Where Has My Motivation Gone — And WHY?
| May 15, 2016 |
NOTE: This is a post meant to help others like me out there who may have been mis or under diagnosed for the same condition as me. Apparently, that happens a whole lot. It’s not entirely art related so I apologize to any of my regular readers if this isn’t interesting but I want to publish my experiences so the information can be discovered by others who are suffering needlessly, and apparently in the United States alone millions are.
I’m writing this post under the watchful eyes of my family who have stood by me throughout this whole ordeal, Mikey included!
I have just been diagnosed with an incurable auto-immune disease that is known as Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism. (An amazing naturopath here in San Miguel made the connection for me – making me wonder if we had to move here in order for me to connect with her!?)
This post recounts how the heck this happened. It describes how all the symptoms have been present strongly for me for the past five years, but was only just now diagnosed. What’s crazier is I probably have been suffering from the development of this disease for decades. Mine is an absolutely typical story. Actually I’ve gotten off easier than millions of others who have spent thousand of dollars trying to find a diagnosis and/or be taken seriously and all of those yet to be diagnosed. Read on to see if there are connections to be made for you.
What you’ll discover in this post:
How gluten relates to a faulty thyroidWhat the heck “Leaky Gut” means (warning: it ain’t pretty)How an underactive thyroid can lead to suicidal thoughtsHow common under-diagnosis is with hypothyroidism continues to be (you often have to ask for or even demand the anti-bodies test that leads to full enlightenment)How important a Super Clean, Super Healthy diet is to folks who have developed Hashimoto’sHow common rampant inflammation is in people’s bodies in the Americas and how awful that is to our health
Part 1 An Artist Gets Sick
Normal Creative Stoppages
Feeling sick with no relief can turn your life inside out.
Sooner or later every artist experiences a dry spell of one kind or another. Wordsmiths even have a name for it: “Writer’s Block”. In my own career I have gone through some ebbs and flows. These are usually associated with upheavals like getting married or moving; to a new city, a new state or this most recent one, a new country!
I expected to be somewhat less productive than usual when Mikey and I relocated to central Mexico from Kentucky’s bluegrass, but I didn’t expect it to last the almost two years it already has claimed. I mean, let’s face it, getting settled here in San Miguel de Allende has been a true challenge. It’s very far from home and though it is full of amazing people and opportunities it takes time to create meaningful friendships and connect with projects that address Life Purpose. I haven’t been surprised that I’m not back up to my full potential at all. That’s a lot to pile up on a plate even one belonging to a dynamo driven by an innate joy of creating.
A Never Ending Cough
But a cough I had developed after the visit up north simply would not go away. I had gone up at the end of a dreary November to visit my ailing pop who was in a downward spiral after his wife, my mom, died several months earlier literally as Mikey and I were transitioning between our log home up north and the adorable adobe casita (little house) way, way down south. The cough begun in December 2014 is with me still (May 2016). WHY??
I’m a healthy person. I’m always the one with the shopping cart full of veggies, fruit and actual food-making ingredients (whole wheat flour was a staple) in the check-out line. I have walked 10,000 – 20,000 steps a day since early 2014. I maintain a positive attitude. Yes, I succumbed to high levels of stress as we weathered some safety issues when we first moved to Mexico but I am adjusting to life as an expat and finding productive ways to participate in the local culture in the village in which we live as well as in a variety of social circles in the larger San Miguel.
So Why Do I have Symptoms That Won’t Go Away?
For about two years I have experienced:
A persistent cough
various degrees of laryngitis
sporadic depression – sometimes cruelly deep
my eyebrows disappearing (!)
but most of all a decided LACK of the motivational spark that gets an artist out of this world into the place where we make unique connections using our thoughts and our skills.
Part 2 – Seeking Solutions
The First Round
So I pushed through my listlessness and found a conventional doctor some new friends had recommended. Based on the cough he immediately suspected Acid-Reflux or GERD (Gastroesophageal disease). He wanted me to go cough into a cup, collect what came out and have it analyzed. I tried for a week but I’m not that kind of cougher. But based on his suspicions I started reading up on what to do if you have GERD. I’m a pro-active googler when it comes to learning stuff.
