10 Steps to ‘Better’ : How I Reclaimed My Health from Hashimoto’s Part 1
Average Reading Time: 7 minutes
Are you not feeling like yourself since your thyroid diagnosis? Has your energy evaporated, along with your brain power, libido, and inner spark? Is it impossible for you to lose weight? Do you feel cold all the time? Sick all the time? Tired all the time? Are you feeling this way even though your doctor continues to assure you that your thyroid levels are normal and you’re on the right dosage of medication?
If so, you’re not alone. In this two-part blog series, I’ll be sharing my story: from sickness turning me into someone I didn’t recognize, to my reclaiming a vibrant, happy life built on thyroid-healthy choices. Click here to read Part 2.
It’s NOT All In Your Head
One in five women will end up with hypothyroidism in her lifetime. Up to 60% of them will be unaware of their condition. Over 90% of those with hypothyroidism, at least in North America, have an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Many (if not most) of those with Hashimoto’s will be unaware that they have it. Why? Because the conventional standard of care deems the diagnostic antibodies test unnecessary. Why? Because it doesn’t change the course of treatment: Test and monitor TSH only, and treat with synthetic thyroid hormone.
“Easy to treat” is the mainstream attitude towards hypothyroidism. But for many of us actually living with it, that’s not the case. Residua symptoms can plague us, even in spite of TSH testing and medication.
Any of us under the conventional medical umbrella may be refused a complete thyroid panel, may be told that our residual symptoms are unrelated, may be left uneducated and uninformed about our autoimmune diagnosis, may be stuck on treatment that isn’t working, and may be denied the full menu of medication options.
While TSH testing and synthetic thyroid hormone treatment may work for some, it doesn’t work for everyone. It doesn’t address underlying issues like hidden infections, or problems absorbing and/or converting T4 medication into the active form of thyroid hormone, T3.
Sadly, too many of us thyroid patients spend years debilitated and believing that it’s all in our heads, and there’s nothing we can do to relieve residual thyroid symptoms like:
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Joint pain
- Brain fog
- Memory issues
- Dry skin
- Heat and cold intolerance
- Low libido
- Sleep problems
This is but a small portion of a very long list of thyroid-related symptoms. The thyroid is your master gland of metabolism, and when it’s off, it can throw everything out of whack. The good news is that there’s so much you can do to reclaim your health and vitality!
MDs are becoming increasingly aware of these issues with treatment standards due to patient advocacy and research. Open-mindedness to more individualized treatment seems to be growing, but the guidelines remain less than ideal for patients living with hypothyroidism, and medical gaslighting continues to be a problem.
You may not be a doctor, but don’t let someone else tell you how you feel. You’re the #1 expert on that.
How I Healed
Compromised health and quality of life was my hypothyroidism story, until I changed it. I lost the first 4 years of motherhood to chronic fatigue, chronic infections, depression, joint pain, weight gain, and more. I was told to eat less and exercise more, consider an antidepressant, that my feeling “off” was unrelated to my thyroid, and that because my TSH level was fine, I was fine. When I asked about diet and lifestyle changes I was told it wouldn’t make a difference.
Fast-forward 5 years and I know just how faulty that logic was, and exactly how much time and quality of life it cost me. But today I can say for sure that it changed my life for the better, taught me how to take care of and listen to my body, and made me a more empowered patient and thyroid advocate.
Once I reached my breaking point, I took the reins of my health, started educating myself, and began to build a whole-health support system that helped me turn things around and get my life back QUICKLY. Today, I want to share that healing journey with you.
Keep in mind that everyone’s journey looks different. We all have unique root causes and bio-individual needs and sensitivities. What worked for me may not be right for you, and you should always consult with your own healthcare professionals before implementing changes.
My journey was guided by so many of the expert recommendations shared in what has become an entire shelf of thyroid-health books in my personal library. Experts like Amy Myers MD and Dr. Izabella Wentz charted the maps for us, and we are so lucky to have that. This is the route my healing journey took, which may look different than your own.
Please, honor your path, and take hope from mine.
HOPE, and Why You Should Have It
Before we begin, I want to start with the happy ending (spoiler alert): I feel better. I FEEL BETTER! I. Feel. Better.
There have been victories and there have been setbacks. New challenges have arisen, my body has changed with age, and the work of making healthy life choices is never done, but I got my life and my spark back, and I am on a healthy and sustainable track.
After four years of compromised health, I forgot it was possible to feel like myself again, but these days I do, most of the time, which feels like a pretty huge victory.
