Adrenaline, anxiety, Brainfog, Chronic illness, Circulation, Compression Stockings, Coping, Fatigue, Fight or Flight, heart palpitations, Hyper Pots, Hyperadrenergic POTS, Legs, Levine Protocol, Salt Tablets, The Beginning, Uncategorized, Weak, Weakness

I thought I was making myself sick

After being told for years that my ailments were anxiety, I became a disbeliever in my own body. I stopped believing in my ability to decipher if I was physically ill or not. I spent the past two decades convincing myself that anxiety was the cause of my dizziness, weakness, heart palpitations, tightness of chest…

And like so many people with anxiety, I believed that it was my fault. I believed that I had these physical feelings because I wasn’t mentally and emotionally strong enough. My confidence was replaced with a chaotic dialogue. “You’re dizzy because you need to calm down… You’ve never passed out in the grocery store before so stop being ridiculous. You’re not going to pass out today…”

I fought anxiety. I fought so hard! I took medications. I worked out. I meditated. I changed my diet. I read self-help books. I listened to podcasts. Yet, I was still sick and I was still scared.

Learning that I had dysautonomia was the first step to regaining the belief that I was interpreting my body correctly. It freed this resounding roar of, “I knew it! I knew there was something else that wasn’t right.” So many of my symptoms that were from dysautonomia were attributed to anxiety. All too often, anxiety has become a crutch diagnosis. It is the label many are left with when tests don’t find answers. It puts a halt to people’s journeys to find answers and it even belittles those who are suffering from anxiety by being a catch all.

Year after year, day after day—I thought I wasn’t smart enough, determined enough, strong enough… and maybe even that I wasn’t deserving enough…

  • Thinking I was too sensitive to be in the heat, then discovering, “Hey, I actually don’t sweat anymore.”
  • Believing I wasn’t strong enough to be in leadership roles. My heart would beat uncontrollably in meetings with an aggressive supervisor. Not mild palpitations, I’m talking pass-out-quality pounding. I found myself looking for every opportunity to get out just to calm my heart. I know now that the type of dysautonomia I have, Hyperadrenergic POTS (Hyper POTS) causes massive adrenaline dumps during times of stress.
  • Feeling ashamed because I was too scared to drive long distances. I often felt like I couldn’t breathe when I was driving. I’ve since been able to track that my heart rate often increases over 40 bpm in this position. It goes up because my blood is not circulating properly and my heart is trying to compensate by working harder.
  • Thinking I was ridiculous for being scared to go into grocery stores. The combination of standing, reaching for items, and fluorescent lights was dizzying. I remember mustering up all of my energy to push through when all I wanted to do was leave. I would look around at people who were 40 years older than me and believed that they looked so much healthier than I felt.

    Did I ever share that I felt this way with anyone? Never! It was crazy talk.

So, it turns out that I haven’t been as anxious as I thought. I’ve been sick! I’ve had these obstacles and I kept going. I’m not weak, I’m strong.

Now, I absolutely know that I also have anxiety. I think it would be hard to live through this and not. All of these ailments inspire anxiety; they draw it out of me and then that anxiety exacerbates everything. It’s still hard to know where the line between dysautonomia and anxiety lies. Maybe that’s because that line doesn’t end, it blurs.

Even if I had been fighting anxiety without dysautonomia, I wish I could have seen the bravery in that. I wish that my internal dialogue had been loving instead of self-deprecating. No one with anxiety chooses it. I never chose it! It’s like living in a prison of fear—the least we can do for ourselves is have self-compassion as a cell mate.

So here’s to self-compassion!

I have anxiety. I have dysautonomia. I am stronger than I thought. I am braver than I knew.  

Thank you for reading this post.

I want so much for people to understand this journey – what we learn and how we grow through being sick.

If you’d like to join me, you can subscribe to this blog and its social accounts to stay up on new posts.

with much love, sara

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A Diagnosis

For years, I’ve known something was wrong. Tests were normal. Doctors would point to anxiety and a vitamin deficiency and I’d be on my way. I’d tell John, “When I get to the other side, I’m going to ask God what this was. I have something they can’t figure out.”

