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Empowering Women's Health: Embracing Second Opinions and Trusting Your Instincts

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

photo of a women feeling ill with the blog title Empowering Women's Health: Embracing Second Opinions and Trusting Your Instincts

I won’t lie - I avoided doctors and ignored my health concerns for a very long time. I was jaded from literal years of being told that I wasn’t old enough for the symptoms I was reporting and treated as though my pain and discomfort was all in my head. I even questioned briefly if it was my brain playing tricks on me. I later discovered that this can be a common thing in women's health, and it's why trusting your instincts and advocating for yourself is so important.

New mother holding her newborn after delivery in hospital

After having my son in 2019, I had a revelation that I could only be the best mom to him if I first was being the best version of myself outside of being a mom, and this prompted my journey into self care, mental health care, and the pursuit of answers to my physical health.

I started with therapy. My coping skills were nonexistent. I started dropping the ball at work, I felt exhausted all the time, stretched too thin and like I was failing at all my roles. It's not pretty, so a lot of people avoid talking about this side of motherhood, but after a full work day and a poor night's sleep, I would find myself wishing my baby would just go to bed early so I could have an hour of quiet to just... sit. No noise, not being needed for anything, nothing to think about or fix or take care of. My nerves were paper thin, my anxiety response was a hairpin trigger, and I spent a lot of time holding back tears and lying awake in the dark thinking about all the things I failed at that day.

ULike for PCOS

I've been doing therapy for over a year now, and also picked up psychiatric care as my diagnosis is organic, meaning it's been present since birth and is a chemical imbalance that requires both medication and mindfulness to address. I know medications can be a touchy subject, but I think it's important for different people to share their stories to show that mental health is more prevalent than people think and there is no blanket treatment for a successful recovery and maintenance. For me, my recovery and maintenance has been 3 fold:

  1. Therapy - positive coping skills

  2. Psych - medications to address the chemical imbalance

  3. Medical

About that 3rd step - how did I make it through 4 years of college and over a decade of work in the mental health field without realizing that my own mental health could be affected by my physical health?! I'll never know. But when my own body wouldn't allow me to heal after childbirth, when 6 weeks turned into 6 months and I was still suffering, when my OB said she'd never seen someone struggle the way I was with healing, when I had a secondary procedure to try to correct the mis-healing that had internally occurred, when that was finally resolved but my fatigue and body pains unrelated to childbirth made it hard for me to function and feel (AGAIN) as though I was failing my son, I knew something had to give.

My symptoms range from annoying but minor muscle spasms in my eyes and legs, to a dull constant ache in random joints, to a

sharp searing pain in my joints, to tickling and numbness in fingers and toes… there are more, such as crippling finger pain and loss of all hand strength, but that’s less often than the others. After having one set of labs done showing no outstanding markers for an autoimmune disorder, I was terminated from care and told to “check for environmental factors.” To say I was upset was an understatement. How do you check for environmental factors of random aches and pains that set in with no apparent triggers? I didn’t know, and my frustration caused me to again just avoid talking about it and suffering in silence. I kept thinking to myself, ”This is just how it’s going to be for you.”

I resigned myself to just feeling 102 years old on the inside of my mid-30's body. However, I had the grace of a friend who spent her own long time fighting the medical system to get the help she needed. I was stubborn and still frustrated, so it took me longer than I'd like to admit to hear the importance of what my friend was telling me, so it's key that you hear me when I say: don't stop talking and asking questions. Why hadn't I thought to apply my stubbornness to advocating for myself and my health? Who knows. But I figure if I was struggling with it, there are probably other moms doing the same thing and ignoring their own care.

I picked myself up, went back to my primary physician, and requested a second opinion. I

explained why I wasn’t accepting the response of the first rheumatologist I visited and my doctor listened. I got a second opinion, who confirmed that the first opinion was correct that I did not have an autoimmune disorder (yay!). But instead of turning me away, this doctor provided me with real info to leave with. Despite not treating the disorder, this rheumatologist took the time to review all my symptoms and labs and gave me a hand scribbled note with the diagnosis to take to my other doctors.

I Googled it as soon as I got to my car and had tears in my eyes - this time because I had something to go on instead of just more questions! I could begin a game plan. It made perfect sense, after having a back injury as a child, that all my symptoms have been a result of a heightened nervous system response. It explains the pains, the aches, the frequent headaches, the sensitivity to lights and sounds and smells, all of it! There is no blanket treatment for it, just recommended dietary changes (reduced salt, reduced sugar, and more Whole Foods, like most diet recommendations) and stress reduction because the symptoms can be exacerbated by stress.

That doesn’t bode well for someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, who feels stress on all levels at any given time… But this lends to the importance of full circle approaches to self care, because it is all intertwined. I recently completed a genetic panel through Genesight so my medication regimen wouldn’t be as much of a guessing game. While reviewing those results with my psychiatrist, we determined that the medication I’m on is absorbed and metabolized appropriately by my body, but I don’t absorb folic acid on normal levels. How does this play into everything? Higher abortion of folic acid can reduce anxiety naturally, which in turn would reduce severity of CSPD. 🤯

I knew in sharing my perspective and my story that I would share my mental health journey, and after learning the things I have recently about how closely tied this can be with physical health and having so many people respond on social media about how they've been suffering through similar symptoms with no answers, I knew I needed to spotlight this and reassure you: If you're feeling stuck with no answers, don't give up. Your answer is out there, your better health is out there, just keep talking. Keep reporting, keep asking questions, be a squeaky wheel, and don’t get complacent in being miserable!


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