Hypothyroid: One Year(ish) After Starting Treatment

Well, this malady definitely has its ups and downs. It’s lovely that there is such a quick fix for it in the form of a little pill, unlike many other maladies that could befall me, but man do I wish my body would pick a lane.

I’m still feeling significantly better than before, but my symptoms are slowly escalating again. My thoughts are creeping back into the sticky and sluggish.

Unfortunately, living with hypothyroidism means trying to hit an ever-moving target — produce/take too little T4, you’ll suddenly find yourself too tired to move. Take too much, and suddenly you’re facing heart-palpitations and other unpleasant side-effects. Fortunately, I have yet to experience the latter, but the former fatigue has been steadily creeping back up on me.

It’s been a slow march back toward my old symptoms, so small at first I was pretty sure I was imagining it. Dry skin on my face and feet, my hair has stopped growing as quickly (though oh WOW is it long now, and thick!), my nails are back to breaking easily, my weight loss has slowed considerably, and the ever-present Exhaustion, my frequent companion, has returned to gum up my brain.

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Puffy faced, for sure. I miss my old heart-shaped face, and also having a consistent single chin.

I’ve been here before. SIGH.

So, off we go with a new, higher dose again!

My dose has recently been adjusted by my new endocrinologist, based on my symptoms. I’m *so* glad he was willing to listen and try a higher dose, unlike my last doctor (lord knows I’m nowhere near hyperthyroid). I’ve been boosted to 88 MCG from 75, and already I can feel a spike of energy. Placebo? Maybe, but I’ll take the clearer thinking any day of the week, mind over matter or not. They’ll retest me in six weeks to see what it does to my TSH, T3 and T4.

I also asked my new doctor about diet, and he told me that, in his opinion, the diet side of my specific condition is unrelated–it shouldn’t impact anything, provided I’m eating healthfully and in a balanced way. Considering I don’t have the gastro-intestinal issues that many hypothyroid folks experience, I’ll continue to eat my broccoli and whole grains in all their various and healthy forms.

I’m going to utilize this spike of energy to start working out consistently again. My husband and I were doing great (weight training 3-4 times a week) until his gall bladder gave up the ghost, we moved across states onto an island (in the summer in the 95 degree humidity heat, lol), said some really hard but expected goodbyes, and then spent the last month or so settling in and replacing appliances that were literally making us sick (garbage disposals are gross–that’s all I’m going to say about that).

It’s been a whirlwind, but life is slowly settling back down to normal, which means it’s time to prioritize a healthy lifestyle.

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Unfortunately, T4 won’t help me become less of a messy person, though I’ll have more energy to pick up, if not the will!

I’ll check back with you in a few weeks (probably six from now when I get my levels tested again) with an update on the combination of working out consistently 3-5x a week and the new dosage. 🙂

Hypothyroidism: Month Three

So, fun fact about hypothyroidism: if you have this condition, you get to go back in for blood testing once a month to check your levels until they even out. You’d think I’d be over my blood phobia at this point (the edges of my vision go dark any time I see red liquid) but nope. It’s just as exciting, every month.

The extra fun part about this condition is when my meds get upped. I’m still likely on too low a dose; every time they up it, I’ll feel GREAT for about a week, and then start to get tired. My feet start to crack and get gross and crusty again. I’ll wake up like clockwork in the morning, and then start to struggle.

So, here I am: dose has been upped again, 75 mcg of levothyroxine. Third time’s a charm!

If you end up with TOO much T4, you experience fun side-effects, like osteoporosis, heart palpitations, and random sweats. So, I suppose it’s better to up it slowly. But man, it’s frustrating in the meantime.

Stuff That’s Changed

Energy peaked, but again has dropped again on 50 mcg, but it’s still better than before.

Feet have gone back to being gross. Sigh. Hoping this upped dose will help with that. (Update: It did!)

Weight is unsteady; it keeps climbing randomly, then dipping.

My nails have an actual ridge in them from when I started taking meds. I can see the exact point in their growth when I started taking meds (it’s super weird.) They’re growing better and stronger now (and I like to chew them. Damn!) but you can see where they hardened up in the image here if you look closely.

Probably unrelated: my eyesight has gotten marginally better, per the eye doctor.

Verdict

It’s a fact of life that losing weight is just going to be harder for me, so I’ve hired a personal trainer and started working out every morning; I now have a month of working out 4x a week at 7:00 a.m. under my belt, and am sore as hell (it’s gotten progressively better), but we haven’t missed a workout.

