It's International Thyroid Awareness Week, so I thought what better time to share with you my own personal story.
2 years ago, I'd not really heard of Thyroid function. I knew you could have underactive or overactive thyroid, which affected weight loss and that was about the extent of my knowledge. How things were about to change.
Back in October '12 I started feeling poorly. REALLY poorly. I was continuously freezing or overheated. My energy levels were past exhausted, I couldn't sleep at night yet would nod off in the middle of a conversation. I had piled on weight after Sully's birth at an extreme rate, my hair was coming out in handfuls, my skin flaking off, I couldn't think clearly or sometimes even at all (which is terrifying, if you've ever experienced a true loss of thought). I was permanently ill with a cold/flu/bug/open wounds. Worst though, was my throat. I would wake up choking. I could barely swallow, my inside neck felt dislocated with a consistent huge painful lump every time I tried to swallow. It was a struggle to lay down or turn my head at all.
I've always been one for not going to the doctors (the irony, now!) unless it was a real hardcore emergency. My last visit for treatment before then and the pregnancy was back in 2007, so it was difficult for me to make the decision to go and ask for help but after crying in a heap in the loo at 3am *again*, I decided to make an appointment.
I was checked over and told it was more than likely Globus Hystericus. An anxiety-based problem due to stress and worry, bringing a lump to my throat and making my already diagnosed General Anxiety Disorder worse... because I was panicked about the lump feeling, it got worse etc. such is the condition. She told me to chill out and come back in a few weeks if I was still experiencing symptoms. I felt terrible. The name globus hystericus didn't help, making me feel silly. With the heart palpitations and pre-fainting increasing, I felt I was losing control of the anxiety disorder even more, losing control of my own body. I ached all over. I have always had joint pain and random swellings since I was a child but everything was increasing. I couldn't take it and went back under the two week time frame to see my GP. As a side note, my GP is fantastic. She just had no idea of the rare situation at the time and had no real need to check me out fully at that first appointment.
So on going back a second time, I had bloods taken. Within 48 hours they had gotten back to me with the news that they thought I had something wrong with my Thyroid. I had to have some more bloods and an ultrasound scan to check Thyroid function and the words no one ever wants to hear, Thyroid Cancer. They rushed me through pretty quickly but even so, the 10 or so day wait we had for the tests and then the wait for diagnosis was really hard. I was scared, I had been feeling like my body was attacking me, it 'felt' like Cancer, I was convinced I had it. My GP rang the morning of my test results and asked to see me within the hour. This made me even more petrified, I took stock of my life at that exact point and decided to kick butt with whatever was wrong with me.
It wasn't Cancer. I was overwhelmed. And I felt so lucky. And scared. So many crazy emotions. I was then diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, an auto-immune disease which makes the body's natural defences (white blood cells and immune system) attack the Thyroid believing it is a foreign body. This breaks down the Thyroid gland limiting its function, which in turn makes it have to work harder to release the correct amount of hormone. In doing that, it gets swollen, scarred and covered in nodules. Every flare up I have, my body kills a little bit of my Thyroid Gland and it has to work harder and harder until eventually, it can give no more. To counter balance this, I am on medication for life, a Thyroid hormone replacement so that even though my immune system is killing my Thyroid, it can kind of die slowly and with dignity - meaning the swelling and nodules calm down and I can start getting my life back together.
Having Hashimoto's and being on full time medication was hard to cope with at first. It was amazing having a diagnosis, not having Cancer, I wasn't being 'cured'... but certainly being helped back on track. However it was still a shock to the system. I wasn't used to even seeing a GP and suddenly I'm thrown in to a world of waiting rooms, Endocrine specialists, blood tests, multiple daily pills, levels, side effects, symptoms - for life. I am now, nearly 2 years down the line, forever grateful for the medical attention I received and continue to receive. Especially from my GP and as mentioned earlier, the Endocrine team. Without my Endocrinologist Dr Lulsegged and his keen eye for problems, I wouldn't be where I am now.
Loosely related to the Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, are my two other chronic illnesses. Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I have had these two things for as long as I can remember, we just didn't know about it. However, post-partum Hashimoto's disease brought them to the forefront of my life. The heart palpitations and pre-fainting weren't down to anxiety, my joint pain and swelling wasn't just a thing from my childhood. As my Hashimoto's became manageable it became clear that other things were wrong and had been elevated in my body by this massive change. Dr Lulsegged spotted my heart problem and connective tissue disorder when no one else had reason to. I won't go into these problems here, as this is a Thyroid awareness post but it brings the point back that if I had never gotten checked, diagnosed and started treatment for Hashimoto's, I would be in an even worse place now with other conditions.
I mentioned at the beginning one of the symptoms I knew about was weight gain in underactive thyroid. Mine had been underactive for a long time, hence putting on the weight so easily. No matter what I did, it wouldn't shift - until I became under Dr Lulsegged's care and started treatment. The medication and balancing of my Thyroid started to help but Dr Lulsegged suggested a short stint on a 'Very Low Calorie Diet' to give me a kick-start. Most of you reading this know it was really successful in helping me on my weight loss journey. I started in mid November vowing never to go back to the size and weight I was. I did the very low calorie plan for just over 3 weeks, made it over Christmas (the hardest time, ever!) and then slowly started to re-introduce more normal foods/breakfast and lunch into my diet. I now don't follow a diet as such but try to eat as healthy as possible, with reduced carbs and sugar. I haven't been exercising until this past week (as I had to see my heart specialist first), so everything so far has been diet alone. So here are some pics, as this post has been long and text heavy! My weight loss so far of 48lbs!
I am planning to lose another 14lbs and see how I feel when I reach that. I have gone from a UK size 20 (20+ in some shops) to an easily comfortable 14. I'm currently wearing a size 10 t-shirt now actually, which I have to say, feels bl**dy amazing!
Remember, if you're feeling unwell, relentlessly ill, struggling with your weight... just ask for a blood test. Ask your GP to check your Thyroid function AND Thyroid anti-body levels, don't leave it like I did. If you have a Thyroid related story to share, or a story of your own weight loss journey, I'd love to hear it.
Who is Julie?
30 something, mother of two gorgeous boys, lover of one gorgeous husband, perpetually living in a dream world full of wine, chocolate and artsy crafty things.