In 2006, the name “Hashimoto’s Disease” didn’t mean that much to me. All that mattered was finally getting an answer to what was going on with my body. For years, I was miserable with the textbook symptoms of your standard-run-of-the-mill hypothyroidism, except my thyroid hormone levels (TSH) were always “within normal limits.” That was until an astute primary care physician decided to run a full thyroid panel plus autoantibody tests to determine overall thyroid function. There was proof my thyroid was under attack. I remember a crazy kind of relief thinking, “Great, now I can just get a simple pill for hypothyroidism and FIX this!”
It wasn’t that simple. Being an autoimmune condition, Hashimoto’s sometimes means still experiencing symptoms of hypothyroidism (despite medication) and it doesn’t always result in hypothyroidism. Unfortunately, it always means an attack on your thyroid, which is responsible for almost every organ in your body, even the heart. And it also meant pre-disposing me for ANOTHER auto-immune condition, my pancreas was next.
In 2016, I began a steady progression of concerning symptoms: debilitating leg cramps, unreasonable fatigue, insatiable hunger and thirst, unintentional weight loss, and MAJOR vision changes. I didn’t miss the 20 pounds but definitely missed connecting the dots. Four weeks after the symptoms appeared, my body tanked. The ER sent me to the MICU in full-blown ketoacidosis with lab work that would later confirm a diagnosis almost unheard of for a woman of 45 years: initial onset of Type I (Juvenile) diabetes.
My endocrinologist was floored. Routine blood work in July had given him no hint as to what was coming for me in October. It was so unexpected he ran the results twice in different labs, but the antibodies didn’t lie. He explained that the onset of Type I at this age is extremely rare but not unheard of with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It just usually happens the other way around. Type I (auto-immune condition number one) then Hashimoto’s Disease (auto-immune number two).
It was a death sentence. Shock, devastation, and despair describe much of what I went through. Worse was the astonished hospital staff who kept asking what my blood sugar levels normally ran or what my last A1C was. As if I knew! (It was 14 by the way.) They thought I had been admitted for horribly mismanaging some pre-existing condition. They were half right. Horribly mismanaged? Yes. Pre-existing? No.
My doctor was extremely concerned about me as a patient. I was too. I really couldn’t accept it. He later confessed he felt that my inability to accept this diagnosis would hinder my ability to control it once I got home. He was right. I knew nothing about carbs or how much insulin I would need. It was a time of much trial, error, and despondency. Mostly despondency. This resulted in a lot of ups and downs while trying to maintain some magically OK range of numbers.
Most consuming for me was the realization of permanency, the learning curve of how to manage it, and the repercussions on my health if I couldn’t do it well. I didn’t have answers. Didn’t even know what questions to ask. It felt impossible, fictional even, especially with the social and clinical skepticism I’d receive about it. I didn’t want to believe it either. Type 2 is easier to understand given family history and lifestyle choices. Definitely wasn’t accepting it, and it was difficult to even connect with or relate to well-meaning Type I folks who reached out. They’d been managing theirs since childhood. This was THEIR normal. It wasn’t mine and I was NOT OKAY with it.
Then, Pack Health happened. I was hired in February 2018 as a researcher/writer. They had a noble mission I understood and believed in and I couldn’t help but be inspired by the culture of compassion towards coaching others to better health. Here, I’ve learned MORE about the science that drives the body to do well. It’s an empowering realization to discover I had more control over this than I thought. Members realize this too. The clouds lifted.
In 2019, with an A1C of 5.6, my doctor asked how I felt. I said, “I’m still not okay with this, but I’m going to make myself okay.” He said, “I know you’re not okay with it but you’re managing this much better than I expected.” He was pleased.
Every person with Hashimoto’s has their OWN version of Hashimoto’s. It’s complicated. Case in point: My sister was having a myriad of seemingly unrelated symptoms. For years she saw a number of specialists for varying conditions (all different from mine). If it weren’t for my Type I crisis and Hashimoto’s revelation, she likely would have continued this path of serial misdiagnoses. Autoimmune conditions can be silent, tricky beasts and they like company. Having one means you are likely to have another.
Statistics are still murky and the causes for Hashimoto’s are still being researched, but some evidence shows specific risk factors may be at play: genetics, a virus (like Epstein Barr), overly-activated stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline).
With any auto-immune condition, a cure seems as elusive and mythical as that for the common cold, and medication can only treat the symptoms (sometimes barely). But I’ve found all is not lost. Determined to find my own remedy, I’m finding ways to support the systems under attack with the right combination of nutrition, supplements, and physical activity. It’s a constantly moving target but…challenge accepted. Every. Single. Day.