A Year of Hashimoto's: What I've Learned And Where My Body Is At
A year ago I noticed a bulge in my throat and mindlessly mentioned it to my doctor. Within minutes, she told me I had an unidentifiable thyroid disease and needed an immediate blood test. Every one of those words were terrifying to me. I’ve been afraid of needles for as long as I can remember, and the anxiety so many of you know me for began with blood and medical moments when I was just a kid. A blood draw was something I couldn’t even work up to through intensive exposure therapy.
The last blood draw I had before my first thyroid panel went like this. I showed up to get my wisdom teeth removed. I was put under by laughing gas before the IV because needles, and my blood was taken while I was out cold and having my teeth yanked from my gums, completely without my knowledge. It was an act of magic—or medical coaxing—by my parents that had me furious for months, even though I didn’t feel a thing. Now, all of a sudden, my doctor tells me for the sake of my thyroid, I need to live out one of my greatest fears in the next 20 minutes. Not what I’d expected when I went to the doctor for a mostly-routine visit.
I didn’t faint during that surprise blood draw. Sure, I nearly panicked, and I felt myself dancing on the line of consciousness. But I did it, no Xanax, no time to prepare. That success didn’t give me too much pride, though looking back, it should have. I was much too overwhelmed with my pending diagnosis that I couldn’t see how well I’d handled something that I hadn’t been able to do, ever, without giant complications.
I look back, a year into this, knowing the struggles I previously faced. I still feel them now, but differently. Distantly. For some reason, at the first mention of a disease, I stepped a little further into adulthood and acknowledged my anxieties in a way therapy hadn’t even allowed. It’s like I’d known my anxieties were a struggle I wouldn’t fully face…not until there was something bigger, something scarier, that demanded my full attention.
In my year with Hashimoto’s—an autoimmune disease in which my body has destroyed my thyroid, leaving my hormones levels completely wack and unregulated—I’ve learned a lot about myself. It’s been a very intense, trying journey of self love. I’ve always considered myself someone who cares deeply for my own well being, with a sense of self-respect I’m proud of, but coming to terms with a body that’s been attacking itself since I was 13 has been difficult. What made it even harder was once I began the proper medications to stabilize it, I was forced to face brand new issues with my sense of self and image.
The bulge in my throat is still very much visible, at least to me. I’ve only had one friend acknowledge it too, and validate that I’m not insane to think my throat does look wildly oversized. Since starting the medication, I’ve gained 40 pounds that I just can’t shake, no matter how hard I try. I’ve cut gluten from my diet, and found myself facing a new battle with self control, because sometimes, you just want a normal piece of pizza, not one that tastes like soggy cardboard. I’ve learned a lot about myself, about the downs in a routine when your own body is the reason you’re having such difficulty with nearly every, normal human task. And I can’t say it’s been easy.
In a way, I do feel this diagnosis is a blessing. I’ve had such odd, concerning illnesses and symptoms for most of my life. From my inability to take birth control pills without being violently ill (this is a symptom of every 20-something woman I’ve met with Hashimoto’s), to my anxiety and my constant stomach issues, I now have a confirmed reason for everything. Hashimoto’s explains so much. It’s the reason my skin is so dry, not just in the winter. It’s the reason I lose so much more hair than your average 22-year-old every time I shower. It’s the reason I’m constantly exhausted—so tired I’ve considered going to the emergency room more than a handful of times.
I’m finding ways to take care of my mental and physical health at the same time, and every day is a new experience. What that’s meant for me is taking a nap nearly every day after work. That’s the best piece of Hashimoto’s advice I’ve gotten: if you’re tired, sleep. Hit pause. Your body needs it, no matter how lazy you feel.
It’s meant trying to come to terms with how I look when I see my unexpected body the mirror, because as much as I try, it’s no longer the one I knew and loved in my teen years and young adulthood. I constantly feel like I should set a goal weight, but I won’t put that unnecessary pressure on myself. Even 40 pounds heavier than my average, I have bigger things to worry about than a side effect from the medication that is keeping me emotionally and physically stable (as stable as possible, that is).
In the past year, I’ve had 6 blood draws. Next week will be seven. Each time, they take upwards of 4 tubes of blood, and one is always much bigger than the others. I have not fainted during one of these tests. That’s something I didn’t think I’d say this time last year, and no matter how small, or insignificant to anyone reading this who doesn’t have my phobias, to me, that’s pretty damn cool. And that’s where I try to keep my head. I’ve got obstacles, more blood tests, and difficult days ahead. But I’m handling it as gracefully as I can. And I’ve wildly impressed myself in the process.
I did not sign up to be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease at 22. I didn’t sign up for my first panic attack in second grade, either. But everyone has their battles. Though my days in the past year have been tougher than years before, I’m lucky my disease is manageable. And through every lifestyle change, new curve in my body and two hour nap, I’m proud to say I’m doing my best. That’s all you can do, right?