Turning to Dr. Google: On sane self-diagnosis

I have a (kind of bad) habit of self-diagnosing on google. Lately, my searches have included things related to my back injury (from dropping a barbell on it in August), to the (likely associated) IT band pain I’ve been having when I try to run, to exercise-induced asthma and bronchitis, to obsessive compulsive disorder. There’s something in me that wants to find an answer.

doctor google

I can remember vividly the kind of comfort I felt when I came across websites about the Female Athlete Triad. According to good old Wikipedia, this is “a syndrome in which eating disorders (or low energy availability), amenhorrhoea/oligomenorrhoa, and decreased bone mineral density (osteoporosis and osteopenia) are present. …[T]his condition is seen in females participating in sports that emphasize leanness or low body weight.” At the time, I was not having a period, I was pretty light, and I had received DEXA results that said my bones were not where they should be for a girl my age. I fit the bill—and I was so glad to have something outside of me.

It’s not my fault.

That’s the thought that I had.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking comfort from knowing that it’s not your fault, but with things like my eating disorder–where it remains tough to know what was biology and what was going on with my own choices—I think it’s worth noting that not being at fault and not being able to help it are very different.

With this week’s searches, I think I was looking for relief. From the guilt of worrying that I’m being a pansy with my leg pain, or that I’m too anxious—from things that I bring onto myself. I want it to be outside of me, even though at the end of the day, the problem doesn’t go away with the addition of a label. When I realized I had that Female Athlete Triad, it wasn’t like there was a pill to make it disappear. In the end, the shifts happened when I tackled what I could with the support of others. It required taking responsibility, which can be hard when we’re convinced that we aren’t at fault.

That self-diagnosis represents a relief.

It’s not our fault.

We have a condition, outside of us.

Does this mean that the responsibility is removed?

 

So, if I have a certain condition, I try to think, What caused it in the first place? What can I do to fix it? With the triad example, it was my eating disorder. And with my eating disorder, there were a lot of factors—many of which were up to me to choose differently around. Later, I turned to “adrenal fatigue” to make myself feel better for running myself into the ground. Solution? Take the stress off of my body, little by little–whether the condition existed or not. Basically: Slow. Down. Via different choices.

Knowing this, I still get sucked into the interwebs when I’m not feeling great about something going on with my body. I hope that if you’re a googler like me, you can notice what you’re after when you start turning to Dr. Google to make you feel better. My leg hurts when I run—knowing the name given to the pain I’m experiencing is less important than taking a break and coming back to it with a game plan to run pain free. I’m noticing some weird coping tendencies and some extra anxiety—whether or not this is clinical matters a whole lot less than dealing with what’s driving me to them. Etc. etc. etc.

All of this being said, I don’t want to discount the way that knowing that we aren’t entirely at fault when it comes to our health is not a bad thing. Back to that eating disorder—knowing that I had power but was not to blame was what let me take charge and decide to recover—and kept me going when the going got tough. I say we use our labels to make informed choices, not to let us off the hook or as some strange form of comfort that stops us from taking the best care of ourselves.

ek care

Do you self-diagnose on google?
Do you feel better knowing that you “have” something?

resiliency, hormones, and trusting the process

The 24th day of Molly’s love your body challenge calls us to appreciate and celebrate the resilience of our bodies–something I talked about a few days ago. I talked about how my body has bounced back from all the crazy things I’ve done to it and how amazing it is that our bodies fix themselves even if we wrong them.

One of the ways I’m most in awe of my amazing body is in terms of the way it’s come to a happy hormone place for the first time in years. WARNING: I’m going to talk about girly things here.

I got my period when I was 11 years old. At the time, I was excited–I always liked passing milestones earlier than my older sister had, and I’d beat her on this one (if this isn’t testament to my competitive nature, I don’t know what is). I had regular periods for the next 5 or so years and never gave my hormones much thought.

When I started to get into the world of dieting and exercising more, I started to have some hormonal issues: migraines, some facial hair I wasn’t too excited about, and missing periods. At the time, the migraines and the hair were obviously reasons for concern, but I sort of celebrated not having a period. I was irregular enough that I brought things up with my doctor. Usually, I ended up taking a pregnancy test–when I graduated high school, I’d KISSED two boys and maybe held the hand of three, so this was always funny to me–but eventually I started to see specialists. By the time I’d graduated from high school (and put on some weight after hitting a low point in my eating disorder story and starting to work with a dietitian and a psychologist), I was still having odd periods. I’d tried the pill, something that lots of doctors will recommend, but my migraines were worse whenever I gave it a shot.

Somewhere along the line, I realized what not having my period meant. Even as I dabbled more in disordered eating and lost a lot of weight in university, I wanted my period back. I didn’t want to take a birth control pill anyways. I thought of it as a band-aid and I knew that if I took it, it would be too easy to ignore the fact that I literally wasn’t doing the right things for my body to function the way it was supposed to. I knew that not having a regular cycle meant my hormones were out of whack, which scared me mostly because I knew what that meant for my bones: namely, I wasn’t doing all the bone building I was supposed to during the years of my youth. I wasn’t really thinking about babies, but I knew that long term I didn’t want to be struggling with fertility issues. I’d had warnings from people around me and I read about the female athlete triad all over–both of my own volition and in my sports nutrition textbooks, for instance. This fact sheet does a pretty good job of summarizing things, in my opinion. Given a bone scan that scared the crap out me, my admittedly messed up eating, and my missing periods, I knew that this was describing me. Giving a name to what was going on made it seem more pressing and made recovery all the more important, in my mind.

