Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Peak Health Journey: watching trees grow in a whirlwind

I created a Facebook group, called Peak Health Initiative. It is a group of us who are encouraging and supporting each other on our path to peak health. As I chronicle my journey back from injury and also maintain my health while working through hypothyroidism and fibro, I get bopped on the head by the changes in my body, health, and life.

Here's what's interesting to me about getting in better shape. Things change. Sometimes, it's like watching trees grow, and sometimes it's a whirlwind. Today, I realized my health changes have been like watching trees grow in whirlwind. In other words, some of those changes are happening so slowly that I take no notice until they bop me on the head.

My clothes are fitting more loosely. Until this morning, I kept thinking my dryer must not be drying them as well since usually clothes out of the dryer are tight and then relax as I wear them. But lately, nothing has been tight when I first put it on. Instead of thinking "Hey that must mean I'm getting smaller," I thought, "Hey, my dryer must be malfunctioning." Doh!

So, today, I was outside working/boxing with the standing bag. I am aiming for ten minutes daily before January 20th. I'm up to six minutes. I do fifteen-second intervals of hooks, jabs, crosses, high and low intensity and breaks where I stretch. And when the alarm rang to indicate I was at six minutes, I was surprised and a little disappointed.

"What? I'm done?" was my first thought. On one level, that means I was in the moment and doing my thing. On another level, it means I'm going up to seven minutes tomorrow.

Color me surprised. When I started, five minutes seemed more than I could endure. And this brings me to today's mantra.

"Now matter your current situation, accept where you are right now and then watch how it changes."

What about you? What is your experience of your life and health? How does awareness of your health change as you go?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Yoga, Thyroid, and the (potential) dangers if you push too far

Today's NYTimes has an article on the dangers of yoga, for men, as written by the man who wrote this year's "Science of Yoga," (who is also a yogi and a writer for the NYTimes). He talks about competitive yoga (sounds like an oxymoron to me) and other ways in which men either push themselves or their instructors push them too hard (btw, he doesn't ignore women in the article, but the focus is men).

When I teach, one of the first things I say to my classes (after we warm up, because, doggone it, I don't believe you can do yoga without being thoroughly warmed up) is that they need to listen to their bodies. If it even feels like it might start *thinking* about hurting, they need to stop and not do it or pull way back to try it safely.

To me, yoga is about being where you are today. It won't be where you were yesterday and it won't be where you will be tomorrow. So, the important thing is to pay attention to what is happening in your body, mind, and spirit right now. If you consistently practice, you will see benefits, and likely, poses that are challenging or impossible to you now will become easier in time. That is the point. Yoga (imo) isn't something to do once a week. It is really something like brushing your teeth. When I get up, I brush my teeth, every single day. That is how I do yoga. Every single day. It's not always an intense hour-long practice. Sometimes, it's five or ten minutes, but I step on the mat, at least for a little while. Every single day.

Being hypothyroid means that I need to do less exercise (very little aerobic because that messes with my thyroid's calm and makes me dip more into hypothyroid land) but I have found that yoga helps me retain balance, strength, and flexibility and even heart health since yes I do raise my heart rate with some of the more challenging poses even if I am not running or jumping to get my aerobics in. Try plank pose on your elbows and toes and try holding it for a minute. (Keep breathing naturally and make sure your elbows are directly below your shoulders. Make sure your butt doesn't rise and that your shoulder blades are broad along your back. Keep your neck aligned with the rest of your spine, your butt flat, and your legs straight so as to not injure yourself. Push your heels toward the back of the room. And remember, if it even feels like it might start thinking about hurting, lower down and rest. Don't overdo. That's not what this is about.) By the end of that minute, you will be very grateful and your heart will be pounding hard.

Even if you do a little but do it every day, you will reap enormous benefits and not just physically. But, pushing yourself can definitely lead to injury so that is the less optimal way to practice. Do it today and tomorrow and the next day and pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you as you sit or stand or lie in a pose and you will be present and eventually by being present, you will progress.



Tuesday, December 4, 2012

By the Jugular

It has come to my attention that my eating habits have deteriorated since September. Renaissance Festival season always takes it out of me, but this year, it has drop kicked me back into the energy roller coaster that spells, potato addiction. 

