At this point, I am angry. I want to feel like a 36 year old who exercises seven days a week, eats a clean, whole foods diet, eats no refined sugar, doesn't smoke or abuse substances, and generally tries to keep a good attitude. Why? That's who I am, but sometimes I wake up and feel like I don't want to wake up anymore. The pain from headaches, procedures on my foot that won't heal, a bum shoulder, a stomach that doesn't want to digest food, is wearing me out. Not to mention, I was told Monday that my insurance won't cover the procedure that would help my foot heal quickly. Nope, I have to a make three hours one way trip to the doctor every month and renewed pain with the treatment I receive until this is healed. Emotionally, while I try to hide it as best I can, I'm up and down. Anxiety and depression takes its toll as well. It's hard to admit you have either of those conditions when to the outside world you appear to be functioning fine. Some days, all I want is to be held by strong arms, smell damp earth, and feel the wind against my face. All day. I'm coping well though. Better than I was, and yoga is the reason. Fatigue is another big obstacle, but at the moment, I'm caffeinating strongly and taking iron to overcome my anemia as my body isn't absorbing nutrients from my food as it should.
I'm seeing three specialists (neurology, dermatology, and orthopedics) with 1-3 months between visits. I see my primary care physician at least once every 3 months for bloodwork, further testing based on prior test results, and medication updates. I have also started seeing my chiropractor regularly in hopes to spread out the visits to the orthopedic doctor. Honestly, it feels really stupid. Stupid. How did I end up here? Genetics is the simple answer. When I asked the girls pediatrician at their recent well visit if there was any way I could keep them from ending up here as well, she said, "Not really. The best we can do is watch for symptoms and catch it early."
Hover the cursor over photos for descriptions.
Because western medicine sees no cure for Hashimoto's and other autoimmune thyroid conditions, the approach is typically to manage a patient's symptoms as best as they can. For many patients, the management is not enough to allow them to live the life of a normal healthy individual. Unfortunately, as in other areas of medical breakthrough and dissemination of knowledge, most primary care physicians are not up to date on the latest information surrounding autoimmune diseases of the thyroid and a very many are not even aware of how to properly test for or diagnose them. Unless they specialize, doctors receive a basic understanding in medical school and not many take up further study in this area. Many people spend years with their disease worsening before they can even get a diagnosis. All the while, they are accused of being a hypochondriac or diagnosed with an array of issues that are not separate at all, but are related to the decline of their thyroid function. It is extremely frustrating for the patients and those close to them who know something more is wrong.
I didn't want to be in this place again. I am now overwhelmed while being in a familiar area. It reminds me of all the researching, writing, advocacy, and healthcare searching I did when trying to uncover why I had experienced unnecessary cesarean surgery and how I could go on to have a vaginal birth after cesarean. So, much of the information women need to make good decisions in pregnancy and birth is not transparent or shared among care providers and the women they serve. I had to become more involved in determining the kind of treatments and healthcare I would receive than those who were providing me that care. I had to take it upon myself to research, learn the science, and take the steps that I could to heal my body. All the while, I was sharing my journey with other mothers and becoming an advocate for the health of women and babies. When I stepped away from the career side of this advocacy, I thought that my focus would no longer have to be split between my passions and my healing. Yet, here I am again. Same thing, another issue. I'm tired.
Eventually, as I am choosing to do this one step at a time, I will be giving up many of my favorite foods and all things that I currently consider a treat - chocolate, dairy, all grain, corn, coffee, tomatoes and nightshades, nuts/seeds, soy, possibly eggs, all preservatives, and alcohol (which I have always had an aversion to). Eating out will be very difficult as will eating when friends and family cook meals. I have to be strict about the changes or it won't work. After 3 months to 2 years, depending on how my body responds, I will be able to reintroduce foods to see if I react poorly. If I don't react, I can continue to eat them if properly prepared for optimal nutritional absorption.
Another piece to this puzzle is medication and supplements. This is part of why I HAVE to adopt the diet and lifestyle pieces. I don't want to grow this mix. I want to reduce it. I will probably write more about that as I know what is helping me and what isn't. I really want to share this journey because Hashimoto's affects about 14 million Americans (along with the other health issues it causes) and no one seems to be having open discussions about it. It's another one of these dark areas where information is clouded and you can feel crazy and very alone.
