Hello again! It’s been a long, long time since my last post – 9 months I see! Perhaps you thought I was gone for good? Sometimes I’ve wondered that myself when I noticed my laptop was gathering dust in the corner – but no, I don’t think Mrs Goodness is over for me. I find writing incredibly fulfilling and rewarding when I can muster the discipline (and find the time) to sit down and JUST DO IT. The reason for my very long writing hiatus is that I haven’t been feeling well – yes, in spite of all my efforts to live well – and so I’ve spent a good deal of time and energy doubting that what I’ve been sharing with you these past few years has actually been helpful at all 😔. Sad but true.
But happily, today’s story isn’t a tragedy – I’m back on my keyboard today because I want to share how after more than a decade of searching, and after reaching a point where I felt resigned to just giving up, I finally, FINALLY have some answers. And once again, I hope that sharing my story might, in some small way, help someone else.
If you’ve been reading my blog from the beginning you will know that most, if not all, of my healthy, environmentally-conscious initiatives and experiments have been motivated by my own health complaints, and a desire to do something to make myself feel better. I haven’t been living in chronic pain, I haven’t been fighting to live, but I’ve always had niggling little issues, discomforts, and the fear that I’m a bit of a time-bomb, having experienced depression in the past and feeling like sometimes I’m swinging a little too close to relapse for comfort. A year and a half ago I had a hysterectomy in the hope that it would finally resolve the worst of my complaints – extremely heavy bleeding that had drained my body of iron, and the resulting digestive discomfort, fatigue and malaise. I believe I have recovered extremely well from this surgery and it has definitely improved my quality of life. As I wrote previously, my digestive issues disappeared almost overnight. However, I have continued to feel extremely fatigued, weak, and emotionally un-stable – and it would seem that these complaints are not rare for women who have had hysterectomies, so I have just laid low, rested, and taken things easy for over a year in the hope that things will improve with time. Unfortunately, things haven’t improved; if anything, I’ve been slowly getting worse. A few months ago, I went to my doctor (a new one again – I have great difficulty getting to see the same GP more than once!) and complained about my tiredness, weakness, and aching arms. It had got to the point where I didn’t want to knit anymore as it was too physically uncomfortable and tiring – if you know me personally, you will know how much I love knitting, and you will understand that this no insignificant detail! I mentioned that I felt like things would get worse in a sort of cyclical way – hard to pin down exactly, since I don’t have periods to mark dates anymore, but that was my hunch. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that, because the doctor’s immediate response was that I should go on the pill. This should address my fatigue and mood swings, as it apparently does for many women. You have no idea how many times I have been advised by different doctors to go on the pill – this is even after my husband went way beyond his comfort zone to get ‘the snip’ and then since my own hysterectomy. I will freely admit that I do not get excited when the contraceptive pill is presented as a magic cure-all to all my health complaints. I’m not rude though, so I said I’d think about it, and in the meantime I got blood tests to check my iron, B12, thyroid function etc – the usual. As usual, my thyroid seemed to be in working order, B vitamins were in good supply, and my ferritin stores were so-so at 61µg/L. Therefore, my GP didn’t contact me after my results came back, and I was left to wonder if this is as good as it gets. I felt like I’d come to a dead-end in my years-long investigation.
Over the years, I’ve had concerned, caring friends, family members, and medical professionals suggest to me that perhaps I’ve been looking outside of myself for answers that lie within. That it may in fact be my unrealistically high expectations of myself and of life that cause me to feel constantly dissatisfied with what I can’t achieve. Perhaps I’m trying too hard to be a perfect mum, feeding my family a perfect diet, striving to live a low-waste, low-plastic life with high consumer ethics, trying too hard to be responsible in everything I say and do, and it’s all simply wearing me down. But I’m so idealistic, and I’ve tried to rebel against such suggestions, getting fuel for my convictions from amazingly supportive and encouraging feedback through this blog and surrounding myself with like-minded people (I’m no lone soldier here!). Yet the seeds of self-doubt have sprouted in my heart, mind, and gut, and I finally felt like maybe I’ve been living in denial. Maybe I’m just not strong enough to be who I want to be, and do what I want to do? I had no answers anymore.
