Welcome to a brand new year! I thought I’d kick off the year with a post to remind us all to take care of ourselves to maintain good health. No time like the present to keep ourselves in check for a healthy new year.
The most important relationship we have first and foremost should be with ourselves. If our health isn’t in great shape it can hinder much of what we do. Did you know that emotional health can affect our physical health? It’s a fact. In relation to that statement, I’m sure many of you have heard the term – ‘stress kills’. Well, it can potentially be very harmful. Just ask me, one who has gone the gamut of doctors and tests for much of the fall of 2022.
It’s easy to overlook ourselves, especially when times are tense. I’m a living testament to what self-neglect can do. So yes, self compassion and self care is essential to live and thrive, not just to survive.
When my husband took ill, my complete focus was everything for him. Out with the old routine and scheduled self-care. While I was living on auto-pilot, I didn’t take the same care of myself I always previously did. Starting with poor diet and often, not eating. Not eating much led me to not taking my vitamins and supplements as I’d been doing for decades. My mind was solely focused on taking care of my husband. And when I’m living in stress, I’m one of those people who cannot look at food when in this mode – quite contrary to many who eat for comfort when they are stressed. Not living on a set schedule led me to random bites here and there, and often, food is required to take vitamins along with for absorbtion. Nothing to absorb left me forgetting to, and eventually, not even caring to take my supplements. So my body was becoming mal-nutritioned. Oh sure, I know better. But fear and anticipatory grief left me otherwise not caring. And there was certainly a price to pay in the fallout. So I can tell you from this experience that there is also no quick fix, but once getting back to a routine, it took many months to bring back my healthful levels in my lab tests. And still, it didn’t end there.
After losing my husband in spring of 2021, I wasn’t only an emotional wreck, but I was in poor physical health. Yes, even this good health advocate was caught in the spiral. And by summer’s end in 2021 I finally booked my overdue physical with my doctor. After she read back my labs to me, I was mortified at the results and all the changes my being had gone through. I lost a lot of hair for one. Many of my levels were red flagged. I was severely deficient in vitamin levels, especially Vitamin D. That was the biggee for me, as Vitamin D is so essential to our bodily functions, and fighting off cancers, where deficiency leaves us as an open target for cancer cells to develop. I also began experiencing ‘weird’ sensations in my heart. I often had palpitations and moments where I felt I wasn’t getting enough oxygen and I’d spontaneously cough. So I was sent to a cardiologist in the fall of 2021. I was put through a battery of tests and scans, and thankfully, nothing was diagnosed except stress causing my symptoms. The cardiologist asked me to follow up this past fall, and I did.
This time I was put through more and different tests, having me go back there and to the lab several times September until just weeks ago this past December. I was quite concerned, especially since a year had passed and my vitamin levels were brought back up by my good behavior, yet the heart symptoms were still lingering. And after the circuit of tests, I finally got a follow-up consult with the cardiologist. Thank goodness I was told there was nothing more serious going on, but I learned that there is indeed something called Broken Heart Syndrome. And though it is said that will eventually subside, it very much has the potential kill with a fatal heart attack.
There is a Japanese word for this syndrome – Takotsubo. This is a temporary form of cardiomyopathy. It can last weeks or months. Although this syndrome isn’t always fatal, it presents such symptoms of feeling tightness in the chest, palpitations, shortness of breath, and weakness in the heart muscle caused by sudden shock or acute anxiety. The body releases stress hormones which temporarily curb the heart’s ability to pump properly. Experts say that the coronary arteries that feed oxygen to the heart muscle, go into temporary spasms. Pyschological stress is a usual precursor to these symptoms. People in critical states are put on several heart medications for a temporary trial period of three months. I am grateful that I didn’t have to be prescribed such pills.
Stress kills, is a real thing. Stress comes in all shapes in forms and wreaks havoc in both our mental and physical health. We must never forget to take care of ourselves and our health, yet it’s so easy to do when life bombards us with unpleasant events, overwhelming things, and overly achieving schedules we put upon ourselves. Life is always throwing us curve balls in some aspect, so we must learn new ways to combat the overwhelming things in life. It isn’t always easy or preferred, or even thought about when we’re in the midst of a living crisis, because even when we forget about ourselves, our bodies do not forget the sins we’ve committed to them.
So what can you do to keep your healthy engines running? First and foremost, make it a point to have an annual check-up to get a scope of how well your bodies are functioning. When symptoms appear, don’t fluff them off until the “I’ll get to it eventually.” Pay attention to the signs that your bodies are sending you. Nothing happens because of nothing. There’s a reason for everything your body is telling you to pay attention to, not disregard until something escalates and potentially may become too late to repair.
In my case, it was (and is) ongoing ‘tragic’ grief that sent my body into a tailspin of symptoms. I was isolated in the depths of Covid and alone contending with my husband’s demise, and then, ultimately, the unraveling of living in that grief without him. We’ve often heard of someone losing a spouse and then not too long after, the other one dies. Grief is a stronghold that wraps around our hearts and suffocates. If it is not dealt with, it will cause a spiral of other symptoms, especially when self-neglect sets in. People who are left to wallow alone in their brokenness will ultimately pay a price somewhere with their own health. A good doctor will be so beneficial in this circumstance. The strong survive because they take action in searching for avenues that help them get through the difficult days. For me, my doctor gave me Valium for the short term to help numb the overwhelmingness I lived in. After my wake-up call with bad labs, it took about five months until my levels were back to normal again. I use meditations to take me out of myself when I feel the need. After a year, I joined a gym for both some physical goodness, and for social interaction. And of course, writing, writing is a great therapy for me, and it can be for many. You don’t need to be an author to be able to write in a journal to expel emotions, even if nobody else ever gets to read them. Words and thoughts that circle our brains sometimes need a push out of our heads onto paper. This can be quite gratifying and freeing to the soul.
It was a certainly a year of learning to get myself back into reasonable good health. The palpitations and shortness of breath moments have been lessening, but they aren’t gone yet. I take my vitamins religiously again. I also had an overdue colonoscopy a few weeks ago, and although nothing specific was found, the surgeon requested me to have more bloodwork done, and she informed me she took a few precautionary biopsies. Fingers crossed for that final result that should be back to me in a week or so. And so I shall continue on my journey of health, as I hope all of you will do the same for yourselves. 🧡
I told my doctor, now I understand how it could really happen, that someone could die from a broken heart. She said she couldn’t disagree. – Japanese word for broken heart