Hey guys! I want you to meet Larry. Larry is 300 pounds and sits on my windpipe and crushes my health dreams. He’s a big old fat man who wants me to be fat too. When I eat a celery stick for breakfast, Larry catches it and turns it into a Big Mac for the rest of its journey. And when my brain tries to overcompensate for what’s going on down in Neck area by sending out its magic hormones, Larry just goes into overdrive, dispatching little tiny bots that slow down everything else until consuming 1,000 calories per day will only be barely low enough to keep me from sliding into obesity.
Larry is my thyroid. He sits in my neck chomping pizza while all I do is eat salads and work out. He’s a bastard.
We’ll get back to him in a moment. First let me (re)introduce myself here. I’m Melissa, and I started this whole Fittie thing in 2006. It’s had several iterations but this is the one I think will stick, and I’m so very happy about this.
I am a business owner, writer, webmistress, and ubergeek. I run The Leaky Cauldron, LeakyNews, and LeakyCon. I am the co-founder and co-CEO of Mischief Management. I wrote Harry, A History, and am hard at work on a crappy draft of my second book, which will be my first novel.
I do a few things, so, normally, health is shoved in there like laundry day. I know it’s a running part of my life, never-ending, and I’ve got to deal with it, and the longer I spend avoiding it the worse it will start to smell. Sometimes, I am so on top of my laundry, that life feels manageable and glorious. And sometimes, the pile turns everything to stink.
I always thought this was my only problem: there was some unflickable switch inside me, that would get turned on with enough time spent running, pushing, pulling, jumping, journaling, restricting. Whenever I wondered whether the reason I never saw results (or whatever results I worked so hard to earn faded at the first sight of a biscuit) had something to do with chemical composition instead of willpower, I shunned the idea away. That’s the easy way out, I told myself. You are not going to find a magic pill. It’s not something a doctor can fix. Just go running. Then, inevitably, I would watch another episode of The West Wing or use my daily, miniscule exercise window to perform the mindless Tumblr scroll.
Last year around this time, I started having trouble swallowing. My head hurt nearly all the time, and the malaise slowly spread everywhere. Overwhelmed and confused with what this might mean, I kept it to myself. For one week I felt like someone had hit me with a truck. Then, on another weight-inspired mission, I dropped all carbohydrates from my diet, eating like a Paleo queen. I lost a few pounds and without noticing it, my symptoms went away. I didn’t realize I was feeling better, until mid-February, when I had a cheat day and ate some pizza at a weekend HP Alliance retreat.
The effect was almost instant. Within two hours, the headache I didn’t realize had disappeared was back, and I couldn’t swallow well. Everything hurt. I went to bed early, using fingers to tick off what I had eaten, trying to determine the culprit. It didn’t take long: bread. It was bread. Oh no. I’m one of those.
By “those” I mean the ever-expanding group of people in this world who define themselves as gluten-free. For weeks I thought I was a Celiac, but couldn’t get my allergies tested because my insurance carrier sucks. So I just dropped all gluten from my diet, and figured no matter what it was – an intolerance, an allergy, a whatever – I felt a billion times better, so it was worth continuing. It wasn’t until midsummer that I got frustrated again with my lack of progress, and the occasional twinge in my throat.
Then I heard my sister mention that she was on thyroid medicine. My sister: my always-slim sister, with a sluggish thyroid? They say problems like that are genetic. What was I afraid of, anyway? The doctor smirking and condescending to me, telling me that I was hysterical, and instructing me to simply eat less? Yes. That was exactly what I was afraid of. That single-minded, simplistic mindset and attitude that has, over the years, made me want to punch several people in the medical profession directly in the face.
That no longer seemed a good enough reason not to investigate. Plus, I was nearly out of options. I found an endocrinologist: within five minutes of my first consultation he was feeling my throat and muttering “Hm. Yeah. Hm. That seems large.” My age, the amount of weight I couldn’t seem to lose… all of it added up, he said. “Sounds like Hashimoto’s.” Two weeks later the bloodwork confirmed it. I have Hashimoto’s Disease, which was turning me slowly hypothyroidic.
In other words, my body treats my thyroid like it’s a foreign body that it must attack and kill. The thyroid is then smothered with antibodies and cannot send my body the hormone it needs to regulate my metabolism. There’s a little embargo going on in my neck.
That little embargo is also why I have trouble with gluten. A lot of Hashi’s patients do, the theory going that because a gluten molecule looks like a thyroid molecule, the body attacks that as well. Or it may be that those things just cause inflammation. I don’t know much else about it, because the research is shaky and I am not a scientist. It makes me feel awful, so I don’t eat it.
You might be thinking, Hurrah! Your troubles are over! You found the magic pill!
Yes and no. I do take a pill. There is no magic in it. I am not suddenly losing weight. Though, when I explain my condition, I get a lot of people saying things like, “Man, I wish there was something wrong with my thyroid.”
First of all, no, stop. You should not think that. Don’t ever wish for a disease. I sat in the doctor’s office two seconds after my diagnosis looking outwardly calm, but only because my insides were fighting against each other in a teeny civil clash. “Yes! We’re gonna get fixed!” said my throat and thyroid. “You did it, you found the problem! Happy dance! Now you can finally lose weight!”
And then a tiny voice in my brain popped up: “Yes. You have a disease. This is not happyfuntimes. Something is dysfunctional inside you. It’s an autoimmune disease, which means it can cause all sorts of other problems without warning. And there is no cure. You will be on a pill forever. ”
That’s not such a hardship, considering the many other diseases for which there are no cure. But anyone who thinks finding this out is cause for celebration is wrong.
Second, there is nothing easy or instant about this. I went on thyroid medicine, and in the first two weeks, and with the help of a strict detox regime, I lost a bunch of weight. Since then, I have fluctuated up and down for hardly any reason. So have my antibody and thyroid hormone levels.
I always tell people, it’s not about fat and thin: it’s about wanting my body to do what I tell it. If I gain weight, I at least want it to be because I had a grand old time eating things that taste fabulous and are horrible for me. If I lose weight, I want it to be because I wanted to, and directed my body to do that. I want my body to listen to me and what I am doing to it. And above all, I want to be healthy, no matter what that means for my weight.
I am on my fifth month with this strange little neck battle going on. I am learning a lot. I am making a lot of mistakes. I am discovering fun ways to eat. I am reinvigorating myself with exercise. I am getting frustrated when things don’t work. I am reveling in victories large and small. I am changing.
Just today, I made yet another hourlong trip from my apartment to my doctor, waited another hour in the waiting room, got stuck with yet another needle, had yet another discussion about why it may be that my levels are on the up again. I even heard the words, “stress causes fluctuations,” and laughed. I am doomed.
It is not easier because I have found a problem. If anything, it is harder, and it is full of tests and trials wins and losses. It is SLOW.
But I am trying. And I’m excited to share the journey with you all!