If I’m being honest, until this year I have not had a primary care physician since I was in high school.
I will allow you a moment to regain your breath and pick yourself off the floor…
This is a shock to hear. I know that I should be going to see a doctor, especially after my last post talking about the Health Disparities of LGBTQ people. Be that as it may, I would like to share with you how I’m making healthy life changes. But first, a little back story.
Why I didn’t see a doctor
My father is a great many things. Two things he is not is emotional and someone who went to the doctor.
As a kid, I constantly heard him say that he would only go to the doctor if something was serious or needed reattached. The latter has happened before and is a different story altogether. It was rare for him to ever go to the doctor. Outwardly, he appeared healthy. He was a bull of a man, strong and confident, maybe more akin to arrogant.
Over time, this resistance to doctors sunk into me. I was at the doctor’s a lot as a kid. Many allergies and tests. Before I was in second grade I had already had eye surgery. Due to my father’s opinion of doctors and health, I always felt weak and less of a man. Here I was a sickly little kid who had a father that seemed more like a superhero in his health. I vowed that I would only say I needed to go to the doctor if I was, indeed, really in need. Being stung by a bee, for example. That was life-threatening for me.
When I started college, I took a copy of my health records with me, across the country to Iowa. Being that far away and knowing we were poor, I would never go to the doctor. I was afraid of the bills they would have to pay. I knew I couldn’t pay them.
As time went on, I just got accustomed to not going. Sure, I would be an advocate for others going and would only say that I am in good health. Never once thought otherwise.
The day it all changed
As we get older, we all start to notice our bodies and health change. My arthritis has gotten worse, started by martial arts and other abuses to my body from youth. Always had eye issues, so my eyes are becoming worse. And just general physical maladies. All of which I just accepted and dealt with, not always in the best of ways. I often take too many ibuprofen or Aleve for pain and always have.
Two years ago, on March 28th, I met a person who would come to change my life on many levels. This first year of being together is always about learning about your partner. He has learned a lot about me, he might even say “Too Much,“ at times.
He had listened to me complain about arthritis and other health-related issues and would always question with “what did the doctor say?” When I finally told him that it had been at least 25 years since I have seen a doctor, other than emergencies, his eyes almost fell out of his head.
For his birthday, he asked that instead of giving him a gift would promise to see a doctor. At first, I was outraged that he would put a demand on me, like that. Who is he to try to barter for me to see someone? I know how I feel, I would know if something is wrong. I said I didn’t think it was fair of him to ask me that.
This all happened before his birthday and I sat in silence contemplating all he said to me. I realized here was a person that wanted me to be healthy and be able to spend more long-term time with him. He was actively interested in my health for us. It slowly came to my realization that this person was special. They were one of the first to be actively interested in my being with them for as long as we could. How could I refuse someone that loved me that much? Yes, I conceded and reached out to set up a vision appointment and a visit to a doctor.
I needed to learn how to make healthy life changes.
Realizing where my health stands
My viewpoints on my health have changed, to say the least. Small steps started in the first year we dated. He is vegetarian, so I slowly started incorporating the way he eats into my own routine. I gave up drinking Pepsi and Dr. Pepper and went for water. And I brought down my sugar intake even more than it had been. That isn’t to say that I don’t have a Dr. Pepper every now and then or that I don’t eat something like a hamburger or candy bar on occasion. But they are much further between, then in the past.
I have always had eye problems, I am farsighted with astigmatism in one eye and knew eventually my eyes would only worsen. Now I am back to wearing glasses, like when I was young. Now I have the added benefit of them being bifocals. Talk about sexy grandpa.
December, I went to my first doctor visit in years. A lot of lab work, family history, and tests happened. End result is I found out things I suspected may have been issued. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and it was pretty high. Medicines were prescribed, dietary changes were discussed, and the need to increase physical activity. Still running tests to check for other things, it’s a learning experience. But it is one I embrace openly because of the person standing by my side.
How to make healthy changes
Change is never easy, that is a given. You build habits and it is hard to simply remove them like clothing that needs to be washed. You have to reprogram how you think and do things. That takes commitment and work.
We have all tried diets and weight loss regimens and more often than not we watch them fail. Well, we stop doing them because it becomes hard, failing is a bit extreme. For me, my failings have always been because it was an all-or-nothing mentality. When I was younger and wanted to lose weight, I stopped eating the bad things altogether. Then I also forced myself into a particular set of exercise routines. I would do well for a week, then something would happen. Perhaps it was raining and I couldn’t do a bike ride. Something really stressful came up and I lapsed into old eating habits. Then I would see I failed once and it would become easier to just not do it.
I learned a valuable lesson when I stopped smoking, cold turkey. You have to do it in small steps and not punish yourself if you have a setback. What I mean is that I took each day as the only focus. No smoking today and worry about tomorrow when it gets here. If i screw up, just reset and start over. For me, it worked wonders and laid the groundwork for other things to come.
When I gave up soda, I didn’t go into it with the mindset of “that’s it, I’m done forever.” I actually took it one day at a time. Just focusing on the small steps. I switched to water and even did flavorings in it for a short while. Mostly to offset the flavor. I have even done carbonated water. All eventually just fall away and I rarely drink soda anymore. I may have one every month or so. Small steps.
I am doing the same with my dietary changes. I was advised that I should probably switch to a Mediterranean diet. Oddly enough, the slope switch I have done to start eating more vegetarian has helped. But I admit when I was told I needed to change what I ate I was nervous. I spent time researching Mediterranean diets, what recipes were out there, what foods constituted it, and such. I was surprised to learn that I already ate most of what was on those menus. Easy enough, small steps to bring in the rest.
How to make those changes easier
Changing is hard, I won’t sugar coat it. It takes focus and support to make those needed changes. The biggest step is always the first step. For me it was finding a doctor that I felt comfortable with, would be able to be open about who I am, and the life I live. I have my boyfriend and Cleveland to think for that.
Whether you know it or not, Cleveland has some of the most progressive healthcare systems out there. Cleveland Clinic, University Hospital, and Metro Health all have diversity inclusion training. They are educated on topics that concern LGBTQ people and are professional about it. It does take time and research to find a doctor though. I am not saying that every doctor or every patient will experience It the same way I did. But it is better than other places I have lived.
It takes being honest with your doctor. Now, I can hear my boyfriend saying that I wasn’t completely open about everything and that is true. There are somethings I wasn’t as definitive on. But we are talking about 98% open about my life and what goes on in it. You need to be as transparent as you can with them to be able to get the healthcare you need.
Having a support system is definitely helpful. Whether that is family, someone your dating, a best friend, or even a counselor, they can foster the strength and courage you need to stay on track. I cannot express how lucky I am to have someone in my life who is supportive, encouraging, and a bit bossy in how I approach my health. My own mother and sister were unable to get me to go to a doctor, he did in one small request. It forced me to look at life differently. Sometimes, that is all it takes.
These were just a few ways that I learned How To Make Healthy Life Changes.