I have gotten back so much of my energy, which in turn has helped with EVERYTHING– my mood, my brain fog, my recovery time, my ability to dodge viruses and not be knocked down by them for abnormally long periods of time. I can exercise and adventure again without feeling wrecked for days afterward. My joint pain and inflammation have lessened, which is aided by the fact that I can stay active and therefore strong.
I used to feel like I was living in a body a decade older than my own. Now, I feel like a normal 40-something.
I made progress because I got the RIGHT kind of help and advice, and because I did the work. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has progressively gotten easier. Making new and healthier choices has become my new normal. I can still let my hair down and enjoy life, but I also know what my limits are and how to recover from slip-ups.
Most importantly, I’ve learned to listen to the wisdom of my body, and to honor the feedback it gives me. That connection grows deeper every day, and I love knowing how to give my body what it needs to thrive, and how to indulge and let loose without overdoing it. To me, that is true and complete health care.
I am grateful to have the support of optimal medication that works for me, and I am also grateful to know the whole-life, whole-health tools that keep me feeling vibrant and energized. None of that would have been possible without the help of finding a support system of health practitioners who treated me as a whole person and helped me optimize my health, and eliminate residual symptoms.
For a condition that is considered “easy to treat,” it sure has changed every aspect of my life, and happily, for the better. My healing journey didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. In hopes that you may find yourself in my story, and be helped by it, I’m honored to share it with you.
I’ve outlined my journey in this two-part series. Here are the first 5 steps that helped me reclaim my health:
STEP 1: Coming Out of the Thyroid Closet
There is an undercurrent of shame around aging and disease in our culture. As thyroid patients, we take our synthetic thyroid hormone and try to pretend we’re not tired all damn day. We try to contain our issues to the privacy of our medicine cabinets and we don’t talk about it openly. At the doctor’s office, we try to be good little patients who don’t question the doctor’s advice, even when that wise little voice inside us has questions, or disagrees.
This critical, and (in some ways) most difficult, first step must be mentioned. When we decide to try and heal our bodies (or minds, or souls, for that matter), it makes a statement of acknowledgment that there is something to heal, and that takes courage. It also takes a commitment to self-care, sometimes radical self-care, and some of us mistakenly associate that with selfishness. In order to heal, one must first acknowledge the wound, the disease, the so-called imperfection inside us. And then we must love and accept ourselves enough to make our health a priority.
People close to me got squirmy and expressed discomfort with my coming out of the ‘thyroid closet’. They discouraged me when my life and livelihood veered into thyroid advocacy. Why would I want to highlight and focus my work on my so-called imperfection?
Because shame wouldn’t help me get my health back, and neither would symptom-masking medications that didn’t address the root cause.
The problem is that healing does not happen by keeping things hidden. More symptom-masking can occur, as well as further damage to the thyroid. There is a risk for worsening thyroid issues, like nodules or cancer. With Hashimoto’s there is also an increased risk of developing additional autoimmune conditions, many of which are debilitating.
Learning those things got my attention. And I guess I just reached a point where I was done pretending I didn’t feel sick and tired. So I threw insecurity to the wind and went public that I was struggling with this so-called imperfection. I surrendered to it, and allowed it to change me for the better.
In case you need to hear it, you are welcome to name and accept your health issues from within the embrace of this supportive community. Welcome to the age of information, connection, and empowerment. Pull up a chair! The possibilities here are endless.
The quest to improve and protect your health is worth it. Even if it means your friends and family are sometimes disappointed or inconvenienced by what that entails. Take deep breaths, do the personal inner work, and then take the leap. This quest has its challenges, but it can be a profoundly positive thing.
Further Reading: Self Acceptance: Loving the Perfectly Imperfect You
STEP 2: Getting Educated
I’ve learned so much from every book in my growing thyroid library, as well as online resources. There are too many amazing resources and experts to list, so I’m going to keep this limited to my top 3 reading essentials.
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Cause by Dr. Izabella Wentz
- The Thyroid Connection: Why You Feel Tired, Brain-Fogged, and Overweight– and How to Get Your Life Back by Amy Myers MD
- Living Well with Hypothyroidism: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Tell You… That You Need to Know by Mary Shomon
These have been the most helpful books on my healing journey. They are littered with sticky-tags and emblazoned with highlighter. While each book has its own thumbprint, these author-experts created a road map for this journey. They all share the stories of how they reclaimed their health and helped others do the same.
Reading these books reminded me that I’m not alone, I’m not crazy, and it’s not all in my head. Better yet, they showed me that there were things I could do about my compromised health. They empowered me and helped me get more out of my medical appointments. They saved me money. Ultimately, they started me down the right track to solving the mystery behind my Hashimoto’s.
