Saturday, September 12, 2009
Storm Clouds Clearing...
I laid in bed in the wee hours of the morning listening to the season's first storm. The soothing sound of the rain kissing the thirsty earth was disrupted by the sonic boom of rolling thunder and bright flashes of lightening casting shadows across my bedroom walls. It was one of those balmy storms that come at the tail-end of summer I used to experience when I was going through college up in Washington state. It's very rare to get a storm like this in California and I was immersed in the cacophony of nature's dramatic symphony.
Hearing the storm break up the quiet spaces of the twilight hours felt cathartic. I've never been able to sleep through a thunder and lightening storm. I can feel the prickly energy infusing the air and the electric buzz keeps me wide awake. No bother... my mind was full of the events from the past couple of days. The storm seemed an appropriate soundtrack for the feelings welling up in me. After all, I had just experienced a release after years of built-up tension.
This last month has been very challenging for me health-wise. The month began with digestive distress that quickly downward spiraled into a medical crisis. I was exhausted, depleted, and extremely dehydrated. I have spent the past couple of weeks in and out of the hospital going through various tests and having my blood drawn. There are still no certain answers regarding my digestive issues, but treatment is being put on hold until my thyroid is stabilized.
As a result of the blood work, it was discovered that I have hypothyroid. The thyroid is the master gland. It is the control center of the body and when its fire snuffs out, a whole slew of bodily systems go haywire. Most commonly the metabolism suffers and weight gain becomes an inevitability. However, my doctor explained that the digestive system can also be thrown off kilter. Until we get my thyroid stabilized at an optimum level, we won't really have a clear understanding of what has caused my digestion to head south.
I would be lying if I was to say that I didn't feel a twinge of disappointment at my medical visit this Friday when the scale registered 10 lbs. higher than my last weigh-in at the doctor's office six months ago. It felt particularly insulting, like a smack across the face, after all the concerted effort I have put into my training over the past couple of months. At first I retained optimism, hoping the increase was in muscle mass, but my body fat reading told me otherwise. Nutritionally, I have been on-point. That is, with the exception of the past week and a half that my body has been adjusting to the levothroid medication my physician prescribed.
Initially, my energy was so freed up that I found my sleep cycles disrupted. I've had difficulty making my way to the comfort of my bed until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. As a result, I have been sleeping in until 11:00 am, missing my first hunger call that usually comes like clockwork between 6:00 and 7:30 am each day. The pattern that has emerged in response to this deviation in schedule is rather par for course. When I miss my first hunger call, my appetite becomes blunted all day. I'll pick a little here and there out of necessity, but find it difficult to eat solidly until it hits evening time. By then, my body is raging for order, demanding carbs and lots of them, usually in the form of quick-absorbing sugar. By that point, it's all she wrote. It's near impossible to register satiety.
It's been a mixed blessing because while it has been a great relief to feel my energy return, it has been equally disconcerting to feel so abruptly severed from my body's communication. My signals of hunger, fullness, even what foods my body is longing for, have become rather murky where there was great clarity.
Slowly, I am finding the balance. My sleep cycles are beginning to normalize and I made that early morning hunger call the past two days. My bodily signals have resurfaced and I'm starting to get back into the flow of things. I'm beginning to feel like my old self... the me I lost track of many moons ago.
I have been battling chronic fatigue for years. I spent a large portion of my early twenties and thirties dragging myself one moment to the next. I was completely zombified moving through my daily routine on triple espresso cruise control. I had been to countless doctor's offices in a desperate plea for some answers. I didn't understand why I was so exhausted all the time. I knew something was off in my body. I could feel it down in my bones. I just couldn't put my finger on it and apparently, neither could the doctors.
My weight had escalated dramatically in my mid-twenties. Virtually overnight, I went from being in a perfectly healthy body, to piling on 50 lbs. on my small frame in the span of a month. This trend continued over the years. I remember watching the needle on the scale rise higher and higher as if by vendetta. Eventually, binge eating disorder played a role in my ever-growing amplitude. At first it was a virtually unexplainable fluke that defied all natural order. It was like I was cast in a true life fairy tale... put under a spell by a crafty sorceress who deemed I pay a heavy price for my vanity with every pound mercilessly piled on. I was the, "Fatter" to Stephen King's, "Thinner". I often dreamed of waking up to discover that it all had been a horrible nightmare. Yet day after day I woke, still trapped in what was quickly feeling like a fleshly prison. There was no escaping the reality that I was a plus-size woman.
