I have been pretty quiet about this publically, but if you’ve spent any time with me in the past year, you’ve heard about my diagnosis and struggle with an incurable disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
About a year ago, my mom noticed that my throat was swollen at the base. I’ve always been pretty much the opposite of a hypochondriac, in part because I’ve been privileged to be largely healthy my whole life. Otherwise, I kind of felt like because I was a vegetarian and a yogi and meditated and ‘thought positive’ I would be all good in the health department (toxic positivity?).
I asked my nurse friend Sam about it, expecting to hear that it was nothing. Yet, she confirmed my mom’s suspicion that something was not right. Shortly after, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. I’d had all the symptoms for the past six months—weight gain, depression, and tiredness, but tbh had just chalked it up to the fact that there was a global pandemic and at 30 I was living back at home in Idaho with my parents (I love mom and dad but…you know). Looking back, I really see how my beliefs about ‘positive thinking’ could/can be potentially harmful. Instead of being sensitive to what was going on in my body and dealing with reality, I just kinda figured I needed to think a little happier and ‘clear my energy field.’
When my doctor told me my diagnosis, all he literally said was that they don’t know why it happens and that I’d need to be on thyroid replacement hormone for the rest of my life.
I rejected the idea of being on medication at all- I wanted to ‘heal myself the natural way.’ Until then I hadn’t been on any medications at all pretty much ever, even birth control. I showed my results to a couple of my naturopath friends for advice and they promptly told me that my TSH (a hormone that your pituitary gland creates to tell your thyroid to produce more T4 hormone) levels were the highest they’d ever seen and that I needed to get on meds right away.
FYI- If your thyroid isn’t producing enough T4, your body pretty much starts shutting down. SO MANY FUNCTIONS start with thyroid hormone. Brain function, metabolism, mood are all dramatically affected by low T4.
So I got on prescription meds. I also had my first appointment with my naturopathic dr. It was so nice to talk to someone for literal HOURS about all my health symptoms and life habits for my ENTIRE LIFE. That in itself was healing in a completely unexpected way. Let me tell you, to have someone really want to see your health in its entirety, including mental and spiritual is inspiring.
The Healing Process
In the first couple of months, the medication started helping me feel (somewhat) better. I also moved to Hawaii so I was definitely feeling better emotionally. My naturopath got me on a bunch of supplements for thyroid stimulation and ordered A BUNCH of blood tests.
When I went to get my first round of blood panels for my naturopath, it was hell. Compared to the THREE tests my regular doctor had done (just TSH, T3, and T4), my naturopath wanted to check everything from blood count to metabolic function to Hashimoto’s. I needed to get 10 vials of blood taken and, lucky for me, I have ‘really small veins’ and a fear of needles. It ended up taking like 10 pokes for them to get all BUT ONE of the tests, which happened to be the most important one, to see if I had an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, where your immune system attacks your thyroid.
I didn’t end up getting that one for another 2 months, during which time my TSH levels came back down into normal range due to my prescription meds but I didn’t really feel any better.
When I finally was tested for Hashimotos six months after I had been originally diagnosed with hypothyroidism, I was crushed. I had hoped that I was on the road to recovery, but found that I had Hashimoto’s BAD. Anything over a 9 IU/ML on the blood panel would mean you have it and I was at 385 IU/ML. My immune system was going nuuuts. Right away, my naturopath had me remove potential immune system triggers from my life. This included a parasite cleanse and lot of changes to my diet. I stopped eating gluten (which she had recommended before but I hadn’t because it’s my favorite food group) and avoided soy, eggs, nightshades, more. And she started prescribing me stuff that would help my immune system.
So, to recap. Our medical system would just have me treat my hypothyroidism with hormone replacement and not even look for the underlying cause. Had I not advocated for my own health, I never would have even been tested for Hashimoto’s. This is one reason why it’s so likely to develop multiple autoimmune diseases once you get one because our health care system doesn’t treat the root issue (autoimmune dysregulation).
Although relieved to know the root issue, I was pretty depressed. I had planned to leave Hawaii and head to Guatemala, but Mama Maui (in her wisdom) kept me in her womb. My mind resisted, but the amazing thing is that when I needed it the most, I was provided with the best health care I’ve ever had in my life. I was on Medicaid in Hawaii because I was volunteering at the farm I was living on and had no income. I’m so grateful to the state of Hawaii for taking care of me.
I FELT SO MUCH BETTER AFTER I QUIT GLUTEN. But then I actually went through a phase of hyperthyroidism, where I lost a bunch of weight, couldn’t sleep, and went a little crazy. Anyways, it did feel better than the opposite. Also-if you’re having bipolar symptoms, check your thyroid, this swing is super common when the disease is first coming on.
I, continuing to push myself to champion for my health (which is an AWESOME LESSON, this medical system we have is NOT EASY and not quite geared towards HEALTH), searched for more answers. One of my best friends hooked me up with an amazing Ayurvedic Dr who taught me some things about digestion and told me to read this book about Hashimoto’s and the real deal behind it. I only finished half of it because it’s so dense but I learned A LOT and I made some (what I believe to be) key supplement additions based on his recommendations for autoimmune modulation. This is important because it starts to treat the actual problem, the immune system.
