Living with Lack| March 21, 2023
My symptoms were so worrying, I was afraid to find out what I had. B’chasdei Hashem, there was a simple fix
You won’t find a line about contacting the author at the end of this piece because it’s hard enough for me to talk about this saga with my closest friends.
You know those women who need just a little sleep and are always on to the next thing all day long? That described me… until recently. Friends called me an Energizer Bunny because I was constantly on the move — busy raising my family, running my home, helping the community, and on top of that, managing my own business.
In general, I’m not the greatest at taking care of my health. I do go for annual exams, and I’ll take medications as needed. But family jokes abound about my aversion to vitamins because I was traumatized by how many vitamins my grandmother used to take. Baruch Hashem, none of that really mattered because I was in good health, energetic, and more or less fit.
At the end of last summer, however, I started feeling a little more tired than usual. I attributed it to the intense heat and maybe some overworking. But I didn’t let up: As always, I prepared for Yom Tov, stocked the freezer, and hosted family, all while still running my business. At night, instead of pumping with my normal energy, I would feel like collapsing.
Shortly after Succos, I noticed that sometimes my hands would shake, and my body would jerk. It would last for such a short time — a few minutes max — that I kept thinking I was imagining it. It might happen on Monday and then again on a Thursday, and each time I honestly was in a fog of “Did that really just happen?”
My family members are notorious worriers, and I’m not, so I kept quiet about the shaking incidents because I didn’t feel like bringing drama upon myself.
A few weeks later, as I was loading the washing machine, my body began to jerk again — so much so that the clothes fell out of my hand. That’s when I realized that this was not my imagination. I also knew it wasn’t normal. I didn’t even consider consulting a doctor, though, because a part of me was terrified of what I would hear. Instead, I decided to take it easy and see if sleep would help.
I live in a condo that’s a couple of flights up, and during that week, I suddenly needed to stop at each floor because I felt faint. It would last for a few minutes, and then it would pass.
I imagined going to the doctor. What would I say? “So… my hand jerks for two minutes once a week, sometimes I feel faint in the stairwell, and I’m much more tired than I ever was.” What would he say?
In addition to all these symptoms, I was feeling irritable and emotionally down. Since I had always struggled with winter blues — and it was particularly cold and dark those weeks — I figured I should just journal and use some blue light therapy. But it didn’t help.
Then came the worst symptom of all: I began to lose my memory. I would “space out,” for lack of better words, and I had no recollection if a meeting or incident or conversation ever happened.
There was a shidduch I was working on, and both sides were incredibly hurt that I dropped them. I simply had no recollection that I hadn’t called them back.
My father a”h had suffered from dementia when he was 80, but I was only 40. This made zero sense. I was living in a fog, and it was getting worse.
What saved me is that I have a regular internist — and my doctor knows me and my general health. So when I finally braved my way into his office and hesitantly described that I sometimes drop things, that I’m tired, that I feel faint regularly, and that people are telling me I’m forgetful... he knew I was in crisis because these symptoms were wildly out of character for me.
I voiced all my fears aloud, listing the many diseases I thought I might possibly have. My doctor didn’t confirm or deny anything. He simply asked the nurse to draw a full panel of tests and have the lab get them back stat. He was honest and told me that he ordered multiple tests because he was looking for a clue as to how to proceed since, frankly, it could be anything.
The next day, the doctor called while I was driving to New York City for a meeting. Believe it or not, I wasn’t worried at all. It’s not just because I’m not the worrying type. Truth is, I had kind of forgotten about the previous day’s visit because it was already hazy in my memory.
“I have very good news for you,” my doctor said. “But you must come into my office this afternoon.”
He explained to me that normal B12 levels are between 300 to 500 (though some have it higher, and it can depend on the lab). Borderline is between 200 and 300, and below 200 is considered low. My results came back at 130!
I was recognizing less and less of myself by the day, so hearing that it was a fairly simple fix and not some long-term chronic disease brought on an incredible sense of relief: I could get better!
Since it can take a few weeks for vitamin B12 pills to be absorbed in the system, my doctor suggested I take a B12 injection instead, which would give me faster relief.
It can take 24 to 72 hours to feel the shot’s effects. For me, it took about two days, and I literally felt that cliché of the “fog lifting.” My mood, memory, and muscle jerks improved dramatically and quickly. My energy levels took a bit longer to climb up, but eventually they did, too.
It wasn’t clear what caused the dramatic drop in B12 to begin with, so the doctor ran a lot of tests and made me keep a log of what I was eating to ensure it was balanced enough. But it all checked out. I now take vitamin B12 every single day and go in for monthly blood work to ensure the numbers climb well and stay steady.
What frustrates me is that I suffered for so long for no good reason. We women tend to push and push ourselves until we’re miserable and run down. Learn from my mistake: Take a second to breathe and take stock of your situation so you can take steps to make life better for yourself. Don’t be afraid of making a “big deal” about any symptoms you might be feeling: Your health is worth it, and often, problems can be simple to solve and resolve.
SYMPTOMS OF B12 DEFICIENCY
- Weak muscles
- Numb or tingling feeling in hands and feet
- Trouble walking
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- IrritabilityLack of energy or tiring easily (fatigue)
- Smooth and tender tongue
- Fast heart rate
(Note: some of these symptoms come and go.)
What having B12 deficiency taught me:
“That I’m as human as the next person, and I need to listen to my body and take care of it. I’d always relied on my higher-than-normal energy levels and pushed myself. This experience humbled me.”
My favorite forms of exercise:
“Weightlifting and boxing.”
Healthy snacks I love:
“Chia pudding & date balls.”
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 836)
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