I also have to make sure that I sleep at least seven hours a night, preferably 8-10+. It is recommended that Hashimoto's patients sleep until they naturally wake up and sleep until 8 or 9am as regularly as they can. This will be hard for me as I get a second wind in the night or I sleep restlessly, having wild dreams. My daughters get up at the first hint of daylight. The bodies of Hashimoto's patients need time to rebuild and to rest from the overburden.
Light exercise is also a must. It isn't recommended that we go for very intense exercise as that will cause further stress to our already taxed adrenals. I'm grateful I already have that under control with my yoga practice. I, now, practice 7 days a week and my favorite teachers have DVDs geared toward my health and fitness goals. Below are a few I'm using. I'm so thankful for my yoga!
The biggest thing I'm dealing with right now is needing to vent and not feeling like anyone wants to listen. I don't want to whine or seem as if I am whining. I'm a very proactive person and I'm not asking for pity or help. I want to be frustrated and have someone hear it, tell me I'm strong, tell me I'm a beautiful person, or simply feed me some positive about myself. Encouragement. I want pep talks. Or maybe I want my basketball coach back. The one that would make me mad in order to have me be fired up to play my hardest. Right now, I'm so worn out I don't want to fight. I just want to move on, whatever that means. It seems though that those with Hashimoto's have a hard time finding support and will often lose the support of friends and family. So, I'm going to blog for that reason too. Maybe I won't overburden those I love if I can let some of it out here.
In the meantime, I'm going to relentlessly pursue my dreams. I'm applying for jobs, seeing the girls into their new school, teaching yoga, cooking good food, and reading and writing a lot. Hopefully, spending times with friends and family will be added in there. I'm going to do my best, because I can.
That's the anger, overwhelm, and the plan.
By the time July 2014 rolled around, I was finding that I could no longer keep up with the form of workouts I had chosen. I was doing CrossFit inspired and HIIT home workouts. I was really worried because no matter my physical size, I had always been athletic and capable of pushing myself to keep up with strenuous exercise. Not only this, but the migraine headaches that I had been having since age 13 had picked up in frequency and were becoming debilitating. I reluctantly went to my family doctor. That began a cascade of testing and seeing specialists. I have seen a neurologist (and will regularly, indefinitely), orthopedic specialist, gastroenterologist, ob/gyn, chiropractor, and a dermatologist. I've had bloodwork every 3 months, MRIs, CTs, x-rays, and cultures of various sorts. Then, the ER visits.
I had to begin taking medications that would significantly lower my heart-rate in order to help prevent the headaches that were interfering with day to day life. This meant that it was now physically impossible for me to keep up with the intense workouts. That is when I took back up with a daily yoga practice. I now practice Kundalini and Vinyasa yoga at least 6 days a week. I eat real food as well as I can manage, and I try to feed my family the same way. See, I wasn't giving up. I have three daughters to raise and provide an example for. If I gave up on myself, what would I be teaching them?
All that said, leads me to why I'm really writing this post today. This region of Kentucky is known as one of the sickest regions in the nation.
Kentucky is one of the sickest states in America, a place where too many people die too soon, and many who live endure decades of illness and pain.
I must say, that what I'm seeing in my neck of the woods, currently, around health and fitness, gives me a great hope for our future. As I research and find the resources I need to receive the healthcare and access the food that I need to live the best quality of life possible for me, I am finding other eastern Kentuckians doing the same. Not only are they taking charge of their health, but they are becoming the change that they want to see in the region.
People I went to school with who are in the medical field are offering free, daily health tips via Facebook and coming back to the region to serve their communities. When I make posts about health and fitness information, I get messages and replies asking for more information or making comments that offer me more information. Area residents seem more interested in local food options. Farmer's Markets are sprouting up all over, and people are learning more about wildcrafting. Yet, the thing that inspires me the most is what I'm seeing as an increased willingness of people to use and explore the capabilities of their own bodies in outside of the box ways. I have recently started teaching yoga in Hindman and Whitesburg and have been so pleased to have no fewer than two and as many as eleven in my classes! So many express interest and a desire to learn how to take responsibility for their health. This makes me hopeful for the health of our young people.
Nick is part owner (along with Stacie Beckett and Carrie Adkins) of the new CrossFit Experior in Williamson, and Cristin instructs and works from the box (gym). I asked Nick why he wanted to make this passion of his into a career, and his answer is so much a part of the solution I envision for the positive growth of our region.
