Sometimes the timing just needs to be right, amiright? I wanted to share this story because I’m finding I’m sharing it more and more with friends and acquaintances lately as I’m hearing the same concerns over and over again…
This is how I existed FOR YEARS. Let me tell you my story and see if any of this resonates with you.
Growing up I had been an athlete, but after high school all my fitness efforts were sporadic and inconsistent. Like all young people I felt like I had plenty of time, and that I was slightly invincible… but as a nurse I knew I wasn’t. You see, it’s a funny thing. I always quote Maya Angelou and say “when you know better, you do better,” but with my health that was never the case. I certainly knew better because I was a nurse, but I still didn’t do better and instead of knowing more motivating me to take care of myself it left me paralyzed with fear. I ignored any and all signs that anything was ever wrong thinking, I’m too young for this, or too young for that. So, when a few years ago I decided it was finally time to get in shape and start exercising again, I wasn’t surprised when things didn’t go according to plan.
I had joined a kickboxing circuit gym. It was 30 mins of circuits, and I’d be done and out. The first time was so hard I could barely walk out of there, and so was the next time, and the next time, and the next time…. I remember saying to my husband, “I may be coming home in an ambulance today” one day while walking out the door to go to the gym. In all of my life I had never had such trouble getting into shape! Usually after a few weeks you start to see a little progress, but I saw ZERO progress. I’m not talking about weight-loss, I’m talking about exercise tolerance. I simply could never catch my breath, I felt like my heart was pounding through my chest, and my muscles were aching and burning in a way that I had never felt before in my life. I kept saying, something is wrong here, but then reassured myself that I’m just getting older and was just too far gone and out of shape and ultimately ended up stopping my membership.
This whole thing ate away at me for months and months. I never told anyone, I was paralyzed with fear until finally I couldn’t take it anymore and cried my eyes out to my husband. He convinced me I needed to make a doctor’s appointment. I can’t tell you how intimidating this was for me. It’s like I knew deep down there was something wrong, but I wasn’t sure what it was and had convinced myself that my pregnancies gave me early onset congestive heart failure. (When you know more you also jump to the worst possible conclusions #nurseproblems)
I told my nurse practitioner all about the exercise. I told her that I was always fatigued and had heart palpitations all the time. I told her about my shortness of breath and thinning hair. It’s like I opened a vault of secrets that I had never told anyone before. This poor woman probably looked at her case load for the day and saw a 37-year-old patient on her list and thought I’d be the easy case for the day! Ha! I had an EKG in the office which showed some mild changes, and I had some blood work done. She advised me not to exercise at all until we got my labs back and could see what’s going on. I remember getting into my car and crying my eyes out. It was like a huge burden had been lifted but I was still scared.
She called the next day and told me that my hemoglobin and hematocrit were dangerously low, and that this was likely causing all my symptoms. Severe anemia was my diagnosis. If you don’t know what hemoglobin is, it’s the part of your blood that’s responsible for the transport of oxygen. This explained my palpitations and EKG changes, my heart had to work twice as hard to pump oxygen around my body. It explained my exercise intolerance, shortness of breath, dizziness, and even hair loss! THE REASON this was happening to me was…. My period!
When I gave birth to my youngest via c-section I bled out a bit in the OR and ended up needing a blood transfusion. Then, every month after that for about 10 days every month I had extremely heavy periods. I know for some this may be a bit of “TMI”, but I don’t care because I know it may help someone. I always just felt that heavy periods were my cross to bear, kinda like, “sucks, but what can you do?” Little did I know that I was slowly bleeding to death! Both at the fault of myself (because I knew better) and my doctor, I never had my blood levels checked after my transfusion. In my defense, I’m a stay at home mom of 4 little kids and doctor’s appointments during normal business hours for me were a massive undertaking. That being said, that blood transfusion was like filling a leaky tire. You’ll have enough air for a bit, but eventually you run out- every single month.
I ended up making an appointment with a new GYN in the area, who has been amazing. He assured me that if this continued that I would have likely had a heart attack or something severe due to the lack of oxygen getting to my vital organs. The symptoms like hair loss are late signs of anemia. He also explained that it is not normal or ok to have such heavy periods that you can’t leave the house. That clearly something was wrong. I can’t tell you how comforting this was to hear! We went over all my possible options to fix things- ranging from hormone pills (very low dose birth control), a uterine ablation, or a hysterectomy. We decided to try the least invasive, which was the hormones and it has worked amazingly.
Within one month I felt like a new person. This is SO INSANE that your period can have this much of an effect on you! All of my symptoms slowly started to fade away. The hormones make it so I hardly get a period at all anymore and I am THRILLED. I can even exercise now, and everything just feels normal. It was hard to start a routine, but It took the usual amount of time to build up tolerance and strength. It is an incredible feeling to not almost pass out from exercise!
I tell this story because I KNOW so many people have super heavy periods and think it’s their normal. I tell it because so many people want to avoid the doctor, or don’t make the time to get things checked out because they don’t have time. I tell this because you also think you’re too young to have something serious. I tell you this because my FREAKING PERIOD nearly killed me! Can you imagine? “Cause of death, period” haha. I mean, it’s funny but it’s also SO not funny. Maybe this will be the story you read that motivates you to make an appointment to get anything weird checked out. You are worth it. Don’t waste precious time feeling lousy all the time.