The best part about this and working from home? I get to crawl back into bed and get all the cuddles afterwards. Which is necessary, because the soreness is real, ya’ll. Still, hurray for no commutes!

Future Goal: I’ll start riding my bike to and from it instead once my legs decide they’re no longer furiously angry with me.

Here’s the deal: I can look at this crap and rue the fact that this is going to be a struggle for me (WOE IS ME!), or I can suck it up and do something about it.

Men and women can be stunningly beautiful at any size, but at a certain point, their health suffers. I never, ever want to be a burden on those I love; I experienced this first-hand with my mother, for all of my life, until she passed away.

My mother’s weight (she spent the majority of her life morbidly obese) resulted in her crushing the cartilage in her knees, which left her unable to walk more than short distances. She had knee replacements, both of which went wrong (spiral fractures up her femurs and staph infections that never healed, from what I understand).

She needed help getting up single steps during most parts of her life, often from strangers because I was too small to help her myself as a wispy eight-year-old girl, and then later on she still needed the help of strangers because I was childishly embarrassed when I was a teenager. I am not proud of myself.

She carried a booster toilet seat around on any and all overnight trips away from home because it was too hard to get back up after sitting down.

She missed out on back-to-school shopping every year with me, instead needing to sit in the car, reading, while she set me loose with her credit card in a store–all because they didn’t have a scooter for her to use in department stores (I came home with a 36D bra when I was eleven–hope sprang eternal, I guess.)

She skipped several of my singing recitals because the venue had too many stairs and was not walker-friendly.

Oh, and by the way: She was in her 40’s and 50’s for a lot of this.

Camping, fishing, hiking, wandering festivals and farmer’s markets in downtown Denver–I asked my Dad when I was four why mom never joined us. Her weight was the reason why.

And then, when she needed to amputate the lower part of her leg to save her life, she was too heavy to do so, and her heart was too weak; she had to lose weight, or it would be too dangerous. By the time she finally did shed some of the weight, it was too late.

This whispering tickles in the back of my mind every day, so I choose another road: to do something about it.

I will not let obesity or a sedentary lifestyle win.

I watched my mother pass away at age sixty-six, three weeks before I was to be married, days before I got the job offer that would send me (finally) above the poverty line, when I was twenty-four years old, and her death was entirely preventable. 

Things may be harder for me with this condition, but fuck it. I got this, and I will take this hill.

Hypothyroid: One Month Since Starting T4-Only Treatment

I can’t believe how many small, tiny details of my life were negatively influenced by my under-active thyroid. Mayo Clinic covers a lot of them, but “dry skin” doesn’t even begin to address the small life annoyances that drove me crazy.

“Thinning hair” didn’t equate to the hair I was losing in the shower – my hair looked fine and had always been on the thin side–losing a few more strands, and then a few more, and then a few more, didn’t exactly raise any warning bells.

“I thought it was normal.” Over and over, I told myself this.

It wasn’t.

This little pill feels magical. Sure, I’m still tired first thing in the mornings and do seem to still have less energy than everyone else (might just need a higher dose), but I am functional. I am functional. I am not broken. ❤ It’s a touch rough, not being able to eat or drink anything of substance for an hour after taking my pill, but the benefits SO outweigh the drawbacks.

One Month of Taking 25mg of Levothyroxine: The Difference

My hair is growing! There is far, far less hair clogging my drain in the shower. It’s been essentially the same length since I cut it over a year ago; now, it’s shoulder-length! The downside is that I have to pluck my eyebrows more often, but I’ll take it!

My energy levels have evened out some; I’ve stopped waking up in the middle of the night, but it’s still less difficult to wake up in the morning. Now, I stay awake during every movie I try to watch after five p.m. Before, I used to fall asleep the moment a movie started playing.

Now, it doesn’t take all day to wake the hell up. For example, I awoke at eight a.m. this morning, and stayed awake. Even without coffee, by nine, I felt like a normal person. Previously, I would feel exhausted for hours (usually not feeling fully coherent until three or four in the afternoon).

No more unexplained bruises. I’ve stopped bruising constantly. I always had random, unexplained bruises all over my body, and no recollection of trauma. That has stopped. I’m not a banana anymore!

Lady perks: My period has gone back to the clockwork 28-days of my youth and is far more normal. Before taking my meds, it was bizarre — 31 days between cycles, 34, 37, and the last one, 62 (?!) – my periods were basically non-existent, way lighter than they should have been (contrary to the super-heavy-intense-pain that many women with hypothyroidism experience). The point? Not all symptoms will match the diagnosis exactly. The downside? Normal lady-time symptoms have come back with a vengeance, so that’s less pleasant, but again, I’ll take the energy thank you very much!

