One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

March 22, 2012

Sunshine and Lollipops

Remember that time two years ago when my health got really weird?

The primary symptom that I recall was the fatigue. Looking back, I really have no idea how I managed to plan my wedding that year given that it seemed like every evening from March to June I was passing out on the couch as soon as I’d got the kids home from school and daycare. Some days I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t pass out in the car on the drive home.

I lost about twenty pounds during the first few months of that. My lymph nodes were swollen and painful for weeks on end. My lower back was in such a state that when I woke up in the morning, I began my day in tears and already in too much pain to sit on a chair. I was suffering from the worst brain fog. I started losing sensation in my toes. I had night sweats. I was mixing up words.

I couldn’t even say how many different diseases and disorders I researched and considered as the cause of my problems. The symptoms were all so vague.

And then I started having episodes of derealization and alarming physical numbness, e.g., not noticing when I accidentally jabbed a sewing needle into my hand. Around that time, I began to notice that the periods of derealization were on particularly wet windy weekends. Going back through weather records and my blog, I correlated the days when I was worst for falling asleep on the floor with our highest rainfall. We were in a new house, so I wondered if we had a mold problem.

I couldn’t even tell which of those issues might not even be related to the core issue. For certain, no doctors thought my back pain was related – telling me things like, “Oh yeah, that’ll happen when you work a desk job and don’t strengthen your core.” Even two chiropractors pooh-poohed the idea that my back pain could be related to anything systemic – I obviously just needed to be more active.

I had already begun walking to work every day, which had the effect of loosening up my back muscles enough that I could sit in a chair until early afternoon before I was in agony. I brought an exercise ball to work to sit on, which allowed me to keep my back in a bit of motion all day so it wouldn’t seize up. But while those things helped me cope, they never seemed to make a difference to the central issue with my back. I was still waking up in pain every morning.

I had also hoped that walking would perk up my metabolism and help me be less fatigued, but it seemed to do the opposite, leaving me even more drained.

My doctor told me that my lumbar x-ray showed significant disc degeneration and that I was vitamin D deficient. She recommended supplements, which I tried to take – but I found it difficult to keep up because I couldn’t take them in the morning or they’d interfere with my morning medications and I was still passing out early many evenings, making it difficult to adopt any kind of evening routine.

In the new year, about a year after all my symptoms began, I took up yoga. And I finally got in to see a neurologist that my Doctor had referred me to. That spring, I also started seeing a physiotherapist.

The neurologist sent me for lots of blood work and chest x-rays and a CT scan and an MRI. As I was a non-urgent patient, some of those things took eight months to happen.

Meanwhile, the physiotherapist was quite lovely about working with me. My back was, indeed, a mess of seized up muscles, but over the course of about six months, he managed to move me from an 8 or 9 on a 1-10 pain scale down to a 2 or 3. At the same time, many of my other symptoms began to get better. I started to gain back some weight, I wasn’t so completely exhausted and, in particular, the feeling in my toes seemed to be coming back. We discussed how nerve compression through the expanse of seized up back muscles could have caused many of my symptoms, even possibly interfering with my digestion to cause weight loss.

So when I got scheduled for a followup with the neurologist and he basically said that he’d ruled out various cancers, autoimmune disorders and many other systemic syndromes, but didn’t really have any answers for me, I was pretty unsurprised.

Still, I couldn’t have said it was 100% resolved. I wasn’t falling asleep from exhaustion anymore, but the brain fog persisted and, overall, I just never felt as effective as I once was.

I still had my faculties. I was pretty sure that at work, most of my coworkers still regarded my brain as an asset to have on the team. I just could never seem to keep focused when I was working on a task alone. Or, time seemed to pass differently from how it used to. And I certainly never passed days completely immersed in a task anymore. I felt like my tools were just as sharp as they always were, I just was trying to use them underwater.

I can’t even tell you how defensive all that made me feel. With the physical symptoms resolving themselves, I went with the narrative that everything was pretty much resolved, because I was not able to admit to the people around me how much my mental fuzziness was still troubling me. My self-image depends not just on being clever, but also requires that I be damned effective.

It used to be that if you needed something done, you could just give it to me and I’d get it the hell done. Only now it was hit-or-miss, depending on the day, depending on how I’d slept, depending on how much conversation was going on around me, depending on whether there was music playing in the office and especially depending on how often the phone rang or people asked for help or input because I no longer had the ability to hold the thread of a thought in the background in order to pick it up after a distraction – and all this coincided with changes in my duties at work that meant that people were always asking for help or input.

I told myself it would be different when I was working at home. Although I would still be regularly interrupted, I would be able to be primarily doing the kind of work that I want to be engrossed in – programming, instead of anything admin.

So my first six weeks or so at home after leaving my job, I managed to get a lot of work done – working with Hannah around has proven not actually that much different from the give-and-take/frequent-interruptions environment that I had got used to at work. But I kept debating whether or how much my brain was really different from what it used to be.

