I'm taking a brief diversion from the yoga dance talk to share my experience being diagnosed with Hashimoto's. Hashimoto's is an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks the thyroid, resulting in hypothyroidism, or low thyroid function. It's an extremely common condition, which makes it all the more frustrating that it often goes undiagnosed, untreated, or poorly treated. I've experienced firsthand how difficult it is getting diagnosed and treated, so I'm sharing my experience in hopes that it might help someone else.
Since the beginning of the year, I have been struggling with extreme fatigue. For months at a time, I was forced into taking a break, backing off my yoga teaching and dance commitments because I just didn't have the energy to do anything. For a while, I could get away with writing off my fatigue as simply the result of being super active. I work out a lot and lead a busy life! Of course I'm tired! I'm sure many people have experienced this feeling, but I should have paid attention to my body's subtle signals.
In January, I went on a cleanse diet for three weeks. During that time, I realized that I was using caffeine and sugar to get me through the day, and when I took those away, I felt pretty terrible. I went to see a nutritionist, who helped me revamp my diet. I added in a lot more protein and fat (yum), and started taking supplements to improve my energy levels. The changes I made did help a bit, but my nutritionist suspected hypothyroidism as the cause of my fatigue, so off to the doctor I went.
My doctor ran a complete blood test and confirmed I had hypothyroidism. At first, things were great. She did further tests on my thyroid and established that the hypothyroidism was due to Hashimoto's. She said she wasn't concerned about a specific TSH number and was most concerned about me feeling well. She prescribed levothyroxine and I started feeling better almost immediately. Yay.
Then, after a few months, I crashed. My symptoms came back worse than before. I had no endurance, I was tired all the time, and on top of that I started to suffer from brain fog-- losing words, forgetfulness, and difficulty concentrating. I remember one day I wanted to practice so badly, I tried to push through the fatigue and my muscles totally gave out. It was physically impossible to dance. I ended up collapsed on the floor in tears because I was so frustrated.
I went back to the doctor and she wouldn't change my dosage because my blood test showed my TSH was still within a normal range, in spite of the fact it was nearly double what it was when I was feeling well. I had to wait until my numbers got worse. I might be able to live with that, except that she offered no suggestions as to how I might be able to manage my symptoms in the meantime.
This is unacceptable. I'm not running marathons. I am a dancer and yogini, and while I practice as much as two hours per day on top of my teaching and rehearsal schedule, that's fairly low-impact in the scheme of things. I had gotten to the point where I was barely functional. It's really scary to feel not yourself! I truly felt like a different person, or maybe like a shell of myself.
I then went to see a holistic doctor and he prescribed T3 in addition to the T4 (levothyroxine) I was already taking. T4 is just one of the hormones the thyroid produces and needs to be converted to T3 for the body to use. Many thyroid patients (like me) have trouble converting T4 to T3 and need additional medication. He also gave me some recommendations about supplements based on the rest of my blood tests and my symptoms. He seems just as (maybe more!) frustrated that I am that people are not getting properly treated for thyroid conditions. Many doctors, even endocrinologists, are making recommendations based on research that is decades old, work on a scale for lab numbers that is way too broad to be of any use, and continue to treat patients based only on TSH, which is only a partial picture of how the thyroid is functioning. It seems that holistic doctors and naturopaths are more likely to get thyroid treatment right, but this is unfortunate because insurance does not cover non-traditional doctors. When I told my original GP I went for a second opinion and started asking questions, she refused to continue to treat me. That of course, scared me too, because now I didn't even have access to refill the prescription that was keeping me even barely functioning. I was very fortunate to have found this holistic doctor who could help me so quickly, and to be able to afford going that route. I can only imagine how frustrating it might be to go even longer, bouncing around doctor to doctor trying to get help for a chronic condition.
Anyway, I finally have all of my levels optimized, and have a routine that hopefully will keep me healthy for a long time. My doctor says my case is easy! It was still a struggle for many months, and so I want to share some resources that have been helpful to me.
Nutritionists are awesome! I learned a lot and she worked with me to make changes to my diet that didn't disrupt my lifestyle too much and that would support my stressed out systems. I saw a nutritionist who was finishing her training program so it was at a discount, plus I had the benefit of the knowledge of her advisors as well.
Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? made the mystery of the thyroid easy to understand. Such a tiny organ regulates so much! My primary symptom has been fatigue but thyroid problems can cause weight fluctuations, hair loss, depression, infertility, and a long list of other issues. This book explains how proper treatment can bring everything back into balance.
StoptheThyroidMadness.com is a great website with lots of articles about thyroid diagnosis, treatment, and research. It's a little fanatical, but I can't blame them, because it IS madness.
ThyroidChange.org is where I found my doctor. Their list includes doctors who will run full thyroid labs and will treat with T3 or natural thyroid in addition to T4. There are regular doctors and endocrinologists on there as well as holistic doctors.
If you're struggling with fatigue or are otherwise not feeling like yourself, do consider getting your thyroid checked! And if you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and still aren't feeling well, don't give up. It's worthwhile to do a lot of research on your own. Find a doctor who will listen to you and get to the bottom of what's going on. Awesome doctors are out there! It might take some time to feel better. Just do the best you can. Be patient with yourself and know that it's OK to slow down and rest. Tell people who care about you and they will help you, too. Be well!