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Confession: I'm Still Learning to Put My Health First

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When it comes to good health, I'm grateful that the odds have always been in my favor. Not only was I taught early on about the importance of eating well and exercising regularly, but I also come from healthy genes (my grandmother is still going strong at 96 years old!). However, along with those good genetics, I also inherited something that has recently proven to be somewhat of a disadvantage: My dad's stubborn refusal to go to the doctor at all costs.

My dad is one of the sweetest, hardest-working people I have ever known. The one flaw he has in my eyes is that he just doesn't know when to stop working. He is the carbon-copy of my hard-working grandfather, who worked for a steel company nearly his entire adult life. Upon his retirement, he received an award (a plaque that my family still has!) for never taking a single sick day in 44 years.

Needless to say, my dad followed in my grandfather's footsteps, and I subconsciously learned from an early age that we Hersheys just don't get sick. And if we do, we can power through it. Of course, my parents always took me to the doctor on those rare occasions that I did get sick growing up. But my dad, who is still working well past retirement age, has always sent the subtle message through his actions that life doesn't slow down, even when your body needs it to. You just deal with it and keep going.

As they say, like father, like daughter. Given my upbringing, it should be no surprise that my health has always been a big point of pride for me. So, when I started feeling tired and run-down a couple of months ago, my immediate thought was, ''I just have a lot going on right now. I'll be fine once I finally catch up on sleep!" And then, on the weekends, I slept, and slept... and slept. And I would wake up feeling even more tired than I did before. I watched my endurance plummet during my workouts, and I had trouble concentrating on the simplest of tasks. I kept making excuses for the way I felt: I was working a lot; I just needed to take a day off from exercise; I was getting too much sleep. I made up every justification under the sun to keep from admitting that there may actually be something wrong with me.

With the help of some gentle reminders from my boyfriend, I finally made a doctor's appointment to get a basic blood screen done. Fully expecting normal test results, I begrudgingly came in for my follow-up visit to find out that—surprise!—I'm anemic. Me, who never gets sick and plows through a family-size bag of spinach every other day. It's something I never suspected, and my condition probably would have gotten worse down the line if I'd brushed off my symptoms just to save myself the inconvenience of two short doctor's visits.

I think most people have fallen victim to this scenario at some point. In our society, we're trained to crank out as much work as possible during the week--sometimes weekends, too--while cramming our personal schedules to the brim in our ''free'' time. And all that scheduling doesn't leave very much time to breathe and focus on our health.

Though I'm extremely lucky and grateful to work for a company that emphasizes health as a top priority, I still sometimes find myself putting my well-being on hold in favor of everything else, because…well…isn't that what we're supposed to do? This isn't just something I learned from my dad; these days, Facebook statuses and water-cooler chats focus on how much we got done over the weekend, how early we got up this morning, and how much we have crammed into our to-do lists for the day. Feeling tired, over-worked, over-stimulated and sick from stress has become the norm—and, in some cases, is even relished. Good health seems to have become a project that's perpetually "put on the back burner."

For many people, busyness and accomplishment is what makes them want to get up in the morning, and I fully admit to being one of those people. But I also admit that it's not okay to ignore obvious health issues in favor of productivity--which is exactly what I did in the weeks before I finally got my blood tested. Whenever my boyfriend would suggest that I go to the doctor, I would sigh dramatically and roll my eyes. "The doctor? Right. Like I have time for that."

But guess what? On top of my job, I did have time to fit in workouts, run errands, and see my friends. We're all given the same number of hours in a day; it's all about how we prioritize. And I eventually realized that if I didn't make my health my first priority, I wouldn't be able to make my work, my fitness or my friends a priority anymore because of how rotten I felt.

Our bodies propel us and our busy minds through this world. The longer we let health problems go on, the worse they will get, and the more time we'll have to set aside so we can heal. If your car started making loud noises and smoking from under the hood, would you continue to drive it like everything was normal? Probably (hopefully!) not. The same should be true for your body.