I wanted to open a gym to make a difference in the community, to help people change for the better. I think people are more interested in a healthier lifestyle these days for many reasons, like a better quality of life, to be more physically capable, longevity of life, or maybe to prevent a future health crisis. People as a whole are learning and adapting. 80 years ago everybody smoked. It was the norm. We're at a time now where healthcare and technology make things well known. We know now smoking has many adverse health problems, eating fast food, and drinking soda everyday has adverse health reactions. - Nick Potter
Simply put. He wants to make a difference in his community. Nick and Cristin saw an issue that affected them personally and in their desire to change it for themselves, they are a part of changing it for the community at large. We live in an area that is so naturally beautiful. I see it as very possible that this region can be known for health and well-being in our future. That's part of my vision as I share yoga with those who come to my classes. I know Nick and Cristin are seeing it on a daily basis as they inspire people of all ages to good health.
Jane Austen wrote in Persuasion, "I am half agony, half hope." On the days when my body and emotions feel agony, I look to hope. I'm going to fight the good fight. Others are fighting the good fight. This is just one part of the puzzle that will be rebuilding eastern Kentucky, but it is this type of revolution that makes me not give up completely. It is a clear path to goodness.
When the former Kentucky poet laureate and Perry County native, Gurney Norman, wrote his novel Divine Right's Trip, our country was in the midst of many wars. We were fighting an uncertain war in Vietnam. A cultural war was happening within our own country between those who felt the establishment was driving us to collapse and the status quo. The Civil Rights Movement was underway and gaining ground. In our very own Kentucky mountains, the War on Poverty had begun as men and women fought for their right to work for a fair wage and in the safest environments possible. It was a transitional time, much like our home is experiencing now. While we have had good times and bad times since that era, what I am realizing is that the mountain people have never transitioned completely from this upheaval that truly began long before the 60s-70s. This transition was a forced one, much like a woman's contractions in labor can be began, sped up, or slowed down on a whim through outside means, the people in mountain coal country were coerced into an economic and lifestyle model that was unsustainable. It was utterly dangerous, and if we aren't diligent and willing to "go to war", it will happen again and again.
“Yeah,” said Virgil. “It’s mighty hard times around here these days. If it wasn’t for food stamps and the Happy Pappys some folks would starve plum to death, that ain’t no lie. A lot of ‘em are hungry like it is. Of course I’ve seen it when it was worse, and a man’s got to count his blessings I reckon. My daddy mined coal in this country in the nineteen twenties, no union or nothing in here then, and you talk about mean times, them times was mean. Of course they’s not enough union left worth speaking about, but what I mean is, now, you take this Happy Pappy program. Take all this welfare stuff. It ain’t nothing but a sop to keep the people from acting up. That’s all in the world it is, and yet everybody wants to make so much out of it. Everybody give the President so much credit for coming in here and setting it up. All the President was doing was laying out a sop to try to keep the lid on things. And I mean to tell you, buddy, the lid was about to pop around here a year or two ago. It was like a time of war nearly. People were hungry, out of work, losing their hospital cards, getting their pensions cut, little old younguns going around with worms in their bellies, some of ‘em half naked in the wintertime. I mean they wasn’t nothing else to do but go to war. Big gangs of men roving up and down the highways, stopping cars, shooting, getting shot at. They was a tipple burnt ever day for two straight weeks up in your county, two or three railroad bridges went up, people’s cars and house dynamited.” -Gurney Norman, Divine Right’s Trip, 1971
If we consider the history of how these mountains were settled, we recognize the caliber of individual that chose to make them their home. It was of course the adventure filled pioneer, but it was also those considered criminals. It was the person with a fierce desire for independence. Those who wished to hide. It was the down trodden and the beaten up who sought asylum in these hills. The Kentucky mountains as much of Central Appalachia, was inhabited by a people willing to stick with their tribe in order to be fully able to "go it" on their own.
I have to agree with Virgil as he spoke in the quote above. It is hard to see that the War on Poverty has helped our region in any tangible ways. While we might not see many children running naked in the wintertime any longer, we must factor in that times have changed and how poverty looks has changed. Poverty can be hidden these days, and hidden well. This region of Kentucky is experiencing yet another mass exodus of people and minds in search of reasonable, fulfilling work as we have so many times in the past. What worries me most about this transition time is the possibility that as a people we'll let a huge opportunity once again pass us by. This is the opportunity to reclaim our land and economy to manage as our own. It is the opportunity to get back to the willpower and guts that brought our ancestors here in the first place. Independence.
