The last year has been a lot of things, many of them great and extraordinary. (I’ll try to write more about those at some point!) Some of them were much more difficult. Over the winter, things got bleak.
I was exhausted all the time, napping constantly, and still never rested. I couldn’t focus so I’d watch the same three sitcoms over and over again rather than, say, read a book or an article. I ate junk food because cooking was too hard, and cooking meant I’d have to do the dishes, and if I did both of those things I’d probably need to go straight to bed.
If I had to make a decision, there was a good chance I’d start crying because it was too hard to think. This sucked because I pride myself on being a reasonably smart, thoughtful person, but I retreated from anything that taxed my sleepy brain.
I was supposed to be applying for jobs but weeks went by and I’d make excuses for the fact that I couldn’t think straight enough to write even the blandest words, if I managed to read through job listings at all. They all sounded like gibberish when I tried.
When I got too weak, I made excuses for the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to exercise. I was walking and biking all day, so of course I was tired, right? I just needed something to train for. I didn’t really feel like working out anyway. But in reality, I was physically incapable, fatigued before I even began. Some days, sitting up was too much and I would just lay on the couch for hours. For years, I had managed pretty mild depression and anxiety through exercise, but without it, I became more anxious, more depressed.
“This is your 30s,” I thought. “You’re getting old and tired and your hair is turning gray. And you’re so lazy now. Remember when you used to do things? You’ll never get a job like this, and why should you? What are you even doing with your life?”
A little voice of self-preservation piped up now and again, reminding me that maybe this wasn’t normal. I bought a multivitamin, in case I was anemic. I kicked around the idea of getting antidepressants. The things I used to do to manage my physical and mental health weren’t cutting it, but I couldn’t admit that something was out of my control. What kind of grown-ass responsible adult lets herself get this pitiful? Even when I wanted to take care of myself, I couldn’t help but be brutal.
Finally, finally, finally, after some wise words from a fellow runner and anxious person (see p41 of the latest RunWashington for the story!) I decided to go to the doctor and ask for antidepressants. If I could just get out of bed in the morning and not feel so overwhelmed by the day, surely I could get a job and whatnot.
“Have you been depressed since the election?” my new doctor asked when I broached the subject. This is, apparently, sadly, common.
“More like since puberty,” I admitted, “but the election didn’t help.” Har har. Could a truly depressed person be so not-so funny? She asked a few questions and sent the prescription straight to my pharmacy because we live in the danged future. After the usual blood drawing and conversations about calcium and iron, plus an unusual conversation where she recognized the local band on my t-shirt (HEMLINES!!!!), she sent me on my way.
When my blood tests came back, things got interesting. Turns out!!!!! I was not just depressed, pathetic, lazy, old, or sad.
I was real super deficient in vitamin B12.
“Your B12 is very low. Below 300 pg/mL is where we would expect to see fatigue and difficulty concentrating. You are below 200,” she wrote in understated doctor-speak. She advised that I take a supplement that dissolves under the tongue, blasting B12 straight into my bloodstream.
She put it more bluntly when I called to schedule a follow-up yesterday.
“193! I’m amazed you could string two words together!”
“EVERY DAY WAS A STRUGGLE” I shouted into the phone.
Because here’s what had happened in between. I felt a million times better! I could think clearly and stay awake and watch Moana without bawling through the whole thing. (Real talk though it’s so good and I still cry at it, just less.) I had applied for dozens of jobs and been called in for interviews that went well. I made more jokes and did more things with my fiance. I trekked for miles and miles around Japan. (Told you things were exciting this year!) The more I read about B12 deficiency, the more of my symptoms I recognized–fatigue and concentration problems, sure, but also the greying hair, worsening depression, and stomach troubles. I stayed on the antidepressants to mitigate the negative self-talk that had exacerbated my physical health problems. This is full-body self-care and I’m doing it all.
Just because taking B12 feels like swallowing lightning doesn’t mean this is settled, though. It’s not great that I was so B12 deficient more than two years after I stopped being vegetarian. I go back to the doctor next week for another blood test and to talk about possible root causes another layer deeper. For example, B12 deficiency caused by an inability to absorb the vitamin from food is called pernicious anemia. Pernicious because it used to slowly kill people. My dad told me, “don’t be a Bolton. Do whatever your doctor tells you.” So I am.
I celebrated my returning health and some gorgeous spring weather by registering for a very long bike ride that I have wanted to do for years. It’s called the Climate Ride, and it’s a fundraiser for organizations fighting climate change on every front imaginable. In September, I’ll ride a whole bunch of miles from the Blue Ridge Mountains to DC on behalf of the good ol’ Earth. And I am thrilled that I once again have the energy, motivation, and physical ability to train for and complete this ride. I’m overjoyed that riding my bike is fun again. I can’t wait for September!
To do this ride, I’m fundraising for my friends at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. They have been working their butts off for over 40 years to make the DC region a better place to bike, to make bicycling better, and to get more people out of their cars on the regular! This has great implications for greenhouse gas emissions in a region with some of the worst traffic in the country. It has positive outcomes in a city with tragic health disparities. It’s a model for other cities. And biking is, bar none, the most fuckin’ fun way to get around on a beautiful day.
Can you donate to WABA and the Climate Ride in honor of my renewed health and high spirits? It would mean the world to me! I promise not to wear jeans when I’m riding 80 miles a day.