Raising A Traveling Tribe: Darkness & Why We Need Vitamin D

by Tina on November 11, 2013

in Raising a Traveling Tribe

tina-traveling-mama Over the six and a half years that I have been blogging, I have pretty much avoided talking about our family’s personal health.  It just felt too, well, personal.  Which may sound kind of funny coming from a blogger like me who has always been extremely open and honest about our life abroad, including a little medical humor from time to time, but I never wanted to burden all of you with all the illnesses we have faced over the years.  I wanted Traveling Mama to be a place where you could escape from your own worries and find a piece of beauty every day.  But today I want to share about my own experience of dealing with the darkness in Denmark.  I’ve spoken to quite a few women who have faced a similar situation and their honesty helped me, so I hope that I can do the same for others.

Last year around this time I realized that I had been sick- a lot.  At first I blew it off.  The seasons were changing, the weather was suddenly cold, and it was perfectly normal to feel sleepy at 6pm when the sky was black by 4.  As the weeks went on, though, I noticed that my energy was dissipating quickly and I had yet to experience a “well” day in a very long time.  By mid December I was starting to feel scared.  I could barely get out of bed, I had deep, dark circles under my eyes, and I felt like I was living in a 90 year old’s body.   I barely weighed over a 100 pounds and even though I am only 5’1″ that was not a healthy weight for me.  I could barely eat… could barely sleep…

In just a few months time I had gone from being full of energy and working out at the gym vigorously, to a person who could not get her kids ready for school in the morning.  I remember laying in my bed one morning after my husband had taken the kids to school yet another time and wondering if I could be depressed.  (I know a lot of people struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder and find the Happy Light to be helpful.)  I had never felt depressed before but one of my good friends had been diagnosed not long before that and been put on medication, so I thought maybe it was something I would need to look into if I did not improve.

I felt overwhelmed, pathetic, and worst of all, out of energy and yet I had a million ideas running through my head… a million things I wanted to be doing instead of lying on the couch or, ugh, my bed, again.  I asked the doctor if it was possible to have mono again because that was the closest thing I had ever felt to this ongoing illness and she sent me in for blood work.

And then my answer came.  A severe Vitamin D deficiency.  Seriously?  That was it?  I felt stupid.  How could I have missed something so simple?  People had warned me.  And yet I thought that I was fine, the type of person who does not need any medications or even vitamins.  Within a few hours of taking my first teensy tiny vitamin D, I literally felt like life was suddenly coursing through my veins.  Within a few days I was running around like a 20 year old, so full of life that I was skipping and jumping around the house.  It was like going from death to life and I suddenly felt reborn.

A few weeks later my girlfriend, who was diagnosed with the depression, (a fellow American who had moved to Scandinavia) came to visit and told me that she had discovered that she, too, had a severe vitamin D deficiency.  After taking her vitamin D for a few weeks, she talked to her doctor and came off the antidepressants and immediately felt like herself again.  We both admitted that it was embarrassing to struggle through something that felt so near death and yet was the easiest thing in the world to fix.  (I am not suggesting that everyone who needs antidepressants can find a quick fix in Vitamin D.  Please be sure to talk to your doctor before changing anything!)

What I learned, though, is that Vitamin D is super important and it is not something that most of us get enough of.  If you live in a dark place or are even going to be visiting somewhere on vacation, talk to your doctor about supplementing your daily regime with more Vitamin D because the best source is the sun (and that is something that can be scarce in the winter in northern Europe!)  I also give my children a Vitamin D supplement because milk is not fortified with it here in Denmark like it is in the US.

So, even though I do not normally talk about medical issues, I really felt compelled to share this because it was such a huge, life altering discovery for me.  Not every country tests for Vitamin D deficiency (my girlfriend found out when she was visiting family in the US!) and I just happened to ask my doctor the right question.  Sometimes, whether you live abroad or not, you need to take charge of your own health, educate yourself, and be willing to push a little if and when the doctors will not pay attention.  The thing is, is that when we move or travel to a new country or climate, there are all sorts of things to consider, many of which we do not even know to think about because it is all so new!

Maybe some of you have dealt with a Vitamin D deficiency or another medical situation after moving to another country?  What did you do?