Basically here are some easy lifestyle changes I experimented with and you can make to alleviate the symptoms of acid-reflux in case that’s what was causing me so much grief:
Sleep on a foam wedge (Like the ones here)
Don’t eat past 6pm
Don’t eat large meals, eat 4-5 small meals throughout the day
Avoid a bunch of acid-y foods.
I also slightly more diligently avoided (without that militant dedication you often see, lol) gluten.
I’m not celiac and have never exhibited obvious adverse effects from eating muffins, pizza, toast, baguettes, chocolate cake and apple fritters, but I had come to be aware that wheat, even organic whole wheat, is not what it used to be and its hybridization has caused it to be less digestible than the wheat our ancestors ate (even those as recent as having been raised early last century – our grandparents and parents). I have been gluten-light for about 3 years so far. If you have no problems with gluten J.P. Sears will show you how to develop an obnoxious gluten intolerance as a poseur. If you’d like some more scientific info about gluten consumption and issues check out this post from the Health Ambition blog. But read on, I was in for a sad surprise.
A few more months went by and still the cough and the creative lethargy continued. I should add here that to the outside eye it might look as though I was still completely creatively engaged. After all I was continuing to draw regularly, create several series of new paintings, run a social marketing business, keep my own interactions with social networks updated with original content, cook from scratch almost every meal we eat (including the dogs’ food), blog on several platforms and create and give a talk (public speaking is WAY outside my regular wheelhouse) BUT two key projects were NOT getting done, projects that help define who I am to myself: I was unable to do much about making our house a home nor tackle the children’s book project I’ve begun. This was flat-out weird.
Making a house a home is key to creating the space I need to find the necessary sanctuary from which all creative effort can rebuild momentum and thrive. The fact that I simply didn’t have it within me to do much in that regard seems telling from this perspective, though while I was living through it it just seemed odd. But I didn’t feel that impulse you need to create a space that welcomes your own life right into it. I let the house continue to look like a college dorm room.
I’ve involved other people in my animal kindness book and learning project through their donations to help print the book when it’s complete. I launched that campaign over a year ago and yet the book is still only partially completed. This is so unlike me! (Mind you, everyone’s donations are safe – they’re just awaiting completion of the manuscript. A manuscript I am having the worst case of writer’s block I have ever had in my life over.) Why? Why can’t I push through this the way I have thousands of other times in my creative life? My not being done is an embarrassment I feel acutely and yet it is an epic struggle to get those stories written and edited and the illustrations painted or drawn.
I don’t feel that urge I’m used to feeling that pushes me straight through the typical challenges an artist has with the Blank Page as they relate to this book project. I think it’s this that worries me the most. Every creative goes through a moment when they ponder if their idea have ceased; if their creative pool was dried up. I certainly have, but that was decades ago and since then I learned to completely trust the process of creativity. Once you force yourself through the intimidation of the Blank Page (or canvas) inevitably your muse joins you and jumpstarts your Flow. You’re unstoppable once again.
Part 3 – HappyArt Feels Sadly Suicidal
Emotional Symptoms Get Added to the Physical
So now after two years of struggling with this stuff, the coughing, the lethargy and lack of creative impulsion beyond the more routine I know I have to look at the intermittent feelings of:
and feeling completely overwhelmed
I constantly found my happy-go-lucky self battling with terrible depression. Indeed I had been doing so for some time. It was beyond what one might expect for anyone going through what I was out here on the surface. I really and truly thought there was something wrong with me emotionally too. It was odd for an optimist like me to have to re-fight these ugly battles of self-doubt and utter hopelessness. It felt like I was almost bi-polar emotionally and I could NOT figure out the triggers.
The depression has invited me to go way, way down into its dark depths on more occasions that I care to report. It has made sure I understood my role on earth is one of immense insignificance. It has quietly talked me into googling terrible topics that have taught me how misrepresented suicide is on tv. (Side note: It’s actually quite difficult to do it with 100% accuracy in a way that isn’t horribly inconvenient for those left behind.) But you catch my drift, I was looking, pondering, trying to find a way out.
I began to feel very ready to be done with life. I got my affairs in order. I wished I was dead. Constantly. I would have been relieved to be done. Buh bye now.
None of this is normal for me. I’m the healthy happy one! Except I wasn’t, was I?
I was getting very frustrated and irritated with myself and my situation. I could not figure out how to stop this cycle. So I had more wine before dinner than they recommend, even the most lenient ones. It helped me feel better even if just for a little while.
