On Friday evening I took the students that I teach to a performance of one of their set works. Beforehand we went for a meal in a noodle bar. We had a lovely evening and I was relieved that I felt well enough not only to function, but to actually enjoy it.
Saturday morning I woke with a slamming headache, I was weak and jittery and disorientated. Pay back! Yesterday was a write off. This morning there was some improvement and during the course of the day I have gradually got myself back (almost).
When I was deciding whether to run the trip, I found myself weighing up, calculating. I decided to go ahead, and I am glad that I did, but there was apprehension playing out in the back of my mind. What if I had one of my bad days, what if one of my colleagues had to step in? I don’t feel that I can voice any of this at work. It would not be viewed sympathetically, so all last week I was pacing myself.
I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s at the beginning of last year. At about the same time a male colleague had a persistent sore throat and hoarse voice. He googled his symptoms and pitched up on a couple of sites suggesting hypothyroidism (sadly not this one). He eventually landed on the NHS Choices website and decided that he wasn’t hypothyroid. He now thinks that hypothyroidism is JUST a case of
•being sensitive to the cold
•dry skin and hair
“Choices” seems absurdly inappropriate. What I do know is that this list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.
“Treatment for an underactive thyroid involves taking daily hormone-replacement tablets, called levothyroxine, to raise your thyroxine levels” (NHS Choices). Simple. If you take the pill every morning, problem solved!
My colleagues wonder why I am not better yet. I try to explain, that it is more complicated but sense that some of them think I am making a fuss…..being needy……precious….. another middle-aged woman struggling with the menopause. So I keep my head down. I don’t feel that there is anyone that I can turn to for support at work and that, when you are trying to manage a condition like this, is hugely stressful.
On a day-to-day basis I feel so much “less” than my previous self. In class I stop in the middle of sentences, lost for words. I have forgotten the beginning of the question by the time they get to the end. They’re sixth formers, intelligent and quick. I roll my eyes and we giggle at my ineptitude. One of the students that I teach left college. We were initially told that her absences were because “she couldn’t settle”. It was only after the event that I learnt that she has a thyroid condition and her symptoms made her think she was dying. Poor kid - fancy carrying that around with you. It doesn’t make for a very carefree existence. I wish I’d known.
In the office, I feel like a fly on the wall. On the days when I am really struggling, when I have to go straight to bed when I get home, I observe my colleagues laughing and talking, full of energy, taking their stamina for granted, confident to take on new challenges. And although I don’t like myself for it, I feel envious. In Tears Behind Closed Doors Diana Holmes said she felt “persecuted and resentful”. That chimes. I think my Hashimoto’s remained undiagnosed for a long time, and it has taken a toll on my many aspects of my physical health. For years as I my health gradually deteriorated, just when I thought I was making some headway, I was floored again. So yes, there are times when I feel persecuted and resentful.
The modern work environment - hugely busy with no slack in the system. I don’t want to be seen as the weak link so I don’t feel that I can take time off. Recently I received a letter from the principal congratulating me on my excellent attendance over the last four years. Okay, I know it was just a HR strategy, I don’t even think it was his signature at the end (…….I suspect his secretary has a stamp), but when I think of what has unfolded over the last four years I feel validated. One of the spin-offs of the Hashimoto’s is, I think, osteoporosis (though my ex GP would have me believe that all of these separate issues are entirely coincidental.) I am no stranger to the Fracture Clinic at the local hospital. When I turn up at work with yet another plaster cast on some part of my anatomy I laugh it off – “my annual breakage”. But when I am like this I feel clumsy, slow……and emotionally vulnerable. And of course, the broken bones have, physically speaking, been just the tip of the ice berg.
A couple of years ago, pre-diagnosis, I completed a Level 3 counselling course. I should have started a university course last September, a diploma that would hopefully lead to my qualifying as a counsellor, but my health got in the way. I have for the time being withdrawn my application, but in the meantime I am particularly interested in the emotional effects of living with a thyroid condition. Writing helps me make sense of what I am feeling. Off-loading! Reading over it, I also recognise that I am fortunate. I manage to work (albeit part-time these days) and for that I am massively grateful.
Even if you’re not suffering from crippling anxiety (been there) or the psychological effects of sleep deprivation (wear the T-shirt at least three or four times a week), I believe that living with a thyroid condition reaches to the very core of your psyche. Even though I try to get on and simply live life it somehow keeps rearing its head with every decision that I make.