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Battle Maiden November 11, 2013 at 12:49 pm

So good you got that discovered! The Social system here (Finland) makes sure every family knows and takes it. It is good to share most definitely!

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Tina November 11, 2013 at 6:45 pm

That is great! I’m sure most Danes know better, too, but coming from “Hotlanta” (Atlanta) we have a good fill of sun and I’ve never had to worry about it! :-)

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gudyh November 11, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Tina, have loved reading it and learned a lot! I honestly know why I live in Spain and have moved many years ago. Whenever someone asks me the reason why, it comes by intuition: it is the light that moved and still moves me. When I travel and I don’t see and feel day light and sun during several days, I immediately notice that. I hope you are all prepared this year for the darker season to come and believe it is an excellent article to share! And that is a lovely pic of you too! x

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Tina November 11, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Oddly, I actually don’t mind the darkness, which is why I think I felt so perplexed. It had never bothered me before and I still find it very cozy. Don’t get me wrong. I definitely LOVE the sun and as a Greek, apparently NEED it, but I love the soft light here in Scandinavia, how it feels so moody and ethereal. I struggle with taking photos when we travel to bright places… everything feels like it is suddenly in hi definition! :-)

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simplystylishmom November 11, 2013 at 3:24 pm

That’s amazing – I was speaking to a colleague about that, I think I will definitely get some for this winter! Another thing expat friends order here are ‘SAD’ lamps :) Have you heard of these?

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Tina November 11, 2013 at 6:51 pm

I have and I know people who use them. I think the alarm clocks are smart too (the ones that get brighter and brighter to emulate the sun.) But I usually get up to go to the gym while it’s dark and it’s never bothered me. I think that is what is so odd about me- mentally I don’t mind the darkness, but apparently my body craaaaves the sun!

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Celena November 11, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Thanks for your honesty, Tina. I am sure that you have saved a few readers a lot of stress and unnecessary pharmacological interventions….

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Tina November 11, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Thanks! I hope so!

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Maja November 11, 2013 at 6:03 pm

We drink a lot of lettmelk med vitamin d over here in norway…and the kids get Sona Sol every day. We do not like tran like the norwegians do. My husband got some vitamin d from the doctor…he had problems too. Its way to dark here in norway, Its depressing sometimes.

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Maja November 11, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Its called Sana Sol ;) Sorry.

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Tina November 11, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Yeah, you guys get even more darkness than we do! I don’t remember ever seeing Sana Sol before, but I will definitely be checking around! Tak for tippet!

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Christine November 11, 2013 at 6:32 pm

This is a problem in very dusty desert climates as well. I can’t remember the exact statistics but about 80% of people in Qatar have Vit D deficiency. And the sun shines all the time. But the air has so many dust particles in the air the good stuff can ‘t get through.

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Tina November 11, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Wow! I had no idea! Thank you so much for sharing that with us!

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anyajensen November 11, 2013 at 10:07 pm

I have it too – and need to eat extra vitamin D supplements. So important living up here, this Summer was great, and we had some sunshine, but we need this little D vit so much. BRAVO for putting your finger on it and making us all do something about it – especially for the kids too ( we don’t fortify anything here – what you see is pretty much what you get:). See you soon sweets – much love Axx

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Tina November 12, 2013 at 10:11 pm

Yes. I should have listened to you when you mentioned it to me. Lesson learned! xo

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Evelin November 12, 2013 at 12:29 am

Thanks for sharing… I have been feeling really lethargic recently. I was thinking maybe it’s cos I wake up quite a lot at night due to the baby but hey, maybe I should take some Vit D too….

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Tina November 12, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Yeah, the little ones can definitely wear down your energy, but it’s definitely worth checking into!

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kelleyn November 12, 2013 at 1:12 am

Actually, I am glad you did talk about this! I had noticed in photos how much you had changed in your looks since I saw you hear in Georgia! I have been worried about you, but did not think it was my place to say anything. I know you are naturally thin, but I had noticed last year that you just did not look healthy. I am glad you spoke to a doctor and got help. I am sure by writting this you will help many other woman too! It is something most people just take for granted and would not even think of!

