As a young teenage girl, while sitting at a piano in a church in Brooklyn, New York, for a piano lesson, another younger student after me commented about how I looked like a lollypop stick. Somehow, the nickname “Stick” came about and stuck with me through most of my adolescent years. It is a nickname I had come to enjoy since it was conceived in naiveté and friendship. It is my pseudo name as a health detective: Detective Stick.
Growing up the youngest of three, in a single family home with an alcoholic father, I never truly realized the impact that trauma would have on my health. I learned at 16 that I had Raynaud’s Syndrome/Phenomenon.
The diagnosis came about as a result of symptoms I was experiencing such as severely cold fingers, poor circulation and a serious infection to a cut on my right middle finger. It was so severe that the finger tip became black. Thankfully, with the help of a family friend, I was taught to treat it by soaking the finger tip in hydrogen peroxide to kill the infection. After many weeks, the finger began to heal.
I realized the importance of avoiding cuts and becoming proactive with my health. I needed to dress in layers during the winter months, wear mittens, and began doing aerobics consistently. During the other seasons, I realized I had to carry a sweater and be wary of a place that was overly cold due to air conditioning, as this triggers the same response as during the cold winter months. Coincidently, even opening the freezer or shopping at the freezer section of the supermarket can trigger the same reaction.
This began my journey as a health detective, searching diligently for the causes and triggers of personal ailments. Admittedly, at the time I did not realize that I was fulfilling a role that our system of health care in the US mysteriously leaves empty. Our health care system rushes to treat symptoms, often completely ignoring the causes and triggers of our illnesses. This approach to health will only change if we become health detectives searching out cause-and-effect clues to our health. As health detectives the skills needed are observation, finding clues and putting them together to solve the given problem.
I knew how much I loved music and dancing, so I started working out during high school. I would even meet up with two friends, who were sisters. At the crack of dawn, 2-3 days a week we would meet to walk a few miles before school started. I was determined to become healthier but it was a process for sure.
My experience with Raynaud’s, related to childhood trauma and ensuing stress, suppressed feelings and eventual depression, would take me on a journey that included:
- Learning to pay attention to my body and what it was trying to tell me (observation).
- Learning to detect triggers of Raynaud’s (finding the clues).
- Learning to prevent the triggers through lifestyle management using positive coping mechanisms (solving the problem).
I soon realized if I did not follow this approach, I could not survive, let alone thrive, as I now do.
This is my journey as Health Detective Stick. I invite you to come along as I share my story with you, and also welcome your comments.