How trying to be perfect made me sick
See that picture of a strong, lean, smiling person? She’s (I’ve) got issues. To most people, my body appears to be in top physical condition. What the picture doesn’t show is the detrimental, beneath-the-skin effects of chronic over-stressing, over-exercising and under-eating.
To give some context, here are a few health issues I’ve experienced since early 2018: I got shingles at age 39, lost about 10 lb (down to 110 lb on my 5’6” frame), and had exactly zero menstrual cycles. On the bright side: during this time, I managed to have a wonderfully challenging professional life, run a 10k personal record (~42 min), be involved in kids’ activities, stay married, and stay shredded. Everything “looked” great on the surface. It was/is not great, and there were several physical and emotional warning signs that I ignored or even denied, until my body (and husband) said “enough”.
Everything looked great on the surface. It was not great.
Our family’s collective stress reached a tipping point last summer and fall (2019), as the strain of having two professional parents became increasingly unsustainable. I am usually the emotional glue for my husband and kids (who are now 12 and 10 – hello pre-teen angst!), but I wasn’t even caring for myself, so Chris and the kids were especially neglected.
A normal day for me would be to wake up at 4am (or earlier!), write/work for an hour, exercise for an hour, send the kids/husband off, go to work, come home and make dinner, stretch/do physical therapy exercises to counteract increasingly persistent injuries, maybe work a little more, go to bed.
In that daily scenario, there is very little room for anything other than exercise, work, and tasks – in that order of priority. Notice how there’s no “family” or “fun” or “relaxation” in that list? I was like a machine running within very tight tolerances.
It still seems ironic that someone (me) who is educated in nutrition and has been practicing and honing healthy habits for decades can fall into a sort of downward spiral of slow and masked self destruction. The progression was so multi-faceted and variable that my denial and at times even embrace of the lifestyle prevented me from addressing it sooner.
To complicate the eventual realization that I was becoming sicker, I got positive reinforcement for my appearance and self-discipline – friends, family, and even strangers comment on my toned body and ask me about my exercise and diet habits.
The honest answers? I work out really freaking hard, almost every day and seldom let anything other than superfoods pass my lips (except on the days when I have a long run, which is over 10 miles). That’s all you have to do – easy, right? (Insert eye roll)
Now, after nearly two years of operating in a highly-stressed, super-exercised, and under-nourished state (and with the encouragement and support of my hero/husband), I decided to leave my career (that I loved but was stressing us out) in order to focus on the priorities of: 1) my health, 2) my family, and 3) enjoyment of life.
To be clear, I did not want to leave my job, but I had to, in order to heal myself – and, as an extension, our family. Any woman who has a family knows the internal tug-of-war that goes alongside having a career. It stinks.
I stopped working about two months ago, and with time providing some distance and perspective, I’m starting this series of posts to discuss my recent (un)health journey, especially as it relates to diet, exercise, and women’s health issues (physical and emotional!).
Throughout the series, I’ll discuss the highs and lows of trying to be perfect physically, professionally, and in a few other ways, too. I’ll also talk about my specific health issues – depression/anxiety, shingles, ovarian cysts, hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA), etc. – along with causes, diagnoses & misdiagnoses, treatments, and healing (which is in progress).
I hope that this series of posts about my personal health journey will be valuable for you in some way.
Perhaps you share some of my perfectionist tendencies, have had similar physical or emotional experiences, or are just curious. Wherever you are in life, it is my sincere hope that these posts remind and inspire you to care for yourself and those you love.
Read the next post – Healthy Not Health 2 – What Happened?.