I’m a young person, and for most of my life I’ve enjoyed relatively normal health. No chronic conditions, average physical development, no major injuries to speak of. I never even needed braces.
However, in the last year and a half, my overall health has taken a hit in a few ways. Last summer, I started running more regularly. Things were going well at first, but after a few weeks (and as the weather got hotter), I developed a nasty cough after finishing a run. At first it wasn’t too bad, and if I drank a lot of water throughout the day that would help, but the cough gradually grew from slightly annoying to physically debilitating. At the worst point, I couldn’t stop coughing for hours after a workout, and I felt physically exhausted and unable to do anything but lie on the couch for the rest of the day (fortunately for me, I wasn’t working at the time). I saw my doctor and (after the supremely disappointing initial assessment that “it’s been pretty dusty lately” — I lived in the New Mexican desert, and had been there for most of my life, and the dust had never bothered me before) he eventually diagnosed me with exercise-induced asthma, wrote me a prescription for an inhaler, and sent me on my way. As someone who had never taken prescription medications as anything more than a temporary means of battling an illness (with the only exception of oral contraceptives, which I have since stopped taking…but that, I think, is a story for another time), I had now joined the ranks of so many others who rely on daily doses of prescription drugs to simply function normally. Happily (at the time), the inhaler seemed to be an instant cure for my cough, so I took it twice a day and got back to exercising.
By the time I got my inhaler (summer 2013), I’d been suffering from chronic sinus congestion for several months. I also asked my doctor about this, who again initially offered a pretty flat-footed diagnosis (“Allergies?”). He prescribed me a nasal spray and told me to try taking allergy medications more regularly. This helped somewhat, but the congestion never entirely went away, and occasionally it would flare up so badly that I couldn’t sleep through the night because I could barely breathe. I still vividly remember sitting up in bed at two o’clock in the morning, sobbing because I couldn’t breathe or sleep as my husband groggily tried to comfort me, and of course the sobbing only made it worse. Now it’s another year later (last spring it had already been almost six months of chronic congestion), and while my congestion has improved thanks (I presume) to trying some different prescriptions and (possibly) due to a change in environment (we now live in New England), it’s still there. I’ve just gotten used to “slightly congested” as my new normal, still with occasional flare-ups.
In the last four months, chronic ear infections have joined the mix. I got an ear infection in late February, experiencing pain, buzzing, ringing, and congestion in my left ear (and some in my right). This was a strange experience for me because (1) ear infections are primarily found in children, not (presumably healthy) adults, and (2) even as a child, I rarely (if ever, to my memory) suffered from ear infections. Again, in February I went to the doctor, got my prescription for antibiotics, and waited for the pills to cure me. They did, mostly, but the feeling of my ear being “blocked up” never fully went away (similar to my sinus congestion), and then two months later another ear infection flared up. The second was much, much worse than the first: my left ear started to plug up and ache on a Friday night, and by early Saturday morning I had horrible pain that woke me up, and I had to muster all my strength and will just to call my doctor’s urgent care line. I cried in the car from the pain as my husband drove me to urgent care twenty minutes later. Another round of antibiotics followed, and while the pain and ringing went away, the congestion (while it has gradually improved), has not. It’s now been over a month since the last infection.
I’m writing about all of this now because I am tired. I am tired of always feeling like I’m functioning at a sub-par level of health. I’m tired of being chronically congested in my head. I’m tired of not being able to feel “normal” without taking prescription drugs every day. I’m tired of not even knowing what “normal” is supposed to feel like. I’m tired of being given drugs to medicate symptoms instead of identifying and eradicating causes.
Most of all, I’m tired of going to the doctor with my complaints and undergoing a routine examination only to be told that I’m in perfect health, given a prescription for whatever chronic condition is ailing me at the time, and sent on my way.
Obviously, I am not in perfect health. Obviously, it is not normal for a young adult who is in otherwise good health and with no history of these chronic conditions to suddenly develop them out of the blue. At least, that’s how it feels to me.
I should say that (after a hiatus) I started running again this past week, and I’m happy to report that while I have not been using my inhaler, my cough has not returned. Perhaps a change in environment helped. Who knows, maybe that first doctor was on to something with the dust (although it still seems unlikely to me). I am also going to see an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist as well as an allergist to see if I can get some real answers about what is causing these problems. My new PCP here said that my chronic sinus congestion is probably due to an allergy to something, and I’m hoping that’s true. I’m hoping for answers.
In the meantime, I’m going to start making some other lifestyle changes on my own. The first I’ve already started: I’m exercising regularly again. I’m also going to implement long-term (perhaps permanent) changes in my diet and daily habits, because I’m a big believer in using proper nutrition and a whole foods, plant-based diet to facilitate long-term health improvements. Some of the diet changes I’m going to begin this week include:
- No more coffee; I will downgrade to tea in the meantime, and lower my caffeine addiction and tolerance (which has gotten so high that I no longer feel energized by coffee; I merely drink it out of habit).
- Starting my morning with a juice (kale, cucumber, ginger, lemon, celery, and granny smith apple) and warm/hot water with lemon.
- Primarily eating big salads for lunches (consisting of spinach and/or mixed greens as well as nuts, fruit, and maybe sometimes a hard boiled egg or a bit of feta cheese).
- Generally, making vegetables and fruits the centerpieces of my meals (as opposed to meats, pastas, breads, and rice).
I’m also going to start going to bed and getting up at the same time every day (my goal is to have no more than thirty minutes of variance each day). My sleep habits have been really out of whack lately, and I’ve just felt perpetually exhausted for the last couple of weeks.
A lot of these things are a result of poor discipline on my part, but that’s all the more reason to start making these changes. I have to retrain my self and refresh my body and mind.
I don’t think modern medicine is evil. But I also don’t think it should be considered “healthy” or “normal” to perpetually rely on prescriptions in order to function, or to take medications to reduce symptoms of a problem instead of trying to get at the root of that problem.
I know it’s not going to be easy, and I know it’s going to increase my grocery bill. I know that it will take a while for my long-ingrained cravings for foods that are high in sugar and carbs and low in nutrients to get under control. But I’ve gotten to the point that “it’s hard” is no longer a good excuse (as if it ever were). It’s just not a good reason to let my health slip through the cracks, especially during what is supposed to be one of the healthiest, most energetic times of my life.
I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. It’s time to make a change.
Wish me luck.