Tag Archives: iron deficiency

A Beautiful Disaster

[I know, I don’t write enough. But I won’t start each few and far between post with an apology anymore…after this. Sorry.]

Once upon a time, at a sketchy university health center, a psychologist tried to tell me I was bipolar. The quack was wrong–I was merely going through puberty–but if she tried to diagnose me similarly right now, however, I might not think she got her doctorate from a correspondence school.

I have been a walking rollercoaster as of late. I feel so happy I could just die…and then so sad, and so very very lonely, I could just…die. It’s funny, I have some wonderful people in my life constantly trying to boost me up, but the higher they get me, the farther I fall.

The health nut part of me keeps thinking if I just get enough folate, keep exercising often, go back to yoga, then my mood will even out. The female part of me blames my uterus, my hormones, and my very chromosomes for making my batshit crazy like every other woman that ever lived. But the wise and the realistic part of me just knows that this manic-depressive/riotous laughter vs. heaving sobs/wide smiles and sullen frowns kind of existence is all part of being more myself.

Yeah, it’s an Amp thing.

When you take risks, when you go with gutsy truths over easy falsities, when you decide to actually live instead of merely survive, the stakes are significantly higher. So, naturally, the wins are all the more satisfying, but the losses get you where it really hurts. But no matter how much I hate moments like this–when I feel like I’m playing the fool in my own life, and I just want to become a permanent addition to my mattress–I know this is a much better life than the one I was living half a year ago.

So, yeah, I didn’t feel nearly as lost or confused then as I do now, and I had a certain amount of security in the day to day, and I even occasionally convinced myself I was “content,” if not happy–but I was a zombie. I was a stranger in my own life. Now, though I sometimes still look around and wonder where the hell I am and how I got here (metaphorically and, sometimes, literally), at least I am alive and feeling my way through it all: feeling so stupidly happy with friends I am tremendously lucky to have found; and feeling less than stellar emotions (sometimes with or because of those same friends, sometimes because I had to leave those friends, and sometimes for no reason that I can pinpoint) that bring back memories of an acne and misery riddled adolescence. My emotions are on hyperdrive and it’s exhausting and annoying…and I wouldn’t change a thing.

I look around at my current state of affairs, and it’s just a wonderful kind of chaos. Even when I am feeling down, I still can’t help but realize that I have it alright. There are people–real living, breathing people–who desire my presence in their lives. I have a future ahead of me that might not totally suck (as long as I stay strong and keep fighting for it); a future that will get me out of the suburban hell hole to which I always thought I was doomed. I have perfect teeth. I have parents that are misguided, and tragic, and so very stupid sometimes, but who still manage to make me feel loved (even though I try to hide from them as much as humanly possible). I have a decent sense of humor and an unmatched ability to laugh at myself. I have a brother for whom I would do anything, and who I hope is proud to say he’s related to me. I have the world’s best dog. I have a head of hair that’s finally thickening (thank you, iron supplements). I have more pairs of Converse sneakers than anyone in the world should own. And I have a wee, helium-y little optimistic voice in my head that insists that everything is going to be just fine.

And even sad Pamela knows that foolish little voice is probably right.

OK, most certainly right.

This life is a beautiful disaster…and it’s mine. I find myself so often glancing around at my little slice of the world with a smirk, a deep sigh and an eye roll. It’s absurd and silly and messy and stunning and pathetic and adorable and ridiculous …and I love it.



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Life as a Walking ‘House’ Episode

One of my doctors this week instructed me to change my name to “Bizarre.”

That was not the first time I’ve heard that.

I’ve spent the majority of my life puzzling medical professionals. Remember, I was the four-year-old tot complaining of throbbing headaches that turned out to be migraines. I’ve had a weak-ass immune system for the last decade because I was a dummy and didn’t feed my body what it needed. And just this week, I have two brother ophthalmologists bringing their sibling rivalry with then to work and arguing over what to do about the apparent contact-resistance my eyes have developed, as well as a father/daughter dermatological team trying and failing to figure out what these tiny flesh-colored bumps I have on my hands are. Frankly, it would be funny is it weren’t so fucking frustrating.

Seriously, seriously, I think I’ve had enough funky health crises to last a lifetime:

When I was in kindergarten, my class was going to perform 3 short plays for our parents on Open House night or something. I don’t remember what all three plays were; what I do remember is one of them was The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, which was my FAVORITE, and that I was the only kid in the whole class who had a role in all three plays. I was beyond proud and excited for my on-stage debut, but I never saw showtime because I came down with scarlet fever, of all things. I just remember lying on the couch the night of our performance, feeling like the dead, the lights in the house just agony for my eyes, and begging my mom to let me go to school to do the plays: “I’m OK! I feel fine! Who’s going to wear all the hats?” Even in my fever delirium, I was devastated.