Generally, during the festival season, I work seven days a week and average ten to twelve hours a day. So, from mid-August to the end of October, I am just trying to hang on until I can catch a breath during the first week of November.

Having a thyroid condition that kicks my energy-level's butt on a daily basis doesn't help matters so I end up eating quick carbs to ensure that I will be able to stay awake enough to do a good and solid job in all my various endeavors. Don't get me wrong. Many people work hard. I get that. And many people work at the ren fest and work seven days a week just like I do. I am not discounting how hard they work. I am just speaking of my personal experience here and the thyroid condition makes everything harder. Ask anyone with hypothyroidism and they'll tell you. For a health issue that isn't life threatening (not usually, anyway) it can be one of the more debilitating ones (as far as your energy level is concerned).

So, how do I do it? How do I keep myself from falling over in exhaustion while working my butt off? Enter the much beloved and dreaded potato. Ah, potato, you truly are the Queen of Foods as far as I'm concerned. You bring such joy, such relief, such bliss and contentedness that you leave me breathless, happy, and fulfilled. 


And I think that right there is the crux of the matter. You bring relief, but you aren't a constant source of energy and support. On the contrary, you are consistently quicksilver. One second I feel terrific after eating you and the next, I feel like I have fallen into the abyss. 

I know how wrong you are for me. I truly do. I see what you do to me. I see how you bring me to the high of highs and the low of lows. If I weren't already married, I would look at us as having a very unhealthy romance or worse, a junkie/dealer relationship. 

Whenver I need a fix, one that will give me a boost, do I go to uppers or cocaine? No,  those will never do for me. Me? I run to french fries, preferably with either ketchup or ranch dressing, although my favorite, garlic mayo, definitely still holds the key to my heart. 

And here's the most insidious thing of all. Once I start eating you, I also start inching towards other forbidden fruits. For me, those aren't actual fruits, they're grains. Specifically, I must refrain from letting wheat pass my lips. But here's the thing, once I start eating potatoes, bread and its ilk creep into my diet as well. And then? And then, I make excuses for my behavior. "Oh, just one sandwich," I murmur as I glassily eye the menu and once again fall under the grilled cheese and french fry spell. "I can stop anytime I want to." And that's the thing. In the moment, I believe it. I truly believe that I will be able to curtail or stop next time. In my heart, I feel that this one time will be the one time and then next time, I will forego both of these foods that have such a negative effect on my body. I know, I *know* exactly what eating both of them will do to me, and I still eat them. It's nuts, but there it is. I am addicted to those fast, white carbs.

Last night, I sank to my personal diet low and had a sandwich and french fries for dinner. Interestingly, I felt defensive of my right to eat whatever I wanted. I knew how sick I'd be afterward (and I was. I hardly slept all night because of this meal). I knew that it was terrible for me and for my poor gallbladder that is hanging on by a thread (long story). I knew I'd feel like crap afterward but if anyone had tried to talk sense into me and tell me not to eat this food, I would have gladly ripped their heads off.

This sort of food addiction is strange. I'm not binging. I don't eat any of it often, but when I do, the pleasure I get from it is intense and borders on creepy. And here's the thing: I have given up many other foods and been just fine. I have been a vegetarian since 1987. Three years ago, I gave up chocolate (because it, too, caused me some health issues). A year and a half ago, I gave up sugar and by some miracle, I have not gone back to eating it. While I miss it, it does not hold the same power over me. So, I know that I can and do have the willpower to make good choices consistently. I know I can do these things when I need to. If you knew how much I love sweets and chocolate in particular, you would understand the significance of those actions. But bread and potatoes? Oh yes. They still have me by the jugular. 

Yet, most of the time, I don't eat wheat, either. Actually, last night was the first time I'd eaten bread in months and months. I blame the potato. It's a gateway food, for me, to whiter and whiter carbs. 

And so today, this morning, I will do something about it.

I am starting a food diary today. As of right now,  I am not sure I can give potatoes up for good. But I will see if there is a way to at least know how often I eat them. 