So, the next time you notice that something just feels ''off'' with you, don't make excuses and justifications; make your health your number one priority. I'm lucky that I caught my anemia early and that it's an easily treatable problem. However, it was definitely a wake-up call for me to honor my body more and to put life on the back burner in favor of my health when I need to. I encourage you to do the same. I'm not saying to obsessively scrutinize every little ache and pain you experience. But if you notice a consistent pattern of something feeling just not right, even if you're one of those people who ''never gets sick,'' don't underestimate it, and don't put off fixing it. Your health is worth your time--everything else will be waiting for you when you get back.

What about you? Do you put your health first? Have you ever had a similar wake-up call?

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RYCGIRL 7/20/2020
thx Report
MUSICNUT 4/9/2020
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
1CRAZYDOG 4/3/2020
Definitely need to prioritize health! The consequences of NOT paying attention are just not worth while.
REIGN_TRULY 11/13/2019
My girl has a problem with not prioritizing health right. She is bad at that. She has an abscessed tooth, because she wouldn't bother to go to the dentist when it broke. Things get worse, people! Check things out, always! Report
GETULLY 11/13/2019
That was the attitude with mental health that my family had. No matter what you were feeling you just kept going. When I finally made appointments (in my 40s) the diagnosis was clinical depression since my teens. Report
LIZZIE138 11/12/2019
I did just power through & ended up in hospital so dehydrated that they thought my kidneys were failing. ALWAYS pay attention to your body. It knows you best. Report
Great article. I am still trying to figure out how to put health first. Report
If I don't put my health first I will not be able to help anyone else. I need to be fit physically, mentally and spiritually. Report
Good reminders of priorities. Report
For some people, working IS putting themselves first. Report
Learned the hard way of how important putting yourself first. Even after suffering health damages that are irreversible, it is really difficult to get in the habit of putting myself first. Report
I am still learning to put myself first. Thank you for the article. Report
we have to come first to help others Report
Extremely important to read this for all of us. Anyone who puts anything/anyone above taking care of themselves. Listen to your body. I had a two weeks of issues thinking I just had to quit fast food and eat more fiber. Two more weeks of doing that had me up all night thinking one day thinking I had indigestion. Never had it so wasn't sure of it was that. Finally after the first pain 12 hours before, I drove myself to the ER. Emergency gall bladder removal! My very first warning four weeks before was my system changed. Report
still learning Report
As a teacher, I have pUT my students first, sometimes above family, but always above me. I had a rich, rewarding career, but I have retired and not I am putting me first. I love who I, at 63, am becoming. Report
I too let my health go unknowingly. I was tired and I would make myself coffee in the afternoon in order to keep going. My heart pounded whenever I went up the stairs bringing up the laundry. I thought I was out of shape. That wasn't the case. I was anemic. I ended up having a blood transfusion. It took lots out of me. Physically. Just now, I am feeling more myself.

