Today, I've decided to give up fighting. I'm on day 3 of a another migraine. I'm home alone with my girls who are getting much better from a bout of upper respiratory illness. They are giggling and horse-playing. I need to work on a radio piece for my new job, but this week has thrown so much at me, I need to clear my head first. So, I come here to write. I also took an Imitrex. The medicine hasn't been helping. I hate taking all this medicine.
A good friend's mother and a regular in my yoga classes, my chiropractor, and some folks in my online support groups for Hashimotos urged me to get my thyroid scanned. I'm on thyroid medicine and my thyroid had never been palpated nor had I had an ultrasound of the thyroid. This last year I have had a few CT scans, 3 x-rays, 2 MRIs, and countless blood tests. My main condition which I MUST have daily medicine for had never been evaluated by anything more than a thyroid panel blood test. I could write a whole other post on my frustration with this fact, but I will just say this. If you work in healthcare (medical, mental, alternative, or spiritual), listen to your patient/client. Even if you believe what they are saying is a crock, listen with all your effort. In their words, you will find the next appropriate steps regardless if their words are medically meaningful to you.
Last week, I had my first thyroid ultrasound. I had been complaining of tightness in my neck, difficulty swallowing my medicine and some food, dizziness, hearing my pulse in my right ear, and the feeling of being in an airplane taking off in my right ear as well. It's messed quite a bit with my hearing. I was prescribed allergy medicine and had an MRI for that complaint. I don't have seasonal allergies. I never have. I very rarely even get a cold. The MRI showed normal blood flow in that region. The symptoms didn't go away even when I gave the allergy medicine a chance despite feeling I didn't need it. I didn't think these symptoms were something I should have to just ignore the rest of my life. Sometimes the swooshing and pressure change in my head is impossible to ignore. Being a yoga teacher, it affects my balance and impacts my practice. It also makes it hard to talk on the phone and at times in person because I can't hear the other person. That's not normal. That's not ok.
I got a call Friday that my doctor wanted to review my ultrasound results with me in person. I went in this past Monday. These are the results. Pardon my coffee stains. I'm a little obsessive when it comes to reviewing my medical records and I had an accident.
I have multiple nodules that are small in the left side of the thyroid - "hypoechoic areas". Lo and behold, I have a complex mass of a significant size (though apparently they can also be larger) in the right side of my thyroid. The radiologist has recommended a fine needle biopsy guided by ultrasound to rule out cancer. It will also need to be assessed if my thyroid needs to be removed even if the mass is benign. If you look at the size of the mass in comparison to the size of the right side of my thyroid, you can see why it is something that needs further testing.
Many members of the population have nodules on their thyroid. Not all of these people have been diagnosed with thyroid issues. However, people with nodules measuring on the larger end and who have a history of thyroid issues, are the most likely to have a malignant nodule. Malignancies occur in few cases compared with the commonality of thyroid nodules. I'm supposed to get my appointment for the biopsy today, and at 3:16pm, I still haven't gotten the call. I'll be traveling to Lexington for the biopsy. It's a 3 hour trip.
I'm starting my first round of employment in a decade on Monday, and I am just now getting this news. For almost a year, I have been having symptoms associated with these findings. I can't begin to explain how angry I am that I am now going to have to deal with this at all. My hormone numbers were improved in my last bloodwork. I had several months of feeling better after adopting an autoimmune paleo diet and a no-holds-barred 7 days a week yoga/meditation regimen. I've added herbs and supplements, cut many of my favorite foods, and tried my best to surround myself with people and activities that feed my soul. I thought it was working. I suppose it was a little.
To me that seemed like a reasonable option. I was done with spending half of every month in pain with the headaches. I told Creator that night that I would take on anything if it helped me move passed this pain. I told Creator I'd accept cancer, brain tumor, craziness, aneurysm, all of it. I'd accept it because it would be a diagnosis and with a diagnosis I could have a plan. Whether I lived and got treatment or died, I'd have more freedom than I was currently having. After seeing the neurologist, I got some improvement in my headaches with medication, but now I have had a headache 10 of the last 20 days. Back to the headache from Hades (not that all of them aren't bad, but I literally would've downed a bottle of pills and died if I hadn't had the ER option that night). I told Creator that I'd use whatever I was given to improve my life while I am here and to try to improve the lives of as many as I can reach through my experience. I said, "Please, bring it on." A diagnosis big or small was the only way out I could see aside from death. Yes, it's a dark place to be, but it isn't a godless place.
I still don't know what I'm dealing with, but I'm closer to an answer. I don't know what road lies ahead. All I know is I am tired. This year I have lost 2 grandparents, 1 grandparent-in-law, had 2 aunts and 1 uncle diagnosed and battling cancer, 1 sister with a cancer scare, a niece with blood clotting issues in the brain, and 1 sister under immense stress and battling Graves disease. I am currently grieving another great loss that leaves me recognizing how alone I really am. Surrounded but alone. All my close friends live away from me and are busy people. None of us enjoy phone calls. My husband must work regular hours. My parents are busy working and caring for the other kids in the family. I've always preferred being a loner, but sometimes, I wish I could just sleep in someone's arms and not have to tend to anything.
breath. Strength comes from the breath and if you become a witness to your inhales and exhales and your body's reaction to the breath, you will discover relaxation and the panic mode dissipates. It is always good to concentrate on basics, and just observe the breath connection from head to toe. Just lay on the floor, stretch and breath, and be a witness. Understand you are strengthenIng inside out. We all should do this on a regular basis, but, I think we view this as no effort towards our practice, when it is the most important part. You never lose a gain...it remains with you."
