First, my apologies for the long delay. A wise mentor once advised me never to (publicly) write my way through a crisis. At the time, I didn’t think to ask her what I ought to write about instead. Hence, the appearance that I fell off the planet.
I wasn’t ready to share the details back then, so I decided to give my blog a rest. I thought time would make it easier. Instead it added more layers to the story until I no longer knew where to begin.
The following details barely scratch the surface of a condition I believe is rooted in my life-long battle with an over-active stress response. The whole story could fill a book. Maybe someday it will.
For now, this is the short version of what has transpired over the last six months.
First, I have to go back to October 2014, when I first saw my doctor for severe mood swings. I sat in his office crying about how my excessive irritability affected my marriage and children. I lost a parent a few months earlier, and I thought maybe my anger stemmed from the grief. The doctor agreed with me, and I started taking anti-depressants and seeing a therapist.
For the next two years, I called my doctor every few months. I said the medication didn’t seem to be helping and I kept adding new symptoms to my growing list of complaints.
“I can’t concentrate.” Anxiety, they told me.
“I’m gaining weight.” Age, they told me.
“Im too tired to do simple things.” Motherhood, they told me.
I eventually stopped calling the doctor. I ignored my symptoms and tried to function normally. On the outside, I looked and acted just fine. Inside, my life became a battle ground of physical, mental, and emotional discomfort.
Six months ago, after two years of wondering if I’m just a high-maintenance crybaby, I developed a symptom that anxiety and depression can’t explain. I called my doctor and forty-eight hours later, I arrived at an imaging center for a brain MRI.
They found a 3/4 inch tumor attached to my pituitary gland, almost directly behind my eyes.
Although it is benign, as most pituitary tumors are, it’s still no walk in the park. In a normal person, the pituitary gland regulates the production and release of hormones throughout the body. With a tumor twice its size growing on it, however, it doesn’t regulate much of anything. Enter: constant mood swings, anxiety, fatigue, and a host of other unpleasant symptoms.
It’s no fun for me or anyone who lives with me, bless their unconditionally loving hearts.
The treatment plan includes long-term monitoring with medication and annual MRI’s. My endocrinologist can’t say exactly when (or if) my symptoms will fully reverse, and we’re unsure how this will affect our future plans.
At first I struggled to accept it. “I can’t live like this,” I said more than once, especially after my endocrinologist said I might not see improvement in my symptoms for six months or longer.
Not knowing what else to do, I started reading everything I could find about pituitary tumors and hormone imbalances. Much of what I found was vague at best and terrifying at worst.
However, I also learned a lot about how the body works and what makes healthy living so important, especially for highly sensitive people like me.
My research prompted me to take a hard, objective look at my health habits. I tracked my sleep patterns and read the labels on my favorite foods. It turns out that I had been seriously misleading myself when I said my lifestyle was “pretty healthy.”
In reality, I wasn’t getting enough sleep and my schedule was stretched way too thin. My diet was even worse–loaded with processed food, toxic additives, and highly inflammatory substances.
I decided that I owe it to myself and my family to make self-care my top priority. I couldn’t wait around for my symptoms to reverse on their own. Even if better habits didn’t reverse my condition, they certainly couldn’t make things any worse.
First I committed to sleeping eight hours each night without exception. That meant no more staying up late to write or enjoy extra “me time” when I know my kids will be up at 6:00 am.
It’s been a bit of a setback for me as a writer who functions best late at night, but I can get through the morning routine without yelling at my kids and that’s been well worth the tradeoff.
Next I completed a 30-day elimination diet, which prompted me to permanently remove some staples including caffeine, alcohol, dairy, and gluten. I’m also avoiding processed foods as much as possible, especially those with ingredients like MSG and hydrogenated oils.
Within a few weeks, my long-term struggle with chronic sinus infections and embarrassing stomach issues was over. (Remember, my tumor isn’t the only reason I decided to do this. It just happened to be the final straw in a long chain of health problems).
I’m still mourning the loss of Oreos and butter pecan ice cream, but I can get through my whole day without stomach cramps and sinus headaches. Again, a worthy tradeoff.
Then I tackled my schedule. I never thought of myself as over-committed because my roles were all small. A monthly meeting here. A six-week course there. It was all fun and everything tied in with things I’m passionate about.
I didn’t realize that, while giving my time to others, I had fallen into a pattern of neglecting myself. I decided to pull the plug on everything until I got my health under control. At first, I was afraid I would be letting people down, but everyone was gracious and understanding and not at all surprised, given my circumstances.
Once I made slow, healthy living my top priority, things started to improve dramatically. I still have bad days, but when they happen, I don’t have to go out into the world and pretend everything is fine. I can simply meet myself where I am without hiding the struggle.
Now I spend my days taking care of my family, cooking from scratch, reading novels, and learning more about healthy living every day. I’m maintaining my distant relationship with social media, and the constant buzz of my smartphone hushed to occasional texts from a few close friends. In the evenings, I read or watch a movie with my husband, and I’m almost always asleep by 10:00.
Although this experience has been one of the most challenging times of my life, it has also been one of the the most freeing. It was a time of deep self-reflection and life-changing discovery. A time of hard lessons and new habits. A time that both challenged my faith and solidified it.
When all of this first happened, I wondered if it could possibly end up being a good thing.
Could I someday look back on this time with gratitude for everything I wouldn’t have discovered about what really matters in this short, short life?
Just six months into the process, the answer is most definitely YES.
Last week I had a followup MRI, which showed that the medication is working and the tumor is shrinking. There’s still a long way to go, and my symptoms have only slightly improved, but the progress gives me tremendous hope.
As hard as it is to have this struggle in my life, I’m thankful for the push to commit to the healthy habits I avoided for so long. I’m thankful for everything I learned about myself and my purpose in the world—something I’ve struggled for years to define.
And I’m thankful for the realization that ‘slow and simple’ is a wonderful way to live.