Generations of men, women, and children in my homeland have been worrying and pondering as Virgil does each time this book is read anew. This type of worry began when outside influences came to tell us of our poverty and backward ways. Ideas were planted and weaknesses manipulated. We were fed pipe dreams for the purposes of a dollar. I can't help but feel that our collective unconscious was made a slave in those days and we remain so today. What new industry will come in a make the promises of coal? Natural gas? The prison industry? Will we buy into it only to be used up and left to struggle again when the industry collapses or our government sees fit to move toward another favored industry? Will we continue to accept the welfare system as our means to a livelihood, teaching our children to get the most out of it - not because we are mooches, but because we have to in order to survive? Will we continue to accept servitude over the legacy given us by our very first mountain ancestors?
"We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves." -Thomas Merton
As I have written here before, I believe the answer to our current dilemma is diversification. We begin by working with what we have. That's where we have always began. The answer isn't more government programs. The answer is in our hands. We need to reach out and grab it!
I see so many positive people in our communities working hard toward seeing this opportunity into our new reality. Families and individuals have reclaimed small scale farming as a supplemental or replacement income and are making it viable. Some brave souls are becoming entrepreneurs and sacrificing so much of their time to dedication to their business and community. Ingenious folks are working toward promoting area artists and craftspeople. Others are working toward adventure tourism. Right now, these efforts don't seem to amount to much on the large scale, but it is providing an example of the things that are possible for us. There are more ideas for all of us where those came from.
My Dad has said to me before, "What do these people think we all want to do, sit around the campfire in the dark and sing Kum-Ba-Ya all night with nothing to eat? I hope they know how to build a campfire." Those fighting in this War on Coal haven't presented reasonable solutions to the common mountain folks. As our people have become accustomed to a certain lifestyle, fortified by mining jobs, without a need for college, this transition will be difficult. It is a time in which we'll have to reclaim our story as told by us. This is the time to dredge up the past, our mysterious and inspiring past, in order to give us all the umph needed to fight this war. There's nothing else to do but go to war. We have to fight for ourselves. This is a war of the heart and mind. It isn't a need of being saved. This is the reality of sink or swim.
First of all, I'm not a poet. I haven't fancied myself one since my sophomore year at Morehead State when I realized I needed more words on a page to convey the thoughts in my head than poetry allowed. From that time on, if I wrote a poem, I have mostly hoarded them away for myself to pass on to my daughters someday. I want them to have little bits of their mama's heart. I never share them with others. However, last week I had an amazing experience with fellow writers at the Appalachian Writers' Workshop in Hindman, Kentucky. I was so inspired, encouraged, and supported during the week that I used a whole ink pen worth of ink and worked up a raw spot on my finger. I am convicted to live the writer's life once again. My heart was filled to the brim, and I'd like to share a poem I wrote during the week, just because. (Ether in this poem refers to a fifth element not the chemical anesthetic.) Following the poem are some pictures from my week.
When Once Alive
Awake. Feel alive.
Remembered that being human is dynamic
with the reading of your words
the sound of your breath
Touch of your lips in a single moment forcefully rousing and sweet.
A mnemonic for the essence of my spirit.
Rush over the rock - the fall
just behind catch the mist
under and inside brings you to your knees.
Wind bending trees
scattering vultures across the sky like scraps of paper.
Miles become real distance
All the hurry forward and beyond creates a pull back.
Sleep. Sleep is familiar.
Known as skin on the back of hands.
Smell damp earth.
Take it up and in.
Make it part of every cell.
Scent my skin.
The decay of past moments bring a new life.
Grow. Let grow.
Ground dampen my ground.
Journeying and alive.
Fighting sleep with every breath in
Raging through lead.
Refine get gold.
Fire in the eyes.
Fire in the belly.
Sparks can ignite earth destined dry leaves.
With the remaining flicker comes
I have to stay awake.
Overdone. Over matched.
I want to be drawn up into the ether
like the crow lifts to the sky.
The ether will allow sleep
where awareness becomes arbitrary.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, weightlifter, yoga and movement instructor, chakra reader, and Reiki practitioner.