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Tina November 12, 2013 at 10:16 pm

Girl, you can always just speak up! I didn’t notice how sickly I looked until I was REALLY sick and I looked in the mirror one day and just thought, “Geez! When did I get so OLD?” Of course I just thought my age was finally catching up on me but I didn’t think 30 something would look more like 90 something! But now that I am getting sufficient vitamin D, what will I blame my wrinkles on now? :-)

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Morgan November 12, 2013 at 1:31 am

YES! When we moved to Taipei from Thailand, I realized that I was getting sicker in the winter, but didn’t really think much about it–I figured my body was just adjusting to cooler winter weather than I’d been used to. Then, a couple of years ago, I went through a several-month period where I was lethargic, down, and sick all. the. time. I finally did some research and discovered the vitamin D connection. Have felt SO much better since I started taking it in the darker months. Taipei is very gloomy in the winter (last December we only received 8 hours of sunshine all month), but I didn’t think about that being the source of my issues because I too love rainy, dark, cozy weather. It’s amazing how something so very small can make such a difference.
I also make sure to go to our building’s roof on those rare sunny winter days and soak up as much natural sunlight/vitamin D as I can.

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Tina November 12, 2013 at 10:21 pm

Yes! Exactly! It totally runs down your immune system, so loads of illness and infections are one of the symptoms of a deficiency.

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Dianna November 12, 2013 at 8:11 am

My husband & I both take vitamin D supplements for vit D deficiency & we live in Arizona! Maybe it’s the dust thing here too? I feel like I have more energy and don’t feel the need to nap during the day anymore :) My doctor said most people in our age group have a vitamin D deficiency. Glad you are well again <3

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Tina November 12, 2013 at 10:25 pm

So interesting about the desert! Who would have thought? Though adults do seem to struggle with it more, kids are still very susceptible to it as well. One of my friend’s son realized her 9 year old son had a D deficiency when a patch of his hair went grey suddenly. Needless to say, that was an obvious symptom and one that freaked her out!

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Alexandra November 12, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Thanks so much for your honesty! I just started using a SAD lamp and my “November resolution” is to take a walk every day when the sun is out. Gotta soak it up!

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Tina November 12, 2013 at 10:26 pm

That is a great resolution! You will have to let me know what you think of the SAD light!

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Kathleen November 12, 2013 at 3:22 pm

I was studying so hard last semester (in the southern US, mind you) that I got such a severe vitamin D deficiency, my doctor told me it was like looking at the blood work of a Scandinavian vampire! Glad you’re feeling better though!

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Tina November 12, 2013 at 10:29 pm

Haha! I will have to remember that- a Scandinavian vampire! Hope that means you are feeling better, too! :-)

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Lysa Sims November 12, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Just read your post regarding Vitamin D deficiency. Via Design Mom…I can now say I am hooked to your blog as well. I can easily relate to this deficiency, as I am an African American women, who suffers from this deficiency. It was discovered by an annual routine physicial. I was told that most darker skinned people suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. I guess with the exception of those people living in Africa. I never had any of the severe physical effects, however, it was recommended that I start taking a supplement daily. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to breast cancer. So my new blogger friend continue popping those tiny little pills…I know I will.

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Tina November 13, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Thanks so much for following! I read that Greeks are apparently very susceptible as well (I’m Greek!) so now I have proof that I actually NEED sun… time to head for the motherland! :-)

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Kim November 13, 2013 at 6:01 am

This was a great reminder to go take my D! I was pretty surprised by my low D levels bc I’m a native Californian and live in sunny Hong Kong. To be honest, I haven’t felt any big changes since taking my supplements but since I’m pregnant, I know it’s even more important to keep my levels up. Thanks for this!

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Deepa November 13, 2013 at 10:02 am

I was feeling the exact same thing and it took me almost three years to realize what it was! Maybe it’s not as dark in Holland as in Denmark, but moving here from the tropics was a huge change and like you, I was warned. I bought my first bottle of Vitamin D capsules a week ago (after I got over having to pay for something that I used to get free from, like, the SKY) and what a difference it has made!

