August 13, 2022 — 10:02 AM
While some health issues are visible to the outside world, many people face chronic conditions that don’t have externally visible signs or symptoms—also known as invisible illnesses. In mindbodygreen’s series, we’re giving individuals with invisible illnesses a platform to share their personal experiences. Our hope is their stories will shed light on these conditions and offer solidarity to others facing similar situations.
It was just a few years ago that the symptoms began, and while I ignored them at first, they eventually became too loud to not listen to. My weight was fluctuating and there isn’t even a word that covers how exhausted I was feeling. I was sleeping eight to twelve hours a night and I could only get through about four hours during the day before I fell back asleep.
But more than anything, I didn’t feel like myself. I felt really swollen in ways that I couldn’t describe, and because I work out and motivate people for a living as a Peloton instructor, I just kept justifying in my brain that other people are more tired than I am.
Eventually, I started to wonder if I just needed to work out more because your body does become used to the exercises you’re doing, so I started seeing a trainer to help me figure out what was happening with my body.
Even while I was following a healthy diet, I didn’t have the energy to work out any more, so my next thought was that I needed to rearrange when I was eating. I hired a nutritionist and dietitian who did bloodwork, and I explained to her how tired I was, but it’s hard to assert that I was more tired than anyone else. However, after the blood work came in, there was finally proof that I was even more exhausted than I thought.
My dietitian told me that my bloodwork was unlike anything she had seen in the history of her practice. So after a good cry (or five) I finally got to see a specialist. At that point, I was showing markers for possibilities of autoimmune disease, and the list was plentiful and a little scary, especially considering my career in the fitness industry.
Once I got the justification that I was just as tired as I thought, I couldn’t stay awake. It just goes to show that mentality will take you a long way.
The specialist confirmed everything the dietitian had said, and I finally received a diagnosis: Hashimoto’s disease. She prescribed me medication that would help my thyroid, and recommended a few other habits to support my health. That said, I wouldn’t notice a difference for six to eight weeks. But that was the light at the end of the tunnel, and when my journey to healing began.
What is Hashimoto’s disease?
Hashimoto’s is when your body starts attacking itself, which was the hardest sentence for me to hear. I had a story in my head about who I was, so I had to redefine what healthy meant because prior to that, it had meant living disease-free. But my immune system was attacking my thyroid, and treating it like a foreign object.
Hashimoto’s often causes hypothyroidism—it doesn’t always, but it did for me. It affects your mood, your weight, the density of your hair. Other common experiences include depression, dry skin, and feeling cold all the time—looking back, I had so many of these symptoms, but I didn’t realize were pointing to the same thing.
How I cope with my symptoms.
I was lucky, leading up to my diagnosis some of the best things in my life had already happened. I met my now husband, already had a support system, and landed my dream job working at Peloton. But during that time, I felt like I was constantly suspended on edge, just masking it really well. I could tell that the surface sadness was not at my core, but it was hard to ignore after a while. Thankfully, I had all of these wonderful things to look forward to.
I prioritize sleep a lot. I think a lot of healing happens through sleep so I continue to prioritize that because there’s no bargaining with sleep. I can miss out on other things, but sleep is my non-negotiable thing which has helped me quite a bit.
I think meeting people where they’re at instead of trying to convince them out of how they’re feeling is so important.
I also work with naturopath dietitian who emphasizes great nutrition, since food and exercise can help so much with symptoms. I also eat the way I want to feel, so my mantra is: treat your body like it belongs to someone you love. There’s no better test of that than when your weight is fluctuating wildly and you don’t feel at home in a body that’s supposed to be home. Hydrating more and showing my tired, hard-working muscles some love is also important. That’s why I teach so much stretching and foam rolling, because I want to help people recover too.
I’m someone who never wants to be on medicine if it’s not 100% necessary, so I needed a professional to tell me that this was not something I could fix by myself. It took a minute to find the right professional, and it might take a little give and take, but finding those people is 100% worth it.
I think this has been a good lesson for me to show people grace and not let my ego get in the way in everyday interactions because you never know what someone else is going through. You might be that bright spot in their journey, even if you never see them again.
It can also be difficult telling people how you feel in this world of excess positivity. Sometimes people will try to convince you out of how you feel which can be really frustrating. If I was feeling swollen or bloated, people so often respond with ‘no, you’re beautiful,’ but this has nothing to do with external beauty. I think meeting people where they’re at instead of trying to convince them out of how they’re feeling is so important.
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