The summer before 9th grade I attended a Catholic church volunteer work camp. A couple days into the trip I started feeling really awful: headache, feverish, weak, nauseated, WEAK. The third night, after singing “American Pie” in the common area and making friends with these great kids from around the country, when they announced it was time to head to our dorms, my legs wouldn’t work. I tried, but I couldn’t stand for even a second. I got a piggy-back ride up to my room from one of the nice boys I had just met, and the girls from my youth group called me a slut for the rest of the trip. The next two days I was completely out of commission: a 104 degree fever that had me hallucinating, no strength, throwing up, blinding head pain. No one thought to take me to the hospital; no, instead, they thought it appropriate to pray over me when they thought I was asleep. (Guess what guys? I was awake! And nothing scares a girl suffering from an unknown illness like strange people laying hands on her while she tries to recuperate and asking god to make her well. Pray for lepers; you should have gotten me medical attention.) It wasn’t until returning home and already being on the mend that a nurse friend of my mom’s said, “Oh, honey, you had West Nile Virus.” Hubba what? West Nile Virus?! Are you fucking serious?

Then there was the lovely time freshman year of college when I was falling ill every other month or so, heading to the clinic on campus, and being unceremoniously prescribed antibiotics for one arbitrary thing or another–strep throat, tonsillitis, you name it–without them even, say, swabbing my throat or trying to determine what I actually had. They misdiagnosed me 5 times. When I returned home for the summer, a capable doctor found out that I had an advanced case of mono, equipped with anemia and a spleen-on-the-brink, and demanded I sit inert on the couch for the remainder of the summer.

These health freak-outs have given me a shit-ton of interesting stories to tell, but living life like it’s one long TV medical drama can be exhausting. I keep waiting for my own personal Dr. House to come sweeping in one day and find the underlying cause, the obscure disease that ties all these seemingly unconnected illnesses together and either he can heal me, or he’ll tell me I have 4 days to live. Either way, at least I would know. I would know what the hell is wrong with my body that I seem to contract every bizarre disease in the book. I would know why I have spent as much of my life sick in bed (or worse, sick and out in the world trying to pretend I’m not sick) than I have healthy and spry. And I would know, for certain, that I’d never have to see another doctor look at me with their big dumb eyes and say, “Well, I don’t know what to tell you.”


*deep breath*


Sorry about that. It’s just that, I get through my day to day ignoring the little aches and pains, bumps and bruises, sneezes and sniffles that come my way. Feeling less than stellar is a part of life, and I am not above taking an extra Vitamin C tablet and drinking some hot chicken broth, or wrapping my own strained ankle and icing it every few hours. But when there arises a health problem that I can’t handle on my own (like not being able to see, or painful welts growing out of nowhere on my fingers), and I decide to fork over my hard-earned money so a medically-trained fellow or lady can help me get back to healthy and they say, “Well, sorry, you’re a mystery” it makes me want to terrorize their waiting room, tearing up back-issues of People magazine and upending Ikea coffee tables. It’s. Just. Not. Fair. I am actively on two different eye drops and three different lotions because I have 4 doctors working hard to make me better but simply FAILING. They are failing miserably.


I really thought recently that because I haven’t had a cold in a few months that beating my iron deficiency and going paleo might really be the keys to immune success, but my body is just as wonky as ever. So I’m not plagued with sore throats and stuffy noses; now I’m being plagued with useless eyeballs and stupid skin. (I know that sounds juvenile, but I’ve been struggling with this my whole life: I think I’m allowed to pout a little.)

Maybe I’ll call up Hugh Laurie. He probably would have as good a shot of healing me as my real doctors.

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My Veggie Tale

Have you ever felt compelled to do or be something? You couldn’t say why exactly you were being called, but you heard the call nevertheless and wanted to respond? Long ago, I felt compelled to become a vegetarian.

Maybe it was because I never particularly enjoyed meat. Maybe it was because I love animals and even if it wasn’t a moral issue to me, it was a comfort issue. Maybe it was because I so easily blended into the background, and I really just needed something to make me feel different from the other drones in Warren. All I know is, when I had to right a song about myself in the 8th grade, a line in the chorus was “I want to be a vegetarian.” So, after barely touching red meat for a year, I cut all meat out of my diet completely the summer before 10th grade.

