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Bringing Healthier Conversations With My Body Into 2021

How a Brush With Severe Anemia Forced Me to Turn My Listening Skills Inward

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Trees and a view of the Skagit Valley from the top of Little Mountain
Image copyright: Anne H Putnam

I struggle with New Years Resolutions – I’m just Type-A enough to love the idea of writing down my lofty long-term goals, making a list in my new planner and referring to it all year when I need a reminder, but I’m also damaged enough to use unmet goals as a weapon against myself.

So when I saw Thrive Global’s weekly prompt to write about what I want to leave behind in 2020, as opposed to what I want to achieve in 2021, I immediately felt spurred to examine the turn of the year from that angle. And one major (personal) element of this year kept crowding out everything else: I want to leave behind my habit of ignoring my body’s signals, and my fear of asking for help.

At the end of last year I learned I had severe anemia, and as 2020 dawned my levels kept dropping, fast – despite the four iron infusions I had in November 2019. Much of 2020 has been focused on figuring out why I was so anemic and on last-ditch efforts to improve my iron levels without a full blood transfusion. Luckily, the second round of infusions I did in May and June, masked in a huge Seattle hospital as the pandemic raged, seems to have stuck.

But it’s far from over, and the main lesson I’ve taken from my months of doctor’s visits and blood tests and endoscopies and insurance calls is that it didn’t need to get this bad. I’d been sluggish for over a year before I asked a doctor about it, and my response was to push myself harder, tell myself I needed to improve my cardio, sign up for more, harder yoga classes, hold my breath, embarrassed, as I panted up each hill. It didn’t even cross my mind that something might be truly wrong – something besides my own fitness failure – until it was nearly too late. Even then, it was months before I realized that my breathlessness was due to my anemia; I’d assigned my fatigue to the blood disorder but continued to berate myself for the other ways I saw myself failing.

It took over a year, six IV iron infusions, countless doctor’s appointments, and one really excellent HAES physician to get me to internalize that my weakness wasn’t a moral failing. It was a physical problem, and one that was (somewhat) easily solved, but only once I asked for help.

As you may have noticed, the title of this piece isn’t about leaving behind, but bringing along – that’s intentional. I do want to leave behind my tendency to self-invalidate, but I also want to bring with me, and continue to foster, my new drive to listen to my body, to advocate for it, and to treat it with compassion and care. Those are new intentions for me, and I’d like to lean into them.

I can only do that if I leave my old, antagonistic relationship with my body behind.

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