What I really struggled with was the weighting (I meant to spell it that way) game. I was told that part of my recovery would be getting to a happy weight where my body would function properly again. I was also told that once I got to a healthy weight, it might take time for my body to start to produce hormones again. I was concerned that I would go heavier than I needed to while I was waiting, wrongly thinking that I hadn’t gained “enough” weight.

What happened for me, and I hope that if you’re struggling with this now, was being patient and trusting that my body would weigh what it needed to to sort itself out. What I found was that at a certain point, it didn’t matter too much whether I upped my exercise or tried to “eat healthier” or whatever–my body was pretty comfy at a specific number. Then, that number changed. And then it stabilized again. And after about a year of being at that weight, I started to get my period. Like clockwork. It was a miracle. I think I might be the only girl who would text her mother and friends in excitement over that time of the month rolling around. It’s been about a year of this steady stuff and it feels so good to know that my body’s doing what it needs to do. I’ve fluctuated within 5lbs all this year and I think that being consistent with making sure that I eat enough–of food in general but also of fat and carbs and protein so that I have the energy, the raw materials, etc. to make hormones–has been part of this stability.

If you ARE struggling with missing your periods, my advice to you is to be patient with your body and to keep in mind that not having your period means something is up: maybe you’re not eating enough, maybe you’re exercising too much, maybe you’re not eating consistently enough (i.e. restricting all week and bingeing on the weekend–your weight stays steady, but you’re still not nourished in this case), maybe something else is up. Call on professionals to help you–doctors, dietitians, and naturopaths were on my side in the process. Most importantly, take it seriously. Your body is trying to tell you something!

trust the process

Have you struggled with your hormones? What helped you get back on track?

 

Girl talk resources

Since I’ve been getting some feedback that people can relate to the post I made earlier about my issues with athletic induced amenorrhea, I thought I’d share some resources that have helped me out with the whole question of whether or not it’s really an issue, why it starts, how to get back to a healthy, normal cycle, etc.

It’s all over the place. These are just the articles I came back to tonight!

And now for some insight…Stuff that I think (my opinion on what I’ve read and my own experience):

  • You can still train, but the motivation should be right.
  • If it’s about energy balance, you’ve got to be willing to work through some experimenting and see what works for you. In my case, this also means accepting that in order to get my period, I need to be in calorie balance. Which means I cannot be losing weight, which I think for the last bit while I was trying to deal with my amenorrhea, I kind of didn’t accept. Recall my epiphany about always thinking with a weight loss mindset? Maybe now that I recognized that and I can move on to living healthy, I’ll be better able to fuel myself and to stay in balance. Once a doc suggested that even if I was maintaining my weight but it was sporadic eating (i.e. mostly at night after dieting during the day, ditto for the weekend after being “good” all week, etc.) my body would still be out of whack. Another suggested that it might have to do with refueling around workouts specifically (and promoted eating more immediately before and after, etc.). All good theories, if you’re willing to accept that your body has a weight that it wants to find and will find, if you let it.
  • Patience is key–this issue didn’t come around overnight and it won’t go away really quick either. For me, this means accepting that I spent a lot of time abusing my body and accepting that it’s not going to snap back right away. To be honest, I think this extends. My mind is recovered, I am making huge steps forward, etc. but it’s been interesting to see the effects of how much I put myself through (too much exercise, not enough eating, bingeing, purging, all the stuff that came along with ED) in their physical manifestations. Thyroid disease runs in my family, but not usually this young. None of my family members have issues with migraines, their periods, etc. I had low bone density at the age of 17, a time when I should have been building things up, not tearing them down. My heart took a beating and I have to go yearly for tests now to check in because of a scare I had in the height of things. It’s all pretty scary, it might not be due to ED, but it’s related and it’s also REAL. I’m also not blaming my injury issues on ED, but it’s true that I put my body through a hell of a lot of workouts and didn’t give it rest or love or so many of the things it deserved for a long time. I can’t expect it to bounce back perfectly — this struggle is just part of recovery!
  • The stuff associated with the Female Athlete Triad is really similar to ED and I see it in so many of my friends who I would never think of as having disordered eating. The compulsion to train, the thought that you can kind of be “proud” that you “work so hard” that you don’t get your period, etc. is kind of rampant and really sad once you step outside and see that it’s not actually healthy at all. This is a topic I know I want to work with when I’m a dietitian (sounds cool to say that!) because I am so passionate about it.
  • Maybe personally I spend too much time working out too hard. This might also be related to the awesome spin class that I went to this morning where the instructor talked about why recovery (within a class specifically) is so important. I’m kind of a balls to the wall person and even though I’ve been working with a coach, I find it so hard to tone my workouts down and to keep my heart rate in a happy zone. No wonder I’ve been so tired and exhausted and injury prone in the past, I know, but seriously! Maybe this has something to do with it…bring on the long, somewhat leisurely bike rides! 🙂 Variety is the spice of life.
  • Maybe I just am not in the place to have a baby. Emotionally, mentally and therefore physically.

Andddd enough of the girl talk (continued). It is SO past my bedtime it’s not even funny!

Can you relate?
Did you find any of these resources helpful?