Fingernails: My fingernails have stopped breaking off. Literally the day I was diagnosed, my pinky toe nail just fell off. Yes, the whole thing. It didn’t hurt, just separated from the nail bed. It has since grown back in a single month!

My pedicure will LAST this time! My feet look like NORMAL FEET. No more disgusting, peeling, painful, cracked dry skin all over the soles of my feet; before this, I had no idea how everyone else had smooth, pink heels. Mine were dry, crusty, painful, and cracked, always. I just figured everyone else invested much more heavily in pedicures, or wore house shoes like my boyfriend. I haven’t done anything else to them, and the callouses and nastiness are wearing off, all on their own. I’m thrilled!

I have a chin again! My face seems thinner (could just be my imagination) and my chin is back to being pointy; for awhile there, it was rather puffy and unpleasant. This one could be my imagination, but I’ll take it!

Easier time exercising: I no longer feel HORRENDOUS after every bout of exercise. This weekend, we spent all day on a pontoon and I spent literal hours just swimming around. Sure, I was tired at the end of the day, but I didn’t feel like absolute death!

Fortunately, even before being diagnosed, I escaped some of the less fun gastrointestinal issues many people with hypothyroidism face, but I suspect a lot of that has to do with my pre-existing diet. We cook at home constantly, eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains, which likely helped all along. Additionally, I have always avoided fried foods and generally don’t consume a ton of added sugar–just fruit (hurray for fiber and nutrients!) I’ve switched to black coffee instead of drinking sweet chai lattes in the morning, cut any lemonade I do drink with unsweetened black tea (Arnold Palmers for the win!), and drink soda water with lime instead of any sort of sugary beverage. With this in mind, I’m not implementing any of the super restrictive diets many of the hypothyroid books suggest. I’ll probably stick to mixed greens over kale and limit my cruciferous vegetables just in case, but generally, most doctors don’t think there is any benefit or credence to aiming for a “hypothyroid diet”. This may not be true for everyone, especially if your tummy is often upset, but for now, this works for me!

We’ll see how this continues – I suspect my dose is a touch low still, but I had blood drawn today to see if my TSH levels have gone back down to normal levels or not. I am just so absolutely relieved!

Hypothyroidism – First Week Taking T4-Only Medication (Levothyroxine)

Imagine listening to your favorite music; you set it to turn on the moment you awaken, excited about your favorite lyrics, how it makes you feel, the actions it inspires you to take.

Except the moment you open your eyes, an AIRHORN/MEGAPHONE/SIREN gets screeched directly into your ear.

SLEEP! It wails. SLEEP! SLEEP! YOU MUST SLEEP! SLEEP NOW! SLEEP FOREVER!

It goes on and on until you either give into it (it stops the moment you shut your eyes) or you stagger through it (you know, so your life doesn’t collapse when you 1. get fired or 2. miss deadlines or 3. piss off all your friends/significant other, all of which matter more than the airhorn, though it still blares deafeningly most of the day.)

Though you know your favorite music is playing, you have no hope of hearing it, so unless your world is about to be set on fire by life responsibilities, you give in. Your eyelids flutter closed.

You go back to sleep. Again.

^ That’s the best way to describe the life I led with hypothyroidism.

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Teaching while the megaphone was blaring into my brain was super fun. ^ Accurate depiction of me as a teacher, yo.

It’s been four days since I started taking levothyroxine, a synthetic version of the T4 hormone my body is not producing nearly enough of.

Verdict? It is DEFINITELY making a difference.

Getting up in the morning has become a choice. I wake up, and though I am still sleepy, I am not groggy. I lay in bed and consider whether I should up and at ’em, or if I think my body needs more rest. I base it on the number of hours I slept the night before. I use logic. The airhorn dictating my life has gone mostly silent, or is at least much quieter. I can think through it.

Hypothyroid Reality: Getting up was not a choice before treatment.

I really tried everything. Every night, I’d think about all the amazing things I wanted to do–get up, do yoga, make a nutritious breakfast that I LOVE, spend time quietly reading and sipping coffee, get to work on my latest novel idea that I was excited about–but nothing roused me.