Two days after Christmas in 2020, my first major flare-up hit. I went from walking/jogging two miles a day to being completely wiped from packing school lunches and sitting on the floor in my house to rest while walking from room to room. I’m usually fine when I lay down or sit down, but weak and dizzy when I stand or walk. My heart has a beat all its own and my blood pressure is playing a game of “how low can I go.” My body temperature does not regulate well so I’m either swaddled in a heating pad or throwing extra layers on the floor because I can no longer sweat. My anxiety can be my biggest prison. I have good hours and bad hours. Moments where I can walk to the car freely at a good pace, and moments where I cry to John asking, “Is this the point where my life changes and I’m not okay anymore?” Because my arms are too weak to lift wet towels from the dryer and I can’t stand long enough to make dinner so I’ve placed resting stools next to the stove and sink. This has evolved to where I need a cane and sometimes a wheelchair.

This flare-up provided the opportunity for a diagnosis, the comfort of knowing what’s causing this, and connecting with a community who also has this ailment. I have POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), a form of dysautonomia. Basically, my automatic nervous system is not working correctly. Example, when you stand up, your blood vessels automatically contract to keep your blood from pooling in your feet. Mine don’t do that, so my blood pools in my lower extremities. This means that a lot of my body is not getting the blood and oxygen it needs so my heart works extra hard to compensate for this and I become very weak. Another layer to this, I have Hyperadrenergic POTS (Hyper POTS). A form that is usually genetic, comes on slower, and is harder to treat. Some people with dysautonomia are bedridden, some live “normal” lives.

Here’s a video that explains my dysautonomia – 

What’s next:

There’s no cure for dysautonomia so they focus on identifying a cause and treating symptoms. We hope this is a flare-up, so at some point it may dwindle and I may regain a lot of what I could do before. I don’t know how long this flare-up will last or how many more are in my future. For treatment, doctors are exploring a combination of medications, diet changes, salt and hydration to increase blood volume, and physical therapy to push me and strengthen my legs.

Silver linings:

  • Usually (but not always), when I lay down or sit down, I function like a totally normal human being. It’s like I have multiple personalities and my healthy persona resurrects in relaxed positions which is an amazing respite.
  • I am blessed to work from home and have a job where I can sit all day. What’s more, working is an amazing outlet where I feel normal and useful.
  • I have brilliant doctors with good souls who care for me and love me through this.
  • I have an AMAZING husband who has taken over the household chores, holds my hand when I’m so frustrated by what I can’t do, and loves me independently of what I can do to make his life easier (because I’m not helping in this arena right now.) Our marriage is like every other, good seasons and tough ones. This current challenge has strengthened our relationship with kindness and humility. Words can’t express how lovely is his soul.
  • On days where I can’t do much physically, I can do a ton spiritually. I have a prayer list and I pray for you. Coincidentally, I just joined a healing prayer study through my church. The timing couldn’t be better.
  • My children are learning to do more around the house and be more independent, selfless, and compassionate. I’m VERY proud of them! But to be honest, parenting while being weak and stationary is hard. I’m figuring this out.
  • My three best friends, mom, sister, aunts, and cousins are all in the medical field. So, I have the best call-a-nurse/doctor line possible. And they are so much more than that. They are my sanity and some of my greatest loves.
  • Most importantly, this draws me closer to God. If you know me, you know that I “might” be a perfectionist who likes things to run at optimal performance. Well, I can’t physically make that happen right now. I have zero control- but God has total control. I trust in Him and His plan. If this was all to remind me that God should be the priority in my life, it was worth it.

I want you to know:

I had to think hard as to whether I’d share any of this and have a lot of reservations and even fears about doing so. In the end, I decided what good does it do if I learn from something but don’t share it.

Praise God for what we know and what we don’t. Praise God for love and hope.

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Here’s a little more about my story and how I cope with chronic illness.

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