Hopefully, seeing everything in black and white will help me deal with the cravings for these carbs. If I could look at them without seeing them as delicious food, that would be amazing. If, instead, I could see them as almost dangerous, that would be ideal. Sadly, I was absent the day they handed out the ability to do things in moderation. I can't just have a potato today and then not eat it again for a few weeks. I know myself too well for that.

But at least, if I keep a food diary, I will consciously see the results of my choices. And maybe that will help me make better choices in the long run.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hypothyroidism and Opening the Steam Valve on a Global Scale

I've been talking about opening the steam valve to anyone and everyone who will listen. We are living in an increasingly busy and stressed out world. Wars and other conflicts are raging around us. People   cause pain, take advantage, and otherwise hurt one another as a matter of course and with impunity (do *all* people do it? No of course not, but enough do that we are all diminished by their acts). And all the while, we are constantly bombarded with images that we are not enough, we don't do enough, and we don't have enough. We constantly try to play catch-up and many of us might feel like a hamster that's running on one of those little wheels. That poor little thing is running, running, running, like crazy. She's exhausting herself but in the end, she's not getting anywhere. It's enough to make you run screaming through the streets.

But basically, it's just enough. For my part, I've had my fill of the crap that seeps through our streets, in our workplaces, and around our dinner tables (not to mention in our entire world). Aren't we a smart species? Don't we have that big ol' frontal lobe in the front of our heads? Don't we have eyes to see what's happening every second of every day around us? Can't we do something about it?

Now, anyone who is reading this, who also happens to be hypothyroid, just got more tired, more depressed, and more stressed. The above list is enough to make anyone exhausted with the sheer amount of things that feel hard or wrong. But, someone who is hypothyroid spends her or his time being exhausted every single second of the day and so having to be aware of all these other issues and problems is only cause for more exhaustion.

Sometimes, in order to deal with some of these horrors (because let's face it, lack of kindness, sympathy, and empathy on a grand scale have gotten us in this global mess to begin with) we have to close our eyes to them. Because if we don't, we might just become paralyzed with the immense size of the problems we, on this planet, face. It might be easier to look away, to not get involved, to busy ourselves with tv shows, magazines, other little dramas that take us away from the realities that might just be too hard to face head-on.

It might be easier, but it won't fix anything in the long run. That will take a paradigm shift on a universal and individual scale. Wow, I just said a mouthful and scared myself a little. I'm calling for a revolutionary shift of perception, perspective, and interaction, on a global scale. If we all did it, if we all shifted just a hair, the world, our home, would shift as well.

How would it help the average EZH*? I truly believe that a constant awareness of all the troubles and a constant state of stress from that awareness causes the EZH to feel and be squeezed even more than before. So, an external easing of some of that pressure can only help. I liken it to doing certain yoga poses. When I am trying to hold a stretch, I will often unconsciously tighten the very muscles I am trying to relax. As a result, I can't stretch nearly as far and I am far more uncomfortable in the stretch. But, in those times when I realize that I am holding myself tightly, and when I send my awareness to those muscles and release their hold and tight control, why then the muscle relaxes, elongates, and everything changes.

Awareness of all the various issues, troubles, and horrors is the same. Yes, we can stay aware of them and thrash against our inability to change them. Or we can step back, release our desperate grasp, and then open ourselves to the awareness of what we can do, right now, in the moment, to shift that paradigm of stressed impotence. To me, it all goes back to respect and kindness to ourselves and to others (all others, everywhere). I am reminded of a scene in the tv show Angel. The quote goes something like this: "If nothing we do matters, then the only thing that matters is what we do. ... Because if there's no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness, is the greatest thing in the world." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gXaMnkmGq0

That is the question to ask ourselves, isn't it? What can I do, right now, in this moment, to make a tiny change? How that change might later change the world is impossible to say. But, if we release ourselves, if we open the steam valve of desperate grasping, amazing things might be possible.

And here's the thing: that act of kindness? That instant of release? That will help anyone, EZHs included, to open the steam valve. It will work. Trust me. When you are stressed, exhausted, or just plain unhappy, stop, breathe, and then do something kind for someone else. It will change them, it will change you, and it might just change the world.

