What I Learned on My Journey to a Hypothyroidism Diagnosis
By Nicole Charky
I hit a wall in spring 2017. There was absolutely something wrong with my body and I couldn’t neglect myself any longer.
For the past nine years, I visited more than four doctor’s offices complaining of having bad acne, feeling moody, sometimes a little down and tired, unsure and unconfident in why I couldn’t lose weight and had rapid weight gain — at one point I put on 50 pounds in just over two years. My periods were heavy, or would simply vanish for months. I’d get headaches at random times during the day or night, sometimes locking myself in the terrible work bathrooms and vomiting all morning, then spending weeks trying to show and convince my co-workers that I wasn’t actually pregnant — a cycle I’ve had to repeat at three different jobs. I had hormonal, hereditary migraines and I didn’t know what they might have been connected to. I hadn’t had blood work done in years, partially because of my fear of needles, but also because doctors didn’t see it as necessary.
DON’T ACCEPT NO FOR AN ANSWER
I had almost given up on myself, but I made one last doctor’s appointment: this time it was my dermatologist. I wanted to stop itching and scratching the back of my head and neck under my thick hair. I had horrible dandruff, and I wore only black *to match my general mood.* It was really bothering me - not to mention my acne was getting worse. The breakouts were only across my chin, near my mouth, and it felt deep and painful, like raw and sore marks on my facial bones.
I made a serious promise to myself: It was time to fight for my own health.
My dermatologist wasn’t available to take me the day I broke down, so I decided to see another doctor in the practice. She walked into the room and stared at me and asked if I’d ever had my blood tested. She asked me if random hairs had popped up on my body, if I struggled to lose weight and if I had a skinny sister or any history of ovary issues in my family. I said yes to all those questions.
“Honey, you have PCOS,” she said, grabbing my puffy face. My immediate reaction: “How do you know?”
The next step, she explained, was that I needed to go to an endocrinologist and have my blood checked to see my thyroid, too. Often, your thyroid can indicate a lot about what’s happening in your body.
PUT THE PIECES TOGETHER
I couldn't stop gaining weight. I didn't know what my issue was. Was I depressed? Was I eating too much? Was I drinking too much? Was I high too much? What was my issue? Could I blame my years of the overnight reporting on it? Or, was it plain genetic?
The recurring, dreaded question: IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME?
I actually had hypothyroidism. It means my thyroid is slow, and I don’t produce enough of the important hormones, according to the Mayo Clinic.
GET TO THE BOTTOM OF IT
Your family health history can tell you a lot. It's important to find out who you are and where you really come from. My great-grandmother on my mother’s side was a Seneca American Indian born on the reservation in New York. As an adult she had diabetes. My grandfather born in Egypt on my father’s side had diabetes for most of his later adult life.
By recognizing this information, the doctor could help explain the results of my blood work. I showed having a slower thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism, and it’s something many other women experience. Women are actually five to eight times more likely to experience it over men. Your thyroid often indicates how fast or slow your metabolism is, which is a key factor in indicating if someone has diabetes, according to the Diabetes Council.
I blamed myself for years, but it was actually my body. My blood and hormones are genetically predisposed to having diabetes. At the time I had my first blood work done, it showed me as a prediabetic - something I have worked hard to no longer be at the same risk for - but something I will continually fight against for the rest of my life.
It’s having this knowledge that now allows me to make health-conscious choices everyday that weren’t part of my life before. I’ve lost more than 23 pounds since I was diagnosed in April and continue to spend each day considering both eating and exercise choices. Since I understand that I have hypothyroidism, I take my medication prescribed each morning. It’s part of my routine and it’s what I’ll do to improve my life, along with continuing my weight loss and healthy decision-making (aka adulting).
AND NOW WHAT DO YOU DO?
1. Advocate for yourself.
You are your best judge. Take your time - the best changes can be gradual because they are lifestyle changes. If you have a question for your doctor, ask it. If you need your doctor to check something out because of a genetic predisposition - just ask. And if they don’t want to consider that you might be at risk, you might want to consider getting another doctor for a second opinion and your personal peace of mind.
2. Ask questions, even if they scare you.
In my process of learning about hypothyroidism I realized just how much of a total process it is. Seek advice from medical professionals who study your condition and have solutions or suggestions to everyday hacks. Come up with things you CAN do, as opposed to the things you cannot. For example, I CAN eat lots of leafy greens and yummy protein — I CANNOT have dairy, such as ice cream or cheese pizza.
3. Find the people who will support you in your health journey and stick by them.
If they don’t, run away, and keep running as long as you can (that’s just generally good advice, too). But last of all, you must be good to yourself. Getting diagnosed can lead to major healing time and it’s cool to get reacquainted with who you really are.
Nicole Charky is a 29-year-old journalist and producer living and working in Los Angeles. She is a contributor to Do The Good Stuff and creates and directs video content for Snapchat publisher Brother, along with shows and music videos. Her work has been featured in The Los Angeles Times, AOL and Glamour. Her health quest is new, and she's only getting started.