January is Thyroid Awareness Month in the United States. This is an important topic to me because I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in my mid 20's and I have struggled with my health ever since. I wish that I could tell you that I took charge of my health at the time I was diagnosed and that I was able to quickly turn things around, but it took me many years to really get a grasp on my diagnosis and what that meant for my life. It is important to keep in mind that there are many facets of thyroid disease and it may look a little different for everyone. This is a snippet of my journey.
I have always struggled with my weight for as long as I can remember. The 90's was an awesome time to grow up if you had a weight issue because it was the time of baggy clothes, which came in very handy when trying to hide "love handles" and the belly "pooch". Unfortunately, it was also a time of fast food, Slurpee's, and candy cigarettes. It also happened that we lived most of my childhood floating between the apartments upstairs and behind my grandparent's restaurant and bar, The Belgrade Lounge. This meant I ate a lot of diner food. Every day I walked home from school and would stop in the Diner where either my grandma or my favorite waitress, Eve, would let me pick out a donut (Long John for me!) and then I'd go to the attached bar (where smoking was permitted in doors at the time) and I'd order a Shirley Temple with extra cherries, often while sitting at the slot machine, pretending to play 😳😂 Talk about a different time! Then I would head home until dinner, where I would often call over to the bar and order food to go. My favorites were Chicken Fried Steak, Biscuits and Gravy, and of course, Cheeseburger with French Fries. Since I was the granddaughter, I would often get cookies or pie thrown in my order for "later" (which often meant, right now, before I ate dinner). I always ate sitting in front of the TV. Then I would go to school, eat the less than healthy school breakfast and lunch, making sure to snack on vendor food whenever possible in between and after. It's amazing that I didn't suffer from a serious weight problem to tell you the truth. However, I was often "chunky", then I'd hit a growth spurt and I would thin out before getting "chunky" all over again. I tell you this because I want you to understand how diet played a key role in in my health later down the line.
I was 20 years old when I gave birth to my first son. It was during this time and after that I started to notice some issues with my health. I was severely anemic when my son was born, so I was very pale and kind of grey looking in most of my photos. I started out strong with doctors appointments, but moved a few times during this pregnancy, so it was hard to get good care. It also didn't help that I was on State Health Insurance at the time, so I was already receiving sub par care due to the fact that the clinics that took my insurance were understaffed, overrun, and the doctors and nurses seemed burned out (often rightly so). Plus, to my embarrassment now, I was still eating the same way and living a very sedentary life style at the time. All of this together really set me up for burn out of my own.
After my son was born, I was in a very stressful situation. I learned that his father was a severe alcoholic. You would think I would have known this, but I was pretty naïve about alcoholism and I was young and partying at the time, so I didn't realize the extent until I was pregnant and couldn't party anymore. Even then I was hopefully optimistic that things would "work out". However, when our son was about 6 or 7 months old, I had a bottle of Grey Goose Vodka in my freezer for the celebration of my 21st birthday and when his dad poured it for us in our tiny kitchen table, I took a drink and it was water. Turns out he had drank it long before and refilled it with water, then pretended like he had no idea what happened 🤦🏻♀️. On my birthday 🙄. Talk about a rude awakening 😕. It became very clear to me that I was in a situation I no longer wanted to be in. So I left. (We went back and forth for a few years with him promising to get sober and us trying to work it out, but it was too toxic. I add this for clarity and transparency. I wish I had left and that was the end of it, but real life isn't always so cut and dry).
Now I was a single mother with no money. That is a different post for another time, but my point is that I was eating terribly and now I had significant stress in my life. A few years into this and I started to put on significant weight and I was exhausted ALL THE TIME, as well as experiencing anxiety and panic attacks. When I would go to the clinic, I was prescribed valium, put on antidepressants and sleeping pills, and pushed out the door. It was awful. And in the meantime, I'm still putting on weight. I realized I had a problem when I went to Target with my best friend and all the XL clothes we had picked out for me didn't even come close to fitting. For my body shape and size, that was a serious problem. When she came back with Plus size clothing, it was a wake up call.
After this trip I scheduled an appointment at the clinic and after several misdiagnosis and several years, I was finally diagnosed with hypothyroidism. My doctor literally told me it was not curable, but not to worry! I would simply take this pill for the rest of my life, have my thyroid levels checked regularly, and all would be well. Problem solved. No one ever explained the symptoms or what was happening in my body, and I think, like most Americans, I was taught to believe and never question the doctor, so I just went along with what I was told. In our country, Doctors are idolized. The idea I grew up with was that if ANYTHING happened, you just go to the all knowing, all powerful doctor and they fix it. Done. So I never questioned anything.
