has been hard to come by many nights a week, usually starting off solid and sound but by 3 to 4 AM, it’s lying just out of reach. Daily backaches plague me most of the time, and while daily yoga helps tremendously, it’s hard to always find the time (let alone justify the time) it takes to practice for an hour and a half. My motivation and drive to work has slowly dwindled, and I find myself feeling overwhelmed most days, staring at a blank screen for hours unable to concentrate.
By the time 2:30 PM rolls around, what little bursts of energy I’ve had are gone. Exhausted and often defeated by how little I’ve managed to get done, I pick up the kids from school with dread, knowing it’s going be a long 4 to 5 hour stretch to get homework done, dinner cooked, and keep sibling rivalry to a minimum until we roll into bedtime routine.
This is the life of a typical working mom of three kids, right? Tired, distracted, lacking in sleep, and all around just plain overwhelmed. It’s what I’ve been telling myself, anyhow, for the past few months.
But recently, after my seventh case of strep throat in the past year, I couldn’t rid myself of this gnawing feeling that something wasn’t right. I find myself barely rebounding from one infection before I’m knocked down with another. It’s been a crappy cycle that I’ve brushed aside time and time again, telling myself it’s just a little strep and to suck it up. That this is just life so deal with it, Andrea, because there are plenty of people that have it much worse off. Eat more vegetables and it will all be okay; get more rest and just move forward.
It’s a common cycle I think many women get caught up in; we’re afraid of being labeled a hypochondriac and use the endless stream of kid-centered activities as an excuse for why we shouldn’t take better care of ourselves, listen to our bodies more, and trust our instincts. We push aside fatigue and scattered behavior as typical to being a modern-day woman and mother. But what if we listened to our inner voices more, strove to be more in tune to our bodies, and took the time to take better care of ourselves and seek out help when we really need it? How much better off would we be? Chances are a million.
So, after adding up all of those cases of strep throat and my other “symptoms,” I decided to finally see an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist to get started on getting some answers.
I went into the appointment prepared with some questions, and a complete list of the continuous, consistent symptoms I’ve been dealing with this past year. We talked through things for almost an hour; she both listened and asked questions, and I did the same, and together we came up with a few hypotheses of what could be going on.
Although I don’t yet have answers (I go in for blood work on Monday), I already feel a million times better after my appointment yesterday, so much so that I teared up in the doctor’s office and hugged her with gratitude. I’m just so tired of being tired, of feeling like this, I told her. Words can’t express how grateful I was to know I’m not being crazy or a hypochondriac.
The relief I felt last night after a simple doctor’s appointment was telling about how important our relationship with our bodies is, and how important it is to find a doctor you can trust, be open with, and have faith in.
Here are a few ways to foster self-care and be an active advocate for your own health:
1. Listen to your body!
This doesn’t just mean take note of feeling bloated or tired, make some empty promises to take better care of yourself, and then move on. If you’re not feeling “yourself,” be patient and start documenting how you’re feeling, even if it’s just mental notes. Once I took the time to look at the calendar, called my nurse practitioner to review my file, and added up all my bouts with strep this past year, I was blown away. I had no idea it had been so extreme because I had been so consumed with the daily hustle and bustle of being a busy mom of three. Then when I racked my brain to think of when my insomnia started, I was again blown away with how long it had been going on.
2. Don’t let your mind bully your body
This quote from Astrid Alauda accurately portrays how so many women today dismiss our physical ailments with negative self-talk. We tell ourselves to suck it up, move on, and just deal with it. We’re afraid of being labeled hypochondriacs or even worse, weak. And even seemingly harmless statements we tell ourselves — that this is just a season of life and it will pass, that it’s tiring raising young kids — can be harmful by convincing us not to seek out the help we may truly need.
3. Trust your gut when choosing a doctor
Finding a doctor who would respect my wishes to seek out the most natural, least-invasive road to a cure for my strep was paramount to me. When most doctors hear you’ve had seven cases of strep in the past year, the vast majority advise that your only option is a tonsillectomy: a costly and major surgery as an adult with a hard road to recovery. Instead, I wanted my doctor to first help me figure out why I was getting strep so much and not throw out the baby with the bath water, so to speak. The doctor I ended up going with was an ENT I met for 15 minutes last year when she briefly consulted on my son’s surgery before going on maternity leave. For some reason I just knew she would be the better choice for me. Younger and less experienced, on paper it probably made more sense for me to have gone with her more established partner. But I had a feeling that this younger mother of infant twins would be more apt to listen to me since our lives parallel each other a bit more. I wasn’t wrong.
4. Fight for your time with your doctor
If you have the right doctor, getting thorough treatment in a reasonable amount of time won’t feel like a fight. Stick with a doctor who takes the time to answer your questions and doesn’t try to rush you out the door with a simple solution instead of a thorough diagnosis.
5. Be your own advocate
As my doctor indicated during our appointment, we have to be our own advocates and not only push for time with our doctors, but take an active role in our health. She said, “Because of the way medicine is practiced these days, doctors have to see a certain number of patients to even be profitable,” which means we the patients have to come armed with questions and information to push for the most accurate diagnosis. “This doesn’t mean you try to play doctor and self-diagnose based off of Dr. Google, but doing some research so you can ask basic questions definitely doesn’t hurt.” A reader clued me in on a great acronym, REED: Research to Educate ourselves in order to Empower ourselves to Discuss with our doctors and others. Sound advice all around.