There’s a saying where I come from that says, “They look like something the cat dragged in.” It’s not a compliment. Well, having a non-functioning thyroid makes you feel like “something the cat dragged in.”
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland that regulates metabolism and energy levels. This sounds like no big deal until it stops working.
I know because my thyroid has lately decided to call it quits. My nurse practitioner had never seen thyroid lab values as out-of-whack as mine. One of those tests, the TSH, should be between 0.36 and 3.74. Mine was 69.5. She’s not sure how I was functioning at all. I guess she doesn’t know how stubborn I am.
Since being diagnosed with hypothyroidism I have met many other people with this problem. According to the NIH, 4.6% of the US population 12 years of age and older have hypothyroidism. This is a diagnosis that affects not only the patient, but also the other people in the patient’s life.
I didn’t even know that I had a problem because the symptoms developed so slowly. I got so used to feeling awful that I thought it was normal. Soon after my diagnosis, before treatment began to have an effect, I wrote a description of what I felt like. In order to help understand how it feels to have an underactive thyroid, I will share below some of my symptoms and what they felt like to me at that time. If you are experiencing these symptoms, please see your doctor and don’t let it get as extreme as mine was.
Here’s what I wrote:
Fatigue – This is a bone-deep weariness, unrelieved by sleep. My body is using every resource just to make my vital organs work. There’s none left for unimportant things like, say, energy or ambition. Something simple like grocery shopping or walking to a single store in the mall exhausts me for the rest of the day.
Increased sensitivity to cold – I am like our lizard looking for the warmest spot to soak in some heat. Last Christmas I sewed bags of dry rice for family members to warm in the microwave and use as heating pads. I also made myself a large one, and it has become my best friend. I pile on the covers in bed and still wake up cold after several hours of sleep.
Unexplained weight gain – This one is very simple. If I don’t diet, I gain weight. If I diet, I gain weight anyway. I could eat anything or nothing and still gain weight. Just as my metabolism only has enough energy for my vital organs, and none for ambition or energy, I’m also not burning as many calories as I normally would, so I gain weight. They tell me that once my thyroid medication kicks in and my blood levels are normal again, I will feel better in many ways, but the weight I have gained will not leave in the same easy manner that it arrived. However, if I work at it, I will be able to lose weight, which is more than I can do right now.
Muscle weakness – Did I mention that five minutes on a stationary bike feels like I just ran a marathon?
Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints – When I get up in the morning, my joints feel like I am about 30 years older than I am. I take steps one at a time.
Thinning hair – With all the hair I gather off the bathroom floor after I brush my hair, I’m surprised I have any left on my head. What I do have left on my head is very brittle and has all the smooth texture of straw.
Slowed heart rate – Normally a slow heart rate is good, but in this case it is not.
Problems concentrating – “Brain fog” is a term used for this symptom because it feels like that thought is just beyond your grasp and you can’t quite reach it. It’s right there…almost. I estimate that my IQ is probably about 2/3 of what it used to be.
Low body temperature – 98.6 is never reached. Remember that part about the lizard in the sun?
Depression – I wouldn’t call what I feel depression as much as I feel apathy. It’s just been very hard to get motivated to do anything. But I guess this one could be a lot worse. It’s not too extreme.
Impaired memory – I need to make a list of the lists I make. I have always been forgetful and air-headed, but lately I’ve taken it to a whole new level. The other day I drove somewhere and literally forgot which route I took. My husband tells me things, and not only can I not remember what he said, but I have forgotten the entire discussion, never to be remembered again. Until I figured out that my thyroid was low I was concerned that maybe I had Alzheimers.
I am feeling better and better as my medications get my body back to normal. I am feeling human again. As the words to the Beauty and the Beast song say:
When we’re human again
Only human again
When the girl fin’lly sets us all free
Cheeks a-bloomin’ again
We’re assumin’ again
We’ll resume our long lost joie de vie
We’ll be playin’ again
And we’re prayin’ it’s A-S-A-P
When we cast off this pall
We’ll stand straight, we’ll walk tall
When we’re all that we were
Thanks to him, thanks to her
Coming closer and closer
And closer and…
We’ll be dancing again!
We’ll be twirling again!
We’ll be whirling around with such ease
When we’re human again
Only human again
We’ll go waltzing those old one-two-threes
We’ll be floating again!
We’ll be gliding again!
Stepping, striding as fine as you please
Like a real human does
I’ll be all that I was
On that glorious morn
When we’re fin’lly reborn
And we’re all of us human again!