It wasn't until that dreadfully hot summer day in July 2007 when I stood in the mall parking lot with my then eight-year-old son, frantically searching for our car because I couldn't remember where I parked it, that a frightening realization hit me. There was something very seriously wrong with me. We walked around that parking lot for over forty-five minutes before stumbling upon our car. By the time we found it, we were both covered in sweat, and exhausted from carrying our purchased items. After I got my son buckled into his seat, and the packages thrown in beside him, I closed his door, and leaned over onto the roof of the car. With my head lowered onto my crossed arms, I cried. I was so scared, and for the life of me, I didn't understand what was happening.
For many months leading up to that day, I spent a lot of time wondering if I was going crazy. I would forget where I put things. I would spend whole afternoons searching for missing items, such as my cell phone, or my car keys. I would forget if I fed the cat. Did I turn the oven off after dinner? I would find myself going back and retracing my steps to make sure I did, in fact, turn the oven off. I would walk into another room to get something, and before I got there, would forget what I was going after. Every night, I would check to see if I locked the door before bed...three times! When I was finally able to get into bed, sleep was an elusive pursuit. I'd just lay there and wonder about all of the things that maybe I'd forgotten to do that day. I'd get up one last time to check the oven, or the outside light, or to make sure the door was locked, or to make sure that the cat hadn't starved to death.
I wondered if other women my age were dealing with such memory loss and forgetfulness. I confessed some of my issues to a friend, who seemed to be having some of the same things going on with her, but her doctor confirmed that all of her recent problems were due to early onset menopause. We were both thirty-six. With that information bouncing around in my head, I started Googling. After reading articles from tons of websites, I was pretty confident that I was not experiencing early menopause. I searched for other conditions that fit with my symptoms. My searches led me to read about dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and quite a long list of mental illnesses. By the time I was done, I was convinced that I was suffering from a host of different maladies.
At this point, my biggest concern was my memory loss and forgetfulness. But, it wasn't just those two things that I was experiencing. Oh no, it was so much more. I was having heart palpitations and headaches. I attributed these to my increasing anxiety levels in regards to the stress of my fading memory. I felt like I was walking around in a haze all the time. I couldn't concentrate on anything for very long, no matter how hard I tried. I had trouble remembering things at work. I forgot testing procedures that I had done thousands of times before. I found myself having to read manuals that I, myself had written. I was able to hide all of that from my co-workers and employer. At company meetings, my response to any questions or inquiries became an automatic, “I'm pretty sure, but let me double check and get back to you on that.” I would have trouble with conversations. I couldn't remember certain words. I knew the word I wanted to say, and could even visualize it in my head, but I couldn't get the word out of my thoughts and into my mouth. It was like there was no connection between my brain and my ability to speak. In my mind’s eye, I pictured electrical impulses connecting in my brain, firing as they passed information from one pathway to another, moving steadily until they tried to exit the system and were met with a non-existant track, like in a cartoon. A broken roller coaster to nowhere.
I found myself pointing to objects and asking the person I was talking to tell me the word. It was embarrassing. My work life started to suffer, and so did my personal and family life. I started doubting myself and my sanity. I was convinced that I was losing my mind. I cried all of the time. When I wasn't crying, I was thinking about crying. It was hard for me to control my emotions at this point, too. I got emotional over Kool-aid commercials. The SPCA commercials were the worst, but you're supposed to be saddened by those, right?
With my inability to retain any information, I started writing everything down. I made lists here, lists there. Trouble was, I'd forget that I made lists and make more lists of the same things. I was scared and very frustrated. My family knew that I was having memory issues, and tried their best to be supportive, but I was so afraid that I would be found out at work. I went into work every day thinking that it was going to be my last. I was sure someone was going to see me make stupid mistakes, or catch me reading something that should have been common sense for an experienced engineering technician, not to mention, the tons of sticky note lists I had hidden under my desk calendar.
