I want to write about something that’s been a huge part of my life for quite some time. It’s ruled my thoughts. It’s messed with my mind. It’s ruined confidence. It’s destroyed me time and time again. But it’s something I’ve never really told the story of start to where we are now. And because it’s a big part of my life, I decided it’s time.
I know it’s not my usual scope for this blog. But this is my only platform currently so just bear with me! 🙂
People think that a health condition starts when you’re diagnosed. But my illness didn’t start the moment those blood tests came back and changed my life. It started long before I even knew there was such a thing as an overactive thyroid.
It began when I was quite young. I was always hot. I hated summer, with a passion. So much so, that I was drawn to friends and people who also hated it. Winter, that’s when my life was good. And that’s how I remember my teenage years.
My skin began to breakout when I was quite young, about 13 I started wanting to wear makeup to look like the other girls who had flawless skin. It wasn’t bad though until I was 16. People who have never had issues with acne think it’s a few pimples that can be popped and go away in a day or two. No. This kind of acne was eruptive, huge painful mountains, big cold sore type pimples, and then there were the little but extremely infected little pussy ones. I would have at least 5-10 of these at a time. That might not sound like a lot…but it was enough that I genuinely would panic about staying at people’s houses overnight, I NEVER took my make up off around people. I HATED my skin. I would stare at the mirror and cry, sometimes scream. I still have my makeup brush I broke when I was so furious that I couldn’t be like everyone else with clear skin. I keep it to remind me just how far I’ve come.
It’s taken me years to be ok with going out in public without makeup now my skin has cleared. I’m 22 this year, and last week was the first time I’d gone out without it because I forgot to put it on, and I didn’t even mind people looking at me. That is a HUGE breakthrough for me. And it makes me cry a little just thinking about how much I hated myself. I don’t think people quite understand the psychological damage bad skin can have.
The reason I mention this, is because it’s how the journey started. I wanted to fix it. So badly I wanted it gone. I went to the doctor and they prescribed me antibiotics. This was the lesser of a lot of different evils. This was at the end of my first year of studying. Like anyone who’s been a student will know, my eating, sleeping, and drinking habits were not what I’d recommend if you want to lead a healthy lifestyle. I think I survived the year on 3-6 hours of sleep a night during the week with excessive amounts on the weekends during the day. My diet was a ‘balance’ of home-cooked meals with a high starch and processed food content and McDonalds. My liquid content was a balance of wine, vodka, and water…in that order.
So that year really didn’t help my skin…or anything for that matter. After three months of antibiotics my skin started to clear. The problem with antibiotics is you can only stay on them for 6 months. So just as soon as it had cleared, it came back once they were stopped. What I noticed though, was even if it was clear it didn’t look nice. I looked tired and pale and worn out.
During that second three months I noticed some changes in my behaviour, but I never picked them up as health related and neither did the people closest to me. I was waking up over and over again during the night, mainly from bad dreams. I was hot all the time. But the one thing I noticed which still scares me to this day, is how quickly psychosis can set in and how easy it is to miss it. It began with the dreams. Then it was the extreme paranoia and desire to avoid all people. But at the same time a desperate need for attention. I don’t like dogs inside…at all…and especially not on the bed. One morning, after a particularly bad night, I was so freaked out when my boyfriend Alex had to leave for milking at 5am, he had to get rusty to come inside and sleep next to me before I would calm down.
I take my hat off to him for dealing with just how insane I was becoming. That’s when I started seeing things. I don’t often talk about it with people I don’t know, but I feel like it’s something people keep too quiet about. If I hadn’t been as persistent as I was with the doctor, I could have spent the rest of my life in a hyper-aware, psychotic state…and no one would have ever known it was purely hormone related. People expect when you ‘see things’ you see them clear as day. It’s not like that at all. For me, it was curtains that would move, things that weren’t there would roll across the floor. Objects in the house would move out of the corner of my eye. I felt with absolute certainty that I was being watched.
I remember one time Alex wanted to go out to a bbq with some of his friends. It was a very reasonable offer. He’d spent all week with me. But I fell apart. I couldn’t cope with being alone in a house at night…or even during the day. But I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing anyone. I was terrified of life. Of absolutely everything. It is a horrific state of mind to be in.
Around the same time I started feeling really sick. My stomach was hurting all the time and I had a long list of symptoms. But I didn’t understand that I a) wasn’t actually crazy and b) that these ‘crazy’ feelings I was having was a symptom of something sinister.
I was tired. My skin was awful. My hair split as the hairdresser cut it. I was tired all the time but I felt like every time I was speaking or moving I was going at a supersonic speed. My heart raced…even now if I can’t feel it beating I’m surprised. I had no energy to concentrate on anything. And I felt like I was drowning in my own life. Like I would be this way forever.
So I went back to the doctor four times in the same year with the same symptoms. She had no idea what was wrong. In frustration, I finally took my mother’s advice and saw a naturopath. She said, go back, and get blood tests done. They came back to show I had an overactive thyroid. I found out much later that I’d also had a low B12 level and low iron throughout my life. Both of these things have their own range of scary and debilitating symptoms. Now I look back, I realise that I must have been one hell of a rational person to have made it through all those symptoms without ending up totally losing my mind.