Golly, was I proud! It felt like a real accomplishment, even though my life barely changed. I still ate loads of pizza, just without the pepperoni. I still ate heaping bowls full of spaghetti, just with spicy marinara instead of meat sauce. I still ate way too much dessert. Now, I wasn’t a complete and utter cow. I also still ate enormous salads and massive bowls of steamed broccoli and cauliflower and fruit fruit fruit. But I didn’t feel deprived by not having chicken, so, I ask you, was there really any feat there?

Allow me to answer that question: No.

During this time, I had a cold perhaps 10 months out of the year. And my hair slowly but surely went from thick and frizzy to thin and wispy. And my nails yellowed. And I had a headache nearly every day. And I had awful insomnia.

Did I at any point think that my unhealth could be attributed to my diet? Never. NOT ONCE. My never-ending cold was just my POS immune system—and my immune system was clearly a genetic defect, not vitamin-deficiency related. My hair falling out (yes, it was coming out in clumps, but I still didn’t get the hint) was just the result of normal hormone shifts. My nails were from wearing nail polish with a basecoat. The headaches, well, I’d had migraines since I was 4 years old, so those were par for the course—and I never thought that maybe I could hunt down enough of my triggers that I wouldn’t have those migraines any more The sleep was stress, because I had plenty of that.

I went through life for years, thinking I was healthier than everyone else. I thought I was getting plenty of protein from peanut butter, beans, soy milk, chickenless chicken nuggets, tofu, and veggie burgers. I lived in a daze of superiority: I, the vegetarian, was being good to my body while they, the omnivores, were killing themselves.

Did you read those symptoms up there? I was the one killing myself.

Then, something wonderful happened. I mean, it sucked, but it started me out on the path to a balanced diet: I became soy intolerant. Think of lactose intolerance, but soy. I had struggling with terrible stomach aches for a few months when I finally decided that I needed to do an elimination diet to determine what the fuck was screwing with my tummy. The second I said goodbye to soy, I felt fine. Wonderful, even. So suddenly I lost a lot of the variety of my life. My main protein source was now the enemy, and I suddenly cared more for my health than I had for the previous 7 years combined. And I was suddenly afraid of having a protein deficiency (seems silly now, seeing as I had many deficiencies during those 7 years, protein among them).

Afraid that my health might suffer—HA!—I made a difficult decision: I would start eating chicken again. It was a process, but after a time I enjoyed chicken again and very much enjoyed cooking with my new favorite ingredient. Occasionally I’d try some turkey, or, even more infrequently, pork. I thought I’d fixed my problem. But after a year of eating one animal, thinking all the while that I was being good to my body, I noticed something disturbing.

One evening while getting ready for bed, I looked at my hairline, and I realized I could see the entire curvature of my skull through my hair. My hair had become so sparse I saw more scalp than tresses. IT WAS HORRIFYING.

I was 22 and balding?! No, that would not do. It’s tragic that something as shallow as my hair is what finally showed me how unwell I had been, but at least something finally woke me up.

It took one Google search to find that the main causes of hair loss are protein, iron, and zinc deficiencies. And where do you get the most of those three nutrients? Red meat.


Now, was I ready to make that leap? No. Not at the time. I started eating loads of fortified cereal and taking my multi-vitamin religiously, but I still wasn’t willing to put myself first. But then Stef told me about the Paleo diet. And one thing she told me really leapt out at me: our bodies, our skin, our muscles are made out of protein; doesn’t it make sense to eat that which we are made out of to be the strongest, healthiest version of ourselves? I was sold.

Now, let me say one thing: after years of being iron deficient, you can taste it. Oreos tasted slightly metallic a few months after I went veg (Yes, Oreos have 15% of your RDA of iron, but I do NOT recommend your supplement your nutrition with cookies). So eating red meat again was difficult. The first time I made beef stew, well, I mostly ate the potatoes and carrots. But after making an incredible batch of lamb stew for St. Patrick’s Day, I was converted. I have bought myself beautiful grass-fed beef tenderloin, I have ordered hamburgers in restaurants, and I am mastering the art of the meat ball.

I am pleased to say that my hair already looks thicker, and my nails have a distinct horizontal stripe—above the stripe they are yellow, below, clean and white.

And for the first time in years, I feel good. My never-ending cold has finally, gloriously ended. I’ve had one migraine in the last month. And I can sleep at night. Soundly.

God, does it feel good to feel good.

I don’t judge anyone for wanting to be a veg (I still hear the call now and then for reasons unknown). And if others can do it and be healthy and feel alive, more power to them. But, as for me, I believe in meat. I can’t save an animal but kill myself.

My name is Pamela Susan Wall, and I am an omnivore.

About. Fucking. Time.


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