Next time, we will talk about specific steam valve openers on an individual scale. Until then, Izolda http://IzoldaT.com

*Exhausted Zombie Hypothyroidic

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hypothyroidism and Breaking Patterns: Tough stuff

This is a post I've been rather dreading to write. I don't want to be a hypocrite and write about advising breaking old patterns when I have such trouble doing it myself, but here it is. This post is about breaking old patterns so that you can develop new and better ones.

The need to be able to do that when you are an EZH* is pretty vital. People who have hypothyroidism aren't lazy, slow, dim, or faking it. We have a disease. It sucks but there it is and the sooner we admit it, to ourselves (and others?) the better. Personally, it took me years to be open about it. Why? Because saying something like, "I can't go do that. It will mean being out too late, and I will get too exhausted and my thyroid will make me pay" sounds somehow wimpy.

Or, when someone says something along the lines of, "You're so pretty. Now, if only you'd get some exercise," you want to shove the information of your hypothyroidism down their throats if only to make them hush up. Yes, I know it's absolutely none of anyone's business how much I exercise, but for whatever reason, people feel free to say stuff like that to me. Responding with, "First, it's none of your business. Second, I do exercise; I just have a thyroid condition that keeps my metabolism slow and me weighing this much," also feels wimpy even if it is factual.

When I add the fact that I want to be able to do all the things I used to do and that I want to have the energy that I used to have, it makes it even harder to break some of my patterns of behavior that leave me exhausted. See, I used to be very social. I was out and about at museums, moonlit picnics. I danced until dawn. I regularly drove to New York (from Michigan) for an overnight with friends. I did and I did and I did, and my energy level never wavered (or so I thought at the time). Sure, I paid for my partying ways by being exhausted the next day, but I always recovered and continued what I'd been doing.

In college, I worked two jobs, went to school full time and still maintained a heavy social life. And I had no real problems summoning up the energy to do whatever fanciful thing I felt like doing. Little did I know that I was slowly leaching vitality from my endocrine system and that one day it would hit me, like a ton of bricks, that I no longer had any energy to do most anything.

So, when I think about it now, I have to pay hommage to my younger self. She went out and had all sorts of amazing adventures. She traveled. She marveled. She had a terrific time. And perhaps one day,  my older self will get to do more of that.

For now, I need to mend my ways. Every time a new and exciting opportunity comes up, I have to weigh it against how I will feel later. Can I attend this party that will last into the morning? Likely not. Can I stay up all night and watch the Perseid Meteor shower? Not nearly as late as I used to. I know that I can't push myself like that anymore and so I don't try not to.

These kinds of concrete decisions are actually pretty easy to make. They are right or wrong, yes or no situations, and I can do those well. The kinds of things that trip me up? The tiny seemingly insignificant decisions that we make every single day are the ones that challenge me.

Take last week when instead of saying, "No, I can't start the meeting at 9pm," I agreed to do something that in retrospect kicked my butt for the following two days. If I had been thinking properly, I would have responded with a resounding, "No." But I was following my old patterns and paid the energetic price.

I guess it comes down to being mindful when we approach situations that are rife with old patterns. One of my patterns is to be accommodating to the needs of others, without necessarily taking my own needs into account. That's what I did last week with respect to starting the meeting so late. I could have stopped, thought about it, noticed that my pattern of accommodation was rearing its ugly head, and consciously decided to break the pattern by saying I couldn't start the meeting so late. Instead, I blindly followed the years-long groove of being accommodating to the detriment of my health.

So, here's my advice to all you EZHs out there who still think you can maintain your old patterns of behavior, thinking, etc. Please, step back and think about each new situation. Decide consciously whether or not you ought to do do the next activity, eat the next piece of bread, push yourself too far, or accommodate others to the detriment of your own health (because for EZHs it really *can* be unhealthy to keep pushing ourselves too far). You want to assess each and every opportunity for its future impact and then decide, mindfully, whether or not you should do the thing you are thinking about doing.

Some questions to think about:
What is it, exactly, that I will be doing?
How tired will it make me?
When will it start?
When will it end?
Do I have a way of getting home/rest/sleep when I need it?
Will there be someone there to help me if I need it?
What are my contingency plans if I get so exhausted I can't drive?
Is it worth the possible exhaustion/fatigue?
Will it cause me stress?
Am I just doing this because I am following an old pattern of behavior?
Do I want to?
What would it be like if I were to do something different?

