How Hashimoto’s Disease Stole My Life

I don’t know when it started. I’ve always been tired, searching, easily disheartened.

I think puberty, pregnancies, and anxiety exacerbated my problems.

The Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis diagnosis didn’t come until I was in my early 50s. I’d already lost opportunities, drive, and lots and lots of memory cells.

Being around people became unbearable. I couldn’t remember their names, what they did, why I knew them, or even how to make pleasant conversation. If I didn’t immediately insult them, I usually got around to it. It was painful – for everyone.

Depression was inevitable. I decided it was warranted so I didn’t try to do anything about it. I thought I deserved it. I didn’t like me. Still don’t, really.

I ended up quitting my jobs, one after the other. I couldn’t count on my memory enough to convince myself that I was dependable in these jobs. That became especially true when I worked as a substitute teacher. I couldn’t keep the kids’ names or schedules straight. I woke up one morning and realized I might leave a kid behind on a field trip or put them on the wrong bus or dismiss them early when it wasn’t early-out. There were so many ways I could mess up. I just wasn’t safe so I quit, again.

I couldn’t think of a single job I could do without a dependable memory, so I retired early and took up painting and writing. I suck at those too, but at least everyone is safe.

I’ve tried almost every supplement created for thyroid health. And I’ve been through almost every thyroid hormone available. I’ve tried countless varieties of desiccated. Now I’m trying synthetic. Nothing makes a difference.

My apologies. I don’t mean to sound so pathetic and disheartening. Who knows, maybe it’s not my thyroid at all.

Maybe I have Alzheimer’s. Sigh.

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I Was Actually Joyous

Nights are the hardest. You’re trapped alone with your thoughts in gloomy darkness. I sometimes think my mind gets a perverse kick out of making me relive my most deplorable moments as I lay there helplessly in bed. And when I’m tired and anxious, these thoughts gnaw away at my soul. I can feel the anguish build. Eventually, I fall into a restless sleep and wake up exhausted. Nights are the hardest.

I cracked a tooth the day before going on a week-long vacation. I was popping pain pills all day and found a generic painkiller with a sleep additive for the nights. For the first time in a long time I was sleeping soundly and sleeping the whole night through. It could have been the quiet farmhouse we were staying in, but I tend to think it was the sleep additive.

I woke up on the 5th day, toothache and all, and I felt fabulous. I was actually joyous. I couldn’t wait to go explore. Nothing bothered me. My demons were blocked out. The negative part of my mind tried to regain a foothold, but to no avail. I was actually joyous.

Is sleep the answer? Is it that simple? Or did my toothache refocus my thoughts. Or did getting away from my usual surroundings reset my thought patterns?

I don’t know. But I did learn that anxiety can be diminished. Even if it’s temporary, I’ll take it. The reprieve was fabulous. The knowledge that I can feel better under the right circumstances is freeing and fills me with hope.

I got a root canal and I’m not taking the chemical sleep aid anymore, but I am becoming more aware of my sleep patterns. I have discovered Valerian root, L-Theanine, and other natural supplements that can calm my nerves and hopefully help me sleep like I did in the farmhouse.

I’ll keep you posted.

Sweet dreams.

A Question of Selfishness

I realized I was going down a dark hole after I spent days obsessing over a stupid question I had blurted out at an inopportune moment. I was sure I had brought shame upon myself and my family. I was certain I’d ruined lives and changed the course of history. While lost in this bizarre mental oblivion, I suddenly remembered that the next day was a loved one’s birthday. Gulp.

At some point in my life I had convinced myself that I must serve a penance for doing or saying stupid things. I needed to berate myself, even knowing I was steeping my brain in the cortisol this punishment releases. I couldn’t allow myself to enjoy food, entertainment, sleep, virtually anything, until I had sufficiently beaten myself up. I thought this self-flagellation would somehow “fix” things.

I can only speculate that this act of martyring myself was supposed to prove I possess a loving, caring nature. But, in reality, it is just plain selfish. Not to mention, bad for my hippocampus.

While I waste precious time fretting, the people I care about are left hanging and abandoned. Their birthdays forgotten. I’m not doing them any good by obsessing over my mistakes. Mistakes, I might add, that most people didn’t even notice. Nobody disowned me. Nobody marked their calendars with a frowny-face. No one demanded I lose sleep over it. It was all me.

I managed to salvage the birthday, and this near-miss ended up giving me a gift. I finally realized I needed to get out of my head. It was time to think about others. To really think about others.

Let it go. Live in the moment. Breathe. I used to think those were lame platitudes that promote selfishness. Now I realize they are actually words to live by.

Now excuse me while I plan the next birthday party.

Accentuate the Positive

It lies in wait. I can feel it at the edge of my consciousness beckoning to get in. It’s dark and insidious. It has no mercy.

My only recourse against it is to ignore it, but my self-doubt won’t let me. I try humming my favorite song. I think about new story lines. Sometimes I even yell, “NO!”

These meager attempts at stopping it are futile. My inner voice has turned on me. It has become the enemy. For some reason it has decided that I deserve to be berated.

My job is to chance its mind. My mind.