I take my hat off to my boyfriend, who at the time had only been dating me for 3 months, who stuck by me. Who has been there through it all. And there have been many times I’ve been a really crappy person to deal with and be with.
The doctor put me on beta blockers to slow my heart down and the naturopath gave me a series of herbs and supplements to help with water retention, which I now realise was possibly caused by the lack of B12, and to help calm my system down. I noticed a huge difference. So much so, that I refused medication from the doctors.
This might seem crazy. And it probably was. But the long list of side effects made me shiver. I’d put my body through so much, there was no way that I was going to go down the ‘crazy’ path again. I wouldn’t have coped.
So I put my faith in natural medicine and waited. I was told to cut out dairy and wheat (both which if I eat now cause severe pain…and I realise what I must have been feeling for years and had no idea just how bad it was). My life started to really turn around.
But I still had to manage stress to the point I ran out of things to cut out of my life. I’m a journalist, and by nature, a busy person. I have horses and I like to fill my days up. But I had to learn I have to stop. That didn’t seem to be enough, it was this delicate balancing game and I felt like I was micro-managing my life. My diet slipped and I’d eat wheat a few times a week, but I managed to keep dairy to a minimum.
For two years I was managing things well enough. My thyroid levels returned to as near to normal as I expected with natural treatments and most of the time I felt ok. I would still get obsessive over things and could be irrational at times. I craved attention, often from people I shouldn’t have, and I would sometimes get paranoia. But overall, I was ok. I was managing. I was stressed a lot, and was tired. But I was so much better than I had been, I was happy.
It wasn’t until I ended up in the emergency unit at Thames hospital I realised perhaps I wasn’t ‘managing’ things as well as I could have been. I’d been sick for a few days. Just felt off but then it kept getting worse: sore stomach (foetal position for 24hrs a day kind of sore), climbing fever, racing heart, totally off my food. But then I started vomiting. Everything I ate or drank. I was waking up three – four times a night (and poor Alex was also having to get up to milk at 5am each morning). My skin started to go deathly pale and then my eyes started to turn yellow.
I couldn’t move, I could barely get to the toilet by myself. So Alex called my mother and they took me to the hospital. I didn’t realise just how sick I was until I was pumped full of morphine, codeine, antinausea drugs, and paracetamol, and was still in pain. After three IV bags and finally being able to sleep for a few hours, they sent me home. I later learnt I was most likely suffering a thyroid storm, which can be fatal if not treated. Thankfully, IV fluid is a key part of treating it…but I needed medication to calm my thyroid down. As they never tested my bloods and they never gave me the medication, it took months to return to normal.
The thing with something like a health condition, of any kind, when you get sick it’s not just a few days in bed with the flu…it’s debilitating and it takes everything from you.
Then I began full-time work. It was all fine and well to take a week off from tech, but not with work. So when I started to see symptoms of depression, anxiety and was unable to do anything except work and sleep, I knew I needed to do something. I saw an endocrinologist at the hospital and she prescribed me medication. I was finally at a point where I’d accepted I’d have to have it. Followed by a permanent solution to either remove, or to kill half my thyroid. It’s major. And at my age, it’s a very scary decision to make. There is a homoeopathic clinic across the road from work. I was at a point again where I had nothing to lose. This was my final effort to solve this naturally. After a year of his treatments, my blood tests are totally normal and even the doctors are speechless. The problem with doing what no one thought was possible, is it’s very hard to know what to do next. Because I have a nodule, it’s very possible I will have to have that half of my thyroid removed no matter what my blood tests say, as if it keeps growing, it’s going to cause issues. But it’s important for me to look back on just how far I have come.
I have enough energy to see people after work a few times a week, I can ride my horse and visit my foal three to four times a week, I don’t find work overly tiring, and I’ve returned to my very (most of the time) rational self. Currently, if there is something someone doesn’t like about me…that’s my personality…not my health condition. But I am always on the look out of the key signs to creep back in. It’s a balancing act. It can be scary. It’s hard to deal with.
But I now live a happy life. I know now when I see things move, I’m not crazy, I just need to increase my supplements. I’m totally gluten free and dairy free and sugar is something I avoid as much as I possibly can without making restaurant wait staff go nuts with my order. I try to do yoga three times a week. I get regular massages to help with relaxation. And I make sure I keep in contact with people I enjoy.
I appreciate the people who have stuck by me all this time, and I have a whole new appreciation for people suffering from mental illness. This health condition has taken me on one hell of a journey. But I’ve cover come it so far. I’ve gone from not looking in the mirror after I’ve taken my makeup off to happily walking out of the house without it. I’ve gone from hiding from people to making friends. I’ve gone from being terrified to be home alone to being confident for weeks on end and walking through the house with the lights out. I’ve gone from not thinking I’d be able to have a life to planning a BIG overseas adventure. Even though there is always more to the story, it’s important to appreciate just how far you can make it. Illness doesn’t own me, and it never will.
It’s a huge part of who I am and my life, but a lot of the time I think it’s made me a much better person and it’s changed my life in so many positive ways, even if I had a choice, I don’t think I’d change things.