It can come on suddenly or it can creep up for weeks. I can turn my head the other way, but it reappears later from a different angle. I can laugh my way through it plenty of days but it’s still just sitting there in the quiet moments. I can usually tell when things are starting to spiral when I’m having to overcompensate for not feeling so good. I feel bone-numbing tiredness but I tell myself I just need to go to bed earlier. It’s really my Hashimoto’s saying hello.
I lose my ability to speak with confidence and clarity. I mumble my words. I find it uncomfortable to look people in the eye and feel socially introverted. I feel misunderstood and then I become misunderstood. I vague out and do things like buy a loaf of bread and then walk out empty handed. I doubt myself and every decision I’m making. It all seems too hard, I want to give up and run away to some far off place and hibernate under some ice like a bear.
I go red in the face when I dance from embarrassment and I’m at a loss to make it stop. I feel uncomfortable dancing in front of people because it feels so exposing. I lose capability as fast as I lose the confidence that could halt it in its tracks. It doesn’t take long before I’m wondering how I even got to be dancing where I am. My trust in my body and what it can do starts shutting off and I can’t seem to stop how I’m feeling on the inside coming out when I’m trying to dance. I routinely think about quitting when I’m in this phase as it seems impossible to keep going otherwise.
And then I remember that it’s probably time to admit that I’m not feeling so well, that I’m not coping so well, I am not my best self and I don’t want to keep feeling like this. Some shifts need to happen, I need to bunker down for the long haul and adjust the sails. Even though I would prefer to suffer alone, I need help and support.
I most likely need my thyroid bloods done and my medication level reassessed. You see for years I tortured myself that this was all my fault, all my own doing and that I had brought this on myself through some kind of emotional failure to deal with life. And then I realised the catalyst for this meltdown was often my body not producing a chemical, thyroid hormone to be precise, that regulates so much of my body’s functioning including the ability to feel good.
Journalist, writer, I Quit Sugar founder and sustainability champion and all time awesome human Sarah Wilson, a fellow Hashimoto’s sufferer has this to say:
“ I have Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease of the thyroid, a gland in the neck that controls everything that makes you a conscious, sentient being.”
A conscious sentient being, so in essence what makes you human. The very doing, thinking and feeling part of what makes us human. So in reality, all the bits. That’s why it hurts in your puffy eyes, fuzzy brain and sore joints just as much as in your cluttered depressive thoughts and your weary soul. It hurts in a rational way most of us view the world and it hurts in an intangible way where we battle all the heart and soul troubles. It hurts in a way where you physically and emotionally can’t bring yourself out from underneath the covers from tiredness even though you have been up all night with your anxious mind counting how many hours sleep you are losing. It’s a cruel paradox.
Hashimoto’s – the revolving door
I wrote the first two paragraphs almost a year ago to the day and came across it in my archives recently. I started reading it in disbelief that the very thoughts going through my mind at the moment were in fact already written. In a small way it was comforting to know I had been here before and also a bit crushing to be here once again. It’s another gentle reminder that this is something I manage to live with not something that I move beyond.
It’s easy to think that there is a cosmetic fix to what other’s see as “going through a rough patch” or “not feeling the best.” Go on cheer up! Have a laugh at a feel good movie, do some serious retail therapy, have a glass of wine or a bottle, have a bitch about things and try and cover it all up until you don’t notice it anymore. Cover it up with some kind of addiction or excess of something. But it’s not a cosmetic problem, it’s actually an intrinsic deficit in my body. There are a lot of things I can do to help myself but if the right amount of the right chemical isn’t going through my body well, we are really only talking skin deep.
Every time I say to myself, I wish I was better at dealing with this. I wish I was stronger, more resilient. Why do I have to feel so loopy? Why do I have to seem so troubled? Why is this my problem? Why is everyone else coping/normal/sane when I’m struggling? But I know truthfully that we all have our struggles, some people are just really good at being really quiet about them. I too suffer in silence for some time, it’s too raw to share some days and its certainly too easy to be entirely misunderstood and hurt even more when you do speak out. Sometimes I feel like I’m going mad and I’m sure it looks quite like that from the outside too. I feel difficult to be around, it’s easier to be alone.
Finding my voice
But part of my recovery is to use my voice. There is no coincidence that the thyroid gland is seated in the throat, our seat of communication. There is no surprise that a breakdown in my thyroid leads to or is exacerbated by a break down in communication between me and world. As a young woman, I couldn’t have believed such a thing. The medication alone will surely fix this, I would be thinking. A yoga teacher always used to tell me I needed to work on my throat chakra, we would have a laugh about it but the truth was certainly spot on. There was a blockage there, I wasn’t being honest about something.
Chicken or egg, we will never know, but coinciding with the thyroid meltdown there is usually something emotional going on that I’m not acknowledging or giving enough weight to. Looking at my thyroid has now come to mean looking at the whole me and noticing those exquisitely tender points and giving them the nurturing they often too belatedly deserve. But not straight away, rarely if ever is the nurturing the first dice to roll.
Hashimoto’s – A Ballet in Three Acts
No, the nurture only comes after a period of intense and noisy emotional upset, then usually a quiet but still intense reflective period of working through the stuff and then like the dawn breaking, comes the nurture. While I still battle this process, I respect the process. I struggle with this modern popular concept of moving with ease towards whatever is going on with you and being love in all moments. Perhaps it’s just me or perhaps it’s growing up and becoming an adult in a career that is often unfair and subjective to someone else’s opinion. No amount of me being love, and acting love and showing other people I work with how to just be love too is going to change my casting. That is fact. Because that would mean other people would have to change too and no amount of my own self-discovery and learning can change someone else by osmosis.
