Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, and this post is not a substitute for professional care. This is meant for informational purposes only. Consult with a medical professional before making any changes.
Over the last six months, my health silently deteriorated to a point that prompted me to get a few blood tests done, and I was told shortly thereafter that I have Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid gland. While this diagnosis is very recent, I am sharing my experience in an effort to make others feel less “crazy” (as I did with all of my symptoms) and to seek medical care if any of these symptoms sounds familiar. You’ll see why as you read further.
Beginning in November 2017, my sleep really started to suffer, and I would wake up exhausted even after a full night’s rest. As a morning person, this was unusual for me. I was training for a Crossfit competition with some friends at the time, so I chalked it up to pushing too hard and perhaps being overly stressed. This may have been the cause, but this is the beginning of my downhill spiral.
My digestion has always been inconsistent, but it was kicked into high gear towards the end of December and has continued since then. My period disappeared shortly thereafter, and when I returned from a trip to El Salvador in February, my stomach was in a sufficient amount of pain. Again, I’m no stranger to digestive issues, but extreme bloating and pain in my upper stomach was foreign to me.
I called my GP back home, and he said I had likely contracted a parasite while traveling and prescribed me an antibiotic. Within a few days, the pain subsided.
I was hopeful after experiencing some relief from my stomach pain—I needed a health win at that point—but things continued to go downhill after that trip.
- Sleep – I was unable to fall asleep, and when I did, I would be wide awake at 2-3 in the morning with a racing heart, only to fall asleep an hour or two later and wake up completely exhausted.
- Night Sweats – I experienced night sweats frequently despite sleeping in a 65-degree apartment, and I was soaked through my clothes and onto my sheets. This has since subsided in the last two weeks (win!).
- Extreme fatigue – As I noted above, I have been an energetic morning person my entire life, so wanting to crawl under my desk at 2pm was not only odd, but really uncomfortable. I had to pinch myself to stay awake during meetings and while driving, and it felt as though my eyelids were attached to weights. Not the best look at work.
- Inability to complete workouts – I’ve been doing Crossfit for almost four years; attending classes at least three times per week. While I can certainly see a connection with my performance and stressful periods in my life, I struggled to make it through one or two workouts per week. It felt as though I had 10% of the fuel in the tank that I normally did. I was eating enough and taking plenty of rest days, but my body just couldn’t do it.
- Vertigo – this was really concerning to me, and I first experienced it while driving about six weeks ago after never experiencing it previously. This continued for a few weeks and has since subsided in frequency.
- Brain Fog – This is one of the most frustrating symptoms, and I’m currently experiencing this full force. Hence the reason it’s taking me far, far too long to write this postJ I have been under-slept many times (as most people are) and have experienced slower brain-processing speed as a result, but this is different. I lose my words frequently and feel as though my brain and life are moving through mud.
- Mood changes – there is entirely too much stigma around anxiety and depression, but both of these are common with Hashimoto’s. I have been a fairly even-keeled and calm person for most of my life, save for my low-carb dieting days (I was SO moody), but I began experiencing anxiety with my heart beating out of my chest at the most random times, and I would then feel down for hours afterwards. I also found myself to be more short-tempered, and things that typically wouldn’t bother me in the slightest were causing me to snap. These swings have lessened since I’ve made a concerted effort to stop intense exercise and meditate more, but they’re still showing up on a weekly basis.
- Inflammation – I have gained around ten pounds since February, and while I’m sure some of that is water weight due to the inflammation, the sudden changes were another sign that something wasn’t right. This was especially true after Crossfit workouts—I was unable to put pants on the next day and my joints were throbbing for days after.
I want to emphasize that these symptoms can certainly be attributable to a multitude of underlying issues, and based on what I have read thus far, everyone’s triggers for autoimmune diseases are different and multi-factorial. I would caution anyone against assuming Hashimoto’s if any of the symptoms above resonate. This was simply my experience, and the combination of them prompted concerns over the state of my health.
Essentially, I felt and continue to feel like I have a gnarly combination of a hangover and PMS all the time.
My quality of life seemed to be deteriorating by the day, and I was starting to feel like a stranger in my own body and mind. I told myself that these issues would resolve themselves and that I was likely being overly dramatic. After all, we live in an under-slept society, so everyone is tired. Who am I to think I’m special and complain?
I was discussing my concerns with my hair stylist (the keepers of all secrets), and she suggested I see a Nurse Practitioner who had recently joined the salon. She specializes in women’s hormones, was able to draw blood on the spot, and she’s relatively inexpensive. I firmly believe that knowledge is power, so I made an appointment to get a status update.
