It wasn’t what I was expecting.
My digestion was off. I was tired all the time. I felt like I was wearing a giant veil over my eyes, trying to find my way through and constantly failing miserably.
When I heard the words “Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis,” I genuinely had no idea what it meant. It sounded even more awful than it felt.
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease where, essentially, the immune system is attacking and destroying the thyroid gland. According to my doctor, not only do I have to take medication for the rest of my life, I also have to overhaul my lifestyle.
According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), approximately 50 million Americans, or one-in-five people, suffer from autoimmune diseases. Women are more likely to be affected than men.
The ability to develop an autoimmune disease is determined by a dominant genetic trait, but that alone doesn’t cause the development of the diseases. The AARDA suggests that families with members who have an autoimmune disease should mention this fact when another member of the family is experiencing medical problems that appear difficult to diagnose.
In my case, my mother is a type one diabetic, and her autoimmune disease affects her pancreas. My doctor explained that because of her diabetes, I was genetically predisposed to an autoimmune disease of my own; in this case, I developed Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Other autoimmune diseases include Addison’s disease, pernicious anemia, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
While on my journey back to health, I learned a few things to help me better cope with my diagnosis:
- A disease doesn’t define who a person is. For me, this was the hardest lesson to learn. When I got my diagnosis, I almost ceased being myself. I became my disease and that, in turn, made learning how to live with it all the more difficult. I discovered, though, that I am still me. A medical diagnosis doesn’t take away a person’s essence. Our hobbies, our careers, our likes, and our dislikes are all the sum total of who we are, not some medical term. When I fully embraced this concept, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis ceased to define me and fell into its appropriate place in the puzzle that is my life.
- Education is key. I knew I was feeling horrible and I knew I needed to do something about it. I discovered books that explained what was happening in my body. I discovered that a gluten-free diet helps make the symptoms more bearable. I also discovered other ways of coping that my doctor didn’t tell me about.
While medical professionals are wonderful for helping answer health-related questions, sometimes they can’t dedicate the necessary time to really teach a person about his or her disorder. By making the choice to educate ourselves, we become empowered to then become our doctor’s partner in our overall healthcare regimens, versus just blindly taking pills and hoping to remember what to tell him or her on our next visit.
- Seek out a support group. There’s an amazing support group on Facebook called Hashimoto’s 411. The members of the group uplift each other and help each other know that someone out there is living the same experience. While the members of the group might be scattered all over the globe, they all have one thing in common: They have this disorder and want to live a normal life with it. This group taught me more than any book ever could have, and it introduced me to new friends—we are all sharing our journeys together and it makes the dark days more bearable.
- Crying is okay, as long as we pick ourselves up. There have been days where I longed to feel like the old me, before my diagnosis. The brain fog alone caused me endless tears—why was I messing up at work? How come I couldn’t remember simple things? When I remembered that it was my Hashimoto’s causing me to act this way, I was able to move forward and forgive myself.
It’s also going to be hard to deal with people, especially those who don’t understand what I am going through. There will be snarky comments at times—but I know I am working hard to take care of myself and that’s the most important thing I can do to honor who I am.
- Not all bad things come to harm. My Hashimoto’s diagnosis was, at first, a bad thing. Now I see it as a positive in my life. I’m eating healthier. I’ve lost weight. I’m taking better care of myself. Before my diagnosis, I didn’t care what I put in my mouth and I lived a stressful lifestyle. When we put a positive spin on something that is hard to deal with, we make an unexpected friend out of an enemy.
Author: Stephanie Longo
Editor: Travis May