This time with a naturopath here in San Miguel. It is a new concept for me, but one entirely aligned with how I view wellness and health. She combines the best of straight-on Western medicine with a deep study of some of older medicinal philosophies of the ancients. She’s as likely to prescribe an herbal supplement as she is a top quality pharmaceutical depending on what your body is asking for help with. She’s able to order lab tests and interpret the results using her deep, multi-faceted, interconnected knowledge. She takes a whole-person point of view.
After my first blood test, she determined that my thyroid was still definitely having issues, despite the fact I was religiously taking the medication I had been prescribed back in Kentucky by a women’s health specialist doctor aligned with one of the best hospitals n the region there. She re-confirmed I was “hypothyroid” whatever that is.
Part 4 – Hypothyroidism
Hello Google. According to www.EndocrineWeb.com:
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the body lacks sufficient thyroid hormone. Since the main purpose of thyroid hormone is to “run the body’s metabolism,” it is understandable that people with this condition will have symptoms associated with a slow metabolism.
Sufferers can have any combination of any of these symptoms:
loss of energy
difficulty losing weight
Depression and depressed mood
Joint and muscle pain,
Breast milk formation
Difficulty tolerating cold and lower body temperature
Sleeping more than average
Diminished sex drive
Puffiness in face and extremities
Elevated levels of LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and heightened risk of heart disease
Allergies that suddenly appear or get worse
Persistent cold sores, boils, or breakouts
Tingling sensation in wrists and hands that mimics carpal tunnel syndrome
Memory loss, fuzzy thinking, difficulty following conversation or train of thought
Slowness or slurring of speech
Read the whole explanation here. I immediately realized I was the poster child for this condition.
Lots and lots of women develop hypothyroidism (as many as 10% of all U.S. women). It’s truly a common disease in the states and elsewhere. Back in Kentucky, about five years ago I was showing elevated signs of it (weight gain in the muffin-top area, loss of hair, that run-down feeling, dry skin, etc. Some of this sounding familiar? See above!).
I was tested then and put on the most common of all the medicines for this affliction: Synthroid. I urged her to put me on the absolute lowest dose possible as I had never had to be on a medication in my life and was hoping to reverse this affliction through diet and exercise alone. This was when I started paying a little more attention to gluten and bought my first fitbit to track my daily steps.
I was still on the Synthroid (click here for an explanation on why this may have not been a good plan) when we moved to Mexico, and when I ran out replenished my supply with the local generic brand of it, same dose. (I’ve since learned Mexican generics of U.S. drugs are ‘unpredictable’ at best.) They tell you when you’re diagnosed with a hypothyroid that:
there is nothing you can do to control or reverse it besides staying on medications
what’s done is done
you’ll be on the medicine for the rest of your life
probably in increasing doses
But, don’t worry, the medication will keep you in perfect balance
Hy-PO vs Hy-PER
My naturopath saw that my lab results indicated my thyroid was completely out of whack despite my efforts and religiously taking my Synthroid. Here’s what’s supposed to happen:
The function of the thyroid gland is to take iodine, found in many foods, and convert it into thyroid hormones:thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroid cells are then released into the bloodstream and are transported throughout the body where they control metabolism (conversion of oxygen and calories to energy). Get the full explanation in this link.
With hyPOthyroidism, your thyroid isn’t producing enough of the T3 and T4 hormones. With hyPERthyroidism it’s producing too much. HOWEVER, because the whole system is inter-related and trying to even things out, your body can create symptoms of too much of either as the system misfires and tries to balance itself out. It’s a too-little, too-much cycle.
This would go a loooooong way towards explaining why throughout the past years I’ve also experienced:
irritability (ask the husband, lol)
feeling overheated (like hot flashes)
Because in the battle to find stasis, my poor overworked thyroid swings around from high to low, mostly I’m hyPOththyroid but sometimes I’m hyPERthyroid-y. It’s nuts, people. No fun.
