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?