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Leah S. November 13, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Thank you for sharing this. It’s important to share our knowledge about these things because it’s not always easy to find the right resources or even know where to look when you are feeling this way. Glad to hear you are feeling better.

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gina November 13, 2013 at 9:43 pm

Dear Tina, first: love your blog: then, one things leads to another … and to another so I’ll start: backwards! What a great post! I just saw your beautiful house on designmom (I’m a contributer) and agree with her: I am always happy to see your work — there’s such a consistent thread in your posts which I discovered last December via thehousethatlarsbuilt. I, too, am an American abroad + raising a family even further north than you: Stockholm. I could write paragraphs about the ups and down of medicine abroad, too and vit D sits squarely in a gray area for me — I’m normally very take care and live why pro-actively, but, on this subject, I’ve dragged my feet. We all exersize, drink of juices + kale, etc…but, since Vit D hasn’t been the buzz in Sweden, I’ve taken it into my own hands and give the family minimum supplements of Vit D and then, just wonder, while knowing full well that we’re soooo very high north, if anyone needs extra, we do… and maybe we should get ourselves tested. The health care here in Sweden is a a good and bad roller coaster of passive, condescending health care to fantastic; but…. again.. choosing my battles and know that it can take time. Your article makes me want to run out and get us all tested tomorrow! I’ll push until I have the answers we need! Thank you.

Second, seeing your name on the heels of my first visit to Copenhagen, I just had to add what a great weekend we had and what a creative energy I felt lived there! While Sweden can feel deliberate, Denmark felt more bohemian, carefree . I was impressed with all of the organic as well as handicrafts living side by side with high street fashion… I can’t wait to come back and plan to soon! This puts you and your blog high on my list and now, that I’ve finally visited, I look forward to reading you regular! Thanks again for sharing this great article.

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Rochelle November 14, 2013 at 11:40 am

I have them in my cupboard and I am so bad at remembering to take them. But I’m on my way now to pop them and I will keep them where I can see them. I never take them in summer, but try to this time of year. I think it actually affects my mood too. Thanks for the reminder. x

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helenbeee December 1, 2013 at 3:15 am

Hi
This was so similar to my own story I felt I had to write. Living in Australia one would think they were pretty safe from the vitD deficiency but not so as I found out.
I was living in Melbourne and moved to a suburb where the houses were all close together and the house that I lived in was not in a good position so rarely got any natural light into the house or garden.
Still I thought my trips outside would be sufficient exposure to light but after 2 months of winter where most days were grey and short days that grew dark quickly I began to feel unwell.
I was tired and lethargic and felt the cold really badly. I just thought it was winter keeping me inside but then the gradual change in mood swings and the heighten emotional state feeling teary and blue really blue. Not wanting to go anywhere not having the energy even if I wanted I became reclusive and felt like my world had changed so much it scared me. Then my vision became blurry and I started getting heart palpitations that truly scared me and thats when I finally went to the doctor and sat and sobbed my sorry life on his desk.
I told him I had gone mad and was depressed and felt suicidal.He sat and looked at me all deadpanned and then said he wanted to do bloodwork before he went any further.
I went back to him a week later not feeling very hopeful and Im ashamed to say that I wasnt very grateful when he told me I was vitD deficient and needed supplements and that this would solve all my health problems. Frankly I didnt believe that how ill I felt could be fixed with one big capsule taken daily it seemed to good to be true I really thought I was dying.
He gave me the script told me to get the tablets and start taking them immediately and told me to tell my husband to come and see him as well for bloodwork as he suspected he was deficient as well.
Well like you I immediately began to feel better and a few days later it was as if I had been reborn I was so energised I couldnt believe it.
My husband had begun taking them at this stage and within 10 days we were back to normal.
It was completely frightening to think that being deficient on a vitamin could have such adverse effects on ones health so quickly.
We have now since moved to another house that luckily for us gets a fantastic supply of natural light in the house and garden and I no longer need the supplements.
Im glad that you were able to get a diagnosis and treatment and its a good thing that you have posted here to create awareness of what can be a serious problem if left untreated.

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Tina December 2, 2013 at 10:39 pm

Thank you so much for sharing! I’m so sorry you had to go through all that, but so glad that the answer could be so simple!

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