STEP 3: I Recorded My Health History
I opened a blank document and started at the very beginning: a childhood home along the banks of a polluted river, a fluoridated water supply, an increasingly industrialized food supply, antibiotics galore, the standard American diet—you know, a typical 1980s American childhood.
Later, there was an incident that required emergency surgery and a hospital stay: an ectopic pregnancy that ruptured. In the aftermath came shingles, anxiety, and a noticeable increase in hair loss. One year later, there was chronic and debilitating stomach pain, investigated with endoscopy (among other diagnostic tests), and treated as acid reflux with long-term PPIs, but never diagnosed with certainty.
In 2011, there was the birth of my son via C-section, and two months later, a postpartum hypothyroidism diagnosis.
Following my hypothyroidism diagnosis, my energy declined, slowly but noticeably, in spite of normal TSH numbers with Levothyroxine treatment. Paralleling my increasing fatigue was an increase in viruses and infections, which warranted multiple courses of antibiotics. My diet required more and more attention to maintain a healthy weight, and I was gaining weight on a calorie-restricted diet. My overall health profile was at odds with the demands of my life as an active mom, and passionate individual with goals and dreams to accomplish. It was taking a toll on my entire existence, including my mental health.
Once I put it all down on paper, the story of my health was laid out in undeniable clarity. I bulletpointed my goals and challenges, and began tracking the interventions I was implementing, like going gluten-free or taking probiotics. In this way, I could review results and side effects, both positive and negative, and notice patterns.
Having a health timeline has been one of the most powerful tools in my thyroid tool box. I continue to update it regularly.
With this clear and complete perspective, along with a list of specific questions and concerns, it was time to find someone to help me unravel the mystery of my health.
STEP 4: I Hired a Detective
I had been struggling for four years and still had no idea I even had Hashimoto’s. My original doc never tested me for Hashimoto’s, because it didn’t change her standard course of treatment: TSH testing and synthetic thyroid hormone, probably for life. Meanwhile, my body was quietly carrying out an ongoing autoimmune attack on my thyroid, unbeknownst to me.
She was okay with that ongoing treatment plan. I wasn’t.
I set out to find not just a new doctor, but a private health investigator who could help me solve the mysteries behind my declining health, who could help me choose which rocks to look under, and formulate a plan for finding the root cause.
The right doctor can take many forms, and the best option for me was a local ND (naturopath). It was not an easy decision to spend money out of pocket for medical care when we were already paying for health insurance. But after hearing time and again from experts and from my growing hypothyroid community that a whole-health approach was crucial, I decided to make an investment in my health.
Today, I can tell you it has been absolutely worth it. It took time to find the right doctor. I had to wait 6 weeks for a new patient appointment. I had to take all kinds of tests. There have been supplements, dietary changes, lifestyle changes, and more…And it’s all been 100% worth it.
P.S. My ND was thrilled to have my health timeline.
Further Reading: What IS a Good Doctor?
STEP 5: Testing, Testing, Testing…
While I was searching for Dr. Right and then waiting for my initial appointment, I asked my GP if she would run a full panel of thyroid tests. By this time I had learned that up to 95% of people with hypothyroidism (in the U.S.) have Hashimoto’s, or autoimmune thyroiditis. I figured I was probably one of them, but having never been tested, I still didn’t know.
My GP agreed to run a complete thyroid panel, and when her nurse called to inform me that I had Hashimoto’s, she said that it was what the doctor had “expected”. If she expected it, why hadn’t she tested me for it, or educated me about it?
In that moment, something shifted in me and broke. I wanted answers. I wanted my life back. I was DONE letting someone else tell me it was all in my head, and I was DONE accepting this compromised health and quality of life.
It may have been rock bottom, but it was also the beginning of my recovery. At that moment, I took the reins and became the CEO of my health. And it all started with getting an accurate and complete thyroid diagnosis.
Now that I had a clearer picture of what was at play in my body, it was time to dig deeper in search of the root cause.
My ND helped me work within a budget, prioritizing which tests were most important to our investigation. Nearly every bodily substance was tested for hormone imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, food allergies, parasites, and bacteria, all of which can be associated with Hashimoto’s.
Some of it wasn’t fun, like getting six vials of blood drawn in one sitting, or collecting samples of things we normally flush down the toilet (eew). But the payoff was huge. It gave us a more comprehensive picture of what was going on behind the scenes in my body and revealed a number of hidden issues. All those vials and samples provided us with clues that were key to me getting my life back.
Further Reading: Why You Should Get Tested for Hashimoto’s
Be sure to check out Part 2 of this article, where I cover the next five steps I took to reclaim my health from Hashimoto’s.