Author’s Note: This is long, but important. Stick with me. You never know when you might need to know all this. (And I kinda can’t believe I’m posting it, but here goes…)
I have never really talked about this on this blog before. Mostly because my blog is about books and homeschooling. I have a definite view in my head of what it should look like all the time, and it does not including whining about my health.
Even so, hypothyroidism is an important health issue (especially for us women) that often is good for a laugh in a movie (I’ve heard it in several–I Have A Thyroid Problem! the overweight person usually screeches in self-defense). It’s supposed to be funny. It burns me up. It isn’t funny. It’s dangerous and hard to live with. People who don’t have it can’t really grasp its gravity or its burden. So here’s my story. Maybe you will either commiserate or finally understand.
I had always been a small woman. Petite, thin–even that girl that other girls would squeal at: “How do you stay so skinny?” I admit, I would smirk. “I have a high metabolism,” I would tell them. I always had. I assumed it would last forever. I had my first child, Big, when I was 21 years old. I gained 43 pounds with him. At my six-week checkup after his birth, I was 10 pounds over pre-pregnancy weight. Even though he was a small baby, my weight had been mostly pregnancy gain, apparently. I went to Jazzercise for a few months until I got back to my precious 118. No big deal.
As most of you know by now, I went back to school after that, went through a hellacious divorce, spent a few years single. By the time I got pregnant with Middle I was at a much healthier 130 pounds, still thin and proud of my body for the most part. I gained… 43 pounds with him. By the time he was a year old, I was back down to 130. I didn’t even really work out after him… the weight fell off and I let it. I had a much more supportive man in my life then, who loved (still loves) me with all he is, so while I wanted to still be pretty for him, I knew there was no hurry. Also, I had already experienced pregnancy and weight loss; I had this thing down.
Littlest surprised us three years later. We didn’t plan to have more babies, but we didn’t plan not to, either. With Littlest I gained… 43 pounds. I swear, I am not making this up. What was it with that number? This time, after watching this Amazing Man love me no matter what for longer than my first marriage lasted, I made a concerted effort to lose the weight. I was 33, I had birthed three beautiful boys, I never wanted to be that wife who packed on an extra 20 pounds and didn’t do anything about it. Again, not making this up–I was a SAHM by then, and both babies napped at the same time. I literally worked out for three hours every day. Aerobics first thing in the morning. Weight bench for an hour during morning nap. Step aerobics during afternoon nap. By the time Littlest was 3 months old, I weighed 135 pounds. Not too shabby, but I still wanted to lose that last 5.
15 years ago
Then, out of nowhere, I started gaining again. Whaaaa? That had never happened before unless I was pregnant. I wasn’t pregnant. Couldn’t be. I gained 8 pounds in a month. That had absolutely never happened. So I made a doctor appointment, but since it wasn’t urgent, they set it for a few weeks away. Busy doctor. I’ll never forget that visit. When I stepped on the scale, it read 152 pounds. I knew I had gained, but 17 pounds in roughly 2 months?! What happened to my famous metabolism? The doctor took one look at my list of complaints, which also included tiredness, mild depression, and tummy troubles and said, “I bet you have hypothyroidism. We’ll have to have you back in the morning to do a blood test. Don’t eat or drink or anything before you come.” Hypothyroidism? What the hell is that? She didn’t explain, just smiled sweetly and said, “You will be shocked, once you get on the medication, how quickly that weight will just fall off.”
I hate that doctor.
Because that Was Not True.
They did the blood test, they called me, told me I had hypothyroidism, told me I could pick up my prescription. They did not set up a consultation appointment. They did not explain to me what hypothyroidism is or what it could do to my body. They just told me I would now Lose The Weight.
Seriously, guys, this was before the old interweb became all the rage and we all found out the world was at our fingertips. I thought I had a disease that affected my metabolism, and my magic pills would cure the problem. No one told me any different. For more than 6 years.
I went from doctor to doctor, happily taking 50 to 100 mcg (depending on the doctor) of levothyroxine. One year, I decided I had had enough. The pills caused me to develop this weird acne for the first time in my life–little tiny bumps that ringed my face. My hair, which has always been slow-growing anyway, began to break off in the back once it reached a certain length. I continued to slowly but steadily gain weight. I got terrible insomnia, waking up between 1-3 a.m. every morning, with thoughts that felt like they were screaming at me. I was Exhausted. All The Time. I was melancholy. I had trouble concentrating. The doctors I saw blew off my concerns. I began to cut my pills in half; this provided a little relief, believe it or not. I was able to sleep. The acne cleared. I thought, “You know, if cutting the pills in half helped this much, what will happen if I don’t take them at all?”
8 years ago
No one. No One told me how dangerous that could be. So I stopped taking my pills. For a year. I began to have episodes of passing out for no reason, and it seemed to occur at certain points in my menstrual cycle. I contacted a new doctor. He probably saved my life.
I don’t say that flippantly. Dr. Main welcomed me as a new patient and heard all my complaints. I admitted I had hypothyroidism and was not currently taking my medication. I told him about all the health issues I had, both on and off the pills. He drew blood. He called me and asked me To Come Back For A Consultation. This was such a new experience, I had a lot of hope. Perhaps there was something else wrong with me, something that could be fixed, and that pesky hypothyroidism could be forgotten about. I couldn’t wait to meet with him.
