Every Thanksgiving, I reflect on the year that has passed. I think about the people and things in my life for which I am most grateful. A few years ago, I added my autoimmune disease to my list of Thanksgiving blessings. That diagnosis changed my life for the better, even though at first it was for the worst. Over the years, I learned how to be grateful for my autoimmune disease. I even now consider it one of my many Thanksgiving blessings.
My autoimmune diagnosis came somewhat accidentally. I had been having a series of mini strokes, or TIAs, and eventually it was determined that I had a congenital heart condition called patent foramen ovale (PFO). It was in searching for this diagnosis that my thyroid nodule was discovered. [I hadn’t felt it because it was oblong in shape, but it took up half my thyroid gland.] A year after having heart surgery to repair the PFO, I had a hemithyroidectomy to remove the nodule and the left side of my thyroid. Once opened up, the surgeon identified the cause of my nodule as “text book” Hashimoto’s disease.
Before and After Thyroidectomy
Before my thyroidectomy and autoimmune diagnosis, I wrote off all my symptoms as side effects to being a working mom of a toddler and an infant. I even had a few doctors tell me it was all just part of the post-partum period. But it wasn’t.
For years after my thyroidectomy, I focused only on the negative: The doctors who dismissed me; the massive nodule that grew inside me; the surgery; the scar on my neck; the lifetime prescription for medication; my sluggish metabolism and subsequent weight gain; the aggravating neuropathy, frozen elbow, and recurring joint pain; the premature menopause (before age 40) and osteoporosis (by 45) diagnoses that followed; the embarrassing hair loss, thinning eyebrows, and wild mood swings; the constant brain fog, lack of concentration, and extreme fatigue; the unpleasant GI issues and myriad of food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances I seemingly developed overnight (but in reality had unknowingly had my entire life); my very low threshold for stress and illness; and, at times, overwhelming feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that left me feeling defeated, depressed, and lonely.
Hashimoto’s took my health, my energy, and even my spirit. It wasn’t pretty. I was overweight, exhausted, and miserable with the person I had become … and I’m certain I made the people around me miserable, too.
Based on this long, noxious list, I viewed Hashimoto’s Disease as a curse. After all, it had robbed me of my former life. But then something changed. I changed, and it started with one decision almost ten years ago.
Hashimoto’s Disease and The Throat Chakra
That first decision was, by the far, the hardest, but also the most meaningful. It was the decision to enter therapy to battle years of trauma and overcome PTSD. Being able to finally speak about my past abuse and sexual assault allowed me to conquer built-up, repressed negative emotions. It was liberating! Opening up in therapy opened up my fifth (throat) chakra, which, when imbalanced, is often tied to thyroid disease. A closed throat chakra is also associated with feelings of being silenced or not heard. It took time — a long time — but with my fifth chakra in better alignment, I felt freer and more empowered. And that one decision — to enter therapy and shift from living as a victim to living as a survivor — had a rippling effect. If I could conquer PTSD, I could handle Hashimoto’s!
Living Well with Hashimoto’s Disease
Motivated, I started making a series of changes: I joined a gym and hired a personal trainer. Then, I removed inflammatory foods and changed my diet. Next, I researched complementary practices and tried alternative therapies. And best of all, I found a progressive endocrinologist, hired a wonderful functional medicine doctor, and joined the Autoimmune Sisters online community for support and encouragement.
This wasn’t an overnight change. It took years of trial and error and periods of doubt to get to where I am today. I still deal with occasional flare-ups, but now I have tools to manage them. I am the healthiest I’ve ever been and it started with a shift in mindset. That is the key, I think, to living well with Hashimoto’s disease — or any autoimmune disease: First, adjust your attitude. Then, take action. You didn’t choose to have this disease, but you do get to choose how you live with it. There will be challenges and setbacks, more than a few, but we Autoimmune Sisters are fighters. We are warriors. And there is strength in community.
True (Thanksgiving) Blessings
Hashimoto’s may have taken my thyroid, but it’s also given me so much more. It’s given me compassion for others, and mercy for myself; an appreciation for what my body can do, and grace for what it cannot; an understanding of my own needs, and the courage to set boundaries; the drive to seek answers, and a passion to live a healthier life; the strength to face adversities, and the fortitude to make hard changes; And most importantly, it’s given me the gift of finding my voice again, and the power to change my life.
My list of Thanksgiving blessings includes my disease because even though it was an unwanted gift (one that keeps on giving), it’s caused me to develop my greatest traits. For that, I am forever grateful.