My old friend Hashimoto’s has come for a visit. I have to admit, it has been a while. He’s evidently here for an extended stay, because he’s brought a lot of baggage along this time. The contents are comprised of a good many things I didn’t want to see again. So far, he is persistent with his little gifts for me, even though I try to refuse them.
My particular thyroid disease (named after the Japanese doctor who discovered it in 1912) is a common autoimmune disorder of mostly middle-aged women, affecting about 10% of the population. The cause is not known, although genetics and environmental exposures are suspected. There is no cure, even though this disease has been identified for 100 years.
In a nutshell, my immune system has decided to attack my thyroid, the central command of all bodily functions. Why?
With very little to go on, I’ve tracked down which side of the family has given me this interesting little gene. I’ve become vigilant of the triggers — cold, stress, lack of sun and exercise, bad diet, an encroaching sense of doom. And I know that the racing heartbeat, slow metabolism, acid reflux, mental confusion, tremors, goiter, muscle and joint pain, bloating, insomnia, depression and other delights are not far behind.
When my cuckoo’s nest of crazed antibodies breaks out into the endocrine system and wreaks havoc on my day, I try to remain calm, take my medicine and wait it out. I also consider what is going on in my life, inside and out.
I’m a big believer in listening to what the physical body is trying to tell us on other levels. In my self-help wanderings, I’ve come across healers such as Louise Hay and Christiane Northrup, who interpret what various ailments indicate in the spiritual, emotional and mental realms. This line of thought is considered “wacko” by western medicine, but even its practitioners can’t deny the mind-body connection anymore.
The loudest indictment against a holistic view of chronic disease and cancers is based on the notion that we cause our illnesses. That these afflictions are our own fault, and we are responsible for bringing health troubles on ourselves by bad living and poor choices.
This argument can’t be very healing, and blame does no good in the end. In the process of living, the best therapy points us to the areas of our lives that need to be acknowledged, nurtured, or sometimes released through grief work. The body often knows what the mind overlooks or dismisses.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck. It covers my throat and by its very position controls my voice, physically and spiritually. When it’s inflamed, the words I utter will become low and cracked. On its bad days, the gland pushes against my airway, and chokes back my requests for a good life. It becomes hard to swallow and take in the joy of the moment.
By force, I realize the need to relax into breath and search for the nurturing that eases my antibodies’ overly protective instincts. I have to coax out and address the fear my body holds to itself like a shield.
I’ve had a hard time speaking up over the years. During the first major visit by Hashimoto’s when I was almost 40, I saw many doctors, trying to find an answer for all my bizarre symptoms. Even when I intuitively suspected my thyroid as the problem, my hunch was dismissed by one doctor because I didn’t look like I had thyroid problems. The typical blood tests kept coming back normal, which wasn’t helpful.
No one in the medical profession would really listen to me, and I spent several winters in misery convinced that I was going nuts.
Finally, I found a nodule in my neck one cold winter night, and the blood tests confirmed hormonal imbalances. A biopsy followed. Within a week I was facing cancer, an oncologist and removal of my thyroid. At this point, I began to speak up and say the magic word: NO to messing with my neck, so close to my vocal chords and trachea; NO to irradiation and its aftereffects. YES to the inner voice.
I went to see a specialist, the top endocrinologist in the state. It was there that he introduced me to Hashimoto’s. Welcome to your chronic disease, lady, you’re one of the lucky 10%. Here’s some free samples of the synthroid you’ll be taking for the rest of your life.
I’d like to say that I’ve found my voice since then. That it’s loud and clear. But that wouldn’t be the truth. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve had plenty of periods when I’ve thundered out my stories, when I’ve sung to my own happy tune and found harmony with other voices.
But the butterfly in my neck is trapped in a cocoon of inflamed scar tissue of my own making. (Perhaps that’s why it is always worse in the winter.) My visitor is slow to leave until I find the strength in my words to tell him when to go.
Meanwhile, the chrysalis waits for spring.