One Teacher's Journey to Self-Care

I've always been a proponent of self-care, especially for teachers. But, until recently, I didn't really attach much weight to that term. I've always made time for myself. I indulge in pedicures and monthly massages. I read. I exercise. In a nutshell, if it makes me happy, I deem it a form of self-care. On one level, these things are a form of self-care.

But, what I recently realized was that the ultimate form of self-care is taking care of ME. As in, my health as it impacts my quality of life.

This post is long, but it documents my journey to a deeper realization of what self-care means to me. I am feeling very vulnerable in posting this, but chances are some of you may be able to relate. Hopefully parts of this post will resonate with you and you will realize that self-care can mean different things to different people depending upon the season of their life.

My Journey
A few years ago I started noticing several vague health symptoms popping up. Symptoms that many would brush off as being everyday health complaints, or simply due to age. But here's the thing, I knew they weren't normal for me, mostly because they never went away and they never got better either. Something was off.

My voice would go hoarse for no apparent reason. I developed a deep, dry cough that flared up daily. I had a hard time managing stress that previously never made a dent on my nerves. I experienced come and go anxiety that I could not explain. Most of the time that anxiety was firmly rooted in my body, not my mind. Meaning, my body felt anxious and wound up, my chest was tight, but my head was calm. I'd get bad heartburn. So bad, that I'd clench my chest in pain. I was breathless, for no apparent reason and people would notice it when we were talking. I'd often feel jittery. I experienced heart palpitations, or my heart would just race and then stop. My hands and feet would swell up, and feel stiff. My body couldn't regulate its own temp at night. And during the day, my hands were always cold (and I live in the desert). My sleep suffered. My once patient demeanor changed and I found myself feeling more irritated than patient. As time went on, I began experiencing fatigue (not to be confused with having a sluggish day). Then, I developed some pretty bad brain fog. I couldn't remember conversations that I'd had ten minutes prior, and I was beginning to forget memories about my own life that had always been so crystal clear. I would forget names and simple words. Thoughts wouldn't come out right which made communicating with others fairly tricky. Couple all of this with a bout of chronic hives that covered my body, and sometimes my face, (my second bout with them in four years), and I was a mess!

Many days, I felt like I was trapped in my body watching it do things that I had no control over.

My body was under a lot of stress, and I didn't acknowledge it. I ignored it. Working a job that requires you to give 110% every single day just made things harder on my body. I was able to push through these issues most of the time, but this last fall/winter, things were bad. It was beginning to feel like my symptoms were taking over. I wasn't able to address every classroom concern because I had little to no energy. I wasn't able to speak as clearly as I needed to. Often times, I couldn't find my words and I'd lose my train of thought mid lesson! This was not OK.

I ignored my symptoms for years. I was raised to push through things, to tough them out. And, I convinced myself that I was too busy to deal with them. But when those ugly, itchy, dangerous hives came back, and I found that my teaching was being impacted, I had no choice but to go to the doctor.

Before heading to the doctor, I spoke with my mom and shared all my symptoms with her. She has hypothyroidism and basically said, "Um, I think you have what I have. You need to tell the doctor about all of this too."

The Diagnosis
After several office visits, multiple blood tests, and a referral to an endocrinologist, I found out that I have Hashimoto's Disease (an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid...your immune system basically attacks the thyroid and tries to kill it). In addition to that, it's suspected that I have a histamine intolerance (yucky hives and some similar symptoms to Hashimoto's).

The Realization
At this point, I realized that what I thought were minor health related inconveniences were actual problems tied to much bigger problems. I learned that I have both a chronic illness and a suspected inability to adequately break down histamine. Learning this was not devastating. It wasn't sad in the least. It was a relief. Now I knew there had been something wrong with me all this time (and I wasn't going cuckoo).

I learned that ignoring your symptoms is not a form of self-care. It's a form of self-harm

Upon being diagnosed, I was told that my Hashimoto's would not be treated with meds. And, I was OK with that. Thankfully I had already started working with my registered dietitian to address the suspected histamine intolerance (this is hard to get a diagnosis for, but the doctor and nutritionist both think it was the root problem associated with my hives). I was beginning to see some improvements with those symptoms, so once I was diagnosed with the Hashimoto's, I asked her to help me devise a diet that would also address those symptoms and issues. So, rather than let nature run it's course med-free, I decided to address my health issues through diet.

I've come to realize that true self-care means telling myself that I am important enough to put forth the effort needed to heal and be healthy.

The Present
Fast forward to now, 6 months later, and my body is free of hives. Many of the symptoms I was experiencing related to my Hashimoto's have either gone away, or improved significantly. I still struggle with fatigue, heart palpitations, processing stress (when your body is under stress, it's harder to be resilient to stress), and inflammation/stiffness in my hands, but not to the same degree as before. I also get flares. This means my immune system can be triggered, and inflammation is triggered. Basically, during a flare, you regress and experience all kinds of symptoms that may have gone away, or symptoms may intensify.

Flares are very frustrating because symptoms I was able to reverse or get rid of, come back. It can be very isolating and emotional, but I have to remind myself that I know how to take care of myself and I just have to work a bit harder to get through the flare. But I also give myself grace and allow myself to own my emotions so that I can move forward with my self-care.

Self-care means owning your feelings and trusting yourself to get through the hurdles.

All this to say that while I have come pretty far, my journey is not complete. It will be a life-long journey.

Nowadays, my teaching is no longer clouded by brain fog and anxiety, or everything else in between. My thoughts are crystal clear, I can find my words, and I am on top of all the things I need to be.

How? Through diet and lifestyle changes, under the supervision of a medical professional. I've completely changed the way I eat by following a low histamine autoimmune protocol diet (again, under the supervision of a professional). I've spent countless hours learning about autoimmune disease, because knowledge is power. I had to make (and continue to make) purposeful lifestyle changes.

I've learned to be more in tune with my body. Instead of ignoring symptoms as they appear, I address them. I make sure I go to bed as early as I can, as I recognize that my body needs as much rest as it can get. I make sure that when I exercise it isn't too intense as that can compromise my already unstable immune system and trigger fatigue.

I learned that self-care is making sure my body gets what it needs, when it needs it, even if it doesn't sound like fun at that moment. The most important thing I have learned about self-care is it isn't always easy, but it's definitely worth it.

It's hard to follow a strict diet, and I'm not going to lie, I've gone rogue a few times, but I usually end up paying for it. Sometimes I don't get the sleep I know my body needs, and then I regret how tired I am the next day (tired in my universe borders on fatigue - I struggle to speak clearly or concisely, I feel like a sloth, and I have trouble bringing any level of energy or emotion to the table). But, I am human.

Lesson learned: self-care means I recognize that I might fail from time to time, that I am human and I'm trying my best. 

While I have worked hard to take care of myself and have experienced a great deal of healing, I haven't been able to reverse all my symptoms. And, that's OK. Self-care is a journey.

Self-care means giving myself some grace and recognizing that I'm doing my best to take care of me.

Final Thoughts
My journey has helped me see that self-care is much deeper than taking time to indulge in the activities that make me feel pampered. I'm not knocking those things. I indulge in them regularly.

My journey has shown me that self-care more importantly means taking care of my health. It has taught me that self-care takes hard work, patience, and dedication, and that I'm worth it.

Self-care is so much more than doing what makes you happy. It's doing what keeps YOU healthy and thriving so you can thoroughly enjoy the things that make you happy.


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