one of c’s favorite statements is, “no one expects their brain to turn against them.” whether from mental illness or another kind of impairment, losing control of your capacity to think straight is a nightmare. in a very small way, i have some experience with this.
when i was in my 40s, i developed graves’ disease or hyperthyroidism, which is when your thyroid (the butterfly shaped gland in your neck) goes into overdrive. it started kind of slowly, so maybe i didn’t notice at first, but then the symptoms got worse and worse and i descended into what felt to me, like a kind of madness. i simply could not think straight. worse still, i knew it and i couldn’t fix it.
turns out i had every symptom on the long list of symptoms for hyperthyroidism, including the rare ones, yet my doctor was unable to put them all together for a diagnosis.
i had lost a great deal of weight very suddenly and for no reason.
i was drinking what seemed like gallons of liquids a day and still could not quench my constant thirst.
my heart raced, i was always sweaty and i was constantly exhausted.
my legs were so weak that i had to crawl up the stairs to put the kids to bed.
after reading the kids a bedtime story i would fall asleep on the floor and c had to come looking for me.
i had rashes on my shins that wouldn’t resolve no matter how they were treated.
i found it difficult to swallow and was often choking on my food.
my hair fell out in clumps and i had bald patches on my head.
my eyesight was failing.
worst of all, i just could not get control of my brain. i forgot to pick the kids up from school. i got to the grocery store and couldn’t remember why i was there. sometimes i forgot how to get to the grocery store or once there, forgot how to get home again.
i had a consulting business where i was compiling marketing research survey results for clients and writing analysis of the data. i had a couple of very good clients and was making pretty good money. i lost it all because my numbers were wrong and my analysis was idiotic or i completely forgot to write the analysis for the report. Sometimes like doesn’t give you a second chance or the ability to explain.
i honestly thought “this was what it’s like to be crazy”. c thought i was dying.
after sending me to a series of other specialists who found nothing, i went back to my primary doctor and refused to leave until she told me something that made sense. she finally consulted with her colleague who took one look at me and identified the issue immediately. graves’ disease. even before the blood panel confirmed it, my doctor called an endocrinologist and handed me the phone. an odd moment, to be sure. i remember the endocrinologist saying in a clear, firm voice, “listen very carefully. your doctor is going to hand you a prescription and you are going to the pharmacy to get it filled right now. as soon as you get that bottle of pills, i want you to take one. and you take another one before bed and another one in the morning. you come and see me in my office tomorrow.”
turns out, hyperthyroidism can be quite stressful on the heart and she wanted to get my heart rate down as soon as possible.
the treatment for hyperthyroidism is radioactive iodine. no, really. you swallow a big capsule of radioactive iodine. funny part is that the capsule is brought in to the hospital in a lead container marked with all the typical nuclear caution symbols and handed to you by a technician wearing an elbow length lead glove. once you swallow the capsule, you are radioactive. the iodine collects in the thyroid and destroys it. you can’t live without a functioning thyroid so you have to go on medication to replace the hormones that would be produced, which sound much easier than it actually is.
the kids had to stay away from me and the house for a week and c and i could not sleep together or use the same bathroom. everything i touched had to be bagged up separately and thrown away. pretty scary. my biggest fear was that i was putting both c and the kids in danger of exposure. was a week long enough? were we careful enough? were the doctors right?
i’m fine now. my thyroid is working fine and even though the dose was calculated as high enough to kill my thyroid, it just killed off enough to normalize the function. i’m still not on medication for it.
i remembered all of this very suddenly this past weekend. like most of you, i listened to the description of aaron alexis’ struggle with mental illness and i knew in some small way what that must have felt like. it’s awful.
but in my case, i also had physical symptoms, which did lesson the scary part of the mental issues. kind of.
it is a terrible thing when your brain turns against you.