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Thyroid Disease: A Blessing in Disguise

Thyroid-Disease-A-Blessing-In-Disguise-Thyroid-NationSarah Downing,
Thyroid Thrivers
Thyroid Nation



37 years young
Pennsylvania, USA
Diagnosed in 2009




I was honored and humbled when Danna first asked me to write this piece for
Thyroid Thrivers and for months have had trouble putting the right words to
paper because I wonder what I really have to tell others that marks me as a
“Thriver”. After all, don’t we all aim to thrive and survive in life? Consequently,
I am sharing this story with you in hopes that you will identify with my highs
and lows on the path of life and gather hope that you too can get your life back.
I’ve written countless articles about my diagnosis, which I invite you to read on
my website, so I want this one to be a little different, but I’m going to see what
flows out of my fingers and on to the keyboard.

Thyroid disease will set you on a journey of transformation that you neither asked
for nor wanted. It will brutally turn your life on its head, force you to come face to
face with who you truly are (and you may not like at all what you find!) and push
you to your very limits. There will be times when you no longer want to live
another day if it is to be filled with such miserable fatigue and pain, but carry on
because there may well come a time when as that laborious little caterpillar the
pupa of your life finally breaks open to reveal a resplendent butterfly. Your
destination may not be the one you originally intended or expected, but you will
have arrived and will have undoubtedly grown in the process … and will also
continue to grow as long as you remain open to it.

And so it was for me when I was finally diagnosed with hypothyroidism back
in 2009. Few people rejoice at being diagnosed with a chronic illness, but for
me it was a case of finally getting an answer to the bone-crushing fatigue and
humiliating weight gain that had plagued me since my early to mid-20s.
Looking back, I would say that hypothyroidism stole my 20s from me because,
unlike others of my age, instead of prancing around in swim suits every summer
and feeling sexy and alive, I was struggling to get out of bed, let alone keep up
with my demanding career as a freelance translator, which I honestly believe
was one of the fires that fueled this illness. That and the stress of being
severely bullied as a child, life in a country where I never truly felt at home
and various family deaths all in one year – stressors to which so many
people are susceptible today, and which can subsequently launch you into an
out of control spiral of ill health. Few of my customers knew what was going
on with me, and I didn’t have the luxury of giving up my job because I needed
the money to support myself as a single young expat who was at the time
living in Germany. My diagnosis also included a bonus diagnosis of
Epstein-Barr, and as my treatment progressed it was literally as if a veil had
been lifted from me and I was once again able to see and feel clearly.

Looking at me now, I suspect many people would have a hard time believing
how sick I really was. In fact, I have a hard time believing it myself, had I
not lived it! This “deadly combo” made my symptoms so severe that I had
problems even lifting my fork to my mouth to eat without feeling fatigued.
Just going to the fridge seemed a huge effort and so I really didn’t feel like
eating, but ironically still continued to gain weight (and at the time was
overweight – how unfair!). In addition, I was too tired to sit at my desk
(and to think that years before my ex-boyfriend’s mother had described
me as “hyperactive”) and struggled to do my work from my laptop in bed. My
joints suffered as a result, but I forced myself to continue. Another symptom
was my inability to read properly. As a writer, since childhood I have loved
to read, so you can imagine how sad I was when that was stolen from me
too. I struggled to take in the words of each book, only to be forced to read
each paragraph time and again because I simply wasn’t absorbing anything.
Looking back, I also remember suffering from frequent candida, which I no
longer seem to have an issue with these days (back then I was also on the
pill, but note that this is also another symptom of hypothyroidism).

In the beginning, I slept for hours a day and had a huge problem getting up
in the morning, which is probably why I had initially suspected I suffered
from Seasonal Affective Disorder, as my symptoms were worse in winter.
But that, dear reader, is another symptom common in hypothyroidism –
many sufferers actually need extra thyroid hormone in the chilly season and
are more susceptible to SAD. As my treatment progressed, I graduated from
working in bed to working on the couch to working at my desk again. It may
seem like minor changes, but to someone with chronic illness this is huge
because after a while you honestly feel like you have become chained to your
bed, and are so afraid that you will never properly experience the outside
world again, at least not without the fear of being exhausted every time you
go out.

There is so much to write about, but as this is a column about Thyroid
Thrivers I’d like to cut to the chase and reveal to you what helped me
personally thrive and come back alive. I have posted various times about
how happy I am to have gotten my life back. Once you’ve been that sick,
you will never again take for granted the ability to be able to get up early
and make the most of your day – with thyroid disease, I felt like I was
living a half-life because a disproportionate amount of my time was spent

I started out unfit and overweight, and ironically I am now embarking on a
career path that involves a huge amount of physical activity and fitness in the
pursuit of healing others. How the tables have turned! Various people on
Facebook specifically asked me which doctor I saw, and in all honesty I have
to admit that it wasn’t a single doctor or pill, but rather a combination of
factors that helped me regain my health.