My medical visits felt like an exercise in futility. I frequently left doctor's offices in tears... my voice lost in the shuffle of bureaucratic red tape. My request for assistance with my mounting fatigue, weight gain that didn't budge no matter what I did and in fact had plans for expansion on the horizon, and repeat illnesses and infections due to what I could only assume was a struggling immune system, were met with the same rehearsed lecture... 'Lose weight, you'll feel better'. "Of course!", I would think dripping with requisite sarcasm, "Why hadn't I thought of that?! I finally have the answer I have been searching for. It's all clear to me now." Each visit blurred into the next, a collage of dietary pamphlets being thrust into my hands by well-meaning physicians along with directive to set up an appointment with a registered dietitian.
I will never be able to erase a particularly humiliating episode from my memory bank. Even now I can recall the way my heart beat forcefully within my breast like a bass drum with such reverberation I thought it would surely explode from my chest and lay quivering helplessly at my feet. I can feel myself losing the battle to hold back the tears burning a salty trail down my flushed cheeks. The visit started as routinely as its predecessors with me listing off the bodily concerns that had been left untreated for 10 years, along with a newly developed debilitating back issue. The doctor buried his face in the computer screen, never once lifting his head to face me directly as if sight of me would burn out his retina. To him, I was an afterthought... an imposition... when he could be attending to patients he felt more worthy of his care and concern. In one fell swoop he trivialized my malady. I can still hear him mocking me with cold tone... "I mean look at you. Look at your belly. It's huge! That's why you have these issues. I say do whatever you have to. Lose weight any way you can." He didn't even look at my back. He wasn't about to lay his hands on me to perform a proper examination. He treated me as a leper who could spread obesity to him like some kind of infectious disease if he were to come into direct contact with me. The look on his face when he handed me information about eating disorder specialists when I explained that I had to approach weight loss with sensitivity due to my history of anorexia and bulimia, was one of disgust. I felt completely dehumanized sitting in that cold sterile office in the presence of this man who lacked as much warmth as the uninviting surroundings. I think the stethoscope dangling around his neck had more compassion. This inanimate object could register the beating of my heart, unlike him who disregarded me as just another thing taking up too much space in his schedule.
Despite how shamed I felt, I wasn't about to let this slide as I skulked away in mortification. I reported the incident to patient relations at Kaiser and filed a formal complaint. It was one of the first times in my life that I owned my body and demanded the respect I deserve. My boundary lines had always been fuzzy. This was a pivotal point when I drew my line in the sand. I had enough... of the abuse, discrimination, and utter dismissal. The doctor was brought up for review by the board. My hope is that this doctor received a wake-up call and now practices more conscientiously. Patients deserve dignity, no matter their size.
My doctor visit this past Friday was like coming full circle and arriving at redemption. There was an insecure part of me that feared a lecture for the 10 lb. weight gain, but instead, I received a reprieve. My sleep study results were in and I have sleep apnea. My doctor explained that this rise in weight was predictable. She went on to elaborate that in order for my body to be able to release the extra weight I am carrying the right internal environment needs to be created. The combination of a blown out thyroid and oxygen-deprived body lacking restful sleep is a recipe for fat storage. Then, like music to my ears came the words that confirmed what I had always known... "It's not your fault Shannon. Your body has been resisting your efforts. Your holding pattern is not imagined, but very real. The good news is, we can treat this. Once we get you stabilized you will find that you should be able to reach a healthy weight with relative ease. Your body will start working for, rather than against you."
I sat astonished at first as this statement of validation hung like an exclamation point in the air. I then let out a long sweet breath of release. The missing pieces of the puzzle fell neatly in my lap. I know I have healing work ahead of me but I feel a direction has emerged. I'm no longer drifting aimlessly on the waters of uncertainty. I had been perplexed by my now year-long plateau. Lately, I had begun to feel that maybe this was as far as my journey was going to go. Now I know it is not the end, but a new chapter opening in my healing saga. I feel optimistic because I believe the work we will be doing collectively as a group at, "The Big Fat Lie" is going to tie it all together. The storm clouds are clearing and if my eyes aren't failing, I swear I see a sliver of sunlight peeking through.