How does one even contain a written piece about something that slowly infiltrates your entire life, creeping into every little nook and cranny over a period of years? This, I think, is going to be a hard one to write and keep concise, because just like the effect that is left on my body, Hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s Disease is erratic at best. I will try my best to give some chronological order or at least, symptomatically categorical order.
About three years ago, which happened to be my third year of University I started to get really ill all the time, colds that would turn into nasty chest infections. I had pleurisy at one point, I even got mumps (although that was just a very freak spate that happened to travel around my shared house). This was when I noticed a difference in my health and wellbeing. I started to become tired all the time and in turn found it quite hard to want to leave the house, I noticed that I would get pains in my joints and that my arms and legs constantly felt heavy. I guess I started to put a bit of weight on too, but equated that to my general tiredness. And anyone who has written a thesis or dissertation knows the toll it can take on your body, mind and social life, I become a total hermit.
I have never been a sporty or athletic person but I have always walked everywhere, I have never driven a car in my life and walk on average 45 minutes a day, most days. I had been at a pretty steady and healthy BMI weight for a good few years at this point, with the obvious feminine fluctuations that occur. So at this point three years ago I started to notice a decline in my health, energy levels and slight increase in weight, which were all things I put down to university induced stress. Then my usually very fast working and reliable brain started to fail me more regularly, now, as a bit of a party girl who lived in a shared house with 8 other party people this didn’t worry me too much. I did however have to start putting actual effort into my university work, which was something I had never had to do before, this came as quite a shock to me, but was once again something I could blame on increased work load and course intensity. My grades declined slightly and my memory let me down at times but there was always an excuse for my bodies erratic behaviour at this point: crazy uni schedule, too much partying, uni stress and my general lack of understanding of how to get around London by myself (I still struggle after 6 years here). It was easy to blame my symptoms on other occurrences in my life, from the extensive research I have carried out I can see that often this disease can go unnoticed because there is such a mishmash of symptoms that may rear their heads at random time. I also have found that many sufferers are deemed as being dramatic or suffering from bouts of hypochondria, which is why many go undiagnosed for long periods of time. There were definitely many moments I wondered whether I was suffering from hypochondria when my symptoms first started to flare up.
So third year went by and my health declined further, although if it weren’t for the constant stream of infections and antibiotics that I was put on (at least once a month) I don’t think anyone, including myself would have paid much attention as it is a very gradual and subtle process. I then started a Masters at the same University in the same Anthropology department: one I knew like the back of my hand and knew how to get good grades in, with ease. My first term flew by and I had a few illnesses and still had the constant impending feeling of exhaustion at all times but I did well and went through to the new year of 2012 in reasonably good health. Over the next few months though, I can now in retrospect see that my health slipped considerably. In February I had my first bout of blood poisoning and Cellulitis caused by a bruise that turned into an abscess on my leg, not something you should see in a 22 year old. I took my antibiotics and painkillers that the very busy hospital had issued not realising that this was potentially life threatening and I should probably have been in hospital on an intravenous drip. From this point on all started to decline, my weight started to gradually creep up despite me doing more running around and exercise than ever in my part time job as a nanny and attending the gym three times a week. My grades started to slip as I could no longer trust my notoriously good memory, then the dreaded brain fog started. For anyone that is unaware of this symptom, for me this is the worst symptom of hypothyroidism of all. I would describe it as after a big night out with your friends, when you have around two hours sleep and the next day you try so hard to kick your brain into gear to concentrate on what is happening around you, focus on the conversation or even remember your own friend’s names. That can be hilarious when it happens every so often when perhaps you should have been a little kinder to yourself on a night out, but to someone who prides themselves on their quick wit and fast thinking, it’s an absolute killer.