The Typical Scenario
Generally conventional doctors run a blood test to see what a patient’s system looks like numerically. Quite typically upon review they will find indications of an underactive thyroid and prescribe a hormone replacement medication (Synthroid and similar) to raise the levels. That’s why my Kentucky doctor did. If you’re lucky, then they’ll follow up with another blood test to make sure the medicine is working; raising the levels back to normal. Boom, done. They tell the patient (who are 75+% women, by the way) “It’s working, you’ll be on this medicine for the rest of your life. See you next time”
(Note: My naturopath here in Mexico took me off my fake Synthroid immediately and prescribed a natural version called Nature-throid – more natural, more easily assimilated by the body Not endorsed by big pharma, interestingly.)
I remember specifically asking during the appointment in which I was initially diagnosed with hypothyroidism “Is there anything I can do with my diet or exercise to improve my condition?” my conventional doctor told me, “No because you’re already doing what I would recommend. ” I was already pretty darn active and eating well and while she applauded my desire to take matters into my own hands by being even more proactive she didn’t think it would do a whit of good. “Keep doing what you’re doing, by all means,” she said, “but keep taking the Synthroid.” Ugh.
What Conventional Doctors Miss
If a blood test determines their presence, it shows that the body is now starting to attack the thyroid. You have now entered into the realm of autoimmune disease where the body’s normal immune system starts to mistake some of its own parts, in this case the thyroid, as an invader like a foreign object, parasite or virus. If this is the case, things devolve from here and start getting entangled in the body’s full system-wide balances.
That acid-reflux the one doctor thought I might have? Turns out those are symptoms very common with a condition like mine and it’s not GERD.
My whole system is getting involved and there are pretty easy to understand reasons why. Ready? Here we go!
Many hypothyroid sufferers take their Synthroid and then get prescribed more medications for their depression and gut troubles (add Prozac and Zantac – cha-ching$, cha-ching$ – not to mention these drugs are working on symptoms but not the root cause!)
You Don’t Have The Guts to Be Truly Well! (yet)
Your gut is key to your whole operation….
Even though the one set of numbers is now within normal, with the medication other things are spiraling out of control impacting the the whole thyroid system including the sufferer’s gut.
As the thyroid medicine starts to work if you haven’t begun addressing some of the fundamental root causes of why you became hypothyroid in the first place, bad things continue to evolve. Starting in your gut.
The human gut (your whole intake/outflow from mouth to you-know-what) actually assists in the conversion of T4 into active T3 thyroid hormone!! Poorly balanced gut bacteria reduces conversion of active T3 thyroid hormone and as T3 levels reduce, cortisol (adrenal stress hormone) increases conversion of T4 into reverse T3 (read more here and here).
People under these circumstances start to feel symptoms of improper digestion (hello acid reflux and go ahead and add in constipation, gas, bloating, diarrhea – all the fun stuff). One key reason for this is under the influence of the battle between the gut and your thyroid raging on the lining of your intestines (the route past the stomach where your digested noms get absorbed into the body) is compromised. The tiny molecular sized fissures that allow molecules of digested food to pass into your bloodstream get enlarged and soon incompletely digested food is passing through.
Your bloodstream starts getting polluted with tiny bits of everything you eat! Call up the immune system forces again, we’re under attack! This is serious business because the undigested food are contaminants that cause your system to go haywire which plays out as inflammation everywhere throughout your poor body. And on and on.
But wait, how does any of that relate to your thyroid? Hang on. It gets complicated.
Part 5 – The Leaky Gut Syndrome
Ok, what? Yuck!
Let’s let The Huffington Post give us a summary:
How does gluten cause intestinal permeability, a.k.a leaky gut?
Regulating intestinal permeability is one of the basic functions of the cells that line the intestinal wall. In sensitive people, gluten can cause the gut cells to release zonulin, a protein that can break apart the tight junctions holding your intestines together (forming the leaks).
Once these tight junctions get broken apart, your gut is considered to be leaky. A leaky gut allows toxins, microbes, undigested food particles and antibodies to escape from your intestines and travel throughout your body via your bloodstream. The antibodies that escape are the ones that your body produced to attack the gliadin in the first place. (From the Huffington Post, read more here)
It’s a rocky road through the information that surrounds the Leaky Gut syndrome, mostly because the whole system is so darn complicated and inter-related with other important body systems.