I have to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. It’s that simple. What’s not simple is the implementation.

Some of the best advice I’ve read is to ask yourself, “Is this fretting and berating yourself doing any good? Will it change anything?”

The answer is, of course, NO! So common sense tells us that a more productive stance is to let go of past mistakes, forget embarrassing moments, laugh off stupid utterances, don’t dwell, and just live in the moment.

One of the things I like about New Year’s Day is we’re encouraged to start anew – do a complete reset.

So I’m giving the ‘reset’ plan my all. Goodbye gnarly, cruel, belittling thoughts. You’ve been given your notice. I’m going to like me for me. I’m going to eliminate the negative.

I’m going to accentuate the positive.

Happy New Year!!

A Mother’s Unexpected Legacy

My mom died 4 years ago this October. She was a few days away from her 92nd birthday.

I’m still going through her paperwork. Every time I sit down with a box, I have to fold everything up and put it away when it comes time to get tough. I can’t bring myself to throw her personal paperwork away. There are old cards, lists, newspaper clippings, and odds and ends.

Going through a box the other day, I found a scrap of paper with a verse in her handwriting. It was about planting a garden, except each vegetable name went on to become a homophone. Peas became peace, squash became, well, squash, and lettuce became let us. So you would plant 3 rows of peas – of mind, heart, and soul. 4 rows of squash – indifference, selfishness, grumbling, gossip, etc. It was inspirational and I was so impressed with my mom for writing it.

I decided it was a rough draft of a card she was making for us children. I lamented that she didn’t actually make the cards. What a wonderful gift they would have been.

Today, right before I sat down to write the story of my mom’s lost verse, I googled the first line. To my amazement, dozens of entries popped up. It is obviously very well-known.

At first, I was disappointed, then, not to be deterred, I decided Mom must have sent her verse to a publisher a long time ago. I studied the scrap of paper. It seemed old. There were add-ins above lines, like she had changed her mind as she wrote.

But, as I did more research, I found that the poem was attributed to other people that weren’t my mom.

Instead of feeling sad, I realized this episode was actually an incredible tribute to my mom. I’d always known she was a talented writer, so I readily gave her credit for this verse. She was definitely capable.

This helped me realize how much respect I have for her.

Her legacy will live on, verse or not.

Why You Should Stop Ruminating

Anxiety is a bear. A big, ugly, growling, slobbering, terrifying bear. It grabs you by the throat and won’t let you go. It keeps you awake at night. It takes over your thoughts. It causes confusion, inaction, and despair. You want to be alone, but then you don’t. The thought of having to live alone in your head is unbearable. It’s scary in there. You’re forced to relive your embarrassing utterances, thoughtless gestures, stupid questions, hurtful comments, over and over and over. It’s like watching a video on an endless loop. The bear wakes you up to watch it again and again. It starts playing while you’re eating or shopping or watching tv. It’s relentless. Your heart races. Your appetite wanes. You want it to stop, but you don’t know how.

And the bear is clever. He sees to it that you not only worry about the stupid things you’ve done, but you also worry excessively about your loved ones. You’re overcome with thoughts that they may have had a horrible car wreck if they don’t answer your text right away. Or were kidnapped, or fell down some stairs, or were hit by a car while riding their bike, or . . . You name it, your over-anxious mind will concoct it. You pace and wring your hands and text them repeatedly. Then you start calling. If they don’t answer, you start calling their friends.

This ruminating and excessive worrying is hard on your mind and body. It causes cortisol to be released into your blood stream. Cortisol, one of the flight or fight hormones, is released by your adrenal gland. It can do damage to your hippocampus, the part of your brain that stores memories. It causes your heart to race and an overall ‘jumping out of your skin’ response. It makes it hard to fall asleep and then interrupts your sleep if you do.

Time heals all wounds, you think, you hope. And eventually you do start feeling better. Yet, days or months later, the bear is back. Something will remind you of one of your past stupidities and you’re back inside the jail you’ve built in your head. You’re once again being held prisoner and forced to watch replays of those bad memories over and over.

You try mindfulness, yoga, meditation, camomile tea, every anti-anxiety herbal supplement you can find. Your counter is soon over-flowing with supplement bottles and boxes of tea.

Nobody around you seems aware of your torment. Life goes merrily on. You decide you must be the only one who feels this way and it’s just what you do.

Sometimes, when it gets really rough, you bring it up to someone in your life. Unfortunately, you will sometimes get an answer like, “Are you still on that?”; “Let it go!”; “Try thinking about something else.”; “It’s not that big of a deal.”; “Move on, already.”  Or you’ll get the dreaded blank stare and the even more dreaded shrug.

These people aren’t meaning to be inconsiderate or impatient (I hope). They just don’t know what to say or do. I’m sure they feel as helpless as you do.

If you have these overwhelming feelings of anxiety or worry, talk to somebody who will understand, be it a therapist or an empathetic friend or family member. Take deep breaths. Exercise as often as possible (I like hiking through pine trees. Take your bear spray – wink). Drink plenty of water. Do the things you love to do (pine trees – I’m not kidding).

And, most of all, know you’re not alone.