Friday, March 18, 2011

My journey into Autoimmune Thyroid Disease, Part 3

Disclaimer - Before you read this post, please be aware that I have no medical degree. The things stated in this post are MY OPINION ONLY, and should NOT be taken as any kind of medical advice. No information in this post is meant to diagnose or treat thyroid disease or any medical problem for that matter. My intent is NOT to spread a mistrust of doctors, but rather simply to share my story about my own experience with autoimmune thyroid disease.

If you haven't read Part 1 or Part 2 of this series on autoimmune thyroid disease, you may want to before you read this post. When I left off from Part II, I was once again looking for another doctor to treat my condition. I found a doctor using this website. I clicked on links for my state and read the reviews. I called pretty much all the endocrinologists in my area, and to be honest, a lot of them didn't want to give me very much information over the phone. I was asking questions like, Do you test Free T3 and Free T4, and do you prescribe Armour? I wanted to kind of get a feel for their philosophy before I paid all kinds of money to see them. Like I said, most were not too willing to share a lot of information over the phone. But I did find one doctor who actually had a website, and in addition, had a TON of information about his philosophy of treating thyroid disease. Plus, his receptionist was the nicest one I talked to! ;) He is not an endocrinologist, but he is well-trained in this field. I ended up emailing him some additional questions I had, but his website stated that he gets over 400 emails a day so it might take awhile for him to email me back. He emailed me back WITHIN TWO HOURS!!!! I was impressed, to say the least. Everything he said lined up with what my research had said. I booked an appointment, and went to see him.
I was very impressed during the first appointment, because the doctor shared with me that he has the same disease I have - Hashimoto's Hypothyroidism. I feel more confident with this doctor, because he faces the same challenges as I do. There were many helpful things that he told me.
First, he said to get off ALL soy. Now, I do not eat soy products, or at least I didn't think I really did. shall I say this? Soy is in practically EVERYTHING. Check the labels on crackers, breads, cereals, cookies, etc - even the stuff that says "whole grain" or "organic". Yes, even organic foods, can you believe that? Basically, if it is pre-packaged, it probably has soy. Look for soybean oil or soy lecithin - anything with that in it should be avoided if you have a thyroid problem. Soy interferes with the thyroid. There is alot of technical information on how it does that exactly, but since I'm not a medical professional, I'll not get into all that.
Second, my doctor mentioned to me that he eats a gluten-free diet. I had heard of this before, and was dreading that I might have to go gluten-free, just because it seems like such a hassle. My doctor believes that almost ALL the symptoms will go away with a gluten-free diet. So far, he has not said for sure I have to do that, but I'm sure that day is probably coming. Goodbye to all my favorite foods!
Third, my doctor suggested a Vitamin D supplement, to be taken with fish oil capsules. There seems to be a great probability that people with thyroid disease are deficient in Vitamin D. He also recommended Selenium. He wrote out for me how much to take and when. I had heard about taking these supplements before, but just didn't know the amounts or when was best to take them. I didn't know if they would interfere with the Armour I take every morning. So, it was a big relief that he was able to tell me exactly what to take and when. While I'm thinking of it, for those who have to take thyroid medicine every day, it is so important to take it at the same time every day, and to also take it on an empty stomach, and wait at least 30 minutes before eating anything. Some doctors recommend waiting 45 minutes or even as much as one hour. I can tell a big difference within just a few days if I am not waiting at least 30 minutes. If I'm not in a hurry, I will try to wait an hour to eat, but some mornings it's not feasible. You need to give your body a chance to properly absorb the thyroid medication, because food can interfere with that.
I'm going to try to wrap things up here, but the conclusion will probably be long. Dealing with a chronic illness can be frustrating for the person who has it, as well as their family who has to deal with that person. I recommend doing as much research as you possibly can and really doing what it takes to feel better. I wish I had known this was going to be a long process, and so I really want to get the word out and help others that are battling the same problems. I go through phases where I feel pretty good, and then other phases where it affects me so badly physically, mentally and emotionally. Thankfully right now I am feeling great, and I almost feel like my old self, pre-thyroid disease! This is the first time in a long time that I have felt like my old self.

I'm not really sure how or why the thyroid affects the brain, but it does. You may hear someone with thyroid problems talk about experiencing "brain fog." The feeling is horrible, not being able to think of common every-day words in conversation, and just feeling like you are not as clear and as sharp as you once were. You feel like you have lost something of yourself, and you don't know if you are ever going to get it back. Stress seems to elevate my symptoms, and I find that I cannot do as much as I used to. That, for me, was maybe the hardest thing to accept. I'm in my early thirties, yet sometimes I feel like I'm in my 70's. Waking up every morning with extreme fatigue and muscle aches and pains took it's toll on me emotionally. I had days where I could hardly get out of bed.