Thanks for making this blog. I'm sure it will help others. Report
Taking care of one's self is so important, and something most women tend to overlook. Most of us are too busy taking care of someone else. :) Report
OMG (gosh)! I just got out of the hospital due to a bout with severe anemia and your blog is the first I read. Much like you, I don't take the time to take care of myself...everyone else comes first. I implore you....PLEASE take care of yourself!!! If you don't take care of yourself you won't be here to take care of everyone else (I almost wasn't). For me it's a lesson learned the hard way, but it's one I'm not going to soon forget. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. You reinforced what I needed to remember! Report
I was in the same situation: I kept needing more and more sleep, but never felt rested, got tired more and more easily. But I got to where I was too tired to want to go to the doctor and too foggy brained to even think about it. The fact that I had been laid off from my job and had no insurance didn't help. A push from my husband after an e-mail about thyroid problems from his mom finally made me go to the doctor and get tested. Sure enough, I was hypo-thyroid. My doctor started me on hormone supplements and after a couple months, I was feeling much more normal. I wish I would've gotten tested right away and not wasted a year or more feeling increasingly tired and forgetful. Now I see my doctor more regularly, especially since I am pregnant. And if I'm feeling sick or run down, I take a sick day and rest up and get better. That's what sick days are for. No sense going to work and potentially prolonging an illness, or worse yet, getting co-workers sick. Report
My family has some serious genetic problems. It wasn't until I finally put my foot down and demanded the doctors stop blowing me off and start doing something about it that anyone realized it. I'm worse than anyone on either side, because both sides have their own problems, and in me it added up to worse than anyone could imagine. But for my whole life I've pushed and forced myself through pain and problems and even through having my digestive system shut down and my immune system go haywire to do more than I ever should. It was because I let people tell me it was all in my head or that I just needed to 'suck it up' that I got to the point where I was barely unable to sit up, my left leg stopped working, I became underweight from lack of nutrition, and I started forgetting my own name. Now that I have about 7 major diagnoses, at least 3 minor, and multiple specialists and I are working on a few more that they know are there (because they can't account for all my symptoms) people are now absolutely dumbfounded that I've survived as long as I have, and did as much as I did until I could no longer function at all. If the genetic conditions had been found when I was a kid, some of the others could have been avoided or been well-managed instead of destroying my body. I now know that pushing through and forcing myself to do what I knew I couldn't adequately do was the worst thing I could do. I still push myself too hard on occassion, but then I pay for it. And I fight back against anyone who tries to force me to do more than I can.

No one should have to wait for answers as long as I did, especially by their own doing. If something is clearly wrong, work with your doctors to figure out an answer. It may well be an answer you weren't expecting, but be open and honest and try the treatments. They won't always get every diagnosis right (doctors are human after all) but by working with them the process becomes fluid and helps us get to as healthy as we can be. And if the first doctor doesn't help, get additional opinions. Report
My dad was always of the mindset to not go to the doctor unless you are dying. When I was little, I broke my ankle and dislocated my jaw. I never went to the doctor for either thing and I now have horrible arthritis in my ankle.

