My Health Journey Part 6 - Lessons Learned
Updated: Jul 23
Throughout the first five posts I’ve written about my health journey evolution, I’ve explored where it all began, how I got stuck in the more-is-better mindset, the resulting burnout and what finally triggered a change, some of the weird details, and where I’m heading next.
And over the last ten plus years that I’ve been dealing with this chronic fatigue and other symptoms, exploring treatments, and experimenting with lifestyle changes, there have been many lessons that I’ve learned along the way.
None of these were obvious from the start – it took years of work and reflection before I really began to see and understand the importance of these things that were showing up over and over again.
(I could probably write a whole book of lessons learned...but don't worry, this post isn't *that* long!)
I wanted to share these today not only because I hope it might help others as they navigate their own path, but also to have something that I can look back on or turn to whenever I need a reminder of what has been most important and helpful to me throughout this (ongoing) process.
Without further ado, here are my words of wisdom – 11 insights I’ve gathered along the way. If even one of these things resonates with you I will consider this post a success :)
1. Ask for help. Finding a doctor I trusted and that I felt would see me through this journey was probably the number one most important thing I did. Adding additional members to my “team” (therapist, chiropractor, massage/bodyworkers and others) gave me support and expertise when I needed it most. You don’t have to do it alone, and asking for help is the first step.
2. Discomfort tolerance is a skill, and one that requires practice. When you’re feeling uncomfortable for whatever reason (physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.) it’s really easy to get caught up in the struggle and the pain. Learning to tolerate slight discomforts and building up your tolerance is a useful tool to have in your toolbox for those times when it’s not possible to immediately fix the problem. I’m not sure there’s a “right” way to go about this, but I’ve found that practicing experiencing discomfort without attaching a story to it (eg: this really sucks, I’m never going to feel better, no one understand how I feel) has helped me become less bothered by whatever uncomfortable situation I’m in, and therefore able to handle discomfort without unnecessary suffering.
3. Closely related to discomfort tolerance is recognizing that nothing lasts forever – how I’m feeling today or what I’m experiencing right now will not always be there, our situation is always evolving. This one took me a really long time to figure out, but now I’m fairly good at recognizing when I’m telling myself some story about how I feel, remembering that I can handle the discomfort, and reminding myself that how I’m feeling at this moment will change.
4. Take notes. This can apply to anything you are trying to change, whether that’s health or fitness related or something else. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – I’ve mostly just kept a document on my computer where I can note down anything interesting that is going on or track things like supplement or medication changes and what I experience. These notes have been invaluable to me when talking with my doctors or when I’m looking for a pattern in my symptoms – it’s how I figured out which supplement was causing me to have an allergic reaction, what dose of a certain medication worked best for me, how different foods made me feel, what affects my sleep, and so much more. If you’re trying to make a change, find an easy way to take notes or track so you know if you’re moving in the right direction.
5. A slight caveat to that last point: don’t rely too much on external measures. Yes, having notes is helpful. But I found that MORE tracking became less beneficial at a certain point. If I was writing everything down every day, I started to feel like all I was doing was thinking about how I was feeling; I was stuck in my head and analyzing every little thing. Plus, I would start to rely on external measures to tell me how I was feeling. For example, when I wore a sleep tracker for a period of time, if I would wake up feeling pretty good and see that the tracker told me I had a terrible night’s sleep, I would suddenly feel tired! Some form of analytical or objective data can be useful, but if you notice that how you feel is being impacted by what a device or number is telling you, it might not be serving its purpose.
Tracking is useful...until it's not.
6. Change is hard, and you don’t have to do it all at once. Especially when you first start off on a change journey and your motivation is high, it can be easy to take on too much (and we all know how that ends up). Break it down into little steps and take it slow. When I first started working with a naturopath, we did a LOT of testing and information gathering, and there were about a hundred different paths we could have tried right off the bat. But we would choose one or maybe two things to change and see what happened before moving on to the next thing.
7. Find what works for you. There are a lot of ways to get to where you want to go, and there will likely be a lot of opinions about which one is the best way. Everyone will have a story about what worked for them (or their friend or family member) and why you should try it. Experiment, keep what works, and leave the rest. I’ve gotten a ton of help from things like chiropractic work and massage, but I really did not enjoy acupuncture and didn’t feel like I got much out of it. Others I know absolutely love acupuncture and it totally solved an issue for them. Some people can experience huge improvements through dietary change; I never found that certain foods helped or hurt my progress very much. No one knows what works for you better than you!
8. There is probably one thing that will help everyone though: sleep. Sleep is huge. I know I’m like a broken record when it comes to sleep, but if there is one thing that can make a difference, it’s getting good quality sleep on a regular basis. I could take all the supplements and do all the things, but if I’m not sleeping, how do I really know if anything is working? Not only will poor sleep impact every aspect of health and well-being, but it will also impact my ability to do the other things that keep me going, like eating well, getting movement, and engaging with other people. If you do nothing else, focus on improving your sleep.
9. Be proactive about your self-care. Rest and recovery, good nutrition, getting movement, and managing stress are not going to happen by themselves, and no one is going to do it for you. You can have all the best tools, coaches, and knowledge at your fingertips, but then you have to actually take action and put them to use consistently. This is easier said than done, especially when you’re not feeling well and it’s so much easier to just do nothing. But something is always better than nothing, so start small and build good habits (see #6).
10. There won’t always be an answer and that’s ok. Sometimes even with all the notetaking and experimenting and testing and everything else, things still didn’t make any sense. But in the end, if you can just keep moving forward (whether or not all the pieces are fitting together), there will always be another door that opens, another option, another thing to try. There is always hope.
11. Everyone is fighting an unseen battle. At times, getting caught up in my own struggles or ruminating on what is happening for me on a certain day/week etc., it’s easy to assume that everyone around me is doing great, living their life, no problems of their own. But just as people may not know what is going on for me at a particular time, I do not know all the things that might be going on for someone else. Remembering that we all have our own issues, big or small, seen or unseen, helps me feel more connected to others and less discouraged when things aren’t going so well. We’re all on this strange journey together :)
So there you have it: my biggest takeaways that I have learned (and continue to learn) as I carry on down this ever-evolving path. If you are on your own journey, I hope some of these things can provide a bit of reassurance, comfort, motivation, or whatever else you might need right now.
As I move forward towards my upcoming surgery, I’ve been thinking a lot about what comes next. But in reality, I have no idea where I’ll be after the procedure or even what might happen in the next few months – which is both exciting and terrifying.
So in the meantime, I will have this list to remind me of what really matters, the things I can control and the things I can let go, and that no matter what happens I will remain on this journey, continuing to evolve day by day.
I will leave you with this quote I came across recently that resonated with me and that I will be keeping in mind going forward:
“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.”
- Amelia Earhart
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