Let me tell you a little bit about iron…
Actually, let me tell you what the all-knowing WebMD has to say about iron:
Iron is an essential mineral. The major reason we need it is that it helps to transport oxygen throughout the body. Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to transport it throughout your body. Hemoglobin represents about two-thirds of the body’s iron. If you don’t have enough iron, your body can’t make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells. A lack of red blood cells is called iron deficiency anemia.
Without healthy red blood cells, your body can’t get enough oxygen. If you’re not getting sufficient oxygen in the body, you’re going to become fatigued. That exhaustion can affect everything from your brain function to your immune system’s ability to fight off infections.
Low iron runs in my family. It’s something I struggled with a lot as a teenager. I basically spent a chunk of life rotating between being on and off iron supplements after a bunch of fainting and feeling terrible. But it hasn’t bothered me for years. Years.
About a month ago, I thought I had the flu. I was getting bad headaches and feeling really tired and generally blah. I stayed in bed for a weekend and it kind of went away. I still had headaches and light-headedness, but I ignored them because I’m a busy (see: stupid and stubborn sometimes) lady.
In the back of my mind I thought, “Hmmm. I never get headaches. I wonder if my iron levels have dropped.”
Then, a few weeks ago, I was scheduled to donate blood for the first time in my life. I was crazy excited to do so, because Canada is experiencing a severe shortage right now, and for the first time since I turned 18, I’ve had a long enough gap between getting tattoos to be eligible.
I got to the clinic and filled out the appropriate paperwork. My name got called and I sat down in front of a nurse.
“Okay,” she said, “We just need to do a quick finger prick test to make sure your iron levels are high enough to donate. You need to be at 125 or higher.”
“Oh, shit,” I thought, mentally willing my blood to come out dark and juicy.
“Hmm,” she wrinkled her nose, “You’re only at 120.”
“Oh, of course,” I rolled my eyes at myself, “Ugh, I have a tendency for low iron.”
“Well, sometimes the first test is low. Would you like to try again?”
“Sure, go for it.”
I upped my mental powers as much as I could.
This time she squeezed a lot of blood out of my finger before testing. Getting deeper? I dunno.
“It’s better, but not good enough,” she sighed, “122. You’re going to have to up your iron before you can donate.”
I felt like such a failure.
I know it’s silly to feel like a failure about my own blood, but I totally did. I was so ready to help people who needed blood and my blood wasn’t…rich(?) enough!
So I immediately upped my intake of iron-rich foods, which isn’t difficult because I eat a lot of iron-rich foods anyway. Lentils and greens are staple foods in my world.
I was starting to feel a bit more normal until this week hit. This week that I started my six-days-a-week teaching schedule, with lots of practice and prep time necessary.
I guess I really depleted myself because yesterday, I had a full-on CRASH.
I woke up and could barely, barely drag my ass out of bed. I blamed not sleeping enough, and all the construction that is going on all around my house (living on a corner sucks when they’re re-paving sidewalks and streets…). My head felt like it was going to explode, but I had a ton on my agenda for the day, so I ignored it.
The fact that taking my dogs to the vet was first on my agenda didn’t help, because my dogs are so embarrassing at the vet. They bark and freak out. A lot. It takes them a long time to settle down and then if a new dog or person walks into the room, they start all over again. My patience was wearing thin and my headache was really starting to get to me.
I started to feel really sad.
I got my dogs home and got ready for the next thing on my agenda: lunch with a friend.
I had a spinach salad, which I guess was a good headstart on pumping some iron into my day, but of course it wasn’t enough. I started to notice that I was having a really hard time concentrating and forming sentences. My head was pounding even though I was drinking lots of water and had eaten plenty. I was starting to feel like I was spiraling down a sadness well.
“I have to go buy iron supplements like, now.” I said to my friend as we parted ways.
And boy, was I right. By the time I got to the natural foods store, I was shaking. I felt like I could barely grip the steering wheel of my car. As I walked through the parking lot, I worried about collapsing or tripping over my own feet, which felt like they couldn’t move. I fought back the very intense desire to burst into tears. Everything seemed hopeless and slow-motion.
I knew that taking a single iron supplement was not going to make me feel any better, so I took one, and then also pumped my body full of sugar. I managed to get home without crying – though I did freak out via text with a couple friends – I laid down, had a 20-minute nap, and then I had to teach a Zumba class.
SIDENOTE: Oh boy. That was hard. And a little scary. But I survived!
So, here’s hoping that in a week or so, I’m back to normal Andrea. Because low-iron-Andrea is more than a bit of a weirdo. And not nearly as fun as usual.
Iron, man, it can really, really mess with you if you don’t have enough of it. I thought I was done learning that the hard way, but I guess I needed one more reminder. Never again!