Managing Thyroid Disease

My “Secret” Story of Managing Hypothyroidism

I first want to start off by saying I do not want pity from this post. I am simply writing it to educate others and maybe relate to others who have the same issue. Of all the health issues I could have, this is probably on a less severe scale and I am very grateful for that. I generally have great health, so much so that I have never missed work for being sick. I also had perfect attendance from 4th grade until high school graduation. So, this is just a minor bump in the road and I’m glad it’s being handled before it became something more severe.

None of my friends know about this issue. I haven’t talked to my parents about this much recently. They knew of the original issue when I was in college, but that’s it. A few of my coworkers know a little bit just because with having to take off work for some appointments, I felt it necessary to explain a bit. In fact, my 8th grade administrator was the first person (other than my sister) that I mentioned this to. The only person (besides doctors of course) who truly knows the full story is my sister.

I chose to disclose most of this information because:

1- The more I talked about it, the more it consumed my mind and worried me. If I just handled it head on without the constant reminder through conversations, I figured it’d be easier for me mentally.

2- I didn’t want people to freak out or make a big deal. So I apologize in advance if that offends any of my friends or family, but again I don’t think that would have helped the situation. I don’t want pity or constant concern when I’m generally fine.

3- The person I’m closest to, Leila (my sister), knew about everything and honestly she’s the only one I felt comfortable telling all the details to at the time. She’s my best friend. She understands me. She lives with me. I felt okay to break down crying to her for a bit in order to find the strength deep down within me.

4- I also feel that as an adult, I am entitled to keep certain things primarily to myself and this was one of them.

**Any medical terms will be linked to a source that explains each thing in detail.**

Basically the thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland in your neck. The thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) controls the hormonal output. So a normal TSH level range could be .450 -4.500 uIU/mL (I am pulling this from the form I receive from my doctor). Anything above that range would be hypothyroidism(under-active) and anything below that range would be hyperthyroidism (overactive).

So where to start…

I think it was back when I was in college that I had some blood tests run. I can’t really remember the reason why, but I think it was because we were trying to narrow down why I was passing out/fainting easily. So the report showed that I had slight hypothyroidism. At the time I didn’t really understand it. I knew some family members who dealt with thyroid issues, but the endocrine system is a bit complex. I was put on synthetic thyroid medication. However, I didn’t want to take it.

I am totally against taking lifelong medication (check out my At Home Remedies post) especially at a young age. The human body becomes reliant on medication and then come side effects that you have to manage as well. You have to watch what you eat or drink with medication, you have to take it at a certain time, or avoid certain things in your life just because of a tiny little pill. It’s ridiculous.

I DO NOT want to be that adult who just pops pills for the rest of my life to cope with a situation. I truly believe the best health comes from a positive mindset and healthy habits that include eating right and physical exercise. I was stubborn and still am because this is my body. This is my life. If I do not believe in something, why should I adhere to it? So that was that. It came up again a few times with some other doctors who ran blood tests. I still never really followed through because I felt fine for the most part. I looked at the symptoms for hypothyroidism and didn’t experience most of the symptoms and signs.

So fast forward to the Fall of 2014. My gynecologist felt my neck and noticed that my thyroid was enlarged. She thought it might be a goiter. She referred me to a doctor to get an ultrasound on my neck just to make sure everything was okay. I got the ultrasound right before New Year’s Eve 2014 and started off the year knowing I had a nodule (like a bump or growth) on my thyroid.

I was then referred to the endocrinologist to run more blood tests and I was put on synthetic thyroid medication again. The blood test following the medication showed that my thyroid levels went down, so it was working.

We went ahead and scheduled a fine needle thyroid aspiration biopsy for the beginning of March 2015. Essentially, a tiny needle is dug into the neck to grab a sample of thyroid cells to send to a lab. If you know me, you know that when it comes to needles or medical situations, I can sometimes pass out or get light headed. [Side note: I’ve passed out prior to getting my ears pierced, seeing my sister get blood drawn, and at work.] Luckily I’ve managed to cope with the psychological triggers and have ways to prevent myself from passing out because I am now more aware of when it’s coming.

With that being said, I was pretty nervous to think about the fact that I would be awake while a needle was digging into my neck. MY NECK! That is right by my face and eyes. I watched some videos online to kind of get an idea of what to expect. It seemed like a pretty quick and fairly painless process. I took a half day from work and brought my sister along. Unfortunately she couldn’t come to the room, but she was there in case I couldn’t drive home.

