Hypothyroidism is a multifaceted illness. The symptoms can vary greatly, can present differently in various people, and can change in one’s lifespan. With this, it can be a difficult condition to diagnose, and unfortunately, many suffer its effects for a long time before identifying the culprit: hypothyroidism.
Your thyroid is the butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. It produces hormones that regulate your body’s energy use, along with many other important functions. As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid makes and stores hormones that help regulate the body’s metabolism in the form of blood pressure, blood temperature, and heart rate.
When your thyroid hormone production drops, your body processes slow down and change. Hypothyroidism can affect many different systems in your body, and can result in the following symptoms:
● Weight gain
● Cold intolerance
● Dry skin
● Brittle hair and nails
● Muscle weakness
● Slow heart rate
● Impaired memory
These symptoms may flare and wane, they may present in groups, or one at a time. The listed symptoms are those that are most commonly associated with hypothyroidism. However, each person's experience may differ and they may have to contend with other less common side effects.
Because of this, the illness can be tricky to diagnose and hard for family, friends, or coworkers to understand. Some days you may feel great, while others can be torture.
The lack of energy and brain fog can make it difficult to get out of bed some days and function normally. This can pose a problem when you are expected to perform consistently each day at your job.
Additionally, many of the other symptoms can wear you down. You may not feel like attending social events, struggle to keep up with your kids, or suffer from malaise.
Symptom flare ups complicate the situation. On a great day, you may have tons of energy, your mind is sharp, and you can quickly tackle goals. Your boss, friends, kids, and spouse enjoy this version of you; the may expect it and rely on it. So, when a bad day rolls around, they may have a hard time cutting you slack.
Hypothyroidism can be an “invisible illness,” in that it does not have any distinguishing physical symptoms. Weight gain, hair loss, and dry skin are all linked to hypothyroidism but they could also occur for a variety of other reasons. And these visible symptoms are not the only struggles faced by those with hypothyroidism.
When you look great, it can be hard for others to understand that you don’t feel great. If you suffer from fatigue, people may think you’re isolated. The weight gain and battle to keep it off is a physical and emotional struggle that may happen regardless of if you eat healthy and exercise. Everyone may want to offer you their special cure or solution, from health drinks to supplements, and even yoga.
They might not understand that though you may act normal and look healthy, you are still suffering from a chronic illness. One that you must face and manage each day. These misconceptions can be disheartening and hurtful.
So how can you manage your invisible illness while facing the expectations of others?
It is important to be able to connect with others, whether virtually or in person. People who also suffer from hypothyroidism can share their experiences and insights, as well as lend an understanding ear when you just need to vent.
If you feel that your symptoms are flaring or you are dealing with side effects that you feel may be tied hypothyroidism even though they are uncommon, speak to your thyroid doctor. It’s important to have a relationship with your endocrinologist or medical professional in which you feel comfortable discussing your illness and treatment and asking questions.
When you feel comfortable, have candid, face-to-face conversations with your family, friends, boss, or coworkers regarding your condition. Helping others to understand your symptoms, struggles, and shifts may alleviate misunderstandings and anxieties in the future.
This one is not easy, and it certainly won’t happen overnight! Letting go of personal expectations and the expectations of others will leave you feeling more satisfied and confident. If your high expectations are difficult to meet, you’ll often find yourself disappointed. Some days you will be able to accomplish all of your tasks, while on others you will need to give yourself a break. Your illness is a significant factor in your life and should be treated as such.
Hypothyroidism has its ups and downs, symptoms flare and recess. One day you have little to no symptoms and can check off every item on your list while still having the energy to go out with friends or your family. The next day you might not be able to get out of bed. It’s understandable, and helping to raise awareness regarding chronic illnesses will help everyone else to be more understanding too.
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