I stopped and realized that all the pushing, making myself keep going, and searching for answers beyond the medical is wearing me out. I realized that I have not focused on one of the most fundamental aspects of yoga or spiritual practice - equanimity. I have not found my balance. In all the striving, I have built my willpower up so intensely that I do not know when to allow myself a break or to stop, celebrate, and live in my gains. I just plow down the next row. Start trying to fix the next biggest issue. I want so badly to be a light to myself and others that I think I have let my ego get out of control. I have overestimated the impact I can have on a life, including my own. My efforting will only go so far, if it doesn't create space for me to also take the time to live what I have learned. Sometimes, we can try to make up for the lack of self-esteem and self-worth in our lives by building other parts of the ego like self-confidence. I have been relying on my own strength and my own mind to do everything for myself and others. At this moment, I really just want to be loved and carried for awhile. I'm done fighting. I'm going to breathe instead.
I have to make a plan. I have to hone my spiritual and yoga practice. I have to re-think my self care.
"You can't fully appreciate the light until you understand the darkness." - Black Yoga Asanas Ritual Vol. 1
If you would like to read more about this particular aspect of thyroid disease, these links are where I have been doing my own research on what is to come for me.
Thyroid Nodules - Cedars-Sinai
Does the Risk of Malignancy Increase When a Thyroid Nodule is Larger than 2cm?
Risk of Thyroid Cancer Based on Ultrasound Findings
Thyroid Nodules - AAFP
In the last few years, I've noticed that there appears to be a "gratitude movement". At least, social media, television, podcasts, and blogs would have us believe it. With Thanksgiving coming up, I'm sure we'll all see the 30 Days of Thanksgiving posts on Facebook and Twitter. In the past, I couldn't help but feel somewhat cynical at the thought of people asking me to stop focusing on what is wrong and the problems of life and instead dwell on the things I can be grateful for. I resented it because it felt as if they were saying because I was upset, sad, angry, or really wanting to fix things that I was in my essence an ungrateful person or a whiner. Of course I was grateful, I have three beautiful daughters, a long lasting relationship with my partner, family and friends who love me, food on the table, and a roof over my head! Why were people insinuating that negative aspects of our lives should not be given as much attention as the things for which we are grateful? To me, being grateful was a given. If you weren't grateful for something, you had a big problem for we all are blessed. It was the problems that needed my attention. Being publicly thankful felt like bragging. I don't like to brag.
It's been over the last two weeks that something inside of my being has shifted and I understand what it means now to live in gratitude. I've been a fighter all my life. I've always had a crusade, a cause, a depression, or something to overcome. In always approaching my life with the fighter in me, I had grown accustomed to feeling the cloud of gloom behind everything. I couldn't rest. I couldn't experience myself for trying to fix myself, my situation, or some injustice befallen someone/s I care for. I carried the world on my shoulders and I could never be enough. I grew tired. Lonesome. Invisible. Eventually, my fight began to fizzle and I wanted the darkness to win so I could just stop. I didn't have the faith to think I'd ever have a victory. There would be always something else to fight and my principles wouldn't let me give up.
We every one have and will have hard battles in this life. Somehow, we have to become aware of our own strength and how to utilize the love we have available to us during times of trial. It refines us. It heightens our sensitivities and brings forward the areas in ourselves and our lives that need attention. However, we don't have to let the battles define us. That is what I had done. In becoming the embodiment of the battle, my "self" was caged away. I had become a thyroid problem. A migraine. The lonely wife. The scary and sad birth story. The warrior victim. The thing that just won't die for all the pain it's in.
A month ago, I went completely grain free (all gluten free, of course). I gave up nuts and most cheese. I cut way back on all other dairy. I went soy free. I, also, gave up chocolate! It's recommended for anyone suffering from an autoimmune disorder to try eliminating common food allergens and foods that can cause digestive upset. For the first week and a few days, I felt like CRAP. I was angry and sure it wasn't going to work. I have a rock gut. It wasn't food that was causing my issues to worsen.
I think I was wrong. While I haven't gone completely toward the autoimmune protocol paleo approach to nutrition, I have noticed a tremendous difference with these small adjustments. I'm still waking and going to sleep very tired. At this point, you'll have to pry coffee out of my cold dead fingers. But... I'm not having huge emotional ups and downs. I'm not having any pain or headaches. My face hasn't swollen in a month. I'm still having some digestive issues, but I have a plan for that. Keeping up with a hectic schedule doesn't stress me out nearly as much as it did before. I have heart palpitations regularly, but they don't seem to be brought on by stress or anxiety anymore. Truly, the difference in my ability to cope emotionally has increased 100x.
