It took a few years of going back and forth to the doctors, before they finally diagnosed me with an under active thyroid. They were treating me for depression and anxiety and every time I went back to them with another ache or pain they would put that down to my anxiety and send me off with yet another prescription for strong pain killers.
I was beginning to wonder what was happening to me, the energy and enthusiasm that was once abundant was diminishing quickly. My whole body ached constantly but especially my joints. I was exhausted from the minute I woke up and struggling to achieve even small easy tasks. At first I thought I was just getting older but when I saw people twenty years my senior with more energy than me I realised this wasn’t the case.
Things got progressively worse until one morning I awoke and after a slight tingling down one side of my body my face and arm went numb. On getting quickly to the doctors they confirmed it wasn’t a stroke as first believed but a full on panic attack. At this I broke down and managed to get through to the doctor that something else was going on with my body that they were overlooking. When the long overdue blood tests came back they revealed that I had a severely under active thyroid and placed me promptly on medication for it.
I can’t deny that this has helped. The depression lifted, the anxiety became only a fraction of what it was before and most days I can achieve nearly everything I set out to do. This however isn’t the same as what another person of my age in good health could do. The medication makes life livable, it doesn’t make it ‘normal’. I still ache, only not as badly. I still tire quickly. My skin is dry, my hair brittle and the ‘brain fog’ is frustrating.
Changing my diet helped without question. After three weeks without dairy things improved. I was already lactose intolerant but still consuming ‘free from’ dairy products. I had no idea how much these were contributing to the inflammation of my joints until I switched to plant and nut milks and cheeses and saw the difference. I also cut out eggs, gluten, meat and fish. This may sound like a huge sacrifice to some but it wasn’t, certainly not compared to the benefit of starting to feel like myself again. I am a member of a few thyroid support groups on social media and when I read how some of the women are coping without making any of these changes it confirms to me that it was the right thing to do. But whilst the paleo diet is the thing of the moment in the hypothyroidism circle, suggesting to anyone there that a plant-based diet is more beneficial is met with, at best, scepticism and worst, sneers. I’d like to add that I stuck to the plant based diet for other reasons too, but that’s an entirely new subject.
The hardest part of living with hypothyroidism though isn’t always the illness itself. I cope. I have learnt to be a little more gentle with myself and my expectations of what I can do and I have learnt to allow extra time for recovering after a particularly energetic or busy day. The hardest part of dealing with it is other people’s attitudes.
‘You don’t look ill’, ‘you were fine yesterday’, ‘aren’t people with an underactive thyroid bigger?’ and ‘if you are taking the tablets why have you still got a problem’ are all things that I have had said to me.
Firstly, make up is an amazing thing. It hides a multitude of sins. I have practically set up a shrine to my concealer, foundation and the highlighting powder that gives me a healthy glow. These items are as essential to me as that first cup of coffee in the morning. It doesn’t work miracles but it does make me look as if I’m not dying and some days that’s good enough.
Yes I was actually great yesterday. I walked 12 miles with the dog. I cooked an elaborate meal, I cleaned the bathroom and I even dug some of the garden. That’s why I’m struggling to get out of bed today, the floor is again covered in dog hair, the kitchen is scary and although Snow will still get his walks dinner is likely to be beans and I’ll be asleep by 7pm. My energy levels run in cycles and have clear limits. I can be superwoman one day but I know I’ll pay for it the next. If you are not familiar with the ‘spoons theory’ it’s worth a google.
No, not all of us. Yes an under active thyroid gives you a sluggish metabolism. It means that if I ate what the average person eats I will generally put on weight. I do eat more now than I used to because of all the walking I do with Snow but for a long time I existed on one meal a day, not to lose weight but to maintain it. It doesn’t make for a healthy relationship with food. It can feel heartbreaking in fact to realise that the years you have spent working out and looking after your body are now being threatened by something out of your control. So far I have managed to stay at a weight that feels comfortable to me but it’s taken twice as much effort to do so as it would do I not have thyroid problems. Again the animal product free diet helps greatly, the love of baking however doesn’t so I have to make sure there is always willing cake eaters around to save me 🙂
The tablets are good, in fact I’d go as far as to say they are a life saver. I know how quickly things were deteriorating without them, but just like the make up, they don’t work miracles. They help me but they don’t cure me. It can be a mission to find the exact dosage. Since being diagnosed almost three years ago I’ve been on four different doses, the most recent one was only started two days ago. The medical profession has a window for assessing what is a normal level. Even if you fall within this range, ‘normal’ does not mean optimum and the set amount of thyroxine that you are putting into your body isn’t what it would be producing if it was functioning properly itself. So there are still symptoms. Not as severe as they might be without the tablets but still there nonetheless.
So I guess on a day that I have taken time to apply my cosmetic mask and am running around in the field with my dog you might be forgiven for thinking that you have the right to question my illness. You might think it’s okay to say that everybody aches and gets tired sometimes, or to suggest that a good night’s sleep will help my energy levels. You might even think it’s okay to imply that ‘it’s all in my head’, after all I don’t look ill. It’s not. It’s no more okay than suggesting someone who is in a wheelchair should stop being so lazy and get up and walk, or that someone who has broken their arm should be able to play tennis because the doctor has put it in plaster now. Just because I live with something that isn’t immediately obvious to you, it doesn’t make it any less real. This goes for those who suffer from chronic fatigue, mental illness and a long list of other ‘hidden’ conditions.
If someone tells you they are ill, whether it’s something you can see or not, offer them the courtesy of not questioning their statement unless it’s out of genuine interest as to their condition. We don’t go round telling everyone and will often only mention it as the reason why we can’t go out that day, missed an appointment or have to back out of doing something, even something we were really looking forward to. We don’t use it as an excuse or because we are lazy and we are certainly not making it up.