A Thyroid Story

One of my intentions via this monthly column is to contribute in some small way to helping heal individuals and our community through personal stories. Today I am sharing with you what may just be one of the most personal stories yet – about one of my children and her journey towards improved health. My hope is that this story may be of use to others.

Actually, this story begins long before my daughter’s birth – with my maternal grandmother. It is the height of the great depression, and she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant for the third time. Her husband is away from home most of the time working as a travelling salesman, and my grandmother who had grown up as a wealthy southern girl is now running a boarding house in northern New York State. She ends up hospitalized with a thyroid breakdown during a good part of this pregnancy, until my mother emerged into this world.

My mother claims that she never felt like she had energy to get through her day. As a young child she was often sickly with a variety of ailments and allergies. Her quest into natural medicines of all types during the course of her lifetime was in large part to help heal herself. She told me that she had been diagnosed with Hashimoto disease (thyroid autoimmune disease) but that the medication made her feel worse and she never took it.
For many days in my childhood, mom stayed in bed most of the time until around dinner time. Sometimes she angered easily, unexpectedly, for no apparent reason. More then once I wondered if she really had a grip on reality, but then again don’t most children wonder this about their parents?

Flash forward to my generation – seven cousins that trace our lineage back to our common grandmother. Of this small group, two are permanently hospitalized with severe mental illness, and one is on disability for bi-polar disorder. Of those of us who are sort of sane (whatever that means) we have all gone through periods of low energy and each of us on our own have found that the only way we can feel okay is to stay away from gluten and to have good quality protein frequently.

All my other cousins and my sister decided not to have children, several because they were concerned with our family’s clearly not stellar genetic material. Two adopted children. I was the only one to choose to have children, and I had my children after more than 15 years of being gluten free and having built my body’s energy up through mega vitamins and more.

Given my family’s history, perhaps it was not a total shock when my daughter began to exhibit some signs of paranoia a few years ago. She had been low in energy for some time, as well as exhibiting some other behaviors that almost reminded me of my years living with my mother. Still, her descent into paranoia was distressing and scary for all of us.
It prompted me to begin what I call the two-fold path in seeking help for her. On the one hand, we worked with psychiatrists and psychologists. On the other hand, I also sought out a wide variety of so-called alternative treatment for her.

The first psychiatrist who saw my daughter said within ten minutes that my daughter was schizophrenic, and prescribed anti-psychotic medication which we were told she would need to take the rest of her life. The next day a chiropractor who was seeing her for something else proclaimed that she had a thyroid problem and that we should not give up hope. What radically different opinions!

While she stabilized somewhat, my daughter continued to have low energy and find it hard to get out of bed. She told me often how her legs ached, her body hurt, and that she felt bad all over though she could not explain more. She sometimes seemed disoriented. She had problems finding her way around.

After more than two years with a different psychiatrist than the one named above, no name had been given to what my daughter was experiencing. All he did in the monthly check ups was to prescribe medication, which he liked to increase in dosage. When my daughter told him that the medication didn’t help and made her feel worse, he refused to believe her.

Finally, I learned of a psychiatrist with a different approach who was willing to accept my daughter. His practice was a long drive but well worth it. In the first appointment, he wrote out a battery of blood tests for her to take. He explained that he always starts by checking to see if there are any physical factors that could be causing what may appear to be mental illness.

The results showed that my daughter’s thyroid autoimmune response was much higher than it should be. And while her T3 and T4 levels (the standard for many thyroid tests) were in the normal range, clearly something was going on there.

Around this time, my daughter moved overseas to spend some time with her Chilean family members. A family friend there who is a medical doctor skimmed the blood test results and immediately got my daughter set up with a top endocrinologist. After some more blood tests, the endocrinologist said that my daughter has Hashimoto disease (auto immune thyroid disease) and prescribed a thyroid hormone pill.

That was three months ago. I have just returned from visiting with her and she is so much better. We walked all over the city and her energy was better than mine. She no longer seems disoriented, and she is able to carry on a good conversation. She has no signs of paranoia. As she told me, “Mom, I told you my body did not feel right.”

While her healing journey is still continuing, she is so much better it is a joy and happiness for all of us who love her. And yet I am also mad at myself, and even madder at the system. I should have listened to the chiropractor who told me it was her thyroid more than three years ago. Instead, we almost believed in the pronouncement of her serious mental illness with no possibility for recovery that the first psychiatrist told us.

The other day I went on line and put in the words “paranoia” and “thyroid”, and multiple sites popped up. One claims that thyroid disease is one of the most underdiagnosed maladies in the world today and that there are countless millions who suffer from thyroid disease, which can mask as many maladies including bi-polar disorder and more. A man on the site tells of how one day he had a paranoid breakdown and was institutionalized for several years until his mom got him out and tested for thyroid problems – now he is back functioning successfully as a businessman.

In my family’s case, the initial impetus for this disease may have emerged from the stress and malnutrition brought on by the Depression. And the weakened thyroid has been passed on to at least four generations. Of course, my family’s case is not unique. We now know that malnutrition and stress can cause genetic abnormalities.

I just hope that one day soon any person who experiences what may appear to be depression or anxiety or paranoia will routinely be tested for a variety of physical imbalances including iron deficiency, thyroid problems, gluten intolerance and more first. Many people who have been told and believe they have long term psychiatric disorders may not after all.

Published in the Monadnock Shopper,  March 2015.  Author Skye Stephenson.

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