Hypothyroidism – this one is hard for me. This autoimmune condition always hits me with all its got. It likes to make itself known in the weirdest ways – always. That, exactly, is what makes it one of those disorders that is very hard to diagnose. I was fortunate though. I’m sorry if you weren’t. I’m sorry if you were one of those people that had a hard time getting answers. I know the toll it takes. I know.
Raise your hand if you’ve experienced that pesky feeling named “stress”. That emotional response that causes your heart to beat a million miles a minute – that makes your palms and your forehead shiny with sweat. It makes you anxious and it makes your stomach loop around itself, endlessly. Nowadays, you hear it all over the place that you should do what you can to reduce stress levels. However, it’s one of those things that’s harder said than done.
Stress… I swear it’s what triggered my thyroid issues.
So, I had just switched jobs. I went from supporting 100 people to supporting over 1,500. The phone was always ringing. The emails were always coming. The people I supported were executives and their assistants. It was hard. These people were not nice. They didn’t care about me or my well being. They only cared that their shit worked so they could make the company money. I don’t really blame them though. They were probably stressed too.
Needless to say, my first year there was hard, but I also had other stressors: I was a single mom at the time and I still lived with my parents. When you love your family but you have a child, everything changes. My happiness was dwindling and I needed so much to prove to myself that I could be self reliant. There was a goal for me to move out, as part of this self reliance, but I also wanted the constant nagging (Mexican remember?) from my parents about how I needed to raise Denise (my now 11 year old), to stop.
Then, within that same year, I started experiencing panic attacks. If you haven’t had them before then you can not empathize. I don’t wish them on anybody. Literally, it felt like I was having a heart attack. I wanted to scream and cry at the same time. My heart hurt with each beat. My breath stopped with each beat. My heart leaped up to my throat with each beat. I was drenched in sweat. My arm felt numb. I made my first ER visit for a panic attack. It was a long night.
Thankfully, the ER doctor that treated me didn’t disregard me for having one. So many times I hear stories of people who were mistreated or belittled. It’s devastating to have a panic attack and emotionally painful to be treated like you’re bringing something so debilitating “onto yourself”. News flash people! We aren’t! The ER doctor gave me some “calming” medications and told me to get a hold on my stress. I took those damn “medications” once. I felt another panic attack coming on one night so I grabbed a pill. It knocked me into the weirdest state I’ve ever been in – somewhere between a dream and the real world. I was drifting, sinking. The feeling stayed with me for a few hours. After I got out of it I couldn’t function. I was drowsy and irritable. Never again. I didn’t care if I had to get myself through the next one (somehow), I would figure it out.
Then it was the constant fatigue. You know how sometimes you feel so exhausted that you pass out instantaneously? Or how sometimes you’re so exhausted that you just want to sleep and sleep and sleep? Of course, once you’ve gotten enough rest you’re ready to do what you gotta do. You just needed to catch up on some z’s. Wouldn’t it be so hard if you never actually caught up though? If you always needed 5 more minutes? That was me. I would wake up in the morning exhausted, every day – even if I had gone to sleep at 6 pm the day before and opened my eyes at 7 am the next morning. You know what’s even better? Needing a nap after having slept 12+ hours and then not being able to wake up from that nap either. I would joke that I was a modern sleeping beauty, but it wouldn’t be funny. Being constantly tired and constantly sleeping (especially when it’s not restful sleep) is it’s own kind of torture. It leads to more stress and even depression. On top of that, I still had Denise to take care of. My family helped so much, but she was still mine. She wanted her mommy. I couldn’t be present with her when I was always so tired.
Finally, I had a scheduled appointment with my family doctor for a follow-up to my panic attack incidents. There were two things I remembered specifically: she asked me how heavy my periods were and then she told me she would do blood tests. It had never even occurred to me that my period could be “heavy”. I just thought I had needed to change a few extra pads lately. No big deal. Our bodies change all the time, but when she put it into perspective it turned out to be something to think about. When my test results came in she wanted to see me to talk about them. I thought for sure she would say I had cancer or something (fuck me… more stress). As it turns out, she said she was looking for one test specifically. She was looking at my T4 levels (if you are hypo/er you know what that means) and mine were not right. She said I would need to talk to an endocrinologist and that I was possibly “hypothyroid”. It’s amazing how out of whack our bodies can get that something so regular as getting your period every month can also be used to determine your health.
