I had a great, fairly memorable weekend — I passed my yellow belt test in Karate, Roommate had a birthday, we spent some time at the pool with friends, and I had a nice dinner with my family…All exciting, fun, relaxing things. So, how exactly did everything change so quickly?
On Sunday evening I went to my parents’ for dinner with my whole family; afterwards, we all gathered outside for a game of cards. Halfway through, I began to feel very weak and tired; it was becoming difficult for me to even keep my eyes open for the game. I’d been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome before, so feeling tired was really nothing new…except for the fact that I’ve had bouts of insomnia for the past few weeks. While my average number of hours for sleep used to be 8-9, I was now getting anywhere from 3-5. Normal? Probably, but not for me.
I told the family that I was going to take Riley home and go to sleep, but as I went inside, I suddenly became so weak, that Mom suggested I relax on the couch for awhile before driving home. Long story short, my symptoms only got worse — I tried to sleep, but I felt like I was wired, only able to close my eyes for a few minutes at a time. My chest felt heavy, my heart was beating fast, and my left arm was feeling tight.
Mom and Dad contemplated taking me right to the hospital, but I stubbornly insisted that I was just weak because I was so tired. Sleep — sleep was all I needed and I would be fine. But I wasn’t really fine — I was becoming disoriented, and when my dad and brother walked me outside to the car to take me home, I felt so weak and lightheaded I could barely move.
Riley and I stayed the night as a precaution, but I was up for most of it, watching the clock change from 10:00 to 11:30 to 1:00, then 2:30. With a cold paper towel pressed over my eyes, I managed to force myself to sleep for half-hour intervals. Finally, after tossing and turning and waking up every fifteen minutes during the 3 o’clock hour (and adiosing my brother as he left for work at 4:00), I turned on the TV and watched the Ex-Effect on MTV — if anything could lull me back to sleep, I thought, it would be contrived idiocy.
I woke back up around five as my dad left for work, dozed off for another two hours, and then trudged upstairs to wake my mom. My mom once asked me what I would do when I move or go to France and something like this should happen. Truthfully, if I were by myself, in another city, in another state, in another country, I would have figured out a way to deal with it. But as it was, my mom was there, and I needed her.
And I was grateful for her.
Early Monday morning we went to see the doctor. I’d had mitral valve prolapse when I was a kid, but when I was tested for it as a teenager, they said that I no longer had it and that it was fairly normal for the heart to correct itself. The tests we had done as a follow up verified that, so it was something that we accepted (and were grateful for). My heart had kind of “fixed” itself over time. Cool.
So on Monday morning, when the doctor said that he heard the “clicking” that is associated with MVP as well as the tachycardia that I was complaining about, mom and I kind of looked at each other in surprise, and she explained what the other doctors had told her. It doesn’t really ever go away, he said, but increases its presence as other factors contribute to it. I still have no idea what this means, if they maybe missed something years ago or if these factors are causing it to flare up again, but I’ll be doing some research to better understand it.
He scheduled an EKG and an echocardiogram for next Tuesday, ordered some blood tests, and prescribed me Ambien for the insomnia. Monday evening I slept eight hours straight through for the first time in a few weeks, but I woke up feeling weak, groggy, and with the other symptoms persisting.
“Do you want us to take you to the hospital?” Mom and Dad asked.
“No.” I insisted. “I don’t think they’re going to tell me anything; I’m probably just exhausted and dehydrated.”
And exhausted I was. Wednesday came around and I started to feel scared. My left arm felt numb and constricting, my heart felt like it was beating faster than it should, and I was weak and disoriented. I asked Mom to take me to the ER. I know when I feel good, and for the past few days something had just felt wrong.
After waiting for over three hours, having more blood drawn, and doing a chest x-ray and EKG, the doctor came in to speak with us. He said that he, too, heard the murmur, but that while the other symptoms are very real, it’s wasn’t necessarily the heart that was the cause, but rather it was the anxiety that is associated with mitral valve prolapse. Things began to click. I was diagnosed with a panic disorder that always surfaces when there is a big change on the threshold. Exactly, said the doctor. There’s some kind of connection between people with MVP and panic disorders. Not only that, but the feelings of fatigue, extreme pissiness (irritability would be the clinical term) that would never usually describe me, and always feeling cold/feverish are also associated with it.
I do have a lot of stress in my life right now, I explained, but I thought that I was able to manage it. “That’s just the thing,” Doc said, “I’ve seen this occurring more and more, particularly with young people in your generation. Things are different than when we were kids [prompting the doctor and my parents to joke about calculators costing a fortune and using slide-rulers]. There’s a lot more going on.”
The doctor basically explained that our society is at the height of communication, as email, texting, and social media has made us more aware, hyper-vigilante was the awesome word he used. Multitasking to the extreme, we’re checking text messages, voicemail, emails, Twitter, and blog entries multiple times a day. As such, our brains are never really “turned off,” heightening awareness and increasing anxiety. Looking back through my own blog entries, yeah, I’d say he had me pegged.
With so much out of control in our lives, both personally and in society, it’s absolutely necessary to take tiny steps towards personal happiness, towards relaxation, towards control. There has to be a balance, otherwise it will begin to take it’s toll – mentally and physically. I recognized this a couple of months ago and began to take the appropriate steps, but for different reasons. Then, I wanted to find things I could enjoy, I wanted to find some form of control while facing such an uncertain future. Now, however, I’ve realized that I need to put that into practice for all aspects of my life, most importantly my health.
So I have some medication that will help with the anxiety and I’ve been prescribed a beta-blocker for the MVP; while I’m proud that I took the first step months ago as far as a fitness regime, I’m going to step it up even more to continue to try to decrease my stress level. So here it is: after work, I’ll hit the gym and then I’ll come home and RELAX. No emails, no computer, no writing after work. No more updating twitter (not that I was so hot at that anyway), browsing Facebook, or checking my email 200x per day. I’ll take the dog for longer walks, color in my coloring books (yes, I’m five), and maybe watch a movie or listen to music as I greet old friends that have been waiting patiently on my bookshelves.
I need to turn my brain off for awhile, get in control of myself, and make sure that my health doesn’t suffer for it. I’ll admit that I personally feel a bit weak for struggling so much with this, when everyone else seems to have it so together, seems to be so capable. But aside from the self-defense and awesome kicks, that’s something else I’ve been learning from Karate: each person is an individual student; not everyone is going to be at the top of the class, but rather, we all need to learn how to fall behind every once in awhile. Every person is trying to achieve their own individual goal at their own, personal pace.
It’s just time that I find mine.