Iron Deficiency Body Confidence Issues And Swimming The Channel | Where I Am Today & How I'm Feeling

Monday, 22 October 2018

Going Vegetarian

When I went vegetarian the last thing I worried about was lack of iron in my diet. That was until I started feeling tired, lethargic, lacking in energy and generally feeling like there was something missing but I couldn't put my finger on it. I wondered if it could be depression as my Grandpa had recently passed away so with all this in my head, I went to the doctor's to see if they could help. 

I told him how I was feeling, all my symptoms and he suggested we go ahead with a blood test, which included diabetes, red blood cell count, ferritin levels amongest others. It was an anxious time for me as I really worried there could be something seriously wrong, my Grandma had Type 2 Diabetes so knowing it runs in families I was worrying if I could have it too. 

The wait for the results was fraught with anxiety, this was the first time I'd ever had a blood test at the doctors and all the worst scenarios were going through my head. On top of all this I was working long hours, all the while still feeling tired and lacking in energy! I felt like I couldn't win whatever I did and so at the end of the week I phoned the doctor's for the results. (I was also suffering with back pain after injuring my illacus muscle so was dealing with that on top of everything else!)

Thankfully, I didn't have diabetes or anything more serious, although having an iron deficiency is still pretty major! Apparently my ferritin levels were borderline, putting me at risk of anaemia. I honestly had no idea that this could even be a thing but as soon as I started googling it and researching more into it, it was 'oh yeah, that's why I was feeling so tired!'. 

" Ferritin is a blood cell protein that contains iron. A ferritin test helps your doctor understand how much iron your body is storing. If a ferritin test reveals that your blood ferritin level is lower than normal, it indicated your body's iron stores are low and you have an iron deficiency" (Source)

Low Iron Levels And Low Self-Esteem

Seeing as my levels were so low I was put on ferrous sulphate supplements to get them back up to normal. It felt good to have a reason for my symptoms and a cure which seemed really simple to follow but to be told that 'hey, you gave up meat so here's a medical condition for you to deal with!' was quite tough to be honest. It just felt like a knock after trying to do something good for the planet and my health - although we now know that perhaps it wasn't! 

The side effects weren't particularly pleasant, bloating, gas, constipation to name a few. It may be TMI but prior to going on the medication my bowel movements were really regular, everything was moving along perfectly fine, so to go from that to not really being able to go was just awful to be quite frank. It just felt like my food wasn't going anywhere and I became quite bloated towards the end of my treatment. 

I felt like I'd put on lots of weight all of a sudden, I wasn't used to carrying so much around my middle as prior to beginning on ferrous sulphate I'd became really happy with my body. I'd finally managed to quell those nasty voices in my head who were saying I was fat, ugly and needed to lose loads of weight. Every. Single. Day. 

To be honest it was quite hellish and I was considering all sorts of 'get thin quick' fixes to shut them up. Following body positive accounts didn't help because, quite frankly, I don't like looking at bodies that are bigger than mine. I felt at a loss and didn't know where to turn. 

That was until I read Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe. After this those nasty voices stopped immediately and I began to love my body instead. I no longer wanted to lose weight to be skinny or exercise to burn calories, instead I wanted it nurture it, take care of it and exercise to improve my respiratory and circulatory systems; to better improve my systems as a whole and to greatly improve my overall health. It is something I have come to love over this last 6 months or so and I see it so differently now and it feels that finally, I may have quashed them for good.

Swimming The Channel

Swimming is helping with that as I have recently taken up the Aspire Channel Swim Challenge - swimming 22 miles in 12 weeks (10th September - 12th December) and as well as raising money for an incredible charity and helping those affected by spinal injuries; it has been amazing for my mental health. It has helped me to see my body in a different light, as a tool to get me from one end of the pool to another. To help me push off and count down the miles swum. To get up in the morning and fight another day. 

Taking my ferrous iron supplements has helped me immensely with being able to start my challenge. Beforehand I didn't feel like I had enough energy to be able to even get through a 3 hour shift at work never mind being able to swim 50 lengths of my local pool! Feeling like I was able to do something good with my body made me feel immensely powerful and my mental health improved ten fold. 

 When those nasty voices in my head were finally silenced, it felt like there was so much more space for the thoughts which mattered, namely how to complete my channel swim and how to supplement my diet with iron rich foods so I didn't need to take supplements. Turns out this was easy enough to do and so with the all clear from the doctor's and my ferritin levels back within the normal ranges I stopped taking ferrous iron supplements.

Donating Blood

One aspect which I didn't really notice was that I wouldn't be able to give blood which just made me so sad because it's something I've been doing for a number of years and had recently reached 25 donations. I had a talk with the nurse at the donation centre and it seemed it might take me back to square one in terms of how it would make me feel. It was decided I would wait until after my three month check up to donate again. 

I was also slightly confused because prior to this I had always been able to donate, like they didn't pick up on my low iron levels each time I came to donate. I found out later this is because their tests aren't as strict as the blood test I had at the doctor's. Despite my blood failing the sulphar dioxide test but passing their other test - where my blood was put onto a slide and into a small machine which counted my levels - it was decided I would possibly be back at square one in three months time. This almost made me cry because I had come to donate blood, not to be turned away.

Where I Am Now

Today I am in a way better place than I was even a few short months ago. My back has healed up, my iron levels are back to normal and I'm well on my way across the channel. My mental health is in a much better place and I feel like despite work being busy and hard at times, I'm managing to get some sort of balance with being able to see my friends and have some sort of life! I'm making more of an effort to get out and about, whether that be with blogging events or catching up with friends over coffee or drinks. I like to see my diary filled with dates and events and my inbox full of campaigns, sponsored post opportunities and product reviews. It makes me happy and gives me purpose, despite what I say about getting too many items on my list making me feel overwhelmed, I do really enjoy it! 

Here's hoping the last couple of months of 2018 continue in this vein because I don't know about you but I am really excited! 

How about you? Where are you in life now, somewhere you thought you would be or in a completely but albeit better place? Comment below and let me know! 

Love, Sarah

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