For a couple of years now, I’ve thought that something was a little wrong with me. Besides the obvious mental defects, I mean. I’d slowly gone from being an active energetic woman managing a full life of work, school, friends, relationships, hiking, dogs, happy hours, and just all-around awesomeness to feeling tired all the time, not being able to focus and concentrate, and just wanting to pull the covers and sleep the day away. Every time I brought it up with my doctor, she brushed it all off as stress. Am I stressed? Yes. But I’ve always been stressed. I’m an anxious person by nature. So that didn’t sit well with me. I talked to my mom about it and she suggested that I get my thyroid checked. I had my doctor check it. Twice. And both times she insisted it was in the “normal” range. As the doctor assured me I was just stressed, I’d basically checked out of the life I had been living and moved into Lethargic Town. All the while blaming myself for being lazy, tired, unfocused, unmotivated, and inactive.
So fast forward to two years later: it’s only gotten worse, and still just trying to make it from day to day on a diet of caffeine. I’ve gained 35 pounds. I struggle to function through an entire day without a nap. I can’t summon the energy to walk my dogs or go do something fun. And I’m completely, utterly burned out. I need a vacation in the most major way. I need a month off just for starters, just to catch up on sleep.
My Better Half was hanging out with his friend Chris and when Chris’ wife asked where I was, My Better Half said that I spent almost every moment off from work asleep. She called me to strongly urge me to get checked for hypothyroidism. Again. I am lucky that she called. She knows a lot about hypothyroidism because she has it. Was I cold all the time? Yes. Did I have really, really dry skin? Yes. Was I depressed and anxious? Yes and yes. Did I have dark circles under my eyes? Yes. Did I have regular periods? No. Does my face flush with exercise? Yes. Did my family have any hypothyroidism? Yes. And when I pinch the skin on my upper arm, does it pull away from the tissue, or is it puffy and thick? Puffy and thick. All classic conditions caused by hypothyroidism. The problem, she told me, is that a) it’s so multisymptom that many doctors fail to pull together the trees into a forest and see the big picture and b) attribute way too much diagnostic power to lab results alone. Sounded right. My doctor: You’re tired? Get some rest. You’re anxious? Relax. You’ve gained weight? Get some exercise and eat better. And so on.
Last week I saw a new doctor and told her all of my symptoms, and she immediately diagnosed me with something called Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, the most common form of hypothyroidism in the US. Finally I had confirmation that all of this was not in my imagination. That someone who’s 32 should not have the energy level of a 60 year old. I’ve finally found the right doctor and have started taking medicine that will hopefully bring me back to my old self. But I’m also kinda pissed. Really pissed, actually. That for over two years, doctors did not hear me, did not listen to me, didn’t piece together the signs. Because I feel like I’ve lost two years of my life, and it’s a long road ahead back to my normal energetic self. But I also feel like I’m on the right path. I’ve found an accurate diagnosis for what is “wrong” with me, and I’m ever more committed to find new work that enables me to have a healthy work-life balance. That might mean abandoning the nonprofit world, something I hold near and dear. But the reality is that working in the nonprofit world often entails working in places that are poorly managed and under-resourced, exposing yourself to being severely overworked and underpaid. And it’s starting to become apparent to me that maintaining strong boundaries between work and my personal life might be more important to me than the kind of work that I do.