What I Didn't Know Was Hurting Me

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Nursing school taught me how to take care of very sick people - urgent health problems requiring urgent responses.

What nursing school did not teach me was how to take care of myself. Sure, there were a few lectures about personal health and wellness. But honestly? I was working twelve hour shifts in the ICU, writing research papers, and cramming for exams.

So I tumbled out of nursing school smarter but a whole lot less balanced than when I entered it. About two years into my first nursing job I began to show it.

I had every reason to be happy - and I was - with a stable job, loving friendships, and recently honeymooned in Cancun. But for some reason I struggled. I struggled to maintain my energy. I struggled to sleep well at night. I struggled with motivation to connect with friends. I know this sounds a whole lot like depression (which I’ve had my fair share of as well). But in this case, symptoms lurked behind my subdue.

Lack of energy was actually a deep, chronic fatigue.

Difficulty sleeping at night was because of achy joints, hands, and feet that would throb unless I soaked them in hot water.

Disinterest in social gatherings developed because they zapped any precious energy I had left at the end of the day.

I thought it was normal to experience this level of discomfort as a twenty-four-year-old. Press in and press on. Work hard, rest will come later. Isn't that what they say?

It wasn’t until someone else pointed it out to me that I realized something was seriously off-kilter. At work, a physical therapist asked in passing how I was doing. I mentioned my neck had been strained, I just wrapped up eight weeks of outpatient physical therapy. Not to mention the tendonitis in my left wrist is killing me. The physical therapist looked at me and said, “A neck strain and tendonitis back-to-back? Sounds like you have some inflammation going on.” Right then and there, a light turned on.

The following week I saw worker’s comp doctor for my tendonitis - work related, all that furious typing and heavy lifting on the unit. As a nurse, I’ve met all kinds of physicians. But to this day, I’ve never met a doctor who listened so well. He assessed my swollen tendon but also assessed my other joints. Hands, feet, wrists, ankles - all the painful places that quietly ached for so long. After the assessment, he seated me in his office. We talked about joint pain, autoimmune conditions, and rheumatoid arthritis. With a lopsided smile he said, “You’re too young for these sorts of aches and pains. I hope you figure it out.”

I wish I had the self-assurance then to inherently know something was wrong. But the truth is, I needed affirmation from someone outside of myself. These clinicians spoke what I was thinking. They voiced what I was too timid to share. They drew out of me the voice I didn't know I had. So I decided to move forward, and I decided to trust myself.

Now I trust my gut and intuition. I approach my health with humility, understanding I'm not the expert in all things medical. But I can be the expert on what my body is feeling.