Cold Feet

Fear of Change

Show me a job without stress—I dare you. Even the jobs that often don’t provide a paycheck (caregiving and volunteering, to name a few) don’t come without their hair-pulling, gut wrenching, controlled sighing, tear-inducing, and expletive-muttering. Something tells me you’ve been there before.

I am a high school English teacher. It’s not all I’ve done, but it’s what I most identify with as a career and a vocation. I love my school. I love my colleagues. I love my students. But I don’t thrive off the stress. If ever there is a job that increases adrenal fatigue and spikes cortisol levels, it’s the fast-paced rush between high-pitched bells to meet the needs of 120 students daily. Okay, maybe heart surgeons, EMTs, oncology nurses and the like in other such noble professions have more stress. A wee bit.

As a teacher, the joy of helping kids grow as people and as lifelong learners is invaluable. But it can be compromised by class sizes of 38-40 students with varying ability levels and learning needs. It requires being on your feet leading and monitoring adolescents for 25 hours a week, attending numerous meetings, delicately handling challenging parent communications, attending professional development workshops, rewriting curriculum, learning new curriculum, teaching various preps each year, embracing administrative and peer observations, etc. It’s a daily performance with several acts and no real intermission. It requires adaptability, and as one former colleague aptly put it, “Going from mom to prison guard in 2 seconds.” Oh, and don’t forget the grading we take home to earn our summers off (which I refer to as “comp time”).

God bless summer. Summer is when I crash. I rest and recover. I find myself again in the slowness and peace. In short, I get healthy. A side bonus is that my feet and hands aren’t cold for a few months. I’m grateful for that hot Sacramento summer to finally rid myself of my cold feet and hands–a minor side effect of hashimotos (my husband is grateful too).

With this extreme contrast of lifestyles,  it’s no surprise that in the midst of a hectic year, I ask myself, is the intensity and stress 10 months out of the year worth the complete calm of 2 months? “Hell yes!” resound the masses. But for the autoimmune sufferer, I think not. I’ve been diagnosed with Hashimotos for only one year. I’ve been teaching off and on for 13 years. Nothing, short of being a sleep-deprived parent, has knocked the wind out of my sails in this job like this disease has.

Back in October, when I hit a real low and felt very sick, I decided I had to broaden my network of support. Through anxious tears I called a family member who also has Hashimotos. Among her profound insight and advice, she said the magic words. Integrated medicine. Functional medicine.

Armed with my Google search terms, I found my Naturopathic doctor (ND). He ran a string of blood tests I’d never heard of and successfully identified many deficiencies that he could correct fairly easily with supplements. He also put me on a T3/T4 medicine, which my Kaiser doctor was reluctant to do. And he identified my hypoglycemia, my low vitamin D, dopamine, and serotonin levels—the list goes on. These are common deficiencies in autoimmune patients. Once treated, depression went away, sleep came easier, anxiety subsided, and by December, I was feeling the best I’d felt since the previous summer. I cried tears of relief and wrote my ND a sparkling recommendation for his website. I still, faithfully, take anywhere from 12-15 pills a day and pay a lot of money to feel this well, despite my fluctuating TSH.

Yet, the biggest takeaway from my lengthy discussions with him was harder to swallow. “Stress will be the biggest factor in your illness. I can keep you feeling well with all of these supplements, but unless you reduce and manage stress, you will always be on them.” He finished our discussion with mantras for me to practice as I began to explore what it meant to reduce stress: “I merit happiness. I merit peace and joy.”

Easier said than done. I stressed about stress. I obsessed about stress. Oh yeah. I’m good at it. Watch me. The investigative research began again. Google, my buddy, helped me to a point. Yoga? Meditation? Martial Arts? Long walks in nature? But then the fear-based questions arrived: Where’s the time? Where’s the money? How will I maintain work-life balance? Do I have to change something in my life or do I have to change me? Or both? How? These were followed by the self-defeatist thoughts: I can’t stick to a daily routine–life is too unpredictable. I won’t have the energy. I’ll lose time with family. Google couldn’t answer these questions and neither could the people I love the most. The life I was living and the life I needed were In direct conflict. “This was not part of the plan,” I thought.

I needed a new plan, but I was afraid of change and doubtful of any options that might afford a better work-life balance.

In time, I chose not to approach this dilemma from a place of “scarcity” to quote Koren Motekaitus, Life Coach and host of the inspiring podcast How She Really Does It. With the belief that there will be answers to my questions and options for how to change my life, I finally asked myself what I needed. I stopped asking what everyone else would think. I stopped fearing judgement, and I stopped the cycle of self-doubt (for now). To sound utterly hokey, I discovered the answers are within (insert Star Wars Jedi reference or Kung Fu TV series reference).

Even though I’m afraid, even though I don’t always like the answers that surface from within, this change could be the most important thing I do for myself and my health. This new path could present opportunities for growth I can’t possibly predict.

The journey is long and lovely. Feet, don’t fail me now.

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange)
Turn and face the strain
Don’t have to be a richer man
Ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange)
Don’t want to be a better man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time”

–Bowie, 1971

How She Really Does It
Image Credit: April 22, 2016  



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