Over the years, I have learned the importance of paying careful attention to my body. When I notice small changes, I can alert my healthcare providers early enough to fend off more serious complications. The times when I have not been mindful, my symptoms got progressively worse. By the time I sought treatment, my disease was pretty advanced, and serious complications ensued (kidney failure, for one). So I have learned to notice everything, to track patterns and identify deviations. Among other things, I weigh myself almost daily, notice how much I’m sleeping, and look out for any aches and pains that develop. My yoga practice has been instrumental in providing me the tools needed for observation: acceptance, surrender, meditation, and pranayama.
When I went to my 20th college reunion in May, I was very much aware that things were off physically. As the weeks went by, I noticed more and more symptoms. I reached out and made a number of appointments to see my doctors in early June. I laid out my symptoms before them: dry skin, unexpected weight gain (20 pounds in two months), change in mood, change in energy level and motivation, difficulty falling and staying asleep. They collected some blood and ran a bunch of tests. All of them came back within the normal range.
I had conflicting thoughts about the lab work results. Of course, I was grateful that my blood work was saying everything was okay. But my body continued telling me that something was off physically. Instead of feeling relieved when the results came in, I felt more anxious. There was something going on with my body, and the doctors couldn’t figure out what it was.
During my annual exam in mid-July, my primary doctor paused at my throat. It hurt where she was touching it. She asked, “Can you feel this? I want you to put your finger right here.” I let her know I didn’t need to put my finger where she was touching. I let her know I could feel it, and it hurt! She explained that she was touching the area near my thyroid. It appeared to be swollen. She further explained that an enlarged thyroid is an indication of Hypothyroidism.
When the thyroid is underactive (hypo comes from the Greek meaning “under”), it stops producing enough of the hormone that regulates the metabolism and many of the body’s processes. My doctor began spouting off a list of symptoms that typically accompany hypothyroidism: weight gain, fatigue, sluggishness, dry skin, mood changes, constipation, irregular menstrual cycles, etc. Finally, I felt relieved. She had just described what I had been feeling and noticing for the last two months. My doctor sent me home with yet another blood work request as well as an ultrasound order. I got the blood drawn that same week and made the earliest possible ultrasound appointment. Then I waited.
While waiting, I did what I usually do when the doctors present me with a new diagnosis. I did as much research as I could. I spent a lot of time reading about Hypothyroidism and the long-term impact that it can have on the body (heart problems, goiters, cancer, and coma, to name a few). I learned that my lupus was a probable cause of the hypothyroidism. Lupus is an autoimmune condition in which the body creates antibodies that attack healthy tissue instead of pathogens (such as harmful bacteria and viruses). If my body was creating antibodies that were attacking my thyroid, it could be attributed to the lupus. I remembered that when I was in college, my dad had dealt with hyperthyroidism (the opposite condition, an overactive thyroid). It took the doctors years to figure out the right treatment for him. Once they got his thyroid hormones back to a normal level, they let him know he would need to take medicine every day for the rest of his life.*
The days dragged on as I continued to deal with the symptoms, especially the feelings of being overwhelmed and lethargic. I tried using all the tools at my disposal to cope. I wrote about my feelings in my journal. I shared what was going on with a select group of family members and close friends. I talked about it every week with my therapist. But nothing helped my feelings improve. Keeping a positive outlook on life was becoming more and more difficult, and I was finding it hard to enjoy pleasurable activities. Even my long-anticipated trip to New Orleans for the Essence Musical Festival was affected. It wasn’t nearly as fun or exciting as I expected. As the pressure of all the waiting and worrying continued to grow, I began to despair. Last week, I published a blog post about the discouragement I was experiencing. I had hit rock bottom.
* I have since learned that one of my grandmothers also suffered from hyperthyroidism. The condition seems to have a genetic component as well, and it tends to run in families.
Check back next week to continue reading about how my mystery illness was ultimately solved.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.