Aleen Mean


It’s one of my first memories. We’re in a brightly-lit hospital room. Mom tells me Uncle Kenny will be here soon. There’s a doctor talking to my mom and then I’m standing on a platform. My mom has a weird apron on and someone’s telling me to raise my arms up and hold still. Then I have to turn sideways and do it again. Another severe asthma attack, another trip to the emergency department, another chest X-ray.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve never been the picture of health. I was in and out of the hospital a number of times before I was four, when either my mom and medical team were able to figure out how to control my asthma or it simply started decreasing in severity.

My memories of high school revolve around always feeling tired and trying to stay awake while juggling school, work, and extracurricular activities. I always wondered why I couldn’t get it together when so many of my classmates took on more than I was able to manage.

It’s persisted into adulthood. I want to be less lethargic, but I just can’t seem to manage it.

In my mid- to late-20s, I lost over 100 pounds by eating a restricted calorie diet and exercising. Then, something broke and I inexplicably gained 60 pounds back in less than a year.

I’ve been to doctors and been lectured. “Women come in here and want something to be wrong. But they just need to eat less and move more. People are looking for excuses when they’re just lazy.”

I went to one of the top endocrinologists in the Phoenix area and ugly cried in her office when she said that, while my symptoms were alarming, there was “no hormonal reason” for me to be experiencing them. ((About a month later, I found a thyroid expert in Scottsdale. I handed him a list of symptoms and the labs from the endo and he immediately said, “Oh my God. Your thyroid is all out of whack.” It took six months before we found a medication and dose that worked for me. For the first time in years, I was able to read a book.))

The really, truly heartbreaking thing is that I so desperately want to be healthy. It seems like I’m constantly adding to the list of things that aren’t quite right. I was diagnosed with asthma when I was two. Polycystic ovarian syndrome when I was 17. I had to have an emergency cholecystectomy when I was 23 and my gallbladder was like, “Lookie, I maded you all of these presents!!” When I was 28 I started breaking out in rashes if I was in the sun for more than a few minutes at a time. This is also when we figured out that the cause of my debilitating stomach pain was gluten-containing foods. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism a year later. Now I’m on a year-round regimen of Zyrtec for environmental allergies and have to carry an inhaler with me because I might have an asthma attack at any time.

I figure one thing out and add two things to the list.

Last week, when Justin and I were visiting my family for the 4th of July, my mom suggested that I contact my biological father to ask for my paternal medical history. My gut reaction and initial analysis were to stay away; I’ve never met the man and am not sure I want to open myself up to him, even for my health.

But today the room spins when I turn my head or try to stand and I wonder if maybe there’s something there that he can help me uncover. Maybe it’s worth a shot after all.