So my brain and memory had finally started to give up on me. I went to the Doctor a lot through my Masters year trying to put together all the strange little things that were happening to me and to get an explanation for why a healthy 22 year old was getting colds, infections, tonsillitis etc. so frequently. I was turned away at least 5 times saying it was just a viral thing I was probably catching from the kids. I eventually insisted on a blood test, which came up with an Iron deficiency. I was told to go to Boots Drugstore and get some Iron tablets and that everything should get better after that. Like many thyroid patients out there I was failed by my Doctors and the health service, I’m not angry or bitter about this as I know it’s a very hard thing to spot and I had not realised that I had it in the family, but after this point my accumulation of symptoms became out of control leading to the hardest year of my life. I got my Masters results and they were pretty average for someone who happened to be a high achiever, this sent me into a spiral of depression and self-doubt. All these years I had been told that I had a special, insightful and analytical mind, a talent for writing, outstanding people skills and a personality that would help me along my way into working life with ease, but I was left with no confidence in my ability to get a job once I had finished University.
So, here I was not being able to remember things that had happened two days earlier, conversations with my family or best friends, concentration levels so low that I could hardly make it through a paragraph of my favourite book, no energy and an average degree result (which at the time mattered to me, I understand now that I actually did very well considering my circumstances). I had a year in which I truly became a hermit, I couldn’t speak to my friends because I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t my normal witty self but I had no explanation for them as to why this was happening, so it was easier to pretend that they weren’t there than have to admit that something was wrong. By this point my skin all over my body, especially my head was so itchy and dry all the time I was almost obsessively scratching, something that had never affected me before. My self-confidence for the first time in my life became very low as I was constantly doubting my own mind and by this point I had gained around 30lbs in weight for no apparent reason, it is safe to say I felt truly out of control of both my body and mind. I vaguely knew that I wasn’t OK and that things were getting out of control but I couldn’t focus my brain for long enough to notice or do anything about it.
Thank goodness I lived with my best friend at this point who was very supportive about everything and could see my struggle and just went with it at every twist and turn. My boyfriend was also great and tried to help in any way he could. I spoke to my Mom a lot and once again thank goodness for her support and input. So everything came to a head after being a walking zombie for almost a year. I had left Nannying because I didn’t agree with the childcare techniques of one of the families and thought that this could have been the source of my unhappiness. I then contracted in a corporate job for three months, which I was terrible at because I couldn’t get my brain to work for long enough to do the work I was given, I also hated the company but that’s another story. I went to Bestival, which is an amazing music festival in the Isle of White, UK and had the best time with my friends and felt that things could be on the up. I came home to another bout of Cellulitis from a bang on the leg and some nasty blood poisoning, upon visiting the Doctor he couldn’t believe what he was seeing, he described this as ‘the kind of thing little old ladies come in with 4 times a week, not in a fit and healthy 24 year old. He sent me for a lot of blood tests: kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes and hypothyroidism. I had a crazy, nervous three week wait for my results.
My boyfriend cried when we got the results because they were the best of a bad bunch. Not long before we got the results I was sitting on my bed and had an epiphany that I had been having some pretty bi-polar symptoms for a year, and remember a friend had told me when she was sectioned that the first thing they do is check for hypothyroidism as it can unsettle your brain so much. When I got the diagnosis I was given the standard ‘Thyroxine’ NHS tablets and pretty much told, whilst being given a leaflet that my whole life was going to change and improve from the moment I took the tablets. I spent about 3 weeks elated that this magical tablet would fix all of the problems that has slowly set in over the space of three years. I was soon to find out that these tablets were definitely not the miracle cure that I thought they would be and carried on with my struggle for a further 5 months, just with a lot more spirit and hope this time. That is where I am at now and after carrying out a huge amount of research, about a million blood tests, speaking to a lot of different Doctors I am finally making some headway and beginning my journey to recovery, and that is where all of you readers come in, for a little extra help and support and of course so that I can help, support and inform you with what I find out along the way of my recovery discoveries.
Me with my Masters Certificate despite the shortcomings of my disease!