Thyroid-Disease-A-Blessing-In-Disguise-Thyroid-NationOn diagnosis, I truly believed that I could
swallow one little pill, lose all the weight
I had gained, be a US Size 6 again and
get my life back within a few months. Of
course, there is no miracle pill, but along
the way I also learned that healing your
thyroid is about so much more than just
healing your physical ailments. Sadly, I
must admit that the majority of doctors I have seen were actually more hindrance
than help because they arrogantly refused to listen and many of them were
upsetting and rude. This in turn made me appreciate the good doctors even more
… the German doctor who was open to prescribing Natural Desiccated Thyroid
when I asked for it, even though he failed me in other ways (teaching me that
few doctors are truly perfect and causing me to ultimately switch to a doctor that
better fit my needs!)

Having done countless hours of research, I had discovered
that so many patients feel better on NDT, making me want  to try it for myself
after T4-only left me tired and in need of an afternoon nap. I did my research
and figured out how to procure it in Germany, although it  is by no means the
standard treatment over there. This taught me the importance of being proactive
and being willing to change doctors if your current doctor is no longer helping you.

Then there was the doctor who helped me put together further pieces of
my puzzle and solve the mystery of my stomach pain and bloating … diagnosing
me with food intolerances (gluten, dairy and egg, among others!), which I had
suspected all along even though my last doctor poo-pooed this, teaching me how
vital it is to remember that you know your body best and if you suspect something
is wrong, you should fight for treatment because you are most probably right.
This was how my previous doctor had failed me and why I had seen the need to
switch. Ultimately, cutting out these allergens has helped me heal my gut, as well
as cultivate a much healthier diet.

Then there was the doctor who quite frankly was a complete and utter bastard,
screaming at me loudly so his whole waiting room could hear, that I was
“Fat! Fat! Fat!” and bringing me to tears of anger and humiliation. I later came
to realize that this gynecologist suffered from an eating disorder as he had
extremely unrealistic ideas about his own physique, which he tended to project
on others. Of course, when you are sick and vulnerable, you don’t always recognize
that right away. But that, as humiliating, frustrating and painful as it was, taught
me some valuable lessons too: to not put up with crap from people who are
communicating with you in such a cruel manner and to recognize when the
problem lies with them rather than you. I’m no longer angry because ironically
I look back and I also remember how he was the one doctor who solved my
problems of years of painful sex by recognizing that I needed a simple operation.
So perhaps every cloud really does have a silver lining.

There was also the chiropractor whom I saw for my chronic pain. Despite
pressuring us to see him several times a week, I didn’t feel I was improving, but
Thyroid-Disease-A-Blessing-In-Disguise-Thyroid-Nationthe plus side of all this was that it
was through him that I first found
a personal trainer whom I really
clicked with. Having been scarred
by years of my well-meaning
parents and certain blunt Germans
telling me how fat I was (I was a
US Size 14 at the time), I supposed
Dani would assume the same thing, but for the first time in forever somebody made me feel normal about myself. Under her tutelage, I became strong and fit again. I gradually built up
my abs, which really helped to balance out my blood sugars, which had I believe initially
elevated due to my untreated thyroid disease. She taught me exercises and
stretches and the importance of physical fitness.

Once we moved to the US, I initially ended up seeing a nutritionist because I
struggled to find an integrative practitioner who took my insurance in the NYC
area (which is where I was living at the time). The wonderful Inna Topiler
taught me so much about supplements, but she also taught me how important
it is to take a look at the whole picture – nutritional deficiencies, adrenals, sex
hormones, the mind-body connection. I also remember her telling me that I
have good energy and that I should do energy work, something I had also been
told by various other healers.

Shortly before we left the NYC area to move to Pennsylvania, I did past life
regression with the lovely Michelle Brock. It had been something I had been
curious about for years, and I felt the distinct need to do it at that time. Many
past lives as a healer came up and before she met me, she had a vision about
me of a mortar and pestle such as that of a herbalist. She too advised me to
embark on the healing path. It was as if all signs were pointing in that direction.
And whilst I realize that not everybody might believe in this, I am telling it as it
is. I had always known I was sensitive to other people’s emotions and had an
innate ability to know how to respond to people to make them feel better and
heal emotionally, but it wasn’t until I got sick myself and struggled to find
practitioners to truly care and help me get well that this ignited my desire to
follow that path.

