Some friends, readers and fellow bloggers have asked me questions about having Hashimoto's. What is it? What fixes it? Since it is such a part of my life now, I do want to address it head on. Like most people with auto-immune disease, it was not easily diagnosed at first, so my story is a long and complicated one. And it is still ongoing. I am do not have all the answers, and some weeks are better than others, but I am doing my best day by day. After a few attempts to write this post, and looking back on my journey, I realize being diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease completely changed my life...for the better. Obviously at the time, and in the moment of being told the diagnosis, it did not seem that way.
I want to share my story, because hopefully someone else out there will find a thread of their story in mine. I know when I was going through feeling horrible before and after being diagnosed, finding others who had gone through it and were able to reverse their symptoms and regain their health was so inspiring to me.
My plan is to share my story in two parts, and write a third post with all my favorite resources for anyone dealing with an auto-immune disorder.
What is it?
"Hashimoto's disease, also called autoimmune thyroiditis, is an autoimmune disease. An auto-immune disease is a disease in which the body's immune system attacks the body's own cells and organs...in Hashimoto's disease the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing inflammation and interfering with it's ability to create thyroid hormones...Hashimoto's disease is most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States." (source: National Institutes of Health)
Why it sucks:
Symptoms of Hashimoto's include: fatigue, weight gain, cold intolerance, joint and muscle pain, constipation, dry/thinning hair, heavy or irregular menstrual periods, difficulty becoming pregnant, memory problems (brain fog).
The Journey: Part I
In the early spring of 2012, Nick and I decided I would go off birth control pills, just to "see" what would happen. We were not trying to get pregnant right away, but were not opposed to the idea either. And after literally being on the pill for 14 years straight, I was excited to take a break. Little did I know the havoc that would occur in my body after I stopped.
I knew there was going to be some sort of adjustment period, but I started feeling "off" soon after stopping. My period did not return right away, which I heard was normal sometimes, but I also started feeling just awful. Kind of like I was getting the flu, but the flu never came. I was exhausted during the day, with no energy to do much else beside drag myself to work and make it back home before collapsing on the couch. Working out or going to yoga was suddenly out. But even though I was so exhausted with no energy during the day, at night I COULD.NOT.SLEEP. I would lay there for hours and feel my heart racing and blood rushing through my arms and legs, and go from sweating to ice cold. I was so tired, but so wide awake. I have struggled with insomnia in the past, but this felt different. It was ongoing, for multiple nights in a row. Then I would finally get a night's sleep, but the next night the pattern would start over and I would be awake again. It was so frustrating, and I felt like I was totally going crazy.
I called my OB-GYN and told her that I stopped the pill and I was having all these crazy symptoms and my period had not yet returned. I told my doctor that I honestly thought that maybe I had pre-menopause. She laughed it off and told me to wait a few more months for my body to figure it out. So I trusted her, thought I just needed to give it more time, and did nothing.
So this pattern of sleep/no sleep continued, and I continued to feel terrible. I noticed that after showering, my comb had more hair in it, but I didn't want to admit that this was happening. I got my haircut around this time, and saw my regular hair stylist who I have been seeing for years. I remember sitting in her chair and she ran her fingers through my hair and her whole expression changed. She said - Colette, your hair is falling out, did you notice this? And then added - I bet it's just your thyroid, I have seen this before with other clients, just go to your doctor and get some blood work done.
I think I called my primary care doctor the very next morning to get an appointment. I was able to get in quickly and got the normal "full" blood panel done. The results came back "normal" with the exception of my Vitamin D level, which was really low. And it wasn't my thyroid - my TSH was in the "normal" range, so according to my doctor, there was no need to do any other testing. My doctor tried to convince me that I was just depressed, and should just go on an anti-depressant and start taking a prescription sleep-aid. Oh and get some Vitamin D supplements she told me. I was so upset at that moment. I couldn't believe my blood work showed nothing was wrong after feeling so terrible. Though tears, I declined her offer for drugs and quickly left the office. I didn't feel depressed, just physically horrible and frustrated that my doctor didn't take me more seriously.
During this time, I started doing a lot of reading. I started to consider my lifestyle and my ability to "push" myself all the time: running several miles a week, hot power yoga classes 5 days a week, working at a stressful job, going out with friends and drinking most weekends. Maybe it was no wonder I was exhausted. So I went to a class I told myself I would never go to: restorative yoga. I never understood restorative yoga, or yin yoga. I thought - only people who don't care about "working out" go to a class like restorative yoga. Who has time for that? And just lay around on a yoga mat? Well apparently, smart people go to restorative yoga. I went to a class one evening, and that night, I slept. I continued to go, and realized there was definitely something to listening and honoring your body that I had been missing.
Restorative yoga helped me feel to start feeling connected again...after pushing and going for so long, and expecting so much from my body that I had taken for granted. It really was like a pause button. And after the experience with my primary care doctor, I decided to switch gears and see a naturopath, thinking it could lead to some (any) answers. I wasn't sure if I could feel "normal" again, or if this was my new normal. But I wasn't ready to give up yet.
Part 2 - next time!
photo credit: jason ortego via unsplash