I was angry that I had this disease, I was angry that my body wouldn't function properly, I was angry that I felt robbed of my health, I was angry that I always felt crazy and stressed. People would look at me like, "What is wrong with you? Why are you always sooo stressed out?" I became like a completely different person. I didn't even recognize myself. This anger led me into what I call the spiral. Once I started that spiral, it was next to impossible to get out of it. I would have a few good days a month, but the rest would be dark, horrible days in this downward, out-of-control spiral. I constantly felt like I was at the end of my rope with nowhere to turn. And I hated myself with a vengeance for constantly being angry, stressed out, and crazy. The self-hatred turned into self-pity, and there was just no end to this spiral. I can see now that I allowed my mind to dwell on those feelings rather than to fight them in the strength of the Lord. There were times that I had lost all hope of feeling normal again, and I was simply too tired to fight. That is no excuse, but I'm just being transparent here.
I tried to pray, I tried to trust God, I tried to do everything I knew a Christian should do. Sometimes the dark thoughts would be quenched for a time, but the spiral inevitably seemed to start right back up again. I have a hard time asking for help and letting people get to know the real me sometimes.  My husband has been so awesome during this whole process. Even though he doesn't always know what to say, he is ALWAYS there for me. He always supports me and comforts me the best he can. My parents and in-laws and a few friends that knew my situation also tried to help me many times.

And God did not give up on me, not once. He finally helped me see that this was a gift from Him. A gift????  That's right. A gift. He isn't putting me through this just to play Russian roulette with my life. He has promised to work ALL THINGS for my good. When I stopped refusing to accept what He had chosen for my life, the anger went away. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started trying to find answers of how I could make things better. I also make sure that I turn to God for strength and help the very moment I start to feel that old spiral starting up again. I do not allow myself to dwell on negative thoughts, nor do I allow myself to indulge in a pity party. I read Scripture, especially Psalms, for comfort and peace, and I sing one of my favorite hymns as I go about my housework. And the number one thing I do.......I start thanking God for all the abundant blessings He has placed in my life. Do you know what? When I choose to have a thankful heart, it is IMPOSSIBLE to have a complaining and bitter spirit! I love how God does that!
I still have my limitations, and I don't know if some of them will ever go away. But I'm looking at it now with hope as a challenge to be confronted, rather than as a disability to be afraid of. And let me just say, I do realize there are so many other people in this world dealing with severe medical issues, that my situation is so minor compared to someone dealing with terminal cancer or some other life-altering condition.

My main responsibility is just to care for my husband, children, and the house. I've stepped down from almost all responsibilities outside the home that I was involved in in our church and school. It was hard to admit that I couldn't do it all. It was hard to hand the baton over to someone else, especially for things I loved doing. But what good am I as a wife and a mother if I'm always stressed out on things that take all my energy away from my family? I just couldn't see how that was pleasing to the Lord to live like that. Maybe someday I can pick back up where I left off, but for now, this is what works for me. If you have any questions that I can answer about thyroid problems, leave me a comment, and I'll try to answer your question as best I can.

Edited to add the following: I wanted to make sure I'm clear here. Accepting God's will for my life, even if it means dealing with a chronic illness, changes my heart attitude, not necessarily my physical condition. I'm not trying to imply that by praying and being thankful enough, God will miraculously heal me. Now, He is certainly all-powerful and able to bring complete healing, but He is not a genie that I can get whatever I want from Him by doing all the right things. I'm just saying that when dealing with illness, a thankful, contented heart goes a long way in making your circumstances seem bearable and hopeful. I also am not implying that anyone with a thyroid problem or other chronic disease is an unthankful person. Since this is my blog, I'm just sharing with you the way I felt. During one of my lowest days - mentally and emotionally - I had someone suggest that maybe I just needed to be more thankful (they meant well, it just didn't sit well with me at the time). That kinda hurt, and made me feel like they were saying that I had brought this illness on myself because maybe I was such an unthankful person. I can see now that they were just trying to remind me of this very thing I'm talking about. I saw that I COULD be more thankful, especially when I was going through the hardest days. I hope that makes sense, but please, if you have any questions, leave me a comment and I will try to clarify more.

**One more thing. With proper dosages and time, my symptoms have greatly diminished. My hair is back to being full and healthy-looking, the searing muscle cramps in my arms, legs and back are gone, my eyes are no longer dark and sunken, and while I still deal with fatigue, I can get through my day without that feeling like I can't even function. I still have a ways to go, but things are definitely improving. I just wanted to share that it WILL get better, it just takes time!


Joyful Grandma said...

I enjoyed reading this and I appreciate your attitude. My daughter in law has a colitis disease and has been dealing with an autoimmune disease because of it. They are missionaries in Brazil. She has a long way to go with her health, but her attitude also is like yours. God allows these things sometimes to bring glory to Him. Thanks for sharing.

Laurie said...

Hi, Joyful Grandma! Thank you for stopping by, and leaving such an encouraging comment! I'm so sorry to hear that your daughter is dealing with health problems, too. I trust she will continue to improve. :)

Camille said...

Porcine thyroid supplements is the only product that helped me tremendously.....more energy,clear mind, feel much and more balanced.

Laurie said...

Camille - thank you for your comment! I am so glad to know that those supplements work for you! I am wondering if Porcine thyroid supplements are pretty much the same thing as Armour. Armour is dessicated pig thyroid, so maybe they are very similar. Regardless, I am really glad you found something that works for you! I'm sure that was a big relief for you!