First published, 23 October 2015.
I remember the first time I was told there was something wrong with me. It wasn't a big thing. It wasn't even something that couldn't be fixed. It was small, manageable. But it felt like someone had inked a black dot next to my name.
When I was 16 I was on a course of roacutane for acne treatment. It's not a drug that should be taken lightly, so every six weeks I had a blood test. One week, I received a call from the pathology clinic. "Miss Maddrell, we've noted some inconsistency with your blood results". My heart sank. "Ok... What sort of inconsistencies?" "Well it appears you've become slightly anemic". Anemic? I thought, What the hell is anemic? "Ok... What does that mean?" "Oh that just means you have low iron levels... Is your mum or dad around? Maybe we can talk to them?". By this point I'd passed the phone on to my mum.
I sat down on the sofa. A little numb. I'd only ever heard the word anemic once. A girl in my grade at school often talked about her sister’s battle with sever anemia... Tired, loss of hair, pale skin... I'm sure you can see why I started to worry. But it was more than that, it was a sinking feeling that there was something wrong and it frightened me a little. Luckily for me I had just dipped out of normal range, so it was just a matter of me taking some supplements to put myself back on track. That was the first time I felt the black dot... In two very different ways.
The second time I was about 19. To cut a long story short, I found out the hard way that I was severely allergic, no, anaphylactic, to shellfish. As soon as the reaction occurred I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know my body was going into shut down mode over what I thought was a piece of fish (people, Marron is not fish!). By the time I got to the hospital I knew it was really serious. They rushed me to a bed straight away. I was back home before the next morning and ordered to visit my doctor that same day. I did and he issued me with a referral to do an allergy test. That's when I learnt at 19 that I was severely allergic to shellfish... And cockroaches apparently but I think I'll do just fine avoiding them!
Black dot number two had hit. So now I had the fear... The fear every time I went to an Asian restaurant that a prawn or a bit of shrimp paste might fall in my dish. That I'd experience what I experienced that one night and that scared the crap out of me. "Every reaction gets worse and happens quicker". That's what my doctor told me. Did I mention that it scared the crap out of me?
I was ok with it most of the time. But I definitely wasn't ok with it when I started to become the pain-in-the-butt whenever we went out to dinner. I felt bad that people had to worry about me and that I had to be careful. It started to become a bit of a hindrance and I didn't really want an allergy anymore (not that I wanted it in the first place).
The next time I experience the black dot, and in fact a wave of black dots, came in 2015. They year of the black dots. The hardest year of my life. The most challenging and rewarding year I have ever faced... So far. I don't think I'll forget 2015 all that quickly. It has been a tumultuous year to say the least. And with only 2 months till its close I hope it's a year that I can put behind me.
On Saturday 24 January 2015 my down hill battle began... And I had no idea what was in store for me. I noticed what I thought was a rash on my back... A rash that within a couple of days turned to little tiny pimples... you know the sort of ones that you scratch out (ew gross and #overshare!). Within a week they became sore and worse. To most people this would be completely left of field... But not for me. See I dealt with this for about 2 years from age 14 to age 16 before going on roacutane. My dermatologist at the time assured me that "I'd never have another pimple ever again... In my whole life". And she was right up until 12 months ago in about October 2014 when I decided to go off the pill. I had been advised to go on the pill after stopping my second course of roacutane. It was just going to ensure that I definitely "never got another pimple ever again". And it did, until 3 months after I stopped taking it.
I started to try to rationalise what was going with my body. "It must be a rash or a reaction from the beach", "maybe this happens to everyone when they go off the pill and it will go away soon", "maybe I don't wash my back properly after exercise" or my favourite "maybe if I don't touch it, it won't be there and it will just go away". After 2 months... It didn't go away. In fact, it got worse... And it spread. To my chest. (The overshare continues).
I told myself I was lucky it was there and not on my face. Still time to do something about it... To fix it. It was getting cooler now, so covering my skin got easier. I could deal with it. I told myself. But I couldn't. It made me sad. Really sad. I felt like I was in a time warp back to 2005. I hated it and I hated that it was happening to me. This was the biggest black dot of all. Or at least so far.
In February I decided I needed to try and sort it out quick smart. I had been doing everything I could topically but nothing really fixed what was going on. For the first time in my life I thought, "maybe I should see a naturopath". I have no idea why I said this. Or why I wanted to do it. I didn't really even know about the natural medical world but for some reason I wanted to give it ago. Maybe it was the fact that I was so pissed off that I took such an incredibly harsh drug for 12 months just to have it not work. Yeah I think that was it.