I could prep breakfast and my clothes, set my coffee maker to go off right as my alarm did so it would be waiting for me. I could make sure I was ready to go for whatever it was I was excited about doing. I could set my alarm across the room, or better yet, outside the room entirely. I prepared a self-talk speech to recite to myself the moment my alarm went off, bought nummy lotions to pamper myself in the morning if I woke up and functioned like a person as a reward. Hell, I even “practiced” getting up a few times at night by setting an alarm, putting my feet on the floor, stretching, getting out of bed and going downstairs in an attempt to make my muscle memory work in my favor.

Nothing worked. 

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Not whiskey; COFFEE!

Well, except for drinking an entire carafe of coffee at the first alarm, then going back to sleep for an hour. That helped… until it didn’t. Turns out, you build an immunity to drugs like caffeine. Shocking, I know.

Before, unless I would lose a job, a doctor’s appointment, or a friend over not showing up on time, my brain refused to let me get up until it was absolutely necessary or I finally felt somewhat awake.

I was never rested, but sometimes awake.

Today, I feel rested; I feel like a person. I feel like ME.

First Week Taking Synthetic T4: Differences

I wake up every morning and take my pill between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m., aiming for 9:30. I drink it with a full glass of water, and eat and drink nothing else for at least sixty minutes. These are the results:

Pros

1. I can actually wake up early and think clearly. I have a choice.
2. When I get a touch sleepy in the afternoons, it’s no longer debilitating (and it hasn’t happened yet today!)
3. I’m still sleepy at night; it still sometimes gets to the ‘groggy’ level, but that’s probably a good thing in the long run, but I no longer feel like puking if I stay up a touch later than my brain wants.
4. The vericose veins in my legs and in my hips have faded significantly! They’re still there but I’ll be curious to see if they go away entirely!

My boyfriend also says my voice is higher. Whether that’s a pro or a con is up for debate, but I’m sure it’ll help my lilting soprano tones! Early Mariah Carey, here I come!

Cons (If you can call them that.)

  1. I wake up at night more often, or at least, remember it.
  2. I have a much harder time going back to sleep once I wake up in the middle of the night.I think I wake up a lot anyway (as evidenced by sleep talking and having entire weird conversations with people I never remembered the next day) but my body would drag me back under so fast, I would have no recollection of it. Now, I wake up and spend some time looking at my ceiling or the back of my eyelids. I remind myself that this is a small price to pay for feeling like a person 80% of the time instead of 20%.

    And hey, if I’m awake for longer than half an hour in the middle of the night, there’s no reason I can’t get up and do all the things I haven’t been able to for so, so long! #optimism

    Fingers crossed this keeps getting better and better! I know my levels will need to be adjusted throughout my life, but it is SUCH a relief to feel like a person again!

Hypothyroidism Diagnosis: It’s actually not you all, it’s ME!

“Wonder Woman” may be a state of mind, but it helps TREMENDOUSLY to achieve such a state if you are also 100% healthy.

It turns out most people’s under-appreciated superpower is simply being fully awake.

I have spent most of the past ten years of my life wondering just how the hell everyone else faked it so well. 

Turns out, ‘it’ was actually undiagnosed hypothyroidism, working away steadily to destroy my lovely thyroid and all sense of well-being.

I remember going to Africa at twenty-two years old (to volunteer at the Ephphatha School for the Deaf), and absolutely STRUGGLING to get up in the morning, long past the time the expected jet-lag should have passed. I was the first to bed, the last to rise, and remember earnestly asking another girl around my age, “How do you get up in the morning? You have so much energy!”

She looked at me skeptically and replied, “Well, I’m in Africa–I’m just excited to be here and experience everything.”

Except… I was excited too. That wasn’t it: I was in Africa, and it was all I could do not to beg off at seven every evening and drag myself off my vinyl mattress bunk every morning. I wanted to experience everything she was, too, desperately wishing to lift the veil of fatigue that plagued me.

The problem was obviously me. I guess I just wasn’t as excited as she was. Or something.

Re-adjust your attitude, I told myself. And struggled.

Apparently the absolute inability to get myself out of bed in the morning (until I absolutely HAVE to) without going to extreme measures (that burn out my adrenals and leave me even more exhausted) isn’t normal.

I used to think that was just how I was: lacking. Lazy.

In a former post, I wrote, “Emotional me wants to sleep in and lie around and do nothing and say nothing to anyone.”

The fact that this attitude was entirely contrary to the fiery bitch of my teenage-hood who’d stay up into the wee hours of the morning programming websites, get up three hours later (tired, but able to function), and still challenge whatever high school teacher I decided was wrong that particular day, didn’t raise too many alarms in my brain.

