These days, you have to be your own best advocate. Most of us know this, but it's not an activity that often comes naturally or even easily, with practice, for some.
For the past couple of years, I've been dead tired by 9pm, not sleeping well (although nothing in comparison to recent insomnia issues) and feeling like my body was sort of freaking out at the smallest change in my diet or routine. Things were not in balance. Turns out, my adrenals were fatigued. I suspect most of us are walking around with a fair degree of adrenal fatigue. This was the initial thought of my chiropractor.
Now, if you went to your standard American doctor of a certain age, one who has attended a standard American medical school, chances are he or or she won't consider adrenal fatigue as a real thing. It may not even occur to them to look at how the body responds to stress. They might tell you it's indeed stress, but that's as far as their skill set typically goes. It's not really their fault, but it can be frustrating. My ob-gyn, who ordinarily I like and respect, told me two years ago that it was stress, and that my husband and I should go on vacation. How am I going to pull that off with two small kids and no one to watch them for more than an overnight? Not possible. That response triggered an even bigger tidal wave of emotion, one that had me missing my mother all over again.
My endocrinologist took one look at my elevated TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and wanted to put me on Synthroid. My other thyroid numbers were mostly fine, but borderline. She also thought nothing was wrong with my low Vitamin D or my increasing food sensitivities, or unexplained weight gain. Or periodic night sweats. She told me there was no way that I was in perimenopause, and given my past medical history with her, I trust that she is probably right, but it's not impossible. As for the weight gain? She told me to "go to bed a little hungry," as if at age 40 I hadn't figured out how to regulate my appetite, or that that was the real solution to my problem. She then cracked some joke about how she still wants that last five pounds to go away. Really?
I left the office fighting back tears, and drove to Nature's Way, our local health food store. I wanted to talk to someone who would really hear me. Western medicine often doesn't know how to listen the way many of us would like. As luck would have, it one of the owner-herbalists was available for a free consult and he confirmed what my chiro suggested, and offered some ideas for herbs I could take. Within two weeks, my energy had started to return.
Long story short. This sort of exchange, where standard medicine is at a loss but mostly means well, happens all the time. It's a narrow approach, not a holistic one. We have to take matters into our own hands, especially if what we're being told doesn't resonate or doesn't feel like the right move for our bodies. Everyone is different and a one-size-fits all response doesn't sometimes work.
All of this activity led me to make an appointment with an integrative physician who has a D.O. Osteopaths are by nature more holistic and trained to make adjustments and manipulations to the body. But I also wanted to see him because of his background in yoga, nutrition and Ayurveda. It seemed like I was going to hit the jackpot. And I honestly did. Through saliva tests, he confirmed the adrenal fatigue, and we talked about different courses of action to take. We checked and rechecked my thyroid, which is in much better shape now.
What I can tell you is that I now have a physician I can talk to like a human and who talks to me the same way and respects my own self-knowledge and wants to work with me. He is compassionate and communicative, and considers what he does his "service." He's cautious and takes things slowly, giving you and the body a chance to respond and remember how to heal. Most primary care docs want to just give you a medication, or two or three, if they think it's needed, and get you out the door. I've got a combination of traditional and alternative remedies going on right now that's got me back up to speed. It did take me about three months of experimenting with different supplements and medications, including a foray on an anti-anxiety drug that I hope to never take again (the cure is worse than the so-called disease). However, I didn't arrive at balance without a tremendous amount of work and awareness on my part.
It's not only the prescriptive nature of standard medicine that frustrates me, it's the idea that if you have something you're struggling with, whether it's insomnia, anxiety or depression or even high blood pressure, they perceive biology as destiny. In reality, recent research indicates that our genetic response is much more nuanced than that; it's not so easy to blame it on genes. In fact, that thinking does the rest of our body a massive disservice, because it's working really hard all the time, without us about to detect it, to keep us healthy and fight off invaders. (I'm reading Super Genes right now, can you tell?) And it also discounts the role of our gut health and our own experiences and emotions play in this complex puzzle. And then there's the yoga, the meditation, and the good nutrition—those play a role, too. I am proud of my mostly good sleep hygiene. All of these little steps add up to a bigger picture of healthy habits. Plus, you add in something as potentially transformative as psychotherapy modalities (I've become a fan of EMDR, even though it's intense) and you have the ability to really alter your response to life.
With my integrative doctor, it doesn't even occur to him to see the anxiety I've been struggling with as a permanent condition to manage. He understands everything is fluid and wants to empower his patients to know their bodies and make good choices. I'm going to keep going with my Ayurvedic nighttime routine to calm the vata imbalances, my Vitex for the hot flashes and wacko PMS that has taken hold since I've turned 40, take my small doze of Zoloft in the morning, and my Ashwaganda in the afternoons. I'll continue to explore the amazing potential of my essential oils, too. I have a lot going on right now, with work shifting, home lift shifting (we're moving), and lots of changes on the horizon. I need as much as possible to keep me grounded. I have good days and bad days like most of us--this week in particular has been a doozy--but things are mostly more balanced.
So I encourage you: If you are frustrated with your health, your life, or your medical care, life's too short to suffer with the wrong doctor or the wrong approach. And yes, there are plenty of great traditional doctors who will respect an integrative approach if that's what you want to take. Our bodies are able to respond and adapt fairly quickly, if we are paying attention and trust.