In last week’s column, I talked about self-confidence and learning to love ourselves. As sufferers of one or more chronic illnesses, we often tend to be very hard on ourselves and today it is time to pat ourselves on the back and blow our own trumpets – not in a vain way, but in recognition of everything we have achieved in spite of being chronically ill. Thyroid disease zaps our energy and for some of us it feels as if we have turned into mutants, but so many of us admirably master each and every day. In addition, I’d like us to share the wonderful and memorable experiences that we cherish. We need positivity in our lives to enable us to carry on and look to the future, but all too often thyroid disease and other chronic illnesses carpet our lives in a blanket of negativity.
I am proud of the fact that I have had the guts to talk about my disease to people I don’t know very well. It can be embarrassing because you never know how people are going to react and, like it or not, there is a stigma attached to disease and to thyroid disease in particular, which is often viewed as a bit of a joke. Indeed, I mentioned it to one of my work colleagues because she shared with me the fact that she herself had suffered from burnout syndrome. It turns out her mother suffered from thyroid disease and my colleague felt that her mother often exaggerated her symptoms. I made sure to tell her that it can in fact be debilitating and also that it can run in the family. People need to be aware of this – had I known sooner, I would also have gotten diagnosed long before I actually did. I mentioned it to another colleague and it turns out his wife is suffering terribly from hypothyroidism. I made sure to pass on some information and he seemed happy to receive it. Coincidentally, this all happened this week. I’ve also talked to other people such as the lady who does my taxes – she suspects she may have it and wanted more information.
I have really not had the most successful of weeks and was sacked by a client for delivering a translation that was below par because of overtiredness. This is not something that generally happens to me, but I am trying to take it in my stride – they had the most restrictive deadlines and so I think I am probably better off not subjecting myself to the stress of working with them anymore – this is the positive lesson that I am extracting from a negative experience and I think it’s important to realize that many negative experiences do happen for a reason, so that we can continuously learn from these and also realize that some of them change our lives for the better.
Another such experience happened when I was in my early 20s and working my ass off for a company just outside of Cologne. I was subjected to workplace harassment and basically forced out – they had no reason to sack me (and they have to have a reason here in Germany as the employee protection laws are so much stricter than in the US), so instead they forced me to sign a cancellation of my employment contract. Years later, I bumped into the CEO’s assistant and he actually apologized for their shoddy treatment of me. However, my point of the story is that by working for this exploitative company I realized that my talent lay in translation and subsequently went on to run my own successful freelance business. Now, with my imposed slow-down due to extreme fatigue, I’m starting to think that I need to tap into my other talents in an effort to pursue a less stressful career and start enjoying my work again.
As for my magic moment, I remember one which always cracks me up. It happened in the macabre situation of my fiancé’s mother’s celebration of life. I was in the kitchen preparing a Greek salad when I took the hose from the faucet to wash some veggies. It came unattached, flew through the air and sprayed everywhere, narrowly missing the whole buffet table. It had taken us all night to prepare food for about 50 people! The look on people’s faces was priceless and, of course, I was mortified.
No matter how hopeless our situations sometimes appear, we always have things that we can and should be proud of. M’s oh so generous thyroid gave her a lovely gift by causing her weight to skyrocket up to 200 pounds and a US Size 18. Since then, by watching what she eats, joining Weight Watchers and researching what foods work for her, she has dropped to 165 pounds and a US Size 10 – 12. When she started out, she was actually a US Size 4: “Although I tried very hard not to let myself get too distressed about the fact that I had lost my once slim figure, I tried to just get on with life, always trying to find ways to diet and keep motivated by the fact that one day I would lose this horrendous and unwanted weight I had gained through no fault of my own. But looking back over the 20 years since I had my partial thyroidectomy, I realized that I had sort of accepted that was how I was in the end and tried to concentrate on my life rather than how I looked.”
H shared with me some of her very special magic moments and it was in fact this quote that gave me part of the idea for this article: “In spite of some of the awful and seemingly insurmountable things we experience as humans, I try to imagine the meaning of life as those precious few but dazzling moments when our breath is taken away by the sheer joy of the moment. When I am at my worst, I try to put my mind back into those and a few other magical moments and meditate on them. It has made tolerance easier at times when I thought I would break. I think all of us who survive this trial of health should have a store of these magical moments to drive our tired bodies to fight another day.”
H went on to tell me the story of how she and her two kids stopped at a campsite to rest their legs. They parked and walked to the water. Looking to her left, she glimpsed the bright sun amongst the wild flowers and up close to the rushing river they espied thousands of fluttering monarch butterflies: “They all perched and fluttered their wings in the warmth. V was six; J was four. We stood in awe for twenty minutes and a gust of air swept over them and us and in a brilliant flourish of black and gold they flew over and around us across the river. Never before or after did we catch them in the following years. It was truly a magical moment, one I wished I had a camera for, but only have my memory to rely on. I have always thought nothing could compare to the beauty of a butterfly and I believe that the thyroid when broken is a moth and when balanced is a true butterfly.”
