Confession: I'm Still Learning to Put My Health First

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When it comes to good health, I'm grateful that the odds have always been in my favor. Not only was I taught early on about the importance of eating well and exercising regularly, but I also come from healthy genes (my grandmother is still going strong at 96 years old!). However, along with those good genetics, I also inherited something that has recently proven to be somewhat of a disadvantage: My dad's stubborn refusal to go to the doctor at all costs.

My dad is one of the sweetest, hardest-working people I have ever known. The one flaw he has in my eyes is that he just doesn't know when to stop working. He is the carbon-copy of my hard-working grandfather, who worked for a steel company nearly his entire adult life. Upon his retirement, he received an award (a plaque that my family still has!) for never taking a single sick day in 44 years.

Needless to say, my dad followed in my grandfather's footsteps, and I subconsciously learned from an early age that we Hersheys just don't get sick. And if we do, we can power through it. Of course, my parents always took me to the doctor on those rare occasions that I did get sick growing up. But my dad, who is still working well past retirement age, has always sent the subtle message through his actions that life doesn't slow down, even when your body needs it to. You just deal with it and keep going.

As they say, like father, like daughter. Given my upbringing, it should be no surprise that my health has always been a big point of pride for me. So, when I started feeling tired and run-down a couple of months ago, my immediate thought was, ''I just have a lot going on right now. I'll be fine once I finally catch up on sleep!" And then, on the weekends, I slept, and slept... and slept. And I would wake up feeling even more tired than I did before. I watched my endurance plummet during my workouts, and I had trouble concentrating on the simplest of tasks. I kept making excuses for the way I felt: I was working a lot; I just needed to take a day off from exercise; I was getting too much sleep. I made up every justification under the sun to keep from admitting that there may actually be something wrong with me.

With the help of some gentle reminders from my boyfriend, I finally made a doctor's appointment to get a basic blood screen done. Fully expecting normal test results, I begrudgingly came in for my follow-up visit to find out that—surprise!—I'm anemic. Me, who never gets sick and plows through a family-size bag of spinach every other day. It's something I never suspected, and my condition probably would have gotten worse down the line if I'd brushed off my symptoms just to save myself the inconvenience of two short doctor's visits.

I think most people have fallen victim to this scenario at some point. In our society, we're trained to crank out as much work as possible during the week--sometimes weekends, too--while cramming our personal schedules to the brim in our ''free'' time. And all that scheduling doesn't leave very much time to breathe and focus on our health.

Though I'm extremely lucky and grateful to work for a company that emphasizes health as a top priority, I still sometimes find myself putting my well-being on hold in favor of everything else, because…well…isn't that what we're supposed to do? This isn't just something I learned from my dad; these days, Facebook statuses and water-cooler chats focus on how much we got done over the weekend, how early we got up this morning, and how much we have crammed into our to-do lists for the day. Feeling tired, over-worked, over-stimulated and sick from stress has become the norm—and, in some cases, is even relished. Good health seems to have become a project that's perpetually "put on the back burner."

For many people, busyness and accomplishment is what makes them want to get up in the morning, and I fully admit to being one of those people. But I also admit that it's not okay to ignore obvious health issues in favor of productivity--which is exactly what I did in the weeks before I finally got my blood tested. Whenever my boyfriend would suggest that I go to the doctor, I would sigh dramatically and roll my eyes. "The doctor? Right. Like I have time for that."

But guess what? On top of my job, I did have time to fit in workouts, run errands, and see my friends. We're all given the same number of hours in a day; it's all about how we prioritize. And I eventually realized that if I didn't make my health my first priority, I wouldn't be able to make my work, my fitness or my friends a priority anymore because of how rotten I felt.

Our bodies propel us and our busy minds through this world. The longer we let health problems go on, the worse they will get, and the more time we'll have to set aside so we can heal. If your car started making loud noises and smoking from under the hood, would you continue to drive it like everything was normal? Probably (hopefully!) not. The same should be true for your body.

So, the next time you notice that something just feels ''off'' with you, don't make excuses and justifications; make your health your number one priority. I'm lucky that I caught my anemia early and that it's an easily treatable problem. However, it was definitely a wake-up call for me to honor my body more and to put life on the back burner in favor of my health when I need to. I encourage you to do the same. I'm not saying to obsessively scrutinize every little ache and pain you experience. But if you notice a consistent pattern of something feeling just not right, even if you're one of those people who ''never gets sick,'' don't underestimate it, and don't put off fixing it. Your health is worth your time--everything else will be waiting for you when you get back.

What about you? Do you put your health first? Have you ever had a similar wake-up call?