Let’s move on and let The Organic Lifestyle take a crack at it:
In a healthy gut, cells that make up the lining of the intestinal wall bind tightly together. Research has discovered that (even) trace amounts of gluten can irritate these cells and deteriorate their bonds. This bond between intestinal cells on the cell walls prevents large food particles, undigested sugars, undigested proteins, and gut microbes (parasites, bacteria, fungi) from leaking into the blood. Candida overgrowth also deteriorates the intestinal wall. Candida grows filaments or tentacles that “drill” into the gut lining and grow into the gut wall.
When the intestinal wall is inflamed, intestinal villi become damaged or destroyed. These hair-like projections that protrude from the epithelial lining of the intestinal wall are the means for our bodies to absorb nutrients and fats. With fewer villi, the gut lining becomes very hospitable to Candida and will become irritated, dry, inflamed, and much more permeable than it’s meant to be.
Increased permeability in the intestinal wall allows larger compounds called luminal antigens and commensal gut flora to penetrate the intestinal tissue, contributing to more inflammation. More inflammation leads to more permeability. Eventually, the walls that line the intestinal tract become permeable to the degree that undigested food particles and gut flora enter the bloodstream. (Yuck, yuck, triple YUCK!)
And now let’s wrap this up with a couple of words from a guy named Dr. Joseph Mercola:
“Once the integrity of your intestinal lining is compromised, and there is a flow of toxic substances “leaking out” into your bloodstream, your body experiences significant increases in inflammation. Also, your immune system may become confused and begin to attack your own body as if it were an enemy (autoimmunity)”. Read up.
Here’s an awesome in-depth answer interview-style between the Hypothyroid Mom and a Dr. Datis Kharrazian. In a nutshell:
The most likely thing that we see is that there’s this so-called cross-reactivity, also known as molecular mimicry between the immune response to gluten and other types of proteins that are involved with thyroid function. (read the whole interview here)
There are some truly break-through books on the topic of gluten and other dietary staples that further illuminate the connection between common autoimmune diseases and what we used to think of as super healthy foods like wheat, other grains as well as potentially casein (found in dairy items) and all of their more processed cousins and second cousins (fast food, refined starches, sugars and on and on). All the yummy stuff, lol.
Part 6 – Hashimoto’s
Leaky Gut + Hypothyroidism = Recipe For Disaster
With Hashimoto’s we’ve entered the “which came first the chicken or the egg” portion of this post. Did the leaky gut – gluten intolerance initiate the hypothyroidism or was it the other way around? Well, they’re working on figuring that out not for me, but for everyone – all those millions of others too. For my purposes right this second? It doesn’t matter. What matters is now all my symptoms taken as a whole have been discussed, written up and have a name: Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism. A Japanese physician made the connection between certain of these indicators way back in 1913.
The Mayo Clinic says:
Hashimoto’s disease is a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid, a small gland at the base of your neck below your Adam’s apple. The thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system, which produces hormones that coordinate many of your body’s activities.
The resulting inflammation from Hashimoto’s disease, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, often leads to an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism). Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. It primarily affects middle-aged women but also can occur in men and women of any age and in children. (read more from them here)
How Do You Fix It?
You can’t cure it. Once you have developed Hashimoto’s, an auto-immune disease, you can only manage it. To do that? It’s basically a one-two punch.
Ensure the thyroid function occurs naturally or with medicinal help. You keep on a thyroid replacement hormone medication for as long as you need it, from months to forever. Like I said earlier, the damage of this internal war has been done, the questions is how much?Attend to your leaky gut tendencies forever! This isn’t that difficult, after all your body knows what to do and will be happy for the chance to finally heal itself.
What is difficult is how most of the dining opportunities we have in our lives includes foods with gluten and other known irritants. There are tons of blogs, Pinterest boards, books and articles out there all describing diets designed to alleviate Leaky Gut symptoms. Some of my faves are listed below. I’ve been at this exactly one week so far, so Il’l be learning a ton in the coming weeks and months. Basically you’re looking at adopting some version of the Paleo Diet which is defined as: a diet based on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans, consisting chiefly of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit, and excluding dairy or grain products and processed food.
Of course not! Great Big Swaths of food categories are eliminated from your choices in one fell swoop. I guarantee there is something to disappoint ANYONE on this diet. So don’t adopt it if you don’t mind to continue feeling like crap. Me? I want to feel better for real. I thought I was eating fairly healthfully, but I continued to let gluten into my system even though I “avoided” it for the most part.