If you can answer all these questions to your own satisfaction, you are good to go.

As always, if you enjoyed the post, please consider sharing it, or "liking" it.

Until next time, Izolda http://IzoldaT.com.

*Exhausted Zombie Hypothyroidic

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hypothyroidism: Respecting Our Own Needs First Will Help Keep Us Healthy

So, here's a lesson on putting your money where your mouth is. Last night, I had a meeting to run. Several people who were supposed to attend, never showed, and didn't call to let me know they wouldn't be there. If I had been thinking properly about myself and my needs, I would have just started the meeting on time (9pm, which is a late start for me to begin with) and not been so accommodating of the latecomers. But, I wasn't thinking and I paid the price.

Here's what I mean. As an EZH*, I get tired early, quickly, and often. By ten pm, I am usually done for the day. I make up for it by being up at around 5am every morning, but the late night partying is history for me. So, when I was told by several participants of the meeting that they couldn't be there until 9pm, I bit the bullet, nodded, and said I could handle it. Mistake, the first. No, I can't. My energy level just won't let me do it. I should have said, okay, let's do it on a different night or not do it at all. But in an effort to accommodate everyone, I agreed. (By the way, it's not their fault that I agreed to accommodate them. They were asking to have their needs met. That's all. But, I forewent my needs to accommodate theirs, and that is entirely on me.)

Again, if I had been taking care of myself, I would have started the meeting at exactly 9pm like I had planned. I figured that if we started at nine, it would go until about 10:00, we could have a snack afterward and I'd be in bed by 11pm. Heh, fat chance. When 9pm rolled around, I thought, "I'll wait for another few minutes." Then, by 9:20, I thought, "Okay, I'll call and see what's up." I got voicemail and thinking to be accommodating (still), I said, "We'll wait for you for another ten minutes and then get started." (We ended up starting at 9:45, something I will never do again.)

Mistake, the second. I shouldn't have waited. Now, granted, these meetings, once they start, really shouldn't be interrupted. There's a process in place that, if someone had come in in the middle, it would have seriously messed up the flow. But, in retrospect, I now believe that that is the chance I'll have to take. Or better yet, I'll hold everyone to the time. In other words, "If you aren't there when I say we'll start, please don't show (but if you know last minute that you aren't going to show, please call)." That way, I can start the meeting with whomever did show up, the meeting won't be interrupted in the middle, and I won't stay up wayyyyy past my bedtime.

It's a hard lesson for me, but it's one I need to learn. I can't keep accommodating other people at the expense of my health. And it's about time I truly admit that, by the way. I have a serious health issue. I keep trying (and have been for a long time) to behave as if I am not an EZH. I do, a lot. And I need to slow some of that down because it isn't good for my thyroid, and I know it.

By 11:30pm, I was sitting on the couch and I felt tiny and fragile, very very fragile. It was as if every iota of vitality had skittered away from me, and I felt lifeless like an old wet rag that's been wrung out and left twisted and scrunched on the sidewalk. I broke my own rules and ignored the warning signs of exhaustion. Mistake, the third.

Here's the last bit on this and I will return you to our regularly scheduled posts on specific ways to address hypothyroidism naturally, next time.

As an EZH, once you set up your own rules to keep your health on track, do. not. break. them. If you know (like I do) that you shouldn't eat bread, don't eat it. It's that simple. You know that eating wheat will make you exhausted. So why do it (other than you are probably just maintaining an old pattern that you need to change. I'll have more on that at a future time)? And here's the thing that kicks you in the teeth even more: if you haven't eaten it for a while and you decide to indulge, well, your body has gotten used to not eating it (and developed some sort of equilibrium) and so the influx of whatever it is that makes you exhausted when you eat bread, makes your reaction to it that much worse. You will pay the price for eating it. And hey, if you are willing to pay the piper for the slice of ciabatta or french loaf, then go for it. But if you are not, then step away from the bread bowl and everything will still be all right.

