There are many things I'd like to have in common with Oprah - her capacity to connect with just about anyone, her ability to inspire and influence millions of people, her media empire, her wardrobe, her beautiful home in Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, what I recently learned that I actually have in common with her is a thyroid problem, which I would happily take a pass on. Alas, not an option.
In a fine example of the expressions "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans" or "The best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry", within about a week of making a series of New Year's resolutions (including the resolution of making weekly posts to this blog), I found out the reason I had been feeling a variety of incarnations of terrible was because I have hyperthyroidism. Follow up tests pinpointed it as Graves disease (not really a name you want to hear for any condition you are diagnosed with even if it's just named after the guy who discovered it). As it turns out, the thyroid is actually pretty key for determining how you feel, as it basically regulates your metabolism. After reading over the list of symptoms associated with Graves disease, a number of which are emotional/mental, I asked Ryan if that gave me a free pass for all past craziness. Alas, he said I could only give partial credit to the illness.
While I've certainly never been on speed, I feel like I'm getting a bit of a taste of it, as the best way I can describe my physical state is to say that it feels like my body is vibrating, while at the same time I feel generally exhausted (I get out of breath walking up the stairs in our house or reading a book to Quinn) and have trouble really staying focused. So, while I can't attribute all past bad behavior to this condition, and it's really impossible to pinpoint when it started, I am giving myself a bit of a pass on failing to stick with the blog post resolution (though I plan to get back on track).
As much as anything, the diagnosis just made me feel old. I've dealt with a variety of physical issues in the past - back, knees, wrist, etc - but somehow getting a diagnosis of something that you will most likely need to deal with on a daily basis for the rest of your life is different. I've spent many hours at this point reading everything I can find on the web, and I have to say, I don't really like the options. I'm 37 years old and the idea of killing a pretty key part of my body (taking radioactive iodine to basically kill most/all of your thyroid is the most common treatment in the U.S.) and then being dependent on drugs for the rest of my life to kick start my metabolism seems pretty crazy. I'm no scientist, but I have a lot of faith in them and it's hard for me to believe that in the next 30+ years there won't be a better option than this. Anti-thyroid drugs are another option, but after use for 1-2 years, the disease goes into remission for only a relatively small percentage of patients. So, I haven't found either of these alternatives to be particularly compelling.
I've been trying to find alternative options. Perhaps I've read too much Dr Weil, but when you're dealing with an auto-immune disease it seems weird to be focused on addressing the symptoms (hyperthyroidism in this case) rather than dealing with fixing the immune system. While clearly this falls into the "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on the web" category or maybe just plain denial, I can't help but believe that there is some alternative treatment, diet, supplements, etc. that can help get my system back into alignment.
I have seen one naturopathic doctor so far and one of the most useful pieces of advice she gave me was insisting that I really listen to my body and respect what my body needs. What's amazing in this advice was that it forced me to realize how often I do just the opposite. Like many people, I too often use caffeine or sugar to prepare myself to do something physically when what my body really needs is a nap. Shocking, but the doctor didn't think it was such a good idea for me to be frequently having a double shot of espresso to get myself to yoga class. Staying up late to read just one more chapter was similarly frowned upon.
She prescribed a diet void of pretty much all of the quick fixes I rely on - no caffeine, chocolate, sugar or alcohol. While my first reaction to this prescription was that perhaps nuking my thyroid wasn't such a bad idea after all, I was resolved that I should give these things a fair shake. While I've had a few lapses (glass of wine after very rough plane flight, crackers after stomach flu, and chocolate after tough day with the five year old) I have mostly stuck with the program and I do feel that it's helped make my energy more consistent and even and slightly reined in the feeling of being on speed.
I met with an endocrinologist this week and he said I could take six months to try whatever alternative approach I wanted as long as my symptoms don't get significantly worse. I was really happy that he wasn't completely dismissive of what I want to try (while noting that the patients he'd had in the past who've had similar ideas pretty much always end up back at his office.) So, I've got six months to try to fix the problem and I'm actually excited about embarking on this project. While I accept that my efforts may not fix the Graves disease/hyperthyroidism, I am convinced that tuning in to my body and taking better care of myself is a worthy effort that is probably long overdue. Sometimes it takes a push from something you can't control to highlight what you should have been doing all along.