So, my first question, what is a thyroid? Second question, what is an endocrinologist? Third question, what is hypo-thyroid? Fourth question, am I going to die? (This seems so funny now that I know the answers.) This was my first meeting with the endocrinologist. I was freaked out (obviously), but also hoping that this would be the prognosis that would help me deal with my high levels of stress, my panic attacks, my fatigue and weirdly, my heavy period. As it turns out, it was and it wasn’t.
What the hell is a thyroid anyway? It’s a butterfly, he he. No, not really. It’s shaped like one though. If you put your hand to the middle of your throat, right in front of your esophagus, that’s where it lives. It’s not very big. It causes BIG issues though.
So, what’s an endocrinologist? A doctor that specializes in diseases that are caused by problems with your own hormones. They treat people with things such as thyroid diseases (me), diabetes, even menopause! Lastly, what is hypothyroid? It basically means my thyroid produces low levels of thyroid hormones. Here’s the general definition of hypothyroidism: an under-active thyroid; a condition in which your thyroid doesn’t produce enough of certain hormones. Here’s the kicker, these “certain” hormones, control SO SO SO many of your bodily functions that symptoms of hypothyroidism vary. They can also be confused with other things, like, depression – which has the exact same symptoms. The cure for all of my craziness? More hormones! Yay! (LOL.) It seems so simple. And it is… but it isn’t. Um, so am I going to die? Not likely. Unless I get thyroid cancer, or develop tumors on it (which is possible) but still not likely. It would be more likely that as I get older I develop heart disease (more common in people with thyroid diseases) then die from that than I would from a direct issue to my thyroid.
The next steps are the “it is, but it isn’t”, and the “it was and it wasn’t” simple part of my journey to treating hypothyroid. The easy part was taking my daily thyroid pill. It’s just one itty bitty tiny pill that I take every morning an hour before breakfast. See? That’s the “it is” part. Here’s the “it isn’t” part: it can take weeks or months for the hormones to have any effect on helping your thyroid regulate itself. Also, your first dose may not be the correct dose. It’s complicated. You could be on a dose your doctor thought to be correct for you according to your blood tests, but yet you still feel the same. Or you could be on a dose too high and also experience one or even more symptoms than before. Your dose is something that has to be fine tuned, with time. Also, if you plan on getting pregnant, you need to elevate your hormone levels to have enough for a developing fetus. Then you need to find your correct dose during your pregnancy (more blood tests, yay). Finally, you need to find your correct dose AGAIN after birth. As if shit isn’t crazy enough already with just normal pregnancy hormones. *SIGH*
So, seems simple, and it is, but it isn’t.
Hypothyroidism is one of those autoimmune disorders that stays with you for life. I find that after almost 9 years of having it I am still in the throes of battle. Every few months I ask myself if maybe I’m more tired than normal? If maybe my period is too heavy again? If maybe I’m gaining weight because my thyroid levels are off again? Oh weight… what a burden are thee! Here’s another tidbit, in case you didn’t know, people with hypothyroidism gain weight easily and have a much harder time shedding it than any normal person (and it’s already hard for some!). Anyway… that’s a whole ‘nother topic that maybe I’ll discuss separately.
What I want to say is that I’m constantly trying to stay on top of it. I have appointments once to twice a year to catch up with my doctor and talk about any recurring issues. I have blood tests done every 6-8 weeks to make sure my levels are perfect. Lately they haven’t been. After the ordeal of pregnancy with my twins, even over a year later, I’m still not finding my “normal” thyroid levels. It’s hard.
So, if you have hypothyroidism (or any thyroid issue really), I feel for you. I know. My family doctor was able to identify very quickly that I had a possible thyroid problem. Once I was on medication, until my pregnancy with Jacob (my almost 3 year old), I felt like my normal self again. I got a promotion. Somewhere during that time I also found an apartment and a boyfriend! I was happy. My high energy levels came back – I could exercise! I lost a tiny bit of weight gain. I WASN’T FATIGUED! Do you know what it’s like, after being so tired for so long, to be awake?? It’s exhilarating! I was a new person. I loved myself and that meant I could also fully love my daughter.
So, if you find yourself fighting to figure out why you feel so terrible, when you talk to your doctor, after you haven’t found answers to your symptoms, try checking for thyroid problems. You never know.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. The point of this blog post is simply to detail my experience and share my symptoms with others who are interested in hypothyroidism. If you feel that you have similar symptoms please consult your doctor.