In the meantime, depending on my medication level, I am swaying back and forth between what I now know was hypo and hyper thyroidism. I didn't know it at the time, but that was what was happening. Sometimes I would be wired and thin and other times I would be overweight and almost lethargic. I started suffering from long bouts of anxiety and panic attacks. Which is another blog post too, because I had no knowledge of clinical anxiety or panic attacks, so I'd go to the ER thinking I was having a heart attack or dying and doctors would label me "crazy" and prescribe medications like valium, sleeping pills and antidepressants (luckily, ((unlucky 🧐)) my anxiety made me afraid of the pills, coupled with some weird experiences when I did try them, so I rarely took them, and only took small amounts of valium when I couldn't stand the panic attacks anymore. (Side note: I can totally see why we have a prescription drug problem in the U.S. - I was often prescribed 20-50 at a time and had zero problems getting refills). Much later, I learned it is common with thyroid problems to bounce between the different types because your body is trying to regulate itself. At the time though, I didn't know and I never, to this day, have ever found a doctor who has taken the time to help me understand my diagnosis. And I've seen a lot of them.
There's a whole lot of story in between the last paragraph and where I am going to go now, and some day I will share it all, but for the moment I want to fast forward. It took me over a decade to really get an understanding of how the thyroid works and how I had been eating really contributed to the health problems I was experiencing. Through diet, herbalism, exercise, and lifestyle I have gone off my medicine and been perfectly healthy, but when I wane from that way of living and fall back into old habits, I inevitably have to go back on the medicine. I wish I could tell you that I am perfect and once I figured out what to do, I never had a problem again, but the truth is that I am human. Sometimes I fall back into my "comfort" lifestyle, which is sedentary and full of the Standard American Diet (SAD). I am there right now actually. For the last 4 months I have fallen back into old habits as I am going through a huge transitionary time in my life and it shows. My weight has gone up, I'm back on my levothyroxine, my asthma and eczema (which had COMPLETELY gone away) are back, and my overall mood is affected as well. But above all of those things, what I notice the most is that I am uncomfortable in my body. You see, now I know what it feels like to be in a healthy body and its AMAZING. So why do I fall back into old habits? I guess because I am fallible, I am beyond stressed and overworked at the moment, and I am simply a human being doing the best that I can. In times of stress, I often subconsciously revert back to the way I grew up eating because it's comforting. It always starts out gradual and then before I know it, I'm caught up in what is easy and most familiar. One day, I realize I don't like how I feel in my body. (I want to emphasize the word feel, and make sure you are noticing I am not saying look. I have really done the work and truly love my body at whatever size because I love and really like myself, but the way I feel, which is uncomfortable, is what is bothering me). I know as I get situated and through this huge transition I am currently going through, I will find my way back to the new lifestyle I love dearly and truly believe in. Right now, I'm just giving myself a little grace, compassion and understanding.
I guess I just wanted to share a little of my thyroid story in relation to Thyroid Awareness Month. I'm sure in the future I will have so much more to share, including my journey back to health and how I did it before and how I will do it again. I just wanted to let people know that they are not alone and it's okay to be human. I want people to know that I have been through this and SO MUCH MORE. I am here to support you in any way that I can. As I finish up renovations on my new home and I am able to really focus back on this site, I will share videos, recipes, and information that can hopefully help you further. Please feel free to reach out on any of my platforms or via email if you have any comments or questions.
Always remember - YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Heard by Rachel Hill
You wake up feeling more tired than when you went to bed You have to cancel on your friends again and they say you’re a mess. People at work have absolutely no clue What it is exactly you’re going through.
Waking up feeling like you have the worst kind of flu But with poor mental health and weight gain added too.
Doctor after doctor tells you you’re OK But in your mind you know there’s something else at play.
Your partner thinks you’re lazy and dismisses your concerns Family should understand but their lack of it burns.
You wonder ‘Is this the new normal? How I’m going to feel for the rest of my life?’ The thought of it kills the last of you inside.
‘What happened to the person I once was? The dreams I had, the plans I made And a life not ruled by feeling lost?’
You feel alone, not listened to and batted down But please know that there are others like you around.
We’re also feeling just the way you do And just how you need our support We could do with yours too.
Together we can battle to win back our lives Our health and our dreams Let’s take the dive.
We can empower each other to owe it to who we once were So unite and scream out “We deserve to be heard!”