“KT,” he said as he walked into the room and shook my hand, “it is imperative that you remain under a doctor’s care. Your thyroid is 90% dead. I have never seen numbers like yours. In fact, your numbers are higher than the rare cases my med school professors told me I would probably never see in my life. You have to take your medication, every day, so that your body will continue to work right.”
Turns out all my symptoms had not been caused by the medication. I had been, for all those years, on too low a dosage. My own body was doing all those things to me. I cried For Hours after leaving Dr. Main’s office. I called my mom. I called my sister. I called my husband. There was nothing I could do. I really did have a bad thyroid, and working out 5 days a week for the rest of my life and watching every particle of food that went into my mouth was not going to change that.
By then I had been packing around that extra 20 pounds for about 6 years. Only it had turned into 30. And as far as I could see, most of it was in my little round belly. I’ve never met a woman with who has suffered from this disease for more than a few years that doesn’t have that belly. I hate that belly. I have tae bo’d, yoga’d, stepped, walked, ran, Zumba’d, weight-lifted, and aerobicized that belly. Nothing works. I can lose 10 pounds. In a about 6 months. Or a year. If I’m diligent. It’s been 10 years since I lost more than 10 pounds. And I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I work out for at least an hour 5 days a week. I drink water. I eat well. I have to. I’ve been counting fat grams, calories, and carbs for so long I do it in my sleep.
I am the skinny girl. The skinny girl that was.
This year, with my lovely baby sister
Now, I have a husband who tells me I’m beautiful every day, who has never given me a moment’s doubt, and a family who loves me and appreciates me. How I look should not matter. I have a fine appreciation of my own mind, of who I am, and where I’m at. But it doesn’t change the humiliation I feel every time I get dressed. It doesn’t stop me from posting very few photos of myself because I don’t want people from my past to see what I’ve become. It’s freaking embarrassing, and that’s the truth.
I am not comfortable in my own skin. And the reason I hate all those doctors? They didn’t tell me that weight gain was the least of my worries. Besides all the health and heart issues this belly could cause (but thankfully hasn’t. Not yet), hypothyroidism wreaks other havoc on the body. And you better have a good doctor to warn you about it, because in my experience most of them Do Not Bother. Hypothyroidism means your thyroid is underactive (or in my case as good as dead). Problem is, the thyroid regulates vital body functions–
- Heart rate
- Central and peripheral nervous systems
- Body weight
- Muscle strength
- Menstrual cycles
- Body temperature
- Cholesterol levels
Yeah. You don’t want to know how terrible my menstrual cycle is every month. Ever screamed in agony over a cramp? It’s… well, it’s ridiculous, that’s what it is.
And metabolism doesn’t only affect your weight. It affects your energy level. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve seen some of my posts about being exhausted. When I mention that, or post about it, I am experiencing it two-fold. Because sometimes my tired body just shuts down on me. It’s almost like being bipolar. I have 2-5 days where I have all the energy I had in my youth, and I know I’d better get as much done as I possibly can before the crash. So, yeah, it’s almost manic. Because the crash will always come. Sometimes it wipes me out so much that I can’t think anymore, let alone be an effective teacher. I have to push through sludge on those days to make sure I’m not depriving my Littles of the education I promised them when I started this homeschooling thing. I developed asthma within 2 years of my original thyroid diagnosis because , well, your thyroid regulates your breathing. I have heart palpitations. Sometimes my legs decide they just don’t want to work. I’m always either too hot or too cold. My dead thyroid has caused me to go into early menopause, so I’m never quite sure when those agonizing cramps are going to strike. It’s hard to feel feminine when the biological purpose of your femininity is skewed. When you live in a mild terror of when your body will decide it’s still a woman, because that shit hurts. It hurts like hell. I’d rather give birth again, I am not kidding. At least something miraculous comes at the end of that pain. This…. it just leads to more pain.
This year with the Littles
Another thing doctors didn’t explain to me is that low thyroid can cause you to have anxiety. I used to be a social butterfly, now sometimes I get quite nervous in crowds of more than 2 people, especially if there are people around I don’t know. I suppose it makes me seem rude, but I have to internalize or I have panic attacks. So I get quiet. I literally have to stop paying attention. You think being overweight is embarrassing? Try having a panic attack in front of people who have never seen it and would never expect it of you. It’s not pretty.
But here’s the thing. I am, most days, an active, vital, upbeat woman. I love to laugh and stay busy and write and teach and spend time with my family. Homeschooling my kids is the most important thing I’ve ever done, and it keeps me going even when my body wants to quit. So I am not whining. I will not whine. Sure, I could. But that wouldn’t do my Littles any good, would it? And really, what good would it do me? I have lived with this disease for 10 years now. I have been embarrassed of myself for so long, I have seriously almost learned to live with it. I will not give up. I will always stay active, watch what I put in my body, and hope for the day when the scale tips below a 10-pound weight loss. I will exercise this stupid belly until I can’t anymore. Because I do Love This Life On Fire. And I am not a quitter. And my boys deserve to see a mama who is strong and willing to fight.
So even when I’m tired beyond all reason, we have school. Even when I get depressed, I smile and laugh and play with them like it’s any other day. And when they grow up, they are going to proud of their mama, not embarrassed of her. And they will not be quitters. Because they have a good role model.
No matter what in your life might be getting you down, don’t give up. Stand up to it. Fight against it. Because the good Always, Always outweighs the bad. You just have to look for it. And remember, as I have reminded you every day, and will remind you forever,
Love Wins (even against our own bodies),