This past weekend I turned 29…for the tenth year in a row. I love birthdays, but being the center of attention is a lot of pressure, ha ha.
I must be honest, this journey of starting a blog and writing thoughts, experiences, and feelings has been an adjustment. I have this insecurity talking about myself. I don’t want it to be all about “me”. What I have learned is that it is OK to talk about myself (there, I said it!). My hope is that talking about the things I have learned or overcome can help someone in a similar scenario, from health struggles to gardening tips. I’m coming around to this process.
Listen to the blog post by going to our Podcast page.
With that said, I’ve been reflecting more this past year on how I became who I am. I’m learning to celebrate the things that make me…me. There’s no better time to celebrate these things than on a birthday!
I was lucky enough to have the first “non-quarantined” birthday in our family. All of our birthdays have been celebrated virtually since last April. This past weekend was the first time my family has been together, in 3D form, since Christmas 2019! We celebrated being together more than anything, but having a birthday thrown in there was extra special. To meet everyone’s comfort level, we camped outside. Campfires and cheesecake is a birthday win in my book!
This celebration reminded me of my 16th birthday which was also celebrated at a campground. It was a milestone in many ways. That celebration was more than a “Sweet 16”. You see, when I was 15, I was diagnosed with a thyroid disease called Graves’ Disease. I had gained 30 unexplainable pounds in two months (no fun for any teenager). I would eat an entire meal and come back 10 minutes later able to eat a second full meal (that’s not an exaggeration). My mood swings were beyond a normal teenager! There were also little things like brittle nails and dry skin that I paid little attention to. No one could figure out what was going on. It wasn’t until I went to the doctor for bronchitis and he had me tip my head back to check my lymph nodes that he could see that lovely butterfly-shaped gland sticking out of my neck. Turns out my thyroid was 5 times the size it should have been!
Thyroids can be hyper (over) or hypo (under) active. The reason it took so long to diagnose me was that my symptoms were the exact opposite of my diagnosis. They were that of a person with hypothyroidism, and Graves’ Disease is hyperthyroid. I should have been losing weight instead of gaining weight. I should have been fatigued instead of overly energetic. The list went on. However, I did have a fast irregular heartbeat. Luckily it was not cancerous and all of this was caught before it affected my vision (common in Graves’ Disease).
I am not going to lie, my brain has blocked much of the time after my diagnosis and I’m relying on stories from my mother and the tidbits I remember. At the time the best treatment was radioactive iodide. I remember trips to the hospital and standing in front of a “camera” placed at the neck. There were many medications and dosage changes to regulate my thyroid and heart. Some of which I became allergic to or made me sick. My mother describes me as “gray” in appearance. I was a lifeless ball on the couch from being sick, when the doctors said I should be fine.
I ate mashed potatoes for an entire summer because it was all I could stomach. To this day I crave plain mashed potatoes when I’m not feeling well. Through all of it, I missed one full year of school and ended up completing school work at home with the help of some family friends. As far as most people in school were concerned, I dropped off the planet. I returned to school in the second half of my junior year. I’m thankful I still graduated on time with my class and my friends.
My 16th birthday was celebrated in the middle of all of this. I had been looking forward to my 16th birthday for as long as I could remember. In my head it was going to be glorious. In reality, I was just barely getting through each day. I wanted zero attention at that time. I was uncomfortable in my body and hid behind a pair of overalls and tie-dye shirt on a hot and humid day. However, my family made it about me in a way that it didn’t feel like I was the center of attention all day. It was a break from the mundane days in bed and the medical conversations. Not what I had envisioned all those years prior, but perfect in it’s own way. It was a celebration of us together more than anything.
Fast forward to this year. I’m still having thyroid level fluctuations (thanks to two of my three pregnancies) and we are working through some hypothyroid issues (it’s interesting experiencing both sides of the thyroid spectrum). I can tell when my thyroid is off by my hunger, weight, and energy levels. Despite the constant exhaustion, the struggle to keep weight on, and the anxiety it brings (most still opposite of hypothyroid symptoms), my birthday was celebrated much like my 16th. A celebration of us together…along with the requested annual cheesecake!
My experience with Graves’ Disease is one I never shared with people up until recently. It was a time in my life I wanted to block out because, if I’m honest, it sucked. However, now I realize that this time shaped who I have become. I have the ability to share this experience and potentially help someone else.
For those of you out there, I get those unexplainable feelings. I get the looks people give because you don’t “look sick.” I gained a lot of empathy from this experience.
It’s made me…me.
“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive, who is youer than you.” -Dr. Suess
I felt it important to tell this story because I’ve talked to friends about their health issues. I recognized certain symptoms. Over half of these friends actually ended up having a hypothyroid issue. Feeling “off” is never fun. Many people have undiagnosed thyroid problems. The thyroid affects many other things in your body when it is off. If interested, read more about hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. It’s a simple blood test to check your levels. Just be sure to request more than a TSH test…test all the thyroid levels! Sometimes the answer is buried in those other tests.