With each new symptom, I would make an appointment and visit my family doctor. Each time, he would remind me to eat well, exercise, and take my vitamins. Once, he even suggested that maybe I could use a vacation. Wow, how very nice of him, I thought.
In the midst of all this commotion, I didn't realize that all of the other issues that I was having were all related. When I would find out later, I was amazed that my family doctor never picked up on them, and offered me a diagnosis fairly quickly, as it seemed very obvious in hind sight.
Even though I'd been chubby since birth, I started really packing on the weight after my son was born in 1999. Between 2004 and 2008, I joined and quit Weight Watchers a total of five times. Each time, I would have a great initial loss, but after a few months, it would slow down and stop. I would stick to the plan 100%, but with no weight lost. The leaders at the meeting would look at me as if I wasn't being honest with myself and my eating habits. They told me that I should eat well with the plan, get plenty of exercise and rest, and remember to take my vitamins. Huh, where had I heard that before, I thought. I felt defeated. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. I quit again, in shame and disgust.
As time passed, I continued to have more and more symptoms. My body would ache terribly, even after a full night’s rest. I use the word “rest” only because I had real trouble with sleeping. I would get out of bed exhausted. I was tired all the time. My muscles were so weak and painful, my elbow and knee joints were either stiff or in pain, or both. No matter the weather outside, I was always uncomfortable. On cold days, I was burning up. On hot days, I was freezing to death. There was never a happy middle ground. Then, came the biggest shock so far. At first, I didn't notice the hair loss, because it happened so gradually. I normally wear my hair in a ponytail, but one day I decided to wear it down, and I saw that I was really thin in the front and on the top of my head. This is the day I really got mad. I had had enough. I made a doctor’s appointment. I told myself that if my doctor didn't help me figure out what was wrong with me, I was going to seek help elsewhere. I was tired. I was scared, and now I was going bald!
The day of my scheduled appointment, I was told that my regular doctor wasn't available and that I would be seeing a resident of his. As I knew my doctor’s office was part of a “teaching practice”, I was fine with this. After I met with the resident and explained all of my symptoms, he asked me if anyone in my family had any thyroid issues. I told him that I didn't think so. He said he was sure that's what my problem was going to turn out to be. He seemed very confident. He sent me to the lab with an order to have blood drawn, and told me he would contact me in a few days with the results. When he called me two days later and told me the news, I was elated. I know this may sound very strange, but for the first time in many, many years, I knew what was wrong with me. He said that I was experiencing very low thyroid levels, and that I was suffering from the symptoms of hypothyroidism. I wasn't going mad!
I wasn't losing my mind. It was such a load off my mind to know that, more than likely, I was going to be OK. I made a follow-up appointment to discuss treatment with my NEW family doctor. I told the receptionist when I called for the appointment, that I would only be returning to that office if I got to see him, and ONLY HIM! Thank heavens that this doctor completed his residency soon after this, and was hired on at this same office I had been going to for years.
Looking back now, I can see all of the symptoms of my hypothyroidism. Since they all started slowly, and one at a time, it was hard to see that they were all related. My body had been hollering at me for years before it started screaming. Worse than the haze and fogginess, the difficulty concentrating, the fatigue, and the aches and pains, was the mental and emotional toll it took on me that sent me reeling a few times. Thinking that you are spiraling into a nervous breakdown every other day really puts a life in perspective.
Today, I still suffer symptoms from my underactive thyroid, but with medication, a bit of knowledge and understanding, I am doing well. I take medication which I will have to take for the rest of my life. I can live with that. I get tested every three months to check my thyroid levels, and my medication is changed according to the results. I still struggle with weight loss, and many of the other symptoms, but they are nothing like what I experienced before I was diagnosed. I still have bouts with memory loss, and forgetfulness, and brain fog, but I'm able to handle it knowing what's causing it. I also still get up two or three times a night to make sure the door is locked, the oven is turned off, and of course, make sure that damn cat is fed.