Raising the bar

I was diagnosed with “post-partum thyroiditis” after the birth of my first baby. I didn’t know anything about the condition at the time, and the medical explanations provided by my carers may as well have been in Chinese, but I was put on medication to address my symptoms, told it may eventually self-correct, and also told by more than one person that it wasn’t a big deal. And that was how I related to all this – not a big deal, and effectively dealt with.

After almost 9 years, I’m coming to realise some home truths about thyroid disease, and they way in which this health complication has affected me.

A few years into my diagnosis, I began taking a more proactive approach to my health. This was at the prompting of my Mum, who had begun her own research into her diagnosis of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an auto-immune condition that renders the thyroid gland unable to effectively do its job of producing thyroid hormones to service every cell of the body. I began reading and researching, and learning what I could do to improve my health and prevent progression of the condition. I made some significant dietary changes which made a difference and greatly improved my blood test results. I wanted to be sure that I was doing everything I could, so I took my newfound knowledge to my GP, but as she openly explained, she didn’t have the training to know what to do with any of the suggested testing. After some time, I sought the help of a naturopath who was able to give me some further support, but in the end I didn’t achieve the sort of progress I was seeking.

Four years on, I was fed up with being on a medication that none of my healthcare practitioners seemed to want to help me get off. As time has gone on, and I’ve continued researching, I’ve learned that there are many people that have put their thyroid conditions into remission. I’ve also discovered the longer term serious health implications of not addressing this issue at the root cause. And more alarmingly, I’ve come to realise that so many of the symptoms that I have put up with and accepted as part of Mum-life or as a personal failing, are likely due to being under-medicated as well as stemming from deeper root causes.

After what feels like a very long time, I’ve finally begun working with a wholistic integrative GP who has a much better understanding as to the workings of thyroid disfunction. After 2 consultations and one set of testing, we’ve already uncovered a few key issues that may well be at the root of my thyroid related symptoms.

What does all this have to do with me being absent from the online space these past months? Whilst I won’t bore you with all the many and varied symptoms, there are some key ones that I have been challenged with this year, that have made it difficult to be here. Namely:

  • Fatigue, exhaustion, lack of energy;
  • Mood swings, anxiety, depression, overwhelm, irritability, despair;
  • Brain fog, forgetfulness, confusion.

I’m not sharing my challenges in a bid for sympathy. Rather I want to offer you the courtesy of an explanation, as well as be open about my challenges which I am well aware affect SO MANY others in our society, but which we feel too embarrassed or ashamed to speak about. I tend to be a pretty open book, but when it comes to issues around mental and emotional health or our ability to cope with day to day life, even I can feel awkward in speaking openly and honestly. Truth be told, I find it easier to share in a forum like this to get the conversation started.

The thing is, awareness and acceptance of mental illness has come a long way with all the various campaigns encouraging us to open up, seek help, or ask each other “R U OK?” But the thing that I feel I must express in this instance, given my experiences, is that there is so much more to this issue that we really need to address. Here’s why:

  • I spent a period of time a few years back on anti-depressant medication, which I now know may have been better addressed by more adequate treatment of my thyroid disfunction. This is not to say that anti-depressants are never indicated, but that in my case, they acted as a band aid solution with unpleasant side effects both when taking them and when coming off them. How many of us are medicated for the symptom, rather than the cause?
  • Your medical professional does not necessarily have all the answers. I spent hundreds of dollars seeking the advice of a medical specialist that I assumed (without a thought!) had all the knowledge to properly treat me. As it turns out, this endocrinologist didn’t test some of the basic markers that could have better addressed my condition – my GP did more comprehensive testing. This is not a criticism of medical professionals in general (I believe mine cared and were doing the best they knew how with the knowledge they had), or a suggestion that you should not consult the relevant medical professional for your health concerns – it is simply to say that they DON’T NECESSARILY have ALL the answers, and we need to be responsible and proactive in our own healthcare.
  • The embarrassment or shame that so many of us still feel when suffering from these issues can prevent us from taking responsibility and further action and advocating for ourselves. It took me a long time to work up the courage to seek the help of a naturopath, and when that didn’t work out, an additional 4 years to prioritise my health enough to seek out and invest in an integrative GP. Despite knowing logically that I needed to do this, the insidiousness of mental health related issues left me feeling unworthy, feeling like my difficulties were self-induced, and I was unable to consistently hold the conviction that I needed to seek better help. Also, my lack of mental clarity had me constantly questioning and second guessing myself and what I’ve learnt through my research.
  • In addition and related to the last point, it infuriates me that so many of us hold such low standards for what it means to be well. As a mum of young kids, it anguishes me that so many mums believe that feeling vital, energetic, glowing, and fantastic is too much to ask or unrealistic. We seem to be soaked in this depressing consensus that to be a mum means to feel constantly exhausted, to prioritise everyone and everything else above our own wellbeing, that taking excellent care of ourselves is an indulgent luxury (that is sometimes shamed when it is witnessed), and that a respectable and decent mother and/or member of society must get over herself when she’s feeling not-so-great and soldier on. I am not immune – I found it so easy to passionately promote the supreme importance of self care, yet putting those beliefs into action has proven to be a confronting challenge, and one that I continue to face.  I recently heard someone speaking on the topic of self care, and they made a point which really hit home to me. She commented that we so often hear the self-care metaphor about the oxygen mask in an air emergency: fit your own mask before helping others.  Whilst taking the advice of this metaphor seems a wise and sensible move, there is a subtle problem with it – we only need the oxygen mask in an emergency.  So many of us wait until disaster, when there is no other option than to prioritise ourselves, reducing the guilt or fear of judgement and criticism.  The truth is, we’d be so much better off tending to our own needs as a priority before the #@$% hits the fan.  If we truly prioritised our wellbeing, we’d effectively avoid getting to the point of emergency through neglect.

I am ok.  I am not gravely ill, and I finally feel confident that I’m moving in the right direction towards better health even though I understand that the path forward may not be smooth sailing. Time will tell whether I need the help and support of additional health care professionals, but I know that if need be, they are out there and I can seek them out to guide and support me on my journey towards true wellbeing.

I don’t have all the answers to the issues that I’ve raised, but the urge to start the conversation has felt increasingly important these past few weeks. My hope is that this at least gets you thinking about your own life and your own wellbeing, and if need be, it prompts you to raise your standards, become proactive, and seek further help.


Thyroid Disfunction and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

It has been said that as much as 28% of our population is afflicted with thyroid disfunction – that’s more than a ¼ of the population – and so often it goes undiagnosed or undertreated. The symptoms are many and varied, can be debilitating, and can lead to the development of additional auto-immune conditions. For more information, I suggest checking out the work of Dr Izabella Wentz here.