Before the biopsy, the doctor gave me some notes. I also did some research of my own and came prepared with questions. Before any procedure, it's a good idea to ask questions to ease your concerns.
Before the biopsy, the doctor gave me some notes. I also did some research of my own and came prepared with questions. Before any procedure, it’s a good idea to ask questions to ease your concerns.

To my surprise, it was super fast and not so bad. I didn’t get light headed or sick. I didn’t even have to wear a bandage on my neck; it was just slightly red like I had a bug bite. The nurses numbed my neck with this freeze spray which was super cold. Then the doctor passed the needle on my neck a few times and I just closed my eyes until it was done. I mainly felt pressure in my neck which was uncomfortable, but other than that the needle didn’t brutally hurt. The only thing I did notice was that I felt the need to constantly apply pressure to my neck right after the procedure, but the next day I was fine.

A few weeks later, I was so thankful to find out that the nodule was benign (non-cancerous). So, we just had to keep an eye on it. I spoke with the doctor about possibly just monitoring my TSH levels instead of just taking the meds. So I went for routine blood tests and talks with him about the issue.

In January of this year (2016), my TSH level was 8.030 uIU/mL and were still above the reference range. He told me that it’s not something that will kill me and to continue monitoring thorough bi-yearly blood tests. The “magic” number was 10. If I reached 10 uIU/mL, he said it would be more concerning.

Well last week I had my routine blood test, came in today to discuss the results, and found out my current TSH level is 12.520 uIU/mL. To be honest, I started crying. I know this isn’t a big deal, but I was just absolutely frustrated. Out of all the people I know personally (besides my sister), I feel as though I have overall really amazing health and habits. I workout 5-7 days a week for at least an hour each time. I track my sugar intake. I plan healthy meals. I don’t consume any animal products. So, when you work this hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle and then you hear that you are past the “bad zone”, it’s highly defeating.

Here's a snapshot of the printout I received with my TSH level and the reference range for TSH.
Here’s a snapshot of the printout I received with my TSH level and the reference range for TSH.

The doctor continued to explain that there’s not much I can do habit or health wise to fix this and that it’s more so genetic. He told me I could wait 3 months and check it again, but I was like, “at this point it’s inevitable and I can’t keep avoiding it.” There’s also nothing I can really do (from what he has told me and from what I’ve researched) to naturally improve this situation. So, I am now prescribed a low dosage of Levothyroxine (synthetic thyroid hormone) to regulate my TSH.

I’m not thrilled. I never will be. I hate that it’s something I can’t control. I hate the idea of taking medication for life. However, I had my soppy, 90 seconds of suffering moment…okay maybe it was a little longer, but then I realized it’s okay. I had to pull myself together in the parking lot before driving to the gym by telling myself to move on. Like I said before this is minuscule compared to what others are having to deal with health wise.

It’s interesting because in the waiting room I was reading Love Louder by Preston Smiles (Click the link to purchase it on Amazon. I HIGHLY recommend it!). In chapter 9, titled “Embrace the Breakdown”, Preston discusses how we shouldn’t try to avoid emotions and push them away. We need to go through those emotions, but not dwell on them. He even says,

“Give yourself full permission to experience whatever is coming up at that time. For example, if it’s sadness and you feel a good cry coming on, don’t bottle that up. Allow yourself to fully go there.” -Preston Smiles

At first I felt really mad at myself and embarrassed that I cried in front of the doctor over something that isn’t the end of the world. However, in that moment I was frustrated and that’s the way the emotion came out…in tears. Overall, I’m okay. I’m alive. I’m generally healthy. I have a lot going for myself and my future. I’m not going to let one setback hold ME back.

Now to wrap this novel up…

I start the medication tomorrow. The only thing I’m really hoping it will help with is my chronic fatigue which I think has caused me to be more emotional, which then has caused me to be less motivated. I told the doctor that’s the only major symptom I noticed that I experience. No matter how much I sleep, or how consistent I am with bed times and wake up times, I constantly feel drugged. Not just tired after work feeling; it’s the feeling of being on Benadryl, but forcing yourself to stay awake. I swear I have felt like a zombie while at work and then driving home from work, so it’s definitely scary at times.

Fingers crossed it helps my exhaustion and fatigue because that is my only big complaint about my health that I can’t seem to pinpoint.

Anyway, if you read all of this, thanks for “listening”. If you are someone out there who is recently affected by thyroid disease maybe this will provide you some comfort. I’ll try to give an update after my next blood test (end of September).