Project Healthy Holly
In our last group call of the spring PHB session, we shared our summer health goals. The exercise was to take our specific goals and really own them – shouting them from the highest mountain top, figuratively speaking. If you know me, you know that I was BORN to shout things from a mountain top! Excitability, whether it is inward excitement or getting others excited about something is undeniably one of my greatest skills. So I am sure it was a little jarring for my group to feel the utter lack of energy and overall flatness in my voice as I brave shared how I was really doing. Believe me, it was jarring for me too. It certainly wasn’t puppy dogs and rainbows, but it was honest and real.
Jennifer teaches us that feeling all of our feelings is the hardest work we will do to become healthy. She also teaches us that sharing our truth promotes healing within ourselves, while fueling connection/support with others.
I have casually mentioned my struggle with autoimmune disease and how it affects my health, but I have never written about what exactly Hashimotos is and how it specifically impacts my life. Given how common autoimmune disorders are these days, and how top of mind it is for me right now (battling with some symptoms), I thought it would be a good opportunity to write about it. I am likely not the only one here who has the added challenge of an autoimmune disease – and I find that when I write about my struggles, I really do find connection and support when I need it.
Technically speaking, Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune form of hypothyroidism that results when ones immune system attacks the thyroid. It mostly affects women and is fairly common. There are likely loads of people walking around with Hashimoto’s who haven’t been diagnosed because it is either in the early stages, or has been misdiagnosed.
Symptoms (for me) include:
Weight gain or inability to lose weight
Cold hands and feet
Dry skin, dry hair, and/or dry nails
Irregular or extremely heavy menstrual periods
Muscle and/or joint aches
I had no clue that I even had a thyroid issue until the blood results from my first pregnancy came back, and I was referred to an endocrinologist who placed on a synthetic thyroid replacement medication. I was told that there was nothing I could do about it, that I would be on medication for the rest of my life, and that as long as we managed it with meds it wouldn’t impact my pregnancy or my life in any meaningful way.
The doctor was right that it didn’t impact either of my pregnancies, but wrong about it not impacting my life. I’m not sure if it was the chicken or the egg – if I just got to a stage in the degeneration of my thyroid where the symptoms became detectable, or if pregnancy and the hormones and all the changes that go along with that threw me out of whack – but either way I was struggling with my health. The best way that I can describe that is to say that I just wasn’t myself.
If in all of my years of working to find balance in my health, I could impart one bit of advice, it would be to advocate for yourself. Trust your body, and trust that nagging feeling that something still isn’t right – even if a doctor or specialist tells you that your results are “within normal range”. Find another doctor (one that specializes in functional medicine, which has been particularly helpful for me). Educate yourself on autoimmune disease and what the root causes might be. Consider an auto-immune protocol to pinpoint food sensitivities that may contribute to your symptoms. Read books and subscribe to blogs and generally be curious about your own health and well-being. If you struggle with behavioral changes, then find someone to help with that. Like everything in life, it takes a village! Seek answers that work for you and your body – and if/when things go sideways, seek them again and again.
Like we say in PHB, fall down 8 times, get up 9 times. That’s what the last nine months have felt like for me. Back in October, the medication that I was on to regulate my thyroid hormone suffered a nation-wide shortage. It’s not something that I can just wait around for. This is medication that I need to take every day to ensure proper thyroid function. My doctor noted that the most important thing was to be consistent, so she recommended I switch back to the synthetic medication that I used to take. Given that I didn’t have much of a choice, I agreed.
The challenge with switching medication is getting the dose right. Also, it takes about six weeks to get a proper read on the blood work, which can mean a few months of trial and error. When it is too low, I feel sad, slow, and stupid. These are not words that I (nor anyone) would use to describe me, so you can probably imagine that it is kind of a bummer to wait it out. Especially, when I am working hard at pressing forward with my health and weight goals.
In March, I thought we had finally struck synthetic hormone gold. The scale was moving in the right direction, the fog had lifted along with my spirits, and my hair was starting to grow back! My doctor made a slight adjustment citing that the dosage I was on was pretty high and would be better for me in the long run if it were a little lower. It really wasn’t a drastic change – just 25mcg – but it made all of the difference to send me crashing right back into hypothyroidism. All of the symptoms came back, and they felt even worse than before, including having two heavy periods in one month.
I have been working on this blog post for weeks. It has been dragging, like my thyroid issues. Not just because of the brain fog and low energy, but also because it’s such a bummer of a post. Explaining myself feels whiny and negative and like I am making excuses for myself. “Maybe if you just did a few more sit-ups” is what the negative roommate inside of me tells me people will think when they read that it’s not all puppy dogs and rainbows over here. “Jeeez – stick to the funny and/or inspiring stuff, lady”, she tells me as I read back a couple of paragraphs above.
I search for my authentic voice, which reminds me that it is my bold sharing that has inspired others to reach out to the PHB community and begin their own journey to better health and vitality. It also reminds me that chasing perfection and over-pivoting on the silver-linings is like telling the world (and myself) that I am only worthy when I am happy and when I am doing AWESOME! I am learning to feel and process the things that I have a habit of stuffing down, like fear, anger, and sadness. Stuffing feelings down like I stuff the food down – with both resulting in extra weight (one emotional and one physical).
It is now mid July. The puffiness in my face and body are healing. My energy is returning along with my hair. My mind is notably crisper and I am writing again. My blood test came back last week and I am back within normal range and holding steady at my current dose.
Fall down 9 times get up 10. That’s what is happening over here, and the future looks healthy and bright. Because who quits healthy?