Over the past week, I have taken a few steps out of my bubble-wrapped and cat-filled comfort zone and made more of an effort to be transparent about how I am actually feeling. After all, you do not excel at sarcasm without an unhealthy fear of vulnerability….and man, do I love me some snarky remarks that efficiently cover up real, valid, cringeworthy emotions. #blessed
Part of my hesitancy about being open about these changes is that I worry it will come off as complaining, that it will be seen as ingracious when others suffer from much worse issues. I have to let go of that fear though. Whiny or not, there are certain things worth talking about.
With that said, let’s unveil the root cause to my problems over the last year….
It’s a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme. Beauty and the degenerative autoimmune disorder.
Sorry, that was the sarcasm bleeding through. What I meant to say was Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
This week I met with my endocrinologist for the first time. We went over my bloodwork from September as well as a fresh batch from last week. While my numbers pointed to my thyroid’s hormone production being within range, my antibodies indicated my immune system was fighting something. She performed an ultrasound on my thyroid and found that it is currently sitting at 85 – 90%….meaning, 10 – 15% of my thyroid is gone. That was the nail in the butterfly shaped coffin.
What is Hashimoto’s?
When it comes to autoimmune diseases, there are generally three that target the thyroid gland.
- Hypothyroidism – The thyroid does not produce enough (i.e., under-active) thyroid hormone to keep the body running normally.
- Hyperthyroidism – The thyroid produces too much of the hormone thyroxine (i.e., overactive) which in turn may lead to unintentional weight loss and a rapid heartbeat.
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis – The immune system attacks the thyroid gland itself, destroying the cells that form it.
Note: 1 and 2 cannot exist at the same time, because…well…#science. However, 1 and 3 are often seen together.
Hashimoto’s disease is a condition in which the immune system attacks the thyroid and kills off the cells from which it is made. Although this does cause the release of thyroid hormones into the bloodstream, it does not inherently impact the production of the thyroid hormones themselves the same way hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism do. With that said – Because of the degenerative nature of Hashimoto’s, there is a strong chance that people with this disorder will eventually develop Hypothyroidism as well. This is primarily because the decrease in the size of the thyroid gland may ultimately impact the quantity of hormones it is able to produce. #science
Like other autoimmune diseases, there is no cure for Hashimoto’s. Under the right circumstances, it can be put into “remission” through diet, medication, and environment.
Why is the thyroid important?
Well, I’m glad you asked. The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck that most of us do not give a thought to…well…ever. Despite this, it plays a major role in things like metabolism, heart health, brain function, and general growth and development of the human body. You know, nonessential stuff.
The two main hormones that the thyroid produces are Triiodothyonine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4). T3 and T4 travel in the bloodstream to almost every cell in the body, regulating the speed with which cells work. They are responsible for the rate at which your intestines process food (yo, metabolism), the regulation of your heart, and more.
Too much T3 and T4 (looking at you, Hyperthyroidism) can lead to anxiety, hyperactivity, sensitivity to high temperatures (sweating), hair loss, weight loss, etc. In contrast, too little of these hormones (Hypothyroidism) can lead to difficulty sleeping, fatigue, difficulty concentrating (brain fog), depression, dry skin and hair, depression, sensitivity to cold temperatures, and more.
Because of the relationship between hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s, many of the symptoms of the latter mimic the former. For example, weight gain, fatigue, depression, slowed heart rate, etc. are all symptoms of both. While symptoms can tell us a lot of about which of these autoimmune disorders are present, testing for specific thyroid markers in bloodwork and performing an ultrasound of the thyroid gland are sure-fire ways to better understand how effectively the thyroid itself is functioning.
How was I diagnosed?
As I mentioned in The Get Right Year, this all began in April 2019 when I saw the initial stages of vitiligo. From there, I decided to get a run-of-the-mill annual exam by my general doctor as a precaution. She and I both agreed that because vitiligo often co-exists with other autoimmune diseases, she would order tests for any other markers that may shine more light on the situation.
Since then, I have had an echocardiogram and a 24-hr holter monitor to measure my heart rate and rhythm. My heart rate is on the lower side (40 to 50 bpm resting) with mild irregularity. Both are signs of autoimmune disorders and should level out as my thyroid comes under control.
In the end, my bloodwork, an ultrasound of my thyroid, and symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, depression, and anxiety led to checking the box on Hashimoto’s. The vitiligo is just an added bonus.
I am extremely lucky to have been diagnosed as quickly as I was. Did you know that on average, those with autoimmune disorders go through 6 doctors over a period of 4 years just to get a diagnosis? In the words of Cypress Hill, that is insane in the membrane.
Embracing this journey…
Moving forward, it is going to get interesting. I have always wanted to be one of those blissed out hippie girls who only eats lettuce and lives off sunshine. Now is my chance to try it. I’m not in a stage where I need to be on thyroid medication (thankfully!!!) so we are taking the au natural approach.
It’s about to get crunchy AF.
For the next 3 months, I am back on the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet to really target any foods that are triggering my current flare. I am also on a regime of selenium, iodine, iron, and B-complex vitamin supplements to support both the thyroid and my immune system.
In addition to that, I am going to have to make a concentrated effort to (pardon my French) chill the hell out. Long walks into the sunset, taking breaks when my body and mind are not up for it, meditating, throwing all fucks to the wind, etc. In other words, trying to let things go and not hold on to as much stress and anxiety as I am used to doing. For someone who is a natural worrier and internalizes everything, this is going to take the most time to figure out. Food intolerances will be a piece of cake compared to this…literally and figuratively.
In the meantime, I am also working on being transparent and open. Either it will help with the process or my friends and family will get tired of me quickly. Let’s see how this goes! xo