Yes, it is!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Journey Back to Wellness

I'll be writing about my latest journey to wellness in the next couple-few posts.

During the past few years, I started to struggle with different health symptoms and issues. However, I didn't seek help for far too long because I was too busy taking care of everyone else and frankly, I was plain scared that something very serious was going on in my body. Until a few years ago,  I was fairly healthy and fit until I just slowly began to lose motivation and energy. My gym time greatly decreased and I slowly began gaining weight.

The past couple of years were very difficult for me in more ways than one.  In addition to some very stressful situations (I'll write about in future posts), I felt like my physical health was declining more than ever. My panic attacks increased in intensity, I had very little energy, I was having difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep. When I did fall asleep, I constantly woke up gasping for air which led to increased anxiety about sleeping. Other symptoms I was experiencing included racing heart, swollen limbs and heavy feeling in my legs upon awakening, daytime fatigue, chest tightness, dizziness, weight gain, and more. My reflux was also getting worse. I was starting to become afraid that my children would wake up one morning to find me unresponsive. Still, I kept a lot of this to myself mostly out of fear.  Occasionally, Tim would comment that he was worried about me but I would just tell him that I was fine.

Last July, I made a quick trip to Florida to be with my cousins after my aunt died. Thanks to a very noisy hotel overnight on my way to Florida, I was unable to sleep and by the time I arrived at my mother-in-law's house, I had gone nearly 36 hours without adequate sleep. Amazingly, I didn't feel very tired even after arriving at my destination. On the way back to Illinois a few days later, however, it was a different story. I had a very scary near incident that made me realize that I seriously needed to seek help. I was already north of Atlanta and making good time to stop at a friend's house outside of Chattanooga when I suddenly felt my body going to sleep. I had never fallen asleep at the wheel before and now I can relate to how quickly this can occur. I got off at the very next exit to get out and walk around a few minutes. I also got something to eat since I had neglected to do so earlier when I had stopped to let the kids eat lunch. Within 20 minutes, I felt refreshed enough to finish the drive to my friend's house safely.  Despite all of that and realizing the danger that I had potentially put my children in, it still took me another several weeks to seek help.

After consulting with my primary physician, he agreed that I definitely needed to see a sleep doctor for a sleep study.  After receiving my referral to a sleep doctor, I had to wait a couple months before my appointment time arrived.  When that day came, I really didn't expect to receive much help. I had been diagnosed with sleep apnea many years ago but was told that it wasn't bad enough to treat. My expectation was so wrong about this latest appointment because the doctor I saw actually listened to every concern I shared. He treated me with great respect and compassion and he truly seemed to appreciate my desire (and need) for help.  I left that office feeling encouraged. I was surprised at how quickly I was scheduled for a sleep study considering that I had to wait a couple of months for my initial consultation.

The night of the sleep study arrived and although I had followed all the instructions to avoid any food and drink containing caffeine, avoid daytime naps, no sleep aids,etc., I had extreme difficulty falling asleep. I had wires attached all over me so that didn't help matters. I actually fell asleep for a few minutes around 10:30 (early for me!) but woke up soon after because I had to pee. As tired as I was, I could not get back to sleep. The lab technicians were so kind and asked me if there was anything they could do to help me fall asleep.  I finally suggested some sort of relaxation music and they allowed me to turn my phone on to find a YouTube page with relaxing music. It took awhile for me to fall asleep but I finally did so sometime between 2:30 and 3:00 am.

I received a phone almost a week later that I needed to go back for a second study, this time with a cpap machine. Although I didn't think I slept well enough for any data to be collected at the first study, they apparently collected enough to diagnose me with moderate sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. I was actually shocked at the latter diagnosis. Also, my oxygen saturation was going below 70%.  No wonder I was waking up feeling awful nearly every morning for the past several years! This second study was to determine what pressure should be set on the machine that I would eventually receive.

I received my cpap machine toward the end of December and I have been faithful to use it every night.  Sometimes, I wake up and the mask is not on my face but the respiratory therapist assured me that this sometimes happens even with those who gave been using a machine for years. Within a couple of weeks, I could feel a significant improvement. I was finally sleeping soundly without waking multiple times gasping for air or to use the bathroom. I was waking up feeling more rested. The discomfort I was experiencing every morning previously was disappearing. The daytime fatigue was not as frequent. My reflux symptoms even improved greatly. Before my sleep study, I had considered dropping out of Masterworks Chorale because I was beginning to feel like my voice was starting to be affected by all the symptoms I had been experiencing. But within weeks after treating the sleep apnea with the cpap, I felt like my voice was improving again, with better control, and I was starting to reach the higher notes again as before.  Best of all was my increased energy level. It probably took longer to fully regain my energy than anything else but I am now back at the gym and working out on a regular basis again. I still sometimes struggle to fall asleep but once I'm asleep, I usually stay asleep.

I can't neglect to touch on the restless leg syndrome. When I went for my follow-up in March, I saw the PA who ordered a complete iron panel. When I saw the doctor the next month in April, he was very pleased to see how much better I felt. He also explained how I was iron deficient and that he believed that was the root cause of the restless leg. He offered a couple of treatment options. I chose the more conservative option which was to take a prescribed iron supplement. I'll have another iron panel in August along with another follow-up with the doctor. I'm hoping for an improvement as I really don't want to go with the other option which involves taking a medication that is prescribed to Parkinson's patients, although in a much smaller dose.

Since my energy has come back, as I mentioned above, I have jumped back on the wagon at the gym. And let me tell you, the changes are dramatic and I hope to keep it that way. It involves not only fitness but a completely new dietary lifestyle. I'll share about that in another post.

I'll conclude this post by saying it's amazing what a difference a cpap and adequate sleep has made in my life.  For those who are dealing with significant sleep issues, I strongly urge you to seek help NOW.  Untreated sleep apnea can lead to heart disease and/or premature death. I recently underwent heart ultrasound and month-long heart monitoring. I'm waiting on final results but I'm believing that all is well. God knows my husband is not equipped to raise our children alone. 😊

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