WHO’S IN CHARGE?
There are many emotional, mental, and psychological issues that can occur when you have an autoimmune disease. Well, it’s hard to live with any kind of disease or disorder. Although I will be specifically talking about my situation, anyone living with Hashimoto’s can learn from the things that I have and will learn through this process. It’s important for me to discuss the psychological issues that can arise from this diagnosis, and through the posts to come, we can learn how to keep ourselves mentally healthy as doctors try to keep up physically healthy.
Like so many others living with this disease, my life slowly changed, with something different every week. Prior to my first diagnosis, I was very active. I would exercise, everyday, sleep a minimal amount of time and still be up and ready to go. I was always on the move, always doing two things at a time, if not more. Then, little by little, things started to… change. Now, to use very technical terms, I am emotionally, mentally, and psychologically a mess.
Hashimoto’s is caused by abnormal thyroid hormone levels, specifically being too low. There can be violent, psychological swings that are alarming, not just for the one with the disease but also for those who have to stand by and watch their loved one without being able to take the pain away.
Appearance, Self-Esteem, and Personality
The first thing that happened to me was the weight gain. I found it quite difficult to lose the weight, especially as I was seeing doctor after doctor, and taking test after test. This, for most people, is frustrating and can create self-esteem issues. Rapid changes in thyroid hormone levels can cause unsettling emotions. You start feeling more tired and less alert, and can have changes in your appearance. The aforementioned weight gain, a puffy face, and loss of hair in a short amount of time, can create self-esteem issues. Then, feelings of depression can start to set in, especially if people start to ask questions that are awkward, about your appearance or mood. “No, I’m not pregnant.” Yeah, you’d be depressed too.
As I began to learn more, I found that many people with this disease also have strong personalities. I am a Type A personality, which encumbers personality traits such as perfectionism, fear of failure, obsessiveness, tough on oneself, etc. and I realized that this type of personality would suffer from chronic stress (as I do). I never really considered myself to be ‘stressed out’ and I handled my life with detailed lists and planning. But there are many things that irritate me, and I know now that these things caused me great anxiety. For example, I am a time fanatic; you are either early or on time and you never make anyone wait for you. So, I would become irritated, and angry at times, when I must wait for other people, or if other people made me late. And what about people who don’t use their blinkers?? I will (well, used to) literally flick my hands at a driver and say loudly “blinkers!!” I suffer from chronic stress, from the time I wake up until the time I would finally fall asleep.
Ok, side note, one of the aspects of Hashimoto’s, fibromyalgia, and Lupus (along with their accompanying medication) is lack of focus. I have become that person who, while in the middle of a conversa… oh look, shiny thing! Yes, I lose concentration and focus and can diverge from one topic to the next. However, I am not going to change it in this blog because that’s who I have become.
Stress and Acceptance
So, back to the stress. As stated earlier, these diseases and their symptoms can have an impact on a person’s self-esteem. I generally don’t have any identity problems, per say; however, I have become more depressed about the physical symptoms that I have little to no control over. This depression and self-esteem issue comes from within. How I interpret how the world interprets me is only now starting to stress me out. I never cared about what other people thought of me. I got straight As from the beginning of my Bachelor’s program all the way through completing my PhD. Literally, for 12 years I worked very hard to keep those grades at an A. I knew it was an accomplishment and I knew how that made me appear to others. I am a perfectionist and can come across as arrogant. I didn’t care because I was happy with the person I became (charitable, family-oriented, caring to the point of saving lost puppies, and grateful for my physical appearance and health). Now, I can’t go a full day without taking a nap, everything hurts so it’s harder to take care of my family and home, and my appearance changed. These changes affect my self-esteem and creates bubbles of depression.
It is very important to control the stress in one’s life. Everyone needs to control their management of stress. However, it is almost critical for a person with my diagnoses to not get stressed-out and to properly manage the stress that I have no control over: “That damn internet went out again! (breathe…. breathe).” The loss of control can feel detrimental to everyday living, especially since there’s nothing you can do about it… wait a minute! There are things I can do about it, but first things first. For me, it’s being able to accept who I have become and realizing that I can ask for help and it won’t diminish my strong personality.
Finding self-acceptance is, and will continue to be, one of the hardest hurdles for me (and many others like me) to tackle. I know I don’t have to be perfect to be loved, but I loved myself when I tried to be perfect. Got to get off that boat because I will drown if I continue to try to be perfect in an imperfect world. Actually, that goes for everyone.