Oh, the sun. It makes us happy; brings us joy; reminds us of the halcyon days of our youth. But it does so much more than that – something I only realised recently after a series of blood tests requested by my wonderful GP.
As someone with a chronic illness, I probably spend fewer hours outside than the average person (whatever one of those is). My sunlight exposure would generally consist of the quick school run, perhaps a trip to the shop, and maybe taking the boys out on their bikes as I rode my mobility scooter alongside them. Still, I got some fresh air everyday, so it’s all OK, right?
Well, during those periods outside, this ‘so fair she’s almost see-through’ girl would be wearing factor 50 sun cream on her face, and factor 30 on any other body part exposed to the sun; I mean, who wants skin cancer…
Acutely aware of the fact I was probably getting less vitamin D than necessary (as are most people) I was already taking an over-the-counter vitamin D supplement, so when – over the course of a year – my health gradually began to decline, I didn’t even consider my vitamin D levels could be a factor. But things continued to get worse. My fatigue worsened to the point that even on my good days my energy levels were through the floor; my hair begun to fall out in clumps; my mood dropped to a point where, in hindsight, I have no doubt that I was depressed; my immune system tanked and I was picking up bugs from seemingly nowhere; I fractured my hip from a minor fall. Any ‘get up and go’ I had before had got up and gone, which is – incidentally – the main reason for the radio silence on this blog. Looking back, I don’t know how I didn’t notice this slide into the abyss, but – in actuality – it all happened so slowly that I hadn’t realised the depth of the hole I had sunk in to. And neither did anyone else.
It was vanity that eventually led me to the GP; hair loss is a side effect of one of the medications I am prescribed, but it had become markedly more drastic, and when it became noticeable it propelled me ask for some routine blood tests. My incredible GP obliged, and 3 days later I had a phone call to say I had a severe vitamin D deficiency.
I can’t say I thought the tiny green pills I picked up from the pharmacy would make any difference to the way I was feeling; resigning myself to the fact that everything I was experiencing was just a phase in the life cycle of my chronic illness. But – thankfully – I couldn’t have been more wrong.
After taking the pills for a few weeks with no change I had written them off as another supplement that would do nothing when, for no reason, I woke up naturally before 8am in the morning, something that I have no memory of doing for at least six months prior. It happened again. And again. Gradually, I stopped feeling nauseated from exhaustion. My mood lifted. I had energy. I could walk outside again. I could stay up and watch a TV series with my husband. I could live rather than exist.
I know the vitamin D supplements aren’t a magic pill that has made all my problems go away – that’s the thing about chronic illness… it’s chronic. My fatigue still makes itself known, pain still keeps me awake at night, my legs still don’t function normally, and I still have days I can’t move without vomiting but, when you are living with chronic illness, *any* improvement is worth celebrating. Especially one that takes you back to an acceptable baseline where you are able to do more than just exist. I still have bad days, but my good days are infinitely better than my best days were before I started taking the prescription. So, while I’m not hailing this as a cure-all for me, it isn’t often that I struggle to vocalise something but the difference those little green pills have made is hard for me to put into words. Wholly unexpected, but definitely needed and oh-so-welcome, the change has been extraordinary: I feel like I have woken up.