I believe that Inna and Michelle, among others, were both rather instrumental
to my desire to want to embark on a path of healing – not just myself, but also
others. Throughout my thyroid journey, one thing that had also helped me had
been to blog about my experiences, share my research, write about my past as
a way of purging it and letting others know they were not alone. I started out
by writing the weekly column Flying With Broken Wings for the beautiful
website Dear Thyroid. For years, I wanted to blog about something, anything,
but I hadn’t deemed any of my thoughts worthwhile. Chronic illness finally
gave me something to write about, but I tried to give it a positive and proactive
twist, encouraging others to fly even though their butterflies’ wings were broken.
I have since launched my own website Butterflies & Phoenixes, and through
that I met the beautiful ladies of the nonprofit ThyroidChange where I am now
active as Blog Editor and PR and Outreach Representative. This whole online
experience has taught me so much about blogging, marketing and social media,
skills I would have never acquired without thyroid disease. In the process, I am
in awe of the strength, perseverance and humility of the many thyroid sufferers
I have met on this powerful journey.

In December of 2013, I made a decision that would change my life. For so long
I had put off a proposed career change for fear of the unknown. Inna had
inspired me that perhaps naturopathy might be my calling, but I was concerned
about having to take a course online because none of the big naturopathy
universities were nearby and they were also very costly. In addition, I didn’t
really fancy the commitment of going back to school for another four years!
I had been fairly happy to leave school behind me in my early 20s when I
graduated with a BA in French and German and went on to become a translator
and writer.

Thyroid-Disease-A-Blessing-In-Disguise-Thyroid-NationBut sometimes all it takes is a single experience
to piss us off enough that it pushes us over the
edge! I’d like to thank my horrible ex customer
NQ for doing just that. Not only did she ruin
my Christmas Day, she also unknowingly
pushed me to take that vital leap and sign up
for a course in massage therapy in search of a
balance to my demanding translation career.
I had always enjoyed massaging people, am
very intuitive and very tactile. What’s more,
there was a renowned massage school within
driving distance of our house, so it seemed as
if it was meant to be. My lesson from that was
that you shouldn’t be afraid to make a change
if you honestly believe that it will make you happier. It takes guts, but what you will find is that things will often fall into place if they are meant to be. Caution though, your journey may not be easy.

My journey at massage school has been tough at times. I’ll freely admit that
learning routines is not my forte and that some teachers can be hurtfully
(albeit unintentionally) blunt about this, but once you get past that, you can
let your intuition unfurl and you may well find that you magically know
where to put your hands to relieve someone’s pain.

To come back to my comment about energy, it may also interest you to
know that since enrolling I have taken courses in Reiki and am now a
certified Reiki Master Teacher. It has been my experience that Reiki helps
you to calm and ground yourself and it’s also a wonderful add-on to any
massage when you can heat up your hands “with your mind” for more
soothing and pain-relieving strokes.

Massage school has really helped me to further develop my intuition, practice
grounding myself and I even took a course in yoga for the first time ever, which
I totally loved and probably wouldn’t have considered previously. It’s a
wonderful thing being in a room of healers, most of whom intuitively “get”
where you are coming from without you really having to explain it. I’ve met
some very kind-hearted and gifted people in my courses. I’ve also been blessed
to have some amazing teachers put in my path – whether teachers at school
who sought to nurture my true potential and saw the real me or fellow massage
therapists I have met randomly and who have invited me to partake in massage
exchanges, where I have not only learned a lot, but also enjoyed getting a
massage when I really needed one after working so much on other people. This
has taught me the importance of allowing yourself to be healed as a healer. So
essentially I feel that the best healers are put in the role of both healer and
patient. I sometimes wonder if I was somehow destined to be sick in this life in
order to experience both sides of the same coin.

To summarize, I’d like to say that I do believe everything happens for a reason,
so whilst I felt cheated of my 20s and much of my 30s, I also felt that in the
Thyroid-Disease-A-Blessing-In-Disguise-Thyroid-Nationend I had gained more than enough to make up for it. So many things have enabled me personally to thrive, but you have to be open
to them and you also need to
be proactive. I have learned to
surround myself with positive
people and environments.
Compared to the NJ/NYC area,
which personally drained me
with its chaotic energy, our move
to PA made me feel as if I had finally come home as we now live in a town of artistic, kind-hearted and open-minded people. I am now less tolerant of the people who drain my energy and seek to drag me down. I am less afraid to avoid them or cut them out of my life. Every friendship goes through ups and downs, but essentially there needs to be mutual support and love between two friends. I now cultivate whole body healing. I personally avoid synthetic medications wherever possible and will always favor natural alternatives and a healthy diet that works for me personally (gluten-free, low-dairy, non-GMO, organic wherever possible), although I realize that there are times when pharmaceuticals may be needed. That said, due to the adrenal fatigue I experienced, I now realize
what a huge role your mental and emotional wellbeing play in your overall
wellbeing. Allowing yourself to wind down through exercise, walks in nature,
deep breathing, massage, or whatever works for you are vital practices for
maintaining your health.

In the end, it’s all about putting together the pieces of your own personal
wellness puzzle. It will take research, perseverance and most probably the
assistance of others, but don’t give up because you owe it to yourself to find
out how truly beautiful things can become once you stop merely subsisting
and start truly living!

This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.

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