FWBW 8: Butterflies and Phoenixes


I first stumbled across Dear Thyroid on New Year’s Eve of 2009 when I was reading Mary Shomon’s www.thyroid.about.com website and this website has undoubtedly been the dawn of a new era for me. For months, I had been searching for a support network where I felt able to be myself. I have found this in Dear Thyroid and the experience has truly changed my life. From the outset, I felt the desire to write my own column, but wouldn’t have had the audacity to suggest this – I have frequently had doubts about my own writing abilities and how my writing would be received by others. However, when Katie offered me my own column as Editor Research and Awareness, I was over the moon and I am very thankful to be given this opportunity.

I have always felt the inherent need to help and support others. I believe that this stems for my teenage years when I was bullied for being different. In England, there is in some ways a North-South divide. We lived up North (in Sheffield) and yet I had a southern accent because my parents are from down South. I never really fit in and I’m not sure I truly wanted to. My second problem was that back then I was picked on for being top of the class in a lot of subjects. A lot of subjects came effortlessly to me, partly because I pretty much had a photographic memory, but if somebody got top marks at our rough inner-city school, they were automatically branded a “swot” (from the British English verb “to swot up”, meaning to diligently study). The class twins Sarah and Lisa Rawson used to hold parties and invite everyone in the class – everyone that is except me. I will never forget what it was like to sit alone when everyone else sat in pairs in our classes. I used to dread that because I stuck out like a sore thumb. In addition, I was always the last person to be picked for a team in P.E. My heart sunk when it came to the selection process. I felt like such a reject. As a result, I know only too well what it is like to be an outcast and I feel that many people with chronic illness, such as thyroid disease, can identify with this as they are often ashamed of their condition. Evidently, illness is a taboo and we are frequently blamed by society in general for bringing it on ourselves.

When I went to university, I felt more accepted and appreciated for who I was. I was no longer ashamed to be good at my courses (I had a natural aptitude for languages and studied French and German) and was more than happy to help my fellow students. It was great to be needed and not despised for being good at something. Since this time, I have felt able to identify with others and experienced the desire to help and support them. It pains me to see others suffer and feel alone.

My column is about sharing my experiences and those of others. Nobody should ever feel alone. Nobody should ever feel misunderstood. Suffering gives us the ability to empathize with others and we have all had our fair share of it. My column has enabled me to blossom in many ways. On the one hand, it is extremely cathartic – I have written about so many past experiences that I have been bitter about for so very long. In a way, my column is better than psychotherapy for me personally. It enables me to write things down in a way that makes me feel capable of moving on and looking to the future. In fact, there have even been studies that state that writing is beneficial in the healing process, which is of course a large part of what Dear Thyroid represents.

In the past, I have felt unfulfilled. I wanted to do more to help others, but had not yet found my niche. I truly feel as if I have found it in Dear Thyroid and have been deeply touched by the responses and support I received for my articles. I am a people person – I enjoy being around people and feel able to empathize with them. As a result, it is very satisfying and fulfilling that I can now use my particular talent to help others. When I was first diagnosed, I would trawl the Internet for new and useful information on thyroid disease. I was surprised how much there was and whenever I did find something useful, I would send it to my sister-in-law H or Corey’s cousin L. H’s hubby S has Hashimoto’s and we suspect that H may have it too. L also has Hashimoto’s. It seems my information helped them. L has since been doing a lot better on her treatment and H may finally get diagnosed by a doctor we found for her together. Since I joined Dear Thyroid, I have persuaded H and L to join too and I can see that it has helped them both immensely – they now no longer feel alone and helpless and all three of us have become much more positive people as a result of this. There truly is power in numbers and we are all in the same boat, rowing along through a sometimes choppy sea.

My column Flying with Broken Wings is inspired by the 1985 song “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister. The thyroid resembles a butterfly. The thyroid of a thyroid disease sufferer looks like a broken butterfly, hence the name Flying with Broken Wings. On diagnosis, our lives are turned upside down and inside out and we have to learn to fly again. I hope that my column will help us all do precisely that.

Finally, this installment of FWBW is to say thank you – to Katie Schwartz for having me on board and welcoming me as part of her wonderful thyamily and to each of you for participating so avidly in Dear Thyroid, for supporting each other and for reading my column. I am ecstatic if it helps you. I have made so many new friends since joining Dear Thyroid and I treasure each and every one of you.

By Sarah Downing

My name is Sarah. I was born and grew up in England and currently live in Düsseldorf, Germany, with my fiancé Corey and my cuddly cat Biscuit. I work as a translator and writer for my own company Aardwolf Text Services (www.aardwolf.de) and I love vintage clothes and music, as well as singing karaoke.

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