As I understand it, most traditional doctors will only check TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and perhaps T3 and T4, and after mulling over all of my labs from the last five years, I can confirm this to be true in my experience. None of them included thyroid antibodies. For some reason, this nurse checked my TSH, Free T3, Free T4, and my TPO antibodies (one of two thyroid antibodies), and my antibodies were well above the reference ranges (many consider under 35 IU/ml to be normal; mine were 485 IU/ml).
Upon hearing I had Hashimoto’s, I was simultaneously relieved (I’m not crazy!) and scared, as I didn’t know anything about it. I scheduled an appointment with a new-to-me doctor that night (I rarely go to the doctor, so I don’t have a local GP), and I began obsessively reading about Hashimoto’s in hopes of reading stories of remission.
I don’t like to be in a position where I feel helpless—in fact, I despise it. My doctor doesn’t want to put blinders on and assume the root cause of anything I’m experiencing, which I greatly appreciate, but left to my own devices, I will take action into my own hands.
This means I’ve been listening to an endless number of podcasts and reading books and blogs about others’ experiences in an effort to arm myself with information and questions for my doctor. However, this has also been a source of additional stress for me—something my body doesn’t need at the moment—so I’m making a concerted effort to take a breather right now and wait for more information.
What I’ve Learned Thus Far
- Autoimmune diseases are confusing AF, and there doesn’t appear to be a lot of conclusive evidence on how to put them into remission. What works for one person doesn’t work for another, so a sufficient amount of trial and error seems inevitable.
- I haven’t done a Crossfit workout in about three weeks, and a few of the symptoms like joint pain, waking in the middle of the night, and night sweats have greatly dissipated since then. Based on this, I’m guessing Hashimoto’s isn’t the only issue here, or perhaps the intense workouts were exacerbating the issue.
- Hashimoto’s primarily affects women, as do most autoimmune diseases.
- Most traditional doctors won’t test for thyroid antibodies unless your thyroid hormones are out of range. However, increased antibodies may eventually lead to damage of the thyroid and subsequent hypothyroidism. As such, if you don’t feel well despite normal hormone ranges, it may not be a bad idea to request the antibodies. Based on my most recent set of labs, I may have caught the progression early enough before damage has been done to my thyroid.
- The vast majority of remission stories I’ve read involved partnership with a functional/alternative medicine doctor as opposed to an endocrinologist or GP. I believe this is primarily due to the lack of evidence around appropriate treatment, so traditional doctors are less inclined to go through a process of trial and error to reduce antibodies (**note that I’m completely speculating here). I’m hoping I can leverage my traditional doctor and alternative approaches as needed, but only time will tell.
- Dietary interventions may help. Some sources say everyone with Hashimoto’s should be strictly gluten free, while others claim there is only a small percentage of people who benefit from such a change. As I noted above, everyone’s triggers and experiences with autoimmune diseases are different, so there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. I intend to make as few lifestyle changes as possible to experience progress, but I am gluten-free for now under the direction of my doctor. I don’t want to be a hero or dogmatic unnecessarily.
- I need to be more forthcoming when it comes to advocating for my health. It’s common for healthy people to become obsessive about their health and blow things out of proportion, and oftentimes the fundamental bases like sleep, nutrition, social connection, stress, and movement still need to be addressed. I always turn to these first, but my symptoms were beginning to seem insurmountable alone, despite making changes to my lifestyle.
I feared being labeled as dramatic or a hypochondriac, so I began to doubt my experiences and plowed through as best I could. I have read many stories of women with Hashimoto’s doing the same thing, only to have seriously deteriorated health (and thyroid glands) years later. We don’t need to have it all together, all the time.
- Health issues likes this can be isolating, as they’re not readily apparent to others. I can put on a happy face, pretend like I feel like myself, and act like all is well, and I was doing this for a few months. This diagnosis has liberated me in a sense, as I can put a name to my experience, but I should have been more forthcoming about my struggles sooner. I’m fortunate to have tremendous support in family and friends, and one of my girlfriends is going through a very similar experience (we were both diagnosed within the same week), so we’re supporting eachother through the challenges.
After telling a wise friend about my disappointment with the diagnosis, she responded by telling me to feel the negativity, frustration, anger, and sadness, but that I’m not allowed to stay there. That place can’t become my new normal. Ever since that conversation, my emotions have subtly shifted towards acceptance and hope, and I intend to continue expanding upon this growth mindset.
I currently oscillate between feeling hopeless, disappointed, and overwhelmed—wondering if I’m ever going to feel like my old self physically, emotionally, and mentally again or if it’s going to get worse—and then being grateful for this experience. I’ve known deep-down for some time that I need to slow down and stop pushing myself, and this is forcing me to do so.
I still have every intention of focusing on my health and getting back to baseline as quickly as possible, but I also know there are great lessons to be learned during these experiences.
Given the high number of women who suffer from Hashimoto’s, I’ll share my experiences here in the hopes of helping and connecting with others. I’d love to hear about your experiences too!