I saw a naturopath and uncovered some things about myself that I never thought was possible. The black dots started rolling in. By March the acne had spread to my face... And badly. By June I was in physical agony. I felt inflamed, sore and ugly. I cried almost every day. It was a tough, dark place. I wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. By July I stopped group training in the morning because I couldn't bare to have people see me without makeup. I faced the possible diagnosis of having PCO/S, and was angry that no one thought about this earlier. I cut out foods left right and center and played around with my diet so much. To this day I still feel like I haven't got my shit together and managing my weight has been super challenging. But while the black dots kept rolling in, I was making some small improvements. Since May I had cut out dairy and saw improvements in my skin especially to my face, but I was left scared. By August I received the results of my food intolerance test, which showed that I was very intolerant to dairy and eggs, so out they go too. Before that I was off the gluten but knowing it wasn't negatively affecting me meant I let it back into my life, with open arms. I didn't want to exclude another thing if I didn't have too.
So slow and steady improvements were happening. In August I also started to work on my hormones. It was confirmed by a Gynecologist that I had PCO/S which was also contributing to my bad skin. The natural medicine I was (and still am) on helped... But it's still not gone and I don't feel like I did 12 months ago.
While all this was going on, to add insult to the situation, I began having issues with my breathing. A lot of people have commented on the fact that I sigh a lot. I'm not sighing I just can't fucking breath. But of course I didn't say that... Instead "yeah I really like sighing. It's relaxing". So for the purpose of not using the phrase "weird breathing, sore throat condition" over and over again, this issue shall be named the “sighing disease”. Since June I have been experiencing the sighing disease. It's now October. That's 5 bloody long months. In the early days I saw my doctor, a random doctor… another random doctor. I tried everything. I had my lungs x-rayed, I did asthma tests… I stopped eating certain foods like Soy because I thought it might have even been an allergic reaction (add that to the list). I tried everything, or at least what I thought was everything.
One day I decided it was reflux… it had to be. It was the only thing that made sense. I started taking reflux tablets and what would you believe… it worked. It actually worked. For about 2 weeks there was nothing. Not a single sign of sighing disease. It was the greatest two weeks of my life… and then the two weeks came to an end and the sighing disease continued. This was starting to feel like the biggest black dot of all. All the others started to fade once I started figuring out my problems and actually fixing them. I spoke to my nutritionist Sahar about it. From a holistic perspective she believed I could have low HCL (hydrochloric acid) or stomach acid, which meant the food was sitting in my stomach too long cause reflux / acidity to bounce up my esophagus causing discomfort in my wind pipe and the back of my throat. Sounded pretty reasonable. I started taking HCL tablets too and guess what! It worked… it became more infrequent. Every time I had a tablet I felt better. Are you noticing the pattern yet? I wasn’t… until now. But just like the reflux tablets, after a while their magic faded. The sighing disease was still going strong.
At the beginning of this month I was lucky enough to spend 9 magical days in Bali. I was secretly shitting myself because I thought it would be fish sauce and shrimp paste central and I didn’t know how I was going to go with the food… but I survived. And the food was out of this world – if you went to the right places! But one thing happened while I was in Bali. Without help from anything the sighing disease just… went away. Just like that. Why? I have no idea. None whatsoever. I had a thought of what it could be but I didn’t want to acknowledge it. But less than one day of being home, the sighing disease kicked in.
Now I was really pissed off and on a mission to figure out what the hell was going on. Is it the air? Is it my room? Is it the season? (well no because it had been happening for 2 seasons now!). I kept thinking about every possible option. None of them fit. I texted Sahar. I told her that it was STILL happening, that it went away in Bali but has now come back. Her response….
“I suspect anxiety”.
I froze. I froze like I did when I was 16 years old. How could it be anxiety and I don’t know. How could I be having such an intense emotional reaction, to god knows what, and not have single clue. I’ll admit, I stress. I stress a lot and I don’t even know I’m stressing. I worry. I worry a lot. But anxiety. Surely not. The biggest, fattest black dot. She might be right. It might be anxiety. After letting it sink in, it doesn’t really surprise me. I’m surprised I didn’t actually think of it sooner.
I’m constantly thinking about my health. Constantly thinking about what I eat, how much I eat, have I exercised enough this week, did something I eat at breakfast cause the sighing disease, did I have enough sleep… constantly thinking. I’m tired just thinking about it now. So now I try to fix, what I feel is unfixable. I neglected to realize all the times that after making a decision the psychology of the action kicked in. I leant on material things to be my solution, when really it’s probably been in me all this time. I’m still not convinced that anxiety is the answer. I don’t think I understand its power yet… but I think its something worth exploring.
Part two... coming soon.