Thyoliday Blues and Truths

The lovely Katie Schwartz at Dear Thyroid e-mailed me a few weeks ago and asked me to take part in Dear Thyroid’s Thyoliday Blues and Truths this month. If you struggle with thyroid disease, you really should check them out.

Questions from Dear Thyroid:

1. Have the holidays and your experience of them changed since you’ve been diagnosed?

My first response when reading that question was “not really,” until I realized that’s not really true. My family’s favorite thing to do at the holidays is eat and drink. Like many people who suffer from thyroid disease (mine is Hashimoto’s), I had a growing sensitivity to food, namely starchy, carbo-laden foods. The slightest bites of bread seemed to send my stomach spiraling. In subsequent months I’ve had my medication altered to help address this effect, but prior to this, I’d been eschewing gluten and carbs, thinking a food allergy was to blame. That is, except at the holidays. I’ve always had issues with food and eating, and to have to forgo the one thing that said the holidays was something I’ve never been able to do, even in service of feeling better. I still struggle with this. I haven’t figured out a way to come to peace with this. Probably because I’m so exhausted all of the time.

2. What is your favorite holiday food/dish from childhood?  What is your favorite dish now? (Did you have to change your diet at all since being diagnosed?)

See above. I love the ham sandwiches we have at my parents, and the yeasty, buttery rolls my parents get to make them.

3. Off the top of your head, is there one comment from friends or family that sticks out in your mind as a what-were-they-thinking kind of thing that brought your disease front and center for everyone at the holiday function to hear about?

My eating. There are always, always comments about what I might or might not eat, so I just eat anyway and hope no one makes any comments and draws attention to me. Truth be told, thyroid disease remains one of those chronic conditions that people don’t understand, even though so many people suffer from it. I still agonize over whether or not anything I do or don’t do is reduced to “in my head” by those around me, and so whenever anyway points out my eating habits, I feel incredibly self-conscious.

Even last night at a holiday party, among girlfriends who completely understand that I have this, I feel like I have to prove to people that I do work hard and maintain a healthy diet, and all of this extra weight, exhaustion and stomach issues aren’t a result of poor choices or lack of discipline.

4. How do you get through the stress of the holidays, paired with a disease? What are your coping strategies?

With each of these questions, I’m becoming more and more aware of how much thought I don’t give this, and yet it impacts everything. I don’t have coping strategies, mostly because it’s clear to me that I have hit a bit of a wall with it all, and don’t actively do much to get better, other than what I’m doing.

5. Do you feel the need to enlighten and educate your loved ones about your disease when you get together for holidays, as people are often curious about our illnesses?  If so, how do you educate them?

I don’t think so, but that’s mostly because I don’t talk about it beyond my blog. I still have trouble accepting it, I suppose. I do a poor job educating people. Am I alone on this one?

6. Has your disease ever showed up at the wrong time on a holiday and ruined the day or moment?

Nah. But I do get tired before everyone, especially if we’ve all settled in to watch movies. I pass out immediately.

7. Have you thought about submitting a letter to Dear Thyroid? If so, would your letter be a love letter or a hate letter? Would it be to your thyroid or from your thyroid?

Oh, I’d gather it would be a hate letter. When I first was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid in 2007, I was put on synthroid. I had been following a South Beach-style of eating, due to the aforementioned stomach issues, and lost 20 pounds in about three months. I felt pretty incredible, and was actually upset that it took this long to figure out that I had a thyroid problem. But then like so many people with a thyroid condition, my body shifted once more and the therapy I was following stopped working. In 2008, I gained all but five of the pounds I’d previously lost. To make matters worse, I’d injured my hip training for a triathlon and was out of traction for months. Currently I take synthroid and cytomel, and while both have done wonders in helping me with my exhaustion, my weight continues to cause me no short amount of grief. The main culprit, however, is stress. The thyroid is partially to be blamed, for sure, but I think if I was managing my stress a bit more productively I could deal with the weight issues more effectively. That said? I’m not about to beat myself up over 15 pounds.

8. If you could tell the world one thing about thyroid disease (or thyroid cancer) that you feel they don’t understand, what would it be?

Just that it’s real. There is nothing I’d like more than to not feel like a chronic ball of crazy. One of the things that, really, only my husband is aware of, is that not a day goes by where I’m not in some sort of pain for one reason or another. Again, I attribute much of this to stress, and my inability to manage it well, but something is always hurting or aching. Headaches, stomach aches, exhaustion…every day. I feel blessed to have a husband who, without fail, sees me through every bit of it, and knows it’s not all in my head or dramatics on my part. Perhaps, though, I should remind myself that my disease is real and could use more attention.

9. What is the greatest misconception regarding thyroid disease and thyroid cancer?

See answer to #8. I do think, however, that all people, before they get placed on anti-depressants, would do well to have their blood work done since so many cases of depression are actually a non-diagnosed thyroid condition. That’s more of a misconception about depression than thyroid disease, but I suffered from what I thought was depression for several years. Once I was tested and placed on medication, that particular cloud lifted.

10. What is the stupidest thing someone has said to you regarding your illness that, to this day, still makes you laugh or makes you angry?

I’ve actually never had anything stupid said to me. I’ve been lucky in that I have a blog that, when I wrote about being diagnosed with hypothyroidism/Hashimoto’s, found me the recipient of a lot of support from readers who also had thyroid disease. Mostly, though, many, many people have a hard time believing your weight issues are the result of your thyroid. Fat people are the last acceptable group to discriminate against and treat like shit, and despite all we know about dieting and health, we still look at people who are overweight as though they just don’t have the discipline to lose weight. There are people who choose not to monitor what they eat and do not exercise,  obviously, and so whether or not they lose or gain weight is not something of issue for them. That, also, has nothing to do with discipline. But for those who are overweight, and make the choice to monitor their diet and exercise, discipline just isn’t the issue.  The rest of the free world treating them like shit, however, seems to be.

In writing this tonight, I feel like it’s pretty obvious that since being diagnosed this Fall I haven’t done much in the ways of getting serious about taking care of myself. I’ve said before that this thing requires attention and care, and I’ve let work and life stress get in the way of getting healthier, or at least trying to. It’s not like I’ve done nothing – that’s for sure – but I’m sure there are some steps I could be taking that I’m not.

Perhaps a goal for the new year.

If you have thyroid disease, I encourage you to check out Dear Thyroid!

Dear Thyroid is a literary thyroid support community and blog. Thyroid patients are invited to submit Dear Thyroid letters; love letters and hate letters, among other thyroid literary things, such as Thyrants, Thygraphs, Thykus, Thyetry and Thysongs, etc. Our goals are for all of us as a community of patients to connect with each other and our diseases, and to bring awareness to thyroid diseases and thyroid cancers, we need and deserve a face and a voice. For our non-literary crew, we have monthly Flickr pools. Recently, we launched Dear Thyroid Local Meet Ups for offline support. Dear Thyroid Forums are forthcoming in December.