One day, as we were heading out for a family adventure at the beach my husband looked across at me in the car (I was dejected and tired as usual) and suggested I should contact that integrative doctor in Hamilton I’d once mentioned. In case you don’t already know, an integrative doctor is one who is conventionally trained (this particular doctor I’m referring to is a registered GP) but who also embraces a range of ‘alternative therapies’ that may have positive health outcomes for patients, eg. acupuncture, homeopathy, with a goal to treat the ‘whole’ patient (mind, body, spirit). I have heard of two integrative doctors in Hamilton but they are very expensive, and I have never considered my complaints to be worthy of a $450 bill for a first consultation (and we don’t have $450 lying around spare either). But I guess at this point I realised my husband felt as desperate as me. On Monday morning I called the clinic and asked the receptionist for an appointment. She suggested that I write an email outlining what my health complaints are and that the doctor would review my email and decide if he felt he could be of help to me before I committed to an initial consultation. So I did just that, and the same evening I received a reply suggesting that I first complete a comprehensive thyroid test and an adrenal cortisol test. The first was a blood test, and the second required saliva samples taken from home over the course of a day. Both were sent to a laboratory in Australia for processing, and it took 3-4 weeks to receive results which were emailed to me. Although I couldn’t fully understand what all the numbers and figures meant on my results sheets, the visuals seemed to indicate that my cortisol levels were slightly less than optimal (but not terrible), my TSH and T3/T4 levels were sort-of ok, but my thyroid antibodies (TPOAb) were waaaay off the chart at 355IU/mL. So, what does this mean? It means that my immune system has pulled together a little army of soldiers specifically trained to fight (and, if left to their own devices, eventually destroy) the evil foreign invader that is… my thyroid! It would seem that I have auto-immune thyroiditis, and I have reason to believe that I have had it since I was a teenager even though regular blood tests over my lifetime have always suggested that my thyroid is functioning ‘normally’.
The integrative doctor decided to refer me instead to his colleague, a naturopath. In our first meeting, the naturopath reviewed my results with me. She clarified that she is unable to officially diagnose me but agreed that the results would suggest I have auto-immune thyroiditis, for which she will treat me. I can’t even begin to explain how emotional it was for me to have someone else tell me there is actually something physically wrong with me that is causing me to feel this way. Luckily she had a big box of tissues handy.
In the weeks since that appointment, I’ve been getting my head around the idea that I still don’t have a formal diagnosis – a neat little label that I can use to define my sickness. And I don’t have a ‘magic pill’ either; just a small assortment of supplements and tinctures which I take throughout the day. At first it felt a bit bittersweet – I finally have answers, but not solutions. I have learned that my past experiences of depression (with the suggestion at one point of bipolar disorder) were most likely symptoms of thyroid dysfunction, my diagnosis of juvenile myoclonic epilepsy as a teenager was very likely also a misdiagnosed thyroid dysfunction, the heavy menstrual bleeding and inability to build up iron stores are also common symptoms of thyroid dysfunction. When I read through the list of common symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease, I felt like I was reading my life story (except for weight gain and infertility). I guess I could go back to my doctor and demand some thyroid medication but even if she agreed in spite of those first normal blood test results, it would not address the crux of the issue which is my immune system dysfunction. I’ve come around to the conclusion that what I really want is to feel WELL. Not to feel diagnosed and medicated, but to feel WELL. My naturopath wants to work with me to figure out what my body needs to get well, which means there isn’t a single perfect protocol to follow for guaranteed results. This process requires a lot more faith in myself and patience (both of which I have a sub-optimal supply of, haha 😅) than does my daydream about diagnosis and a magic pill. But having reached a point where I thought I’d hit a dead-end, only to discover there was a little path I didn’t at first notice, I’ve decided I’m going to give this naturopath a chance.
So here I am; at 41 I found out I had endometriosis (and adenomyosis), and at 42 that I have auto-immune thyroiditis, both of which I’ve probably had for decades (I appreciate more than ever how blessed I am for our two beautiful children!). I’ve spent years being told I was healthy while feeling sick and frustrated. Now I know I’m sick I still feel like crap but I also feel sort of empowered. I’m lucky to have access to a health professional whose goal for me is the same as mine, and I feel more than ever that all the good things I’ve been doing for myself and my family all these years have been worthwhile and important. I can share with my children everything that I’ve experienced and learned so that at best they can avoid succumbing to these (hereditary) diseases altogether, and at worst they’ll at least have a head start on identifying and tackling either or both of them. And more than ever, I hope that they’ll never need to doubt that what they feel, in terms of their health and wellbeing, is valid.