The Butterfly Effect, under friendly fire.
Each one of us has a tiny butterfly residing low at the front of the neck. A gland called the thyroid. This tiny butterfly shaped gland produces hormones that regulate, well pretty much everything in the body. From metabolism, heart and digestive function, brain development to bone maintenance, this tiny gland is a powerhouse, a hormone control centre. No one can live without a thyroid. Those that have theirs removed due to medical issues will need to take thyroid replacement hormones for the rest of their life.
This might seem like an unusual topic for an outdoor instructor to be talking about but this tiny butterfly, well the half of her I have left, I have become to know intimately over the past few years.
I was motivated to write this a while back when I was working with an amazing guy who had been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. We were discussing how disheartening it is that when you get diagnosed with something as much as you know you shouldn’t google it, you can’t help but hit the google. What I have realised is that people often only write stuff on forums when they are in pain and suffering. When they feel some semblance of normal they are too busy living their lives to write that they feel good or that they have found a way to live with their affliction. Therefore, when you go looking for positivity you come away more depressed and with a sense of hopelessness than you visited with.
An autoimmune disease is where your immune system goes rogue and rather than just attacking the bad things in the body like viruses and nasty bacteria it gets confused and also attacks human body tissue. This usually starts with it attacking one isolated part such as the skin, the thyroid, the stomach etc. If it is not got under control quickly it makes the individual more susceptible to the immune system turning on other parts of the body.
I have always been told I burn the candle at both ends. My father regularly asking me if I have taken a break recently. The answer is of course always ‘not yet’. I had never had a problem with energy until a few years ago when I was so tired. It was a bone-weary tiredness, it crept on slowly and started clouding my brain. I was at the time bouncing from one environment to the next, I’d literally be at high altitude one day and dropped into the jungle the next. I was guiding large scale expeditions interspersed with TV safety work full time.
I have always hated going to the Dr, when I rely on my body and mind to be strong so much, I hate it when they display any sign of weakness. I finally plucked up the courage to go see a Dr and say I was so tired. They told me it was my lifestyle and to go get some rest. I knew there was something wrong, I had never had a problem before. A few months later and another Dr visit with the same prognosis I gave up on this avenue. Over the next year or so I found myself struggling. I could do my work and was able to be focused but as soon as we wrapped filming for the day or I got into my hammock I was wiped out. The rare moments between jobs which I had always cherished as times to catch up and go play with friends in the mountains started to fall away as I had so little energy.
I am a problem solver and I cannot sit idly. I started looking for solutions which is how I found the answer.
I had read somewhere that Spirulina was good (this is not the case if you are prone to thyroid issues, too much iodine!) for energy and started adding it into morning smoothies. A couple of weeks later, this was in 2014, I had developed a large lump in my throat that was incredibly uncomfortable and was starting to affect my breathing. Strangely enough the Drs suddenly took me seriously, recognising an issue with my thyroid, and sent me immediately for blood tests and a biopsy to rule out cancer. The test came back inconclusive and they decided to operate to remove the lump and half of my thyroid. My bloods meanwhile had come back as showing me as severely hypothyroid. They were surprised, apparently the reasons they hadn’t run tests before was because my body shape did not match the stereotypical patient with an underactive gland. This brings up frustrations with treating the patient not the symptoms. Of course, I wasn’t going to be overweight with my lifestyle but that’s a whole other story. Anyway, they immediately started me on synthetic thyroid hormone. This initially takes up to six weeks to absorb the hormone properly but within a few days I felt so much more awake than I had in a long time. The clouds in my brain slowly started parting. The results also showed that the problem was not in my thyroid but for some reason my immune system was attacking and destroying my thyroid gland and I have what is called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
Since this and a lot of research, I now see a functional Dr who has finally prescribed me with natural thyroid hormone which
is hard to get in the UK. The NHS refuse to prescribe it under the excuse that it cannot be regulated in terms of how much hormone you receive. This is not true. The synthetic hormone typically given in the UK does not contain everything the thyroid needs and neither are the standard blood tests comprehensive enough to show full thyroid function. I felt better on synthetic thyroid hormone but in the last year I have been taking natural thyroid, my energy is much more even and I feel normal. I also am, as much as possible, far more aware of what I eat. I cut out all gluten, unless I really can’t avoid it, I have minimised my intake of adrenal stimulating foods and drinks such as sugar and coffee. I know I have to be careful and really listen to my body but I haven’t, nor do I intend to stop.
The moral of the story is that with all the times that someone posts their struggles (and please don’t stop sharing), there are many more that have found ways to cope. Hashimoto’s does not define me, it does not stop me, it may temporarily slow me down from time to time but I see it as a challenge and an excuse to get to know myself better. Life would be boring if it were an easy ride.
Here are some inspiring celebrities with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis:
Zoe Saldana, Kim Cattrall, Gigi Hadid, Jillian Michaels