January is Thyroid Awareness month, so I wanted to talk a bit about my life with hypothyroidism. 50% of people with thyroid issues are unaware of their condition. Understanding the signs and symptoms is really important, because having undiagnosed thyroid issues is detrimental to your health and quality of life.
I was diagnosed at age 26 after having a routine physical shortly before moving to England for grad school. There wasn’t enough time to get an appointment with an endocrinologist, so I had to wait until I arrived in the UK in order to get treated. When I settled in, I found a new doctor. They ran my bloodwork and I waited weeks for the results. They called me to come in and discuss the results, and the doctor gave me some shocking news. First, I found out the part I already knew: the tests confirmed that my thyroid was definitely not working properly. Then I learned the part I didn’t know: they didn’t know the cause. It could be hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Graves Disease, or thyroid cancer. My world was turned upside down in an instant.
They referred me to a specialist and again, I waited. My new endocrinologist ordered more tests to rule out each possibility one by one. Unfortunately, I had to schedule the test, wait for the appointment, wait for the results, then move on to the next. It was a long and exhausting process. 8 months later, shortly before I moved back home, they ruled out all of the possible diagnoses and I officially started treatment for the diagnosis I had before I left: hypothyroidism.
My year abroad was somewhat overshadowed by the anxiety and fear of not knowing what was happening in my body. I felt powerless and scared on top of all of the symptoms that I was experiencing: drowsiness, digestive issues, mental fatigue, menstrual issues, and unexplained physical pain. I was beyond relieved to find out that I didn’t have anything else, especially cancer. But I felt cheated by lost time. Time I could have spent being treated, having my body work better. Time I could have spent being healthier and thinner. But I couldn’t look back. I had another battle in front of me.
Losing weight is never easy. I’ve struggled with weight my whole life, and I’d been significantly overweight since I was in high school. In the year before I started treatment, I had drastically changed my lifestyle by eating healthy, working out more often, and walking everywhere. The results of my hard work? I lost 10 pounds. The numbers didn’t add up. What was even more disheartening was when I met my new doctor upon coming home. He said that the hypothyroidism probably wasn’t the cause of my weight issues, and not to expect to lose weight from the medication. I didn’t listen. I continued my treatment and my newfound healthy lifestyle. And you know what happened? I lost 80 pounds that next year. Treating my thyroid changed my life.
Though my hypothyroidism is managed with medication, I still feel many of the effects of it on a daily basis. Sometimes my thyroid hormone levels change, and last year my dosage was altered as a result. I lost more weight, but then I became hyperthyroid and they had to change my medication. Though I was still working out, my energy was shot and my symptoms got worse. In the following year, I gained 30 pounds. My levels have again leveled off and I’ve been able to start losing again. But I realize that this could be a struggle I have for the rest of my life.
The most important thing for me is to remember that hypothyroidism causes some challenges, but to recognize that I can always overcome these challenges. For me, regular daily exercise is just as vital as taking my thyroid medicine, for both my body and my mind. It helps me to regulate my sleep schedule, combat fluid retention and weight gain, aid digestion, and give me much-needed energy. I also didn’t realize how important it is to take my medicine at the same time every day in order to keep my levels consistent. I seek out information about hypothyroidism and do everything I can to be aware and proactive.
It has been a long and sometimes difficult road, but I’m proud to say I don’t let hypothyroidism define me even though the effects can be so physically obvious in my daily life. It’s something I have, but it’s not who I am. Just like any challenge you face, it’s all in how you look at it.
If you’re struggling with thyroid issues, check out the resources below.
This fact sheet on hypothyroidism shows some important symptoms to look out for:
• Difficulty with learning
• Dry, brittle hair and nails
• Dry, itchy skin
• Puffy face
• Sore muscles
• Weight gain and fluid retention
• Heavy and/or irregular menstrual flow
• Increased frequency of miscarriages
• Increased sensitivity to many medications
There are some great organizations out there for people with thyroid disorders and some awesome people blogging about hypothyroidism. If it’s something you struggle with, I encourage you to check them out: