The Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta lasted 27 years and can be broken down into three stages. In the case in the war against my thyroid, I can do the same and at 31 years old, I can finally claim victory. Here’s my story.
For the most part, I’ve always been fit, more at some points than others. Despite the numbers looking okay, both on the scale and in the lab, something has always been off. I never felt healthy. But how do you know that you don’t feel healthy when you never have?
I was a very active little kid. I grew up in Florida, where we lived across the street from the tennis club where my brother and I sweat it out three days a week, and had a backyard pool that we made the most of nine months of the year. We were only allowed to watch TV for an hour a day, but why would we want to when we could be outside?
Despite constant activity, I was always a pretty chubby little kid. But chubby kids are cute, aren’t they? I suppose, but my friends weren’t. Neither was my brother, and we ate the same food. And that wasn’t fair.
Back in the 1980’s, way before it was “a thing,” my pediatrician also didn’t think it was fair, or normal for me to be as chubby as I was, or to have cholesterol that was in the 300s. THREE HUNDREDS. I was seven! So he had me tested for hypothyroidism. The bad news? Everything was normal. Therefore, from that point on, we chalked up the weight and the cholesterol to bad genes, and I just had to do my best to “exercise and watch what I ate.” Since I really like good-for-you foods and to exercise, this wasn’t hard to do.
Fast forward to my junior year of high school. A bad reaction to some acne medication sent me into liver failure. For the first time in my life, I was skinny!! Granted, not the way one wants to obtain said skinniness, but I was in high school, and we all remember how that was. I’d take my liver failure skinny. After that episode, in my senior year, I started seeing an endocrinologist to help my body recover from being sick and the steroids that had aided my recovery. At that point in my life, almost ten years later, my thyroid labs came back not normal. Hypothyroidism! So started Phase I of my thyroid war. With this diagnosis came some thyroid meds. And cholesterol meds. And some birth control for the hormones. And something else for insulin resistance. How old was I? Right. Eighteen. But at least I was getting straightened out. Or so I thought.
I went off to college and by Christmas break, I had gained thirty pounds. THIRTY. At that point in my college career, I did not drink (I was one of those late bloomers, so I couldn’t blame the alcohol). To add insult to injury, I was a college athlete- a novice rower for three months. Have you ever rowed? That is HARD. And with those kinds of workouts, even taking into account muscle, this was not normal. I went home crying to my endocrinologist, at a loss for what to do next. What did my endocrinologist say? Some people just need to eat apples for dinner to not gain weight. W.T.F. NO. Something was not working.
An apple a day DOES keep the doctor away. However, not JUST an apple a day…
I came home from that appointment in tears and at that point, I switched doctors. I found another endo, who was much better. She took me off all but the thyroid meds. After I lost all my resulting college weight that I had gained (that was from beer…), I had been able to maintain a comfortable weight for the following 7 or so years thanks to my alternate existence as a gym rat. But the weight was a constant battle. And the cholesterol. Life goes on.
Fast forward to almost present day. I had settled myself into a pretty fabulous life in Chicago. Lots of friends, great job, great life. However, in a period of 8 months, I had gained ten pounds. And reluctantly starting taking cholesterol medicine again. Whaat?? Apparently low-carbing, running, four spin classes and three Bikram Yoga classes a week were not enough to keep my pants from getting tight or my blood from becoming solid. My energy was okay. My clothes did still fit. And according to my normal GP, all my labs were fine. But I was not.
Me approximately a year later, about 15 pounds heavier, from nothing I was doing differently
After taking the advice of a friend, I switched to an Integrative medicine practice. My new doctor is still an M.D., but the idea behind integrative medicine is that it emphasizes the relationship between the doctor and patient, the innate healing ability of the body and the importance of addressing all aspects of an individual’s life to attain optimal health and healing. I finally had a doctor that was listening. She did a very comprehensive lab work-up and saw that my labs were NOT fine. Without getting into the scientific details, she added another thyroid medicine to supply my body with a balance of hormones (T4 and T3) that it was not making itself, rather than sticking to the one (T4 only) that I had been taking for the past 10 years. Phase II of the war.
And you know what? I felt great. I remember thinking “THIS is how healthy feels!” I felt less bloated and more energetic. This high lasted for a few weeks. If you know how the thyroid works with the adrenals, that complicated relationship can lead to crashes. And that is what happened. I started to feel as before, and eventually worse and worse, though again, my labs were normal.
It had gotten to the point where, no matter how well I ate, and how much I exercised, my weight continued to climb. I even started walking to and from work to add extra activity to my day, which meant at least an extra two hours a day, at least three days a week. And this was in December. In Chicago. Clearly I was desperate.
This is how I felt
I came across a website called Stop the Thyroid Madness, which has pretty much saved me. I asked my doctor if I could take Armour, which is the natural version of T3 and T4 I had been taking, just to see if my body would take to it better than to the synthetic. Phase III. Because she’s awesome, she was all for it, and after switching up my meds, everything is actually normal. I FEEL normal. Alive. In three months, I’ve lost those ten pounds. And cut my cholestrol medicine in half, with the hope I can stop taking it completely. And the Spartan in me can tell there’s more to come. Now, when I sweat, it means more than going through the motions, hoping that it will make a difference. Now, I know that it does.
This is me, doing my happy dance!
Have you ever felt like you didn’t feel well, but couldn’t figure out why? Or did you think it was all in your head?
Do you have a thyroid problem? When did you realize it and how has your life changed now that you know?