I mean, I WAS getting things done. I was hitting deadlines and stuff. But I knew I was easily distracted and at the end of the day I’d feel like, “is that all? You never really got sunk into it.” I analyzed how much of it was because of the constant interruptions. I compared my programming progress with how fast I was a couple of years ago – but that’s a long way to go back. And, as I said to Ian, partly it’s that I just know a lot more now. Obviously, you could give me a hammer and nails and with no architecture knowledge I could build you a house pretty fast. But the more you learn about how to build a house safely and professionally, the slower beginning stages are going to go.

So last week, working on installing a testing server, and fussing around with configuration that seemed to kill everything and require me to do constant restarts, I found myself getting really, really frustrated with my brain. Every restart meant that when I booted up again, I had to reopen all the files I was working on and all the web pages I was testing and that whole process was a giant opportunity to get lost and distracted. I organized all my work and browsers to start it all up as automatically as possible on booting up and I put my distractable brain to work researching causes of brain fog on my phone whenever I had to reboot.

My first searches returned things I immediately dismissed: stress, fatigue, hormones. It’s been two years, something would have changed in that time. But then one page said “nutrition” and “vitamin deficiencies can cause brain fog”. It suggested C, E and B vitamins as the culprit. But I didn’t think that described me. I eat a lot of fruits/vegetables and grains, the only thing I’m probably deficient in was vitamin D…. So I started to google “brain fog and v” and as soon as I’d typed in that ‘v’, google suggested “vitamin d deficiency?”

Huh.

So. Further googling since then – there’s definitely reason to suspect a correlation between vitamin d deficiency and brain fog.

And you know else what vitamin D deficiencies can cause?

chronic fatigue

frequent infections

appetite loss, insomnia, diarrhea, impaired vision and weight loss

tremors (started in the last couple years) and paresthesia

But mostly, once it gets severe: Osteomalacia: “Spinal bone pain, Pelvic bone pain, …Compressed vertebrae, Pelvic flattening.

That pelvic thing. Oh my god. Because when it’s not lower spinal pain, it’s this periodic feeling like my pelvis is going to wrench itself apart at the symphysis Pubis.

Someone suggested vitamin D when I started correlating it to the weather and I was like, “how can that even be possible? I know that it’s a danger in Saskatchewan, but I’ve lived in saskatchewan all my life – how could I just suddenly react horribly to the weather after thirty years? But looking at it now, I became a vegetarian (risk factor since most dietary sources are meat/dairy/fish) at the end of winter, when my body’s stores would be lowest. It was also at the end of a winter that I had spent literally working every weekend, so I wasn’t even getting what little sun a typical winter could afford me. And that winter’s end just happened to mark the beginning of our rainiest (un-sunniest) summer on record. It’s totally possible that my vitamin D stores were so low that I was only able to be functional if I was getting at least a tiny bit of sun every single day and the days when I couldn’t, I just completely wilted because I didn’t have any to sustain me.

So anyhow, some of my reading has led me to understand that vitamin d supplements, while capable of resolving many of these things, are not necessarily desireable in the long-term because they may suppress the body’s natural vitamin d synthesizing and associated immune functions or at least how that works is still pretty poorly understood. So I’m taking my vitamin D supplements religiously in order to start by seeing if they will have any effect. I’ll reassess in a couple of weeks whether they’ve made much difference and decide what I need to do then. Days when it’s actually sunny (not often yet this time of year), I’m also making a point of making myself a cup of tea and having some therapeutic sun time by the back window in the afternoon.

I suppose if I got bad enough to have osteomalacia, I will probably not see a major improvement there, since apparently once deformed, bones do not undeform just because you give them what they need for rigidity.

Anyhow, it’s too early to say anything for certain, but there is this. The last two nights, I pulled apart the dining room, cleared it out and started scrubbing the floor, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages now. Last night, as Ian and I scrubbed the floor, I said, “maybe I should give the vitamin D some credit for this?” And he said, “Oh? Oh yeah, I don’t suppose you were much inclined to do this a couple of weeks ago.” And I said, “No, especially not after a day that included working on the computer for the morning, making carrot cake, making pizzas from scratch and making a loaf of bread.”

Also, today I totally programmed. I mean, I was engrossed with what I was doing. When Hannah interrupted, I came right back to the computer ready to pick up where I left off. I had difficulty putting it down to start lunch not (as with the last couple of weeks) because I felt angry that my morning had accomplished so little, but because I was so engrossed in what I was doing and felt as if each step was illuminating more understanding, rather than plodding along. I’m still fuzzier than I want to be. But I feel, just a tiny bit, more like myself.

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  1. Alison

     /  2012-03-22

    Cool and very interesting. Keep us updated. If I wasn’t already taking 2000 mg of D a day, I’d probably try it for my own fogginess – though for me removing 3/4 of the sugar from my diet has helped a lot.

    I have read that at this latitude, the slant of the sun’s rays from October til May is inadequate to manufacture vitamin D, no matter how sunny it is. I wonder too if there are things that block its absorption. Next time I get a physical I’m going to get my levels checked because it seemed to me that last check they were still low in spite of taking 2000 mg a day.

    Hope the improvement you feel continues. Love you.

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