My Hashimoto’s markers started coming down rapidly- from 385 IU/ML in January to 1.5 IU/ML at the end of July. If someone tested me for Hashimoto’s now, they would say I don’t have it. It is completely undetectable. I could still have a flare-up if it’s gets triggered (there are so many things that could cause this and they’re very good things to know, especially if you already have an autoimmune disease).
Btw, my medical dr in Hawaii even said they don’t know what causes Hashimoto’s and there’s nothing to do about it (because there’s no prescription Med for it). Like I said before, it’s actually not even standard to TEST for Hashimoto’s, even though it’s responsible for 90% of hypothyroidism in the United States. They just treat the thyroid, and have you on meds forever, while your unchecked immune system destroys your thyroid and then starts on your other systems.
So now, I’m focused on healing my thyroid itself. This includes supplements, avoiding certain vegetables that have thyroid suppressant effects, and some magic. I intend to ween myself off my thyroid replacement hormone but it’s not for sure if my thyroid will be able to come back online and produce what it needs to. I might have waited too long to see what was happening with me. According to my medical dr, thyroid tissue doesn’t grow back. Let’s see.
I’m incredibly humbled by this experience. We all know it’s hard to understand something we’ve never been through. Chronic illness is fucking difficult. I had no idea. I have so much respect for people living with chronic diseases, it takes A LOT of energy.
I was incredibly lucky to be diagnosed and treated in such a rapid manner. I am incredibly blessed to have access to healthcare and to be able to afford a naturopathic dr. My healing journey is not just a feat of my perseverance, but also a direct privilege of BEING WHITE IN AMERICA.
1. What you think might be healthy, might not be
One thing I discovered through all of this was that sometimes things that you think are healthy, aren’t. My vegetarian diet (8 years) had been good for my body in some ways and bad in others. Eating too much of the same things (soy, eggs, dairy, rice, corn, gluten) can cause sensitivity and then allergy and then way bigger problems if you don’t address it. If your gut is unhappy, take it as a serious symptom. Soy, seitan, eggs, cheese, gluten of any kind—aren’t great for the body. And sometimes meat really is. I started eating meat again and it felt SO WEIRD at first but my body feels SO MUCH BETTER. Kind of like it did when I first started eating vegetarian. And I suspect that a time will come when I will trend more towards veg again but probably never again 100%. Balance. Also, blood type plays a big part in this. I am A+, which means my ‘older’ blood type does better with meat.
2. Natural Remedies are not always healthy
I also discovered that trying to use ‘natural remedies’ may not be as harmless as it seems. For example, when I was teaching kids in Singapore, I took a ton of echinacea to support my immune system. I swore by it. Turns out, it only supports one side of your immune system and there are two sides (from what I understand like a long-term fight and a short-term task force) and they somewhat level each other out. If you’re out of balance, you’re more likely to develop an autoimmune disease.
3. Disease has its roots in the spiritual and emotional side
I think many things came into play for me to develop Hashimoto’s and stress was one of them. It’s crazy how much our minds and emotions can actually hurt our physical bodies. Stress is SO HARMFUL for the body. Beyond this, in a more spiritual sense, I felt that I was attacking myself for my truth—and that I wouldn’t speak my truth because I was scared and unworthy. I started being more intentional about what I said—it’s a journey—and I absolutely believe it’s been an integral part of my healing.
Also, there was a fair bit of magic in there, from prayer, ceremony, and plant medicine to sacred purging, dream work, and drumming.
4. Modern medicine is not the enemy
I’m so thankful to modern medicine for creating a drug that is pretty much keeping me alive. Without enough thyroid hormone, you basically just fall apart. I’m thankful for the diagnostic tests that helped me so easily see what’s actually happening in my body (get blood tested more!) Modern medicine is not something to be feared.
5. Advocating for your own health is 100% necessary in this world
The previous point being addressed, our modern medical system is not the end-all answer in health. Most underlying causes are ignored in modern medicine and only symptoms are treated. Yet, modern medicine and herbalism can not always accomplish the same things. I’ve used them in tandem to not only treat my symptoms but also the underlying cause. It feels pretty powerful. 10/10 would recommend.
6. Support and community are public health issues
I would not have made it through without my incredible community and support system. Thank you so much to everyone who talked me through this and held me while I cried. Something so valuable that I learned: If we have no experience in what someone is going through, it’s best to just listen and try not to offer advice. It’s really unhelpful.
Gaining experience in something difficult is a superpower. When I got to have conversations with people who struggled with chronic illness, the conversation was completely different than anything I could have with someone who hadn’t experienced it before. That being said, If someone you love has a chronic illness, please make an effort to do some research about it. It helps SO MUCH if you want to be a support system to your loved one.
Thanks for reading. Lots of love to you all <3