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When Your Body Attacks

Living with an autoimmune disease feels like your body is betraying you.

I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease, also known as Chronic Lymphocytic Thyroiditis, at 27 years old. I was diagnosed while I was undergoing surgery to remove my thyroid that was trying to kill me (see my previous post about my cancer journey).

I remember waking up from surgery feeling fear and confusion that I had never experienced before. Strapped into a hospital bed with an oxygen mask and IV needles in my arms, I was disoriented and tried to remove the mask and the needles before a nurse was able to calm me down.

On that day, I learned I had Hashimoto’s Disease. It had gone unnoticed because I never had the specific blood test or antibody test that diagnoses Hashimoto’s. In addition, my symptoms were, and still are, mostly invisible, so no one really knew what was wrong at the time. On the inside, I was a mess. My surgeon told me that my thyroid looked like it went through a meat grinder, and it wasn’t because of the cancer. Hashimoto’s was the culprit. Before my diagnosis, my depression was exacerbated, my weight gain was unexplainable, my hair was thinning, I was having gastrointestinal issues, I was always getting sick with sore throats, and sometimes, I would be so tired that getting out of bed was painful. There were days when I took 2 naps and slept 15 hours in one day. Some of these things can be attributed to the cancer, but they were more prominent because of Hashimoto’s.

Hashimoto’s Disease is an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid gland. This little butterfly shaped gland is crucial to life and is often compared to the engine of a car. The thyroid is part of the body’s endocrine system and is responsible for producing many of the hormones needed to sustain life. In my case, my thyroid was producing just enough hormones to keep me alive, and that was it. It was not functioning properly, and if my thyroid cancer had not been found, my Hashimoto’s could have continued to destroy my thyroid and my body, eventually causing a shutdown of my internal organs. My cancer diagnosis was a blessing in disguise, because it provided so many answers to questions I had about my health and I got the treatment I needed to get better.

Now that I don’t have a thyroid, I have to rely on a little blue pill to survive each day. That pill, called Synthroid, releases a synthetic version of the hormones that a typical human thyroid produces. Although my thyroid is dead, my Hashimoto’s is still alive and well. Being that it is an autoimmune disease, it still lives on in my body, but it doesn’t have anything to attack – for now. It is possible that in the future, it will create further complications, but I’m diligent enough about my health to know that I will be able to handle whatever happens.

I still have days when I am “thyroid tired” as my husband describes it. On these days, my body hates me. My Hashimoto’s flares up and it’s a battle that I lose every time. Fighting with your own body is hard. I am dragging along through the day in a fog of fatigue, irritation, and overall malaise. When your body attacks itself, the feeling of fatigue is overwhelming and even painful. But I try to push through. I’m not hard on myself if I need to spend the day in bed or have to cancel plans or even call in sick to work. I know now what my body needs, and when it needs rest, it is crucial that I give it rest because when your body decides that it wants to fight you, there’s not much else you can do.

So remember – the next time you see someone who “doesn’t look sick”, know that you don’t know the whole story of what is going on. Their body could be at war with itself.

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