Another of H’s magic moments was snorkeling in Hawaii: “I felt as close to heaven as one can get. When I was exhausted I sat quietly on the sand, engrossed in the moment. A light mist of rain began to fall and at the mouth of the bay a pod of whales breached and blew as they passed.”
On a fishing trip, H was equipped with a fanny pack (UK: bum bag) stuffed with snacks for her family and pain meds for herself. It was to be one of their most unforgettable fishing trips ever when they practically came face to face with Gentle Ben himself! “I looked up and saw a huge grizzly meandering in our direction from downstream. The two guys close to us had guns on their hips and I yelled to S (who I had just started dating) ‘come get your fish – there is a bear!’” At this point, H had to choose between her fanny pack or the stringer of fish, but she didn’t fancy dealing with a stoned bear, so plumped for the former. A gunshot was let off to frighten Yogi away, but instead it had the opposite effect and the bear gulped down S’s two salmon and flossed his teeth with the fish stringer. H and her daughter went for a nap in the RV.
Later, she saw S and her son walking down the road, looking downhearted. She noticed their lack of fish: “I asked my son why no fish and he explained how they had caught another two fish and the same bear came back while my son was about to relieve himself on a tree. H’s son saw the bear and slowly backed up, using his fishing pole to keep the bear at a distance. The bear chewed on the pole and left huge bite marks on it. As H’s son backed away, the bear grabbed the two other fish and swallowed them down too. S asked H’s son why he let the bear bite his pole and his answer was he was trying to keep the bear busy while he zipped up his pants. My nephew, H’s son, is a real character. I remember one story of how S (who is now H’s hubby), ever the jokester, pulled at H’s son’s baggy pants in Joanne’s Fabrics and he ended up with them round his ankles displaying his boxers to all and sundry.
C is proud that thanks to her diagnosis she has finally managed to be the person she always wanted to be and that she is now at peace with who she is. Thyroid disease caused her to kick unsupportive people out of her life, including her boyfriend of over eight years because he simply couldn’t deal with her illness. She has stopped losing herself in her desperate attempts to please those around her and is now an active member of the Dear Thyroid team. Thyroid disease has brought her self-realization and self-fulfilment: “My magical moment was a rather simple one. I was walking down a street, it was snowing, I was listening to music (a song that is now kind of special to me) when I suddenly thought ‘I am happy’. That was about four months after my diagnosis.”
When S feels stressed, she likes to laugh out loud at one particular memory. Her former lodger spent the day with his friend at the science museum. Without warning, her sadistic lodger put his mate on a spinning contraption, spun it superhumanly fast and walked off to watch in amusement. Finally, after what seemed hours, it stopped spinning and the lodger’s friend stumbled off, walked up to a complete stranger, looked him in the eye and asked him: “What the fuck did you do that for?!” It reminds me of the uncomfortable time as a child when I accidentally mistook a man for my dad and went to hold his hand. That said, as kids, we seem to have a much higher tolerance threshold for such embarrassing incidents.
L told me how she is inspired by memories of the strong women in her family (this rings true for me too – my ancestor was a suffragette and helped women get the vote and, more recently, another family member fought like a lion against cancer – her fortitude was truly inspiring). L continues by saying that her new thyamily also really keeps her going. She draws strength from her two grandmas who both had autoimmune diseases: “I feel they are both with me on this journey pushing me along, especially when I don’t think I can push myself any further.
I get inspiration from childhood experiences: many camping trips with my family growing up. Looking at photos of my children and of things we did together always makes me feel good. Memories of doing something nice for another person and having them appreciate it always warms my heart. I used to walk and ride my bike everyday – those activities fueled me and made me feel alive. In my mind I see myself still doing those things and feeling how I felt when I did them, even though physically I am now unable to. I hold on to the happy memories I do have and cherish the new ones by marking them on the calendar to look back on.” A great tip that might help many of us. I have read in the past about writing your own gratitude diary, but I imagine a diary of our achievements and cherished experiences could also work as a great pick-me-up when we are down.
Another thyrella whose name also begins with L is proud of the fact that she has become her own “newly reborn advocate”. “It takes a lot of courage, strength and determination to stand up to doctors so you can be heard and hopefully be diagnosed correctly or put on a good treatment plan. A lot of them treat you like you are stupid, ignorant and clueless when it comes to your own health. So for me being a stronger advocate is quite an accomplishment.” L talks of her children and her sympathetic pets as her source of strength and inspiration – “they really keep me going. Dear Thyroid and your columns provide another positive reinforcement in battling hypothyroidism.” (thanks for the flowers as they say in German;-))
Now it’s your turn – I’d love to her about your magic moments and what you are proud of having achieved.
Love and inspiration,