When I was 22, I found out that I have the same genetic condition that caused my mom's death at the age of 35. I was very vigilant about getting annual checkups after I found out I had the same problem. I've since had open heart surgery to correct some of the genetic defects. I now go to the doctors about every other month for follow-ups. Report
I was never one to go to a doctor unless I was really having problems (usually sinus problems). Later, there was just no money and no insurance, not because I just didn't bother with insurance, but because I could never have gotten it at the prices they charge with a $750/month salary. When I did go because my feet were hurting so badly, that was really the only thing I had been worried about. After being diagnosed with diabetes I had to find a doctor and then found out I had stage 4 cancer. Had there not been a free clinic the one day, I would never have been able to go to a doctor in the first place and had my life saved. Now I am doing whatever I can to become healthier. Report
I didn't go to a doctor without a real ad cause for years (like fainting in public)- half way due to the 'I can power through it idea' half way because I was in hospital a lot as a toddler and up to primary school age and developed quite an aversion to doctors.
I powered through everything without a doctor, and without telling the parents mostly, I missed a day here or there for stomach flu or a migraine in school but that was that. And then I got what I thought was an ugly rash, that started to hurt very badly the next day. The pain got pretty bad very fast and I finally accepted that I needed a doctor. I finally went and got diagnosed with shingles at age 17. So I most likely missed my immune system being compromised for a while, ignoring it as tiredness and stress.
That was my wake-up call and a painfull one, since then I go to the doctor for most things. Finally got medication that works for my migraines too.
I have also been told I am borderline anemic (iron deficiency anemic) when I went for the check-up and I am keeping an eye on that and my diet now. As well as on my immune system itself, I never want it down enough for another case of shingles again.
I still do not go for stuff that only needs dietchanges and sleep and maybe some over the counter stuff like colds and most stomach bugs because I refuse to take antibiotics for things that do go away on their own. With the exception of when I worked in fast food and had to go for a doctors note due to the fact that our laws do not allow me to work with food with certain types of illness.
Great advice....really good thing you caved in and went! Report
Your insightful blog may just be the "kick in the pants" I needed. Thank you,
MaryAnn Report
I too have not put myself at top of the list of importance. One day i went home for lunch to take a wake up shower, cause i was so tired that i was rushing and bumped my shoulder on the shower wall that felt like i disslocated my shoulder or something. It hurt really bad but i had to go back to work, that i worked through the pain by not lifting my arm too high. About an hour later that i worked through it the pain went away, couple days later waxed my car and that night pain again same arm. I had to call the doctor the next day, had to go see a spealist and by then felt like the pain was gone. I felt like i was a fake, but the spealist listened to my story pressed his thumb on the top of my shoulder and omg i started to cry with pain. The muscles in my shoulder were inflammed from the bump in the shower and i had to take meds, and not lift my arm over my head or do anything strainous with that arm. So yes no more working through pain again i will make my health important. Report
I'm glad you listened to your boyfriend. The habits we form from our family of origin are difficult to change. For me, I do go to the doc or acupuncturist...and I get second opinions. My heart goes out to those without medical insurance. Report
Easier said than done, unfortunately. When you work full time plus some just to make ends meet, have no insurance, and have no sick pay or PTO days left, you do what you have to do. This was my situation last November where I spent two weeks in a state of mind-bending stress at work which jacked up my immune system. I started off feeling extremely tired, so I spent a day off just sleeping. Next day at work I was crazy fatigued and fevered. Next day I slept. Wash, rinse, repeat. I ended up calling off work for the first time in YEARS because I couldn't break the fever. We were coming up on Black Friday, so needless to say the bosses weren't pleased. Went to a doctor who said it was a flu-like viral infection, just go home and sleep it off. Ended up in the emergency room 3 days later jaundiced like a Simpsons character. Verdict? Mono. Doctor put me on 2 weeks of bedrest where I contemplated how the heck I got a jr-high illness at 29. Bosses seriously upset because I missed Black Friday/Saturday, and I was seriously upset because I was now at 3 weeks with no income. I won't have the med bills paid off until some time in 2014. And before anyone gets on my case about insurance, the only thing available to me on my income is through work, and it's not worth the paper it's printed on. The recovery process is a real pain in the butt, though. I have normal days, and I have days where even thinking about doing anything exhausts me. My coworkers who had mono close to adulthood told me I can look forward to this for a long time. Yay. :P On the up side, the doctors gave me kudos for my self-treatment before I saw them. Sleep, lots of fluids, BRAT diet, cool baths, etc. :) Oh, one final thing: In the last 15 years, every time I have seen a doctor for anything, the official treatment has been "go home and sleep it off." Bronchitis, flu, PCOS, you name it. I wish I were making that up. *lol* Report
People who don't go to the doctor until they are so sick they can't take it anymore are just asking for bigger problems like terminal cancer. Report
I think that women are made not to make themselves important enough. But, if we are continue not to put us up in a higher priority in life we are really not caring for the other things in our life. Report
I had various health 'issues'. Finally there was abdo pain and it turned out that I had a huge fibroid which was removed last year. Since then many of the other health issues have disappeared. Once the real problem was dealt with, everything else returned to normal - HORMONES!!! Report
My health comes first because I am a pre-dietbetic tye 2 and am taking medicine for it Report
The stupid thing about not going to the doctor when you "know" that something isn't right, is that by the time you do go the problem is MUCH worse and often the doctors can do little to help. This happened with my husband's cousin who didn't get checked for prostrate cancer and when he couldn't take the pain anymore he went and he was Stage 4. Sad story. Report
Thank you for this reminder, it's so tough to remember that taking care of myself shouldn't be pushed to the bottom of my to-do list. Report
I had a problem similar to this a year ago. I was almost to the point of saying,"ok left foot move, now right foot move. I was so fatigued. I had blood work done and found out my vitamin B 12 level was super super low. Normal was 211 to 918---mine was 50. I had B 12 injections every week for 8 weeks and now have them monthly. Sometimes my level drops and I get injections every 3 weeks for a month or so. If you are feeling unusual fatigue, this might be something to have checked as it isn't done with regular blood work. Report
i have begun to put my health first... Report
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