You may have noticed I’m not one to over share much of my life.
What’s that? Is that your chuckle I can hear?
Okay, so obviously having a blog called a day in MY life would indicate a love of sharing. There is, however, something that not many people know about me. Not even most of the people (cue dramatic drumroll…) in my real life. And that is that I have an underactive thyroid, specifically an autoimmune disease of the thyroid known as Hashimoto’s Disease (HD).
Taking inspiration from one of my favourite bloggers Michelle from Mummy Loves To Write, who very bravely shines the spotlight on herself to raise awareness of mental illness, I felt it was time to write about this. It seems that thyroid problems are so often overlooked and misdiagnosed. I have read so many accounts of women absolutely struggling to get through the day, and have personally experienced a doctor who just kept pushing anti-depressants rather than ordering a simple blood test.
The thyroid is a gland, whose job it is to control the way our body uses energy. It therefore controls the rate of our metabolism, and controls the functioning of many other systems. To sum up a malfunctioning thyroid very simply: an overactive thyroid leads to the metabolism and all it’s functions being speeded, or hyped, up. Think of your body jolting into fast forward. Weight loss, sleeplessness, mood highs, energy to burn, etc. An underactive thyroid is the exact opposite: your mind and body slow right down and you feel like you are pushing through quicksand to complete the simplest thought or action. Weight gain, lethargy, hair loss, and a generally foggy feeling is what happens.
My thyroid journey began after the birth of my last child, almost five years ago. Looking back, the specialist seems to think that for unknown reasons, I developed Hashimoto’s soon after the birth. Often HD manifests firstly with an overactive thyroid (HYPERactive), before then becoming underactive (HYPOactive). (There is also such a thing as postpartum thyroiditis, which usually passes). I remember feeling so incredibly on top of things, was losing weight easily, and wasn’t even very tired with the sleepless nights. I put it all down to hormones and an amazing birth experience. But after a few months things swung around the other way. In a big way. By the time my baby was five months old I felt like I was swimming through a sea of sludge every day. Finishing a sentence was a big task, and even the answer to one plus one made me stop and search my mind, knowing the answer was there somewhere but eluding me. That’s right, I couldn’t even tell you the answer to one plus one. I knew something was very wrong but tried to ignore it.
Then came the winter. It’s no exaggeration to say it was the worst winter of my life. My hair was falling out in clumps. I was struggling to stay awake most days. I was wrapping myself in more and more layers. The weight that had been falling off now refused to budge. My head always felt foggy, my memory was completely absent. I had trouble finishing a sentence, let alone a thought. I had to write every single little thing down. I had never slept in winter pajama’s my whole life and all of a sudden I needed flannel pj’s as well as a robe and socks to get through the night. Don’t forget I was getting up for a baby, so I felt frozen to my very bones every time I had to get out of bed. I can still so vividly recall the soul numbing cold that felt like all my bones would snap at any moment from the aching feeling of being frozen to the core. My mood plummeted, and I couldn’t stop myself crying for no reason at all. I felt that all the sadness in the world lived in my heart. I was afraid that I might have post natal depression even though instinctively I didn’t think that was where the problem lay. I put up with all of this for about six months.
My angel came in the form of another mother, and a good friend on the school playground, who was a midwife. When I rattled off just a few symptoms, downplaying always, and mentioned having a blood test, she insisted I get my thyroid checked. So off to the doctor I went, and it was only as I told the doctor the full extent of my symptoms that I realised how awful I was feeling. I burst into tears, at which point she, noting the small baby, wrote me a prescription for anti-depressants. She actually patted me on the arm and said sympathetically, it’s post natal depression. Take these and you’ll feel better in no time. The trouble with that was that I felt sure it wasn’t PND, but something else. Out of desperation I asked her to check my thyroid, at which she chuckled. She sent me off for a raft of blood tests in the end, probably to humour me.
(Btw, how dangerously negligent was her behavior? A woman with a small child completely breaks down, and all she does is write a prescription for tranquilizers? That’s the best she can do?????)
When my phone rang two days later she had changed her tune. She told me to get to her office ASAP, that my thyroid was at a dangerously low level and I needed to begin taking medication immediately. And after a referral to a specialist and orders for an ultrasound and more blood tests, I suddenly knew what was wrong with me. And eventually, after beginning medication, the fog started to lift.
It seems to be one of those things that can make your life a misery when it isn’t diagnosed, but all it takes is one little tablet to get everything back on an even keel. It’s one blood test that can explain so much, and can be so easily managed. I accept that I have to take the artificial hormones to replace my thyroid function for the rest of my life. It’s a very small, and very easy, price to pay to be able to function. Along with one blood test every twelve months, I can have peace of mind.
And to my midwife/schoolyard friend Helen, I can never express how one small suggestion made such a big difference in my life.
(Just goes to show that my love of midwives isn’t misplaced )
So please, if you have felt enough of these symptoms to be ringing alarm bells, ask for a blood test. If left untreated the risks of either under- or over-active thyroid include muscle failure, heart disease, infertility, and even osteoporosis.
If you have any questions the Thyroid Australia website has all the information you need:
And here is the t-shirt I wanted to wear after my diagnosis:
I really hope to raise even a small amount of awareness that feeling these things is not normal. Women who are also busy wives, mothers, and worker bees tend to fob things off. We put an awful lot down to stress, tiredness, and running around. Sometimes it’s not just you. Sometimes it really is something else, something you can treat and manage. I used to hear about women gaining weight and it being attributed to their thyroid, and I’ll be brutally honest, there was that (stupid) little voice thinking, “wish that was my excuse”. Ironically, weight gain is the only thing I haven’t had with my HD. Any extra kilo’s are easily attributed to my love of cooking and then eating that cooking.
Finally, I realise this was a very long post, but I make no apologies for that.
See you next time.