About three days in, I was about to call it and go back to my normal whole foods diet which included all food groups aside from processed foods and refined sugar. A friend encouraged me to stick with it. I had been complaining of the lack of food options, meaning my favorite foods. He said, "You won't know unless you try." Curious me, I have to know, and I have to be able to say I tried. It was a challenge and I took it. Here I am. It's like I've emerged from a fog. As cliche as that picture is, it is true.
Now, my heart is filled with gratitude for things I didn't even notice before. It hasn't been a effort on my part. It is like it has happened along with this emergence. At the same time, so many things are falling into place. My spirit is being freed from the fighting and allowed to be and do with all the strength it once used to fight endless battles. My dreams are revived to be chased and earned. I'm realizing that I will be okay in whatever path my life takes as long as I am remaining compassionate, open, available, aware and caring of my body, and embracive of my truth by actively knowing and living it.
This week gratitude has taken the form of finding tremendous joy in being welcomed into a new yoga community through Evolation Yoga Kentucky in Pikeville where I am teaching yoga. Enjoying a 7 day a week yoga practice and having the ability to practice/teach up to 3 hours of yoga on 4 of those days. Hearing the new expressive vocabulary my three year old, Gwen, is adopting. She's so full of spunk. The 100% my oldest daughter got on her math test. Seeing the excitement that she and my middle daughter have when going and coming from their school every day. I'm finding myself growing more and more thankful for the time several of my friends take in their day to send me little messages to laugh at, poke fun at one another, or to share burdens and triumphs. I'm wonderfully thankful for my husband being willing to coordinate his schedule with mine and the childcare my friend has been willing to share with me, so that I can take a few hours every day to follow my bliss as an adult woman.
I could go on. It's easy to be grateful when you are feeling good. It's easy to notice the joy filled moments when you aren't managing with pain or feeling muddled. Right now though, I feel like I'm breathing in gratitude. The scary part is that a little voice in my head tells me it all could be a fluke and the next debilitating headache is around the corner, the next big crisis is imminent, loneliness will overwhelm again, or another tragedy will be brought upon a friend or family member. There are some who I know would tell me to ignore that voice, or to actively direct my thoughts to the good. However, I know good and well that it is more than very probable that any or all of those things are true. What I think I've learned with this go around is that I don't have to go into the ring punching and kicking with all I have. I simply have to have my gloves on, my guard up, and be there. Present. Alert. Knowing where my heart lies, what I am capable of, and that winning or losing is nothing compared to the process and the time we take to be there in it.
Breathe and be more alive. - Ravi Singh
This week is huge for me in terms of possibilities for the future. I'm interviewing for work I can be passionate about on Thursday. I am preparing to send in a grant proposal for further opportunities with my writing. I've taken the girls school shopping as their first year of schooling away from home will begin next week. I shared my yoga practice with nine people as the instructor in my class on Monday at the recreation center. It was a beautiful energy. I have also taken some steps to adopt an autoimmune paleo diet and lifestyle. In all this effort, it is so easy to simply get caught up in the momentum, but sometimes we must pull back and take the time to notice the details of the doing rather than focusing on an end goal.
Today, I'm reminding myself to move one step at a time. I'm not taking anything off the plate. I'm taking the time to savor each bite and notice how it nourishes my body and mind. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Do the thing and you will have the power." Rather than wondering if I will get the job, the girls will be happy in their new school, the diet will improve my Hashimotos symptoms, or I will get the grant, I have to take a moment and credit myself for doing the thing. In order to be alive, I must remember to breathe right now.
This is part of teaching myself patience. Patience with myself, my daughters, situations, and those around me. Einstein said, "Time is an illusion." Mario Benedetti reminds us that, "Five minutes are enough to dream a whole life, that is how relative time is." With our breath and mind, we can slow down time or speed it up. How we perceive a happening determines the brevity or endlessness it is made of. It is this moment that matters now.
Einstein also helped reveal to the world that energy isn't created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another. What must I do to change my experience of this life? Change the form of the energy I devote to it. My efforts will be rewarded regardless of the outcome of the effort because the energy I am spending cannot be for naught. It is a real and tangible force more ancient than time. However, it is the intention and the process with which I expel this energy that will guide me to the outcome that is right for me. It is right now that matters.
I have one more week to spend as a completely stay at home mother. I have right now to bring myself back to self care so that I can nurture mind, body, spirit into a condition that allows me to properly share my gifts with others. I have lunch and supper left today to take the time to feed my body nourishing food to gain strength for tomorrow. It is today that I should express my heart to those I care about. Today, I come to my yoga mat with reverent and light energy, ready to learn from Source.
Homebase is right this moment.
I have to say that I'm proud of myself over the last month. I've done the work I need to do to know where my center lies and how to get back there when the wind of my hopes and dreams takes me here, there, and yonder. I wonder if those close to me notice it. I've chosen to focus in the process. I've chosen to do and be patient with the rest. I wonder if I appear grateful, or new. I feel like I'm becoming new.
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.
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.