July 9, 2020
Be Your Own Best Health Advocate
A health advocate is someone who fully supports a particular health journey, gets informed on the latest developments about the issues, and makes empowered decisions from that knowledge.
Personal responsibility is a broad theme in my life, especially when it comes to health. As the single leading authority on myself and my wellness, it’s my responsibility to be attentive and proactive. After all, nobody else knows what it’s like to walk around and experience life from this body. There’s no one out there more qualified to seek out the healing path that aligns with my knowledge and values. That’s why it’s so important to me to be my own best health advocate.
Every health journey has its hills and valleys in terms of progress or healing. Rarely does the path look like symptoms, testing, diagnosis, cure – in that order. One of the truest statements I’ve read in regards to growth and healing is: “progress is not linear.” We can take two steps forward, one step back, or even a step in the wrong direction. It’s all part of the process. And along the way, we’ll need a trusted authority to act as an advocate for our best interests. I believe each of us is that authority, and as a result should act as our own greatest health advocate.
When it comes to taking ownership of our individual health experiences, no two experiences can ever look the same. My journey will be different from yours and yours will be different from another. The common denominator for each of us is to understand our own unique health requirements, and develop a voice that champions on our own behalf.
Drawing from my own experience living with Hashimoto’s (as new as it is to me), I believe there are essential actions any of us can take to become a more effective health advocate. They include:
- Paying attention to how we feel – and listening
- Investigating our symptoms
- Taking advantage of available resources
- Locating a trusted healthcare provider
- Implementing massive action
Pay attention to how we feel – and listen
Understanding our own baseline for how ‘normal’ feels to us is important. If or when it changes, we’ll realize it more quickly. To use myself as an example, a few months of fatigue and low-level, generalized depression was a warning signal to me. Someone with my activity level and well-rounded diet of healthy food shouldn’t experience fatigue or depression for an extended period of time with no apparent cause. But the key for me was not just to pay attention, but to listen – take it seriously, do something about it. I could have easily written off my symptoms. Maybe I even did for a while. Maybe they manifested sooner, but the recent lockdowns made it quieter, less busy, and easier for me to turn inward. That’s when listening made all the difference.
Investigate our symptoms
Aside from Dr. Google’s relentless insistence that we all secretly have cancer, investigating our symptoms is how we begin to become informed. To become a powerful health advocate for ourselves, it’s crucial that we get curious about our symptoms. Our body is sending signals, and taking every signal seriously helps us discover troubles we might not have realized were significant.
For example, when searching out anything I could about Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, there was plenty of content about the widely-known symptoms like hair loss, lack of energy and weight gain. I didn’t really have those. With a deeper dive, though, I discovered some lesser-known physical indicators, including cold hands and feet, poor short-term memory, disrupted digestion, and thinned eyebrows. I definitely experience those. Curiously investigating our symptoms gives us a wider scope of knowledge to draw from. In turn, this allows us to make decisions from a place of empowerment as our own health advocate.
Take advantage of available resources
Regardless of your specific symptoms or condition, it helps to find a few specialized resources that educate health seekers on the specific topics we want to know more about. Dr. Izabella Wentz and Dr. Brad Bodle are thyroid specialists who have been invaluable resources in helping me to better understand and start to meaningfully manage my health. Online publications, books, podcasts and online communities like Facebook groups can all be very valuable sources of support, places to learn, and guides to coping with our particular diagnoses.
If you find yourself facing a health issue you need to learn more about, consider an independent lab. Realizing these places existed was a huge catalyst in unlocking what the $#*& was going on with me. I was able to request a functional medicine thyroid panel with no need for a primary care doctor. In conventional medicine, TSH is commonly the only thyroid level tested. My own normal TSH level means, clinically, nothing is wrong with me. Well, I beg to differ! I used an independent lab to obtain a broader range of tests, and as a result, I have proof of a real condition. Being our own best health advocate means not letting anyone – even the system of conventional medicine – tell us what’s true for us. Only we can decide that. We don’t give up our power to anyone else.
Locate a trusted healthcare provider
We need the best chance at understanding, managing and thriving despite our health issues. A trusted healthcare provider can ‘provide’ just that: highly specialized and educated knowledge, empathy, and guidance. A trusted healthcare provider listens to our concerns and takes them seriously. If we can’t find that kind of provider in conventional medicine, it’s not over. There are many reputable, knowledgable, responsive practitioners of functional medicine and naturopathy who can help.
As my own best health advocate, I decided functional medicine was the path for me. Functional medicine treats the body as a comprehensive, interconnected system rather than treating each body system as though it exists in a vacuum. Often we see a dermatologist for a skin condition, endocrinologist for a hormonal condition, or gastroenterologist for a gut condition. Functional medicine sees these as interconnected and treats the whole body instead of just one manifestation. I know of many people who have found conventional medicine physicians they LOVE, and some who have gone through several and are still searching. It’s up to each of us to act in our best interest and connect with a practitioner who most fully aligns with our health goals.
Implementing massive action
Taking massive action towards our goals means taking action until the goal is achieved. It could look like changing what we eat, how we move, making time for rest, taking supportive supplements, medications or all of the above. Whether our goal is to reduce blood pressure, improve energy levels, lose weight or sleep better, we just want our lives back. We don’t want to just survive, we want to thrive.
Taking massive action to do what we know will be best for our bodies and giving our bodies what they need is the most important part of being our own best advocate. Without it, the rest of the steps are useless. Because in the end, it all comes down to us. We have a choice. What will we do with the knowledge we have? How will we show up? Do we have our backs on our decisions? Can we show compassion and feel love for our healing? It’s our decision. And informed decision-making around your own wellness is being your own best advocate.