Today’s Friday Five will be a little different as we start a new year.
I don’t make resolutions, but there are so many things I want to focus on in 2022 and I thought this would be the perfect place for a brain dump about all of those things. Sometimes it feels overwhelming to hit publish on posts like these because people can be judgmental and cruel, especially when it comes to mental health.
But what I’ve learned over the decade plus that I’ve been doing this is that posts like these help others who are struggling not feel so alone. And I see you – in my inbox and my DMs. I see how hard the last two years have been for so many of us, no matter our circumstances. It’s more important to me to honor and sit with those who feel alone and exhausted from being gaslit by so many people in our society than to worry about what a stranger might think, because it truly doesn’t matter or impact me in any way.
My number one priority this year is continuing to work on my mental health. I started taking medication in the summer of 2020, midway through the first year of the pandemic. I was also seeing a therapist weekly (virtually) and she was instrumental in helping me find the courage and confidence to leave my corporate job of over 9 years – truly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I was doing pretty well on my medication initially but it became clear to me recently that my medication was no longer working as effectively.
My anxiety has increased over the last six months or so, especially because I’ve been dealing with a slew of health issues that have upped the intensity of my medical anxiety significantly (not to mention the fact that we are still living through a seemingly never-ending pandemic).
When I’m doing well, I notice my routines are more consistent, I worry less, I don’t have as many intrusive thoughts and when I do, I can more easily move past them. Lately, I have lived in a frequent state of worry and with intrusive thoughts and I was having to take my rescue medication more often. I increased the dosage of my current medication, but I’m seeing my psychiatrist next week because I might need to try a medication that will achieve a better baseline for me. Thankfully, I did some genetic testing when I initially started meds and I have an entire list of “green light” medications that are supposed to be the best fit for me. I’m no longer scared of medication, which is a very liberating feeling. I know it’s normal to try multiple medications before finding the best ones – everyone is so different.
I’m also going to start therapy again and recently identified some new potential therapists to see (psychologists) that are in-network for me. I stopped doing therapy shortly after I left my job because it was just such a weight lifted and I was in a much better place – but I think a multidisciplinary approach is best and that I’d benefit from working through some of my health anxiety issues in particular.
A few years ago, I determined when my health anxiety started (as a child) and the exact moment/experience that led to it and that has been really helpful for me to have some context around why I am the way I am. I also realized in retrospect that working at a children’s hospital for as long as I did forever changed me – in some good ways but also in some very, very detrimental ways. I didn’t recognize at the time how deeply my anxiety would be impacted by knowing what I know and seeing the things I’ve seen. Having children myself made so many of those anxieties creep to the surface. Unfortunately, I can’t unsee or unknow those things, so I have to find other ways to cope.
In 2021, I finally started seeing specialists to address various symptoms I’ve been having. I didn’t do a lot of this sooner was because I felt guilty leaving work early to go to medical appointments and there were times throughout the pandemic where covid rates in Houston were so high that I was avoiding in-person visits.
I saw a gastroenterologist and had a colonoscopy in August for some concerning GI symptoms and all of those biopsies came back normal, thankfully. I still have IBS, but nothing more severe.
Subsequently, I had some bloodwork come back wonky and saw an endocrinologist. Then I had another set of different bloodwork come back wonky and have to have it redone soon because I was taking prednisone for a pinched nerve when I had those blood labs drawn so (that medication) could have impacted the results. My labs show I do not have an endocrine issue, but I still need to get to the bottom of what’s causing my symptoms. As you might imagine, for someone with health anxiety, having wonky blood labs can heighten anxiety even more because then you have “proof” something is off and it’s not just “in your head.” (side-note: have compassion for people struggling with anxiety because it’s something I would never wish on anyone).
I learned my vitamin D levels are still very low (below the minimum threshold value), so I’ve started taking a new supplement more frequently hoping I can bring them into a normal range. I’m also taking a B complex vitamin with methylfolate since I have a heterozygous MTHFR mutation.
I booked an appointment with a functional medicine MD later this month because at this point, while I love and appreciate modern medicine, I really need a doctor to hone in on some of my symptoms and do more in-depth labs to determine if I have any deficiencies or hormonal issues that can be solved by supplements, eating certain foods, etc. It’s frustrating not to have answers, but I had several friends and acquaintances recommend this doctor, so I’m feeling confident about it!
I also saw a neurologist at Methodist recently and finally got medication for my migraines and the nausea I experience when I have them. It’s debilitating – as bad as it was in my first trimester of pregnancy. Sometimes I am nauseous for days from just one headache, so I’m so happy to have something I can take to help relieve that because when I feel that way it’s hard to be productive.
I’ve accepted that I’m the type of person who will never consistently exercise in Q4 – my busiest time of year. I know that sounds obnoxious, but when I look back on patterns over the last decade, I consistently see a drop in movement from September through January.
The one saving grace to my lack of movement has been Teddy! We walk him twice a day – I do at least one of those walks typically, so I get at least one nice long walk most days. We’ve also been playing tennis occasionally this winter, which has been a nice way to get some movement and fresh air.
I was working out really consistently in 2020, especially during the first summer of the pandemic, and sort of here and there in 2021. Every doctor I’ve talked to has touted exercise as a very important component of improving health issues – from mental health to reducing the incidence of migraines. I’ve always known it’s important, but I think I need to start treating it as something as important as taking my anxiety medication each morning.
My brain can sometimes have a difficult time with discipline and sticking to a routine. That’s why I go through these phases where I’m really consistent and then go to no workouts at all. I’ve always been this way and I think it’s common in ADHD – to hyper focus on something you’re really into and then completely stop when you lose interest or lack motivation. I try not to be hard on myself about it because at least I’m walking most days – sometimes, that feels like enough for where I’m at right now.
Consistency is something I want to work on this year. I have some goals for myself and my business and sometimes my brain feels like I have 100 internet browser tabs open and I just jump from one task to another instead of honing in on finishing one task or project. I’ve always been this way and living and working through this pandemic has made it so much worse. Some days, even small tasks feel overwhelming because the last two years have just been draining.
I hope if I can get my anxiety under control and make improvements with some of my health issues, that alone will be a huge stepping stone in getting my mind off of worrying about things and allow my energy to instead be focused on doing what I love to do.
Last year showed me I can do anything – no matter how scared I am to take the leap. I’m someone who wants to do so many things that it’s easy for me to get overwhelmed with which one to do first. Once I get started on something though, I can whip right through it (hello, Christmas ornament making, lol).
My closing thought for this post is that I just want life to go back to normal. And I get that everyone wants that – but truthfully and realistically, so many people didn’t change their lives much during this pandemic. And that’s everyone’s personal choice. But for those of us that did, the hope for a return to normalcy can often feel fleeting. It always seems “so close” and then something else comes along that puts us back at square one again.
Something I keep coming back to is that I’m thankful we had a somewhat normal summer. My mom visited from Canada, we went to the pool, I saw friends, went out for lunch/dinner occasionally, etc.
I’ve moved towards acceptance that this is just how things are now and that our family has done everything we can to stay safe and be healthy, but we have to live our lives. With our kids in school, every day is a risk, and we just have to know that everything we’ve done so far means that we are protected.
My biggest hope for this year is traveling again. Our plan is not to put the kids in summer care and to spend some extended time in Canada this summer (we would bring Teddy, of course!) We are fortunate to both have jobs where we work remotely and can work from anywhere, and we really need this change of scenery.
So, that’s what I’m looking forward to in 2022. How about you?