For me, it’s a Ballet in three Acts kind of process. There is some sense of rhythm to it but to say that it’s just moving with ease towards something, doesn’t acknowledge the work that needs to be done and that the work is hard. Especially the inner kind of work, like pulling yourself up when you’re beating yourself up, for when you’re calling yourself awful names and shaming yourself, comparing yourself, using words like worthless, useless, hopeless – always seeing deficits and what is lacking and not seeing the surpluses or what you have in spades. Acknowledging your biggest fears and insecurities and living with them and changing the behaviour that follows directly after those awful thoughts takes work, repetitive and tireless work.
But one thing I can do is work hard, I can commit to work. I grit my teeth and plunge in and start doing the work usually when I’m actually sick of myself feeling so low. And the work is what helps. It is incremental and it’s not a direct linear process but good work does breed more good work. It can be a lonely process because while I need the solid support of my loved ones, I’m the one in the arena doing the work and sorting myself out. To say I need people in my corner though is a gross understatement. I have to move through the thoughts of being a burden to people for ‘being this way’ to ask for their help.
I’ve had to come to accept that even though I’m doing good work; looking inwards, battling those detrimental thoughts, blocking out the negativity, translating that language into a way I can use it best, being disciplined with my thoughts, that there may be change in me but there most likely won’t be change around me. Again it won’t necessarily change how much a boss or coach or choreographer likes me, but it will change my experience on a day to day basis. It will also put me in the best position to not just support myself but enjoy both dancing and my family life.
The Sensitive Switch
As I mentioned earlier, Sarah Wilson is a hero of mine and I read and hang on to everything she writes. She is an open hearted courageous warrior who shares her daily life and her battles in the most eloquent and real of ways and she makes people like me feel far less alone and certainly less strange. She was the first person I found who wrote so perfectly about getting in an autoimmune funk, what that feels like and what can make it better moment to moment like dosing up on greens and all the olive oil you can get. She writes about the physical aspects that make life (and for me dancing) hard to deal with. But it’s the way she writes about the emotional component that resonates with me the most.
Her recent book about anxiety, “First We Make the Beast Beautiful,’ is an exquisitely raw piece on living with anxiety. It is a call to action for anyone who has had even the slightest experience with anxiety that it’s time to show up and talk about it, to care and to start that difficult conversation that can only lead to us all understanding each other and ourselves better.
Some of the phrases from this incredible book have really stuck with me. She talks about research that acknowledges that some of us have more sensitive detection switches compared to others. We get turned on to these anxious feelings or something being amiss long before someone else could even contemplate there being a problem. It makes us a great person for looking after other people, we are naturally very empathetic and compassionate, we notice a subtle shift in someone’s energy early on and want to help them. It can however make us feel like a bit of a mess even though as she writes, “It’s simply where the evolutionary tide landed us.”
The evolutionary tide landed me with a sensitive switch system, a sensitive thyroid gland and a sensitive heart that cares too much and feels too deeply. Sometimes, all of that combined is too much to get out of bed in the morning, to function at a respected adult level and certainly it’s too much for a day in the professional ballet arena and at home as a mum. So there’s periods of great falling, there’s times of great challenge, there’s times where I’m rebuilding and recalibrating, there’s time of growth and change and there’s times where all the cogs are turning with relative ease. This is probably the phase that people notice the most from the outside, not knowing that for me getting to that point, it sure wasn’t about it being easy.
Living with Hashimoto’s
I would be lying to say I’ve come to wholeheartedly embrace every single one of the moments, especially the lowest ones and choose to see only the seed of personal development and not profound disappointment that I seem partially broken again. It would be the biggest of lies to say that I gracefully embrace all of these sensitivities that make me, well me. I grapple with them, I tussle with them but ultimately they teach me the most about what self-care and self-compassion really look and feel like. And how much consistency with self-compassion counts, not just when you’re down. You have to keep paying attention when you’re feeling good and keep practicing the internal work.
This is why working towards this feeling of balance is so important to me. I take my thyroid medication every morning, grateful for its help in keeping me at my best on a chemical level. But if there is something amiss, no amount of thyroid medication can override me not taking good honest care of my self on every other level. It will show up, it will gently whisper at first and then it will scream if I don’t take notice soon enough.
Living with Hashimoto’s has certainly taught me a lot. I’m a sensitive little soul and I like to think that my dancing is better for it even if it seems like it could come about a whole lot easier. I certainly know that I’m closer to the person I want to be each day for it. I also know without a doubt that when I’m raising my child, I want him to know that being sensitive and having strong feelings, especially the ugly ones like frustration, sadness, confusion and anxiety is normal and beyond that, they’re equally important feelings as the happy ones. And that letting them out in a safe way is really important for our health and wellbeing.
To anyone who has ever wondered how Hashimoto’s can affect someone, I hope I have shone a very dim light on what it might be like. I hope it gives people a bit more awareness and understanding of what it’s like to crave the stability of the middle ground when you have spent a bit too long on either side of the extreme. I hope it might make you think twice when you see someone struggling or acting in a way that is out of their ordinary. I hope it might shed light that grappling and struggling in a safe place is often part of the process of getting back up and that just being there while someone sorts themselves out is often the best way of helping. I hope it might help some people feel less alone in their battles be it illness, autoimmune disease, anxiety, depression or just feeling different or lonely.
To my fellow sensitive little critters out there, I salute you and every bit of your efforts to rise up each day. If you see me around, you know where I’m at.