Well, it's no longer summer, so there's that, but I thought I'd finally share that final "Self Care Summer" post I've been promising for months. 😂
You can read my previous posts regarding my self-care journey here if you're interested, but I'll recap in case that link is a little too indepth for you.
At the beginning of the summer, I found myself crying in my doctor's office about my rapidly declining health. I was in pain, out of breath and dragging myself through each day. Through choking and exceptionally embarrassing sobs, I said, "I'm too young and too fit to feel SO BAD!"
I had been exercising (too much actually). I had been drinking water. I had been eating like I always had (somewhat unhealthfully, but nothing awful), and yet somehow I knew something was wrong. My periods were also becoming increasingly horrific.
The doctor diagnosed me with POTS and then wrote referrals for physical therapy, cardiology, obstetrics and all manner of bloodwork.
My bloodwork was first and showed what I was anticipating. My iron and vitamin D levels were tragically low (horrific periods, I'm telling you).
Physical therapy was no help (the therapist felt assured, as I did, that my pain was bony in nature and not muscular) and an X-ray of my back was similarly inconclusive. Besides "normal" degeneration of several vertebrae, no fractures were obvious (I may have waited too long for imaging).
Cardiology was much more intensive and exhausting, but I was given a clean bill of health, much to my surprise. My heart has its own quirks (leaky valve and additional, erratic heartbeats), but perfect function. And there was nothing to suggest that my POTS was part of a larger condition. The cardiologist offered additional testing for Ehlers Danlos syndrome, but since there was no obvious sign of the dangerous type of vascular Ehlers Danlos (the only thing I was really looking for), I declined. There is no treatment for POTS or Ehlers Danlos, so knowing makes no difference to me.
Obstetrics came back with the most important piece of my puzzle. My ultrasound showed free fluid floating in my pelvis and an intramural fibroid tumor at the top of my uterus. The tumor was a relatively good size, measuring about half of the size of my uterus, but its most damning aspect was its location. It was interfering with the natural uterine contractions that occur during menses and causing me to bleed excessively. The doctor described that this type of tumor can force a woman to seek treatment in an emergency room due to such high volume of blood loss and I realized that I had more than met that criteria for almost six months.
Because of its location and size, the surgeons believe that surgery to remove this tumor would result in total loss of fertility. There are other surgical courses of treatment, but all end in a uterus that would be unsafe or unable to sustain a pregnancy and as much as I'm not interested in another child, I'm not ready to make THAT kind of commitment.
Because not treating is not a sustainable long-term option (besides regular blood transfusions, which does not sound appealing to me), I began researching ways to naturally ease the symptoms of fibroids.
Of course, artificial hormones were strongly suggested as a "cure" for fibroids, but I won't have any of that nonsense. The Mirena iud was supposed to be my "best bet" for a non-surgical cure, but I will never consent to the Mirena ever, ever, ever, and I repeat EVER. 😂
I found some books that were incredibly helpful and embarked on a summer-long lifestyle change. I told my doctor to give me six months to try alternative treatment before we do another ultrasound to check on the tumor.
I'm thrilled to report that I've largely conquered my severe estrogen dominance that initiated the tumor to begin with and improved my overall health.
Top 5 Ways I've Improved My Health
1. I supported my blood sugar through intentional meal timing (not going longer than three hours between meals/snacks unless purposely intermittent fasting).
Aka, eating more often and not only when I felt like passing out. *face palm*
2. I supported my detox pathways (large intestine, liver and lymphatic system).
I LOVED this line by LoveBug probiotics (available here). They were so helpful in balancing my gut. I used them intensively for several weeks, while switching completely to Paleo and eliminating all grains. After several weeks, I was able to reintroduce both gluten and grains successfully.
My periods improved the most after the introduction of DIM (available here) into my supplement regimen.
DIM is an extract of cruciferous vegetables to aid in the metabolism of estrogen, which my body already had in excess, compounded by poor detoxing, which put the estrogen back into circulation, instead of eliminating it as it is supposed to!
Dry brushing! (available here)
I dry brush my body before every shower, in circular motions, upwards, towards my heart.
3. I supported my adrenal glands through purposeful exercise.
Initially, I gave up all HIIT in favor of yoga and light walking. Intense exercise raises cortisol, which when frequently called upon, steals progesterone (cortisol and progesterone have similar pathways, so the body may use them interchangeably, though not well) and further enhances estrogen dominance.
As I became better as managing my cortisol and supporting my adrenals, I gradually increased the intensity of my exercise and added two days of weight training to my regimen. It's still not how I could have exercised five years ago, but it's about balance during this stressful season and I feel confident that I will be able to push myself farther in the future.
I still do yoga twice a week and one 20 minute cardio interval workout (30 seconds of running, followed by 30 seconds of walking).
I limit my high intesity training to 20 minutes, since a longer session would likely spike my cortisol.
4. I supported all of the organs, hormones levels mentioned about through intentional dieting.
I favor real, whole foods cooked (or not cooked) to enhance micronutrient absorption. I eat colorful, mostly organic foods, grass-fed beef, cage-free chicken and eggs and nitrate-free bacon and cold cuts. I eat lots of healthy fats (butter from grass-fed cows and healthy oils) and Omega 3 rich whole grains.
I limit my caffeine intake (caffeine raises cortisol) and avoid alcohol like the plague to avoid unnecessary liver stress.
I start every day with 16 oz of hot lemon water before I eat or drink anything else.
5. I support my adrenal glands by actively relieving stress of choosing to perceive my stress more positively.
We are all stressed, but to the degree that we PERCIEVE our stress is the same degree to which it will manifest in our bodies.
I actively relieve stress by reading, exercising, enjoying company of friends and choosing to find as much joy as possible in every day things.
I actively reject stress by releasing things that are out of my control and letting go of feelings of false responsibility. I pray, meditate and study scriptures, because stress and anxiety melt away in the presence of Jesus.
My top 5 Self Care Books
I read well over 30 books this summer, but these were my top 5, most impacting reads!
1. Woman Code
I implement most of the strategies in these books every day and each book contains truths that have largely changed my life and improved my health dramatically.
I feel better now at 28 than I did at 18. I don't count calories or weigh myself more than once a month. I haven't had a single POTS episode in 6 weeks. I use my energy level, mental acuity and period symptoms to gauge my health status and that system has not failed me yet! I'm sleeping better and longer. My husband has remarked how much like my "old self" I am now (as opposed to the exhausted, dragging, grouchy wife he's known for the last 2 years, bless his soul).
Self care can feel excessive at first, but becomes second nature as each habit sinks. I also include my family as much as possible in my new routines, so I feel less self-indulged. I prepare their meals exactly how I prepare mine. I add probiotics to their breakfasts. We go on long, slow walks as a family 3 nights a week. I limit blue lights from technology once the sun goes down to preserve their melatonin levels and improve their sleep and my husband and I use blue-blocking glasses for occassional night-time movies or phone use.
If you made it to the end of this laborious post, you deserve a high-five. So, cheers to health, happiness and feeling younger each day! You deserve to take care of yourself. You have one body and one life. Enjoy it!