I did go to the doctor once when I was twenty-four, convinced something had to be wrong; they told my test results were within the normal range, and sent me on my way.

Thus, early on, I accepted that my patronus was, in fact, a slug, and I was simply a horrendously lazy person. 

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I learned to cope.

I would drag myself out every day, plaster a fake smile on my face, and slog my way through endless, sticky webs of exhaustion while pretending everything was fine.

Whether that be the worst day of teaching or spending time with my dearest friends in the world or even traveling the world to the most exciting places I’d ever dreamed of, it didn’t matter.

I. just. couldn’t. wake up.

I thought it was everyone else; they were alpha. Their desire to embody the brilliant, yet stunningly perfect “English Teacher Barbie” of my former Language Arts department (they looked fabulous every damned day, to my un-ending jealousy!) must’ve outweighed their exhaustion. They were just more passionate than me, better teachers than me, had better time-management skills than me.

Everyone else must just really, really, really love running or painting or under-water-basket-weaving or whatever else it was that lit the passion they’d pursue outside their work hours. They were simply more motivated than me, more into staying healthy, all-around just BETTER than me.

I told myself I was an introvert. Being around people just wore me down emotionally.I was just getting older; this is what maturity feels like. Or something.

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Meanwhile, I’d slog home and struggle to keep my eyes open during my thirty-minute commute. I’d stare helplessly at the pile of papers I needed to grade, the pile of books I had once been so passionate to read, the story ideas that burned in my soul, then tell myself I just had to try, go tiredly cook dinner, begrudgingly help with dishes, take my birds out, veg for an hour while hating my utter inability to motivate myself to ANYTHING productive, and go to sleep at eight or nine.

Only to wake up ten and a half hours later to do it all over again. Still exhausted.

I was Exhausted with a capital E and was done being an enthused celebrant of my own misery.

So, I forced myself to exercise.

It was not fun. 

I did yoga. I ran. I learned to cook and ate vegetables at every meal, limited my sugar and fried things, ate lean meats and learned what quinoa was, and worked hard to become the person I dreamed I could be. My better lifestyle choices (one of the HARDEST things I’ve ever worked to correct through the haze of exhaustion through which I lived my life), coupled with quitting teaching and finding a remote job made it so that my energy level was mostly tolerable.

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Every. single. night.

Sure, I still couldn’t get up very easily and often found myself longing for bed at two in the afternoon, and I frequently would tell people that I was “turning into a pumpkin” (as I called it) at night when I simply couldn’t stay awake any longer lest I become violently ill… but I was able to mitigate the effects reasonably well and felt relatively healthy.

And then, light.

A few weeks back, my boyfriend and I were in a rather unpleasant car accident. It turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me; they did a variety of blood tests, just as a precaution, and from there, scheduled a follow-up physical.  I’d told the doctor I was fine after the car accident, nothing else to report.

I’d lived with the fatigue for so long, it just felt normal.

Before the second physical, they mailed the test results to me; I noticed that my TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) was border-line high: 4.18 when the “normal” limit was 4.2. I remembered my mother had issues with her thyroid. I read a little about it and discovered I had almost all of the symptoms that MayoClinic lists. I read that normal test results don’t always actually mean your thyroid is normal; multiple doctors in books I’ve been reading recently state that the “normal” range most doctors use is too broad, that your TSH should be under 2.

So. I brought it up with my doctor; she felt my throat and told me I had a goiter, which was no surprise. I’d noticed it a few weeks earlier, complaining to my boyfriend (jokingly and hyperbolically) that I probably had cancer. Nope: It was just an enlarged thyroid. She set me up with an ultrasound and a follow-up blood test, which resulted in my diagnosis: I DEFINITELY have a very real issue with hypothyroidism.

Many people are sad to discover this, but me? I was absolutely elated.finally knew what was wrong with me–and even better, there’s treatment available.

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Time to ReCharge my life, since I already did my career!

I took my first levothyroxine pill today (25 mg I think?), which is synthetic T4 (one of two major hormones your thyroid produces) and, while there are many different treatments and diets (and knowing fully-well that this could just be the first of many treatments to reclaim myself), I am so absolutely full of hope.

And energy. Part of this is probably the placebo effect, but I didn’t crash this afternoon. I feel like my soul is fully present.

Before, every experience felt sticky and subdued behind a curtain of sluggish yuck. Today, I feel fully aware, as if the molasses coloring my vision has been Mr. Cleaned away and replaced with clarity.

One day down; the rest of my life to go!