When I was 32, about a year after I got married, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis to be precise. I went to a doctor complaining of shortness of breath, but only after my husband had repeatedly prodded me to do so. I came out with a diagnosis I didn’t understand. The progression of the disease was so slow, I hadn’t even realized anything was wrong. Turns out, I have an actual chronic condition. In a nutshell, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis means that I have an auto immune disease that causes my immune system to attack my thyroid. It miistakenly believes that it is something foreign and harmful to my body. In turn, my thyroid produces less thyroid hormone, which can cause a whole host of problems I never even knew about.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve encountered a multitude of people, mostly women, but men too, who have varying degrees of thyroid issues. It seems to be an epidemic. There are countless theories as to what causes it, but I tend to put my faith in science and figure I just got a bad hand dealt by my genetic makeup. However, I know that the limited information I got sent me straight into a Google/WebMD/self-help-book black hole, in a search for answers. I figure that others have likely had the same experience. So, over the coming months, I will talk about my diagnosis here and issues surrounding thyroid disease in the hopes that I can help you if you have the same questions I once did. Today, we’ll talk symptoms.
What do we want? A Nap!
The main symptom for me was fatigue. When I got my diagnosis, I was waiting tables for work. That meant late nights, so I figured that was the reason for my tiredness. I would get up in the mornings to have breakfast with my husband and when he’d go off to work, I would be so tired that I’d sit down on the couch, fall asleep, and not wake until he came home for lunch! Yeah, not normal. Couple that with sleep disturbances (insomnia can be another symptom, by the way) and I was pretty miserable.
I love you! I HATE you! Is that a sandwich?
I’ve always been a tad on the dramatic side, so I assumed that my drastically-changing moods were just part of who I am. Getting my thyroid levels right hasn’t stopped me from being an emotional little flower (seriously, I once cried at one of the “Terminator” movies), but I cope with stress so much better now. Though I believe in medication, I also make it a point to exercise and eat as well as possible to give my body every chance to perform optimally. Some people may need talk therapy. I didn’t, at least, not in the traditional sense, but I make plenty of time to pursue creative endeavors. For me that’s the next best thing.
Panic! At the grocery store
One of the more unpleasant symptoms was panic attacks. For me, they presented as severe anxiety, coupled with feeling as though I can’t breathe. Right before I got diagnosed, I was in the middle of planning my wedding, That is a stressful event in any relationships. I assumed the regular panic attacks were just the pressure of being a bride. Not so. Thankfully, getting treatment for Hashi’s has helped – I have had a grand total of ONE panic attack in the last 5 or 6 years. I also learned some really great coping skills to head them off when I feel them coming on, which is, mercifully, not often these days.
I knew I shouldn’t have ordered the extra large pizza…
Another totally unfair symptom I experienced was digestive issues. I’m talking constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, stomach cramps, all the fun stuff! It seemed to be worse whenever I would have a little too much bread or cheese. My specialist told me that it is not uncommon for Hashi’s patients to also have Celiac disease, though my test for it was negative. Now that my hormones have leveled out, I tolerate bread and cheese about as well as any normal 30-something-year-old.
There are a whole host of other symptoms, some that I experienced (sensitivity to cold, hair loss, dry skin, weight gain) and some that I did not (weight loss, irregular periods, infertility). The bottom line is that if you’re suspicious that you may have thyroid problems, see your doctor. Ask to have your thyroid levels checked. Be sure they screen for TPO antibodies, which are specific to a Hashimoto’s diagnosis. Keep in mind that if you do have any kind of thyroid disorder, it is not the end of the world. It will mean some changes and daily medication, but my life is pretty much the same is it always was, if not better. You may have a hard time in the beginning. The process was difficult, but I found a great doctor and have a great support network of friends and family. I got through the tough times. You will, too. Now, go take a nap and put in a sad movie, like “Terminator.” 😉