The same thing goes for staying up too late. I knew. I knew I shouldn't have stayed up late. I knew I shouldn't have agreed to a nine pm starting time. I knew I shouldn't have waited for 45 minutes to start the meeting. I knew I should have kept to my own rules. But I didn't. And that feeling I had, the feeling of death warmed to a tepid temperature while being nibbled on by crazed three-toed sloths? That was entirely my own fault.

Now, I just have to forgive myself my own trespasses, respect the choices I made last night, reaffirm my commitment to my own health, and move forward.

From now on, I start meetings on time. Hey, it's a good first step.

Until next time, Izolda. http://IzoldaT.com

As always, if you like the post, please consider sharing it or "liking" it.

*Exhausted Zombie Hypothyroidic

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Strategies to Overcome Hypothyroid-Induced Depression

As anyone who is an EZH* can attest, having your thyroid out of whack causes all sorts of troubles. When you choose to treat it naturally, you are jumping into the deep end of the pool with a bunch of lead weights tied to your waist. And then, of course, you have to figure out how to swim back to safety.

Even to me, it sounds pretty dire as I write this. As an EZH, you are constantly trying to tread water any way you can. You don't have the energy that healthy people have. You don't have the oomph to get things done. And on top of everything else, you tend toward depression. It's enough to make you just want to go get the water wings of Synthroid (the medication that helps replace the Thyroid hormone your thyroid should be making but isn't, for whatever reason) and be done with it.

But, if you stick it out and go the natural/holistic route, you need some strategies to handle the depression. Below, is a list of things to think about and perhaps do to help.

First, and foremost, increase your awareness of what is going on with your body. Pay attention to what it's trying to tell you and act accordingly. So, if you have been pushing yourself and your poor body is vainly trying to tell you to slow down, listen. Leave the dishes in the sink overnight if you are too exhausted to clean them before bedtime. Keep your exercise to a minimum (more on this in a future post). Don't go out to the next event if it's going to exhaust your further. Even though they say that being out and being social can help alleviate depression symptoms, I believe it's different for EZHs. If we try to party like it's 1999, we will pay dearly for it later. Perhaps, you might think about inviting people over to your place for an early movie night rather than going out and partying. Whatever you do, don't overdo. 

Second, Frankie says: Relax. Yeah, I know. It's way easier said than done. But, you still have to. Often, part of an EZH's depression will be a certain amount of anxiety. And if you aren't relaxed, those two (depression and anxiety) will combine to stress your entire endocrine system even further. So, what's the first rule of relaxing? Breathe. Breathe, breathe, breathe, and when in doubt, breathe some more. Here are a couple of techniques and exercises you might consider doing to help with breathing.

First, have a seat and relax. Put one hand on your belly. Take in a deep breath. Feel if your hand moves and your fingers expand. Notice if your shoulders came up as you inhaled. If they did, try the same thing again and this time try to keep the shoulders relaxed and down. Instead, as you inhale, imagine that your belly is a submarine. As you breathe in, let the air flow all the way down into the submarine. When you exhale, let the air come back out the periscope that is your air passage and your mouth/nose. Try to breathe this way three more times. When you feel you have the hang of it, put your other hand on your side, a bit higher than the hand on your belly. This time breathe into your belly and then when that is full, let the breath keep entering your body and feel your sides expand (the hand on your side should move at this point). Try these two steps for the next three breaths. Once you have done that, breathe into your belly, then into the sides, and then last up to the top of your chest. Keep your body expanding and opening. Your breathing apparatus is like a ballon that is being filled as you inhale. Your entire trunk can expand and you can get lots of good oxygen into your lungs this way. Try this breathing technique for three more breaths. That ought to help you relax. Take a minute and note how you feel. 

Here is another set of breathing techniques. In addition to breathing, this one contains a bit of vocalizing. We as a species generally begin to vocalize right after birth. In fact, when we are born, that is one of the ways they test to make sure all is okay. If we aren't crying our presence out into the universe, they think something is wrong. So, in addition to breathing, another relaxation technique is to use your voice (we will get a lot more into using your voice and speaking your truth at a later time). This technique is accompanied by an audio guide. Here is the link to Breathing3.mp3. Feel free to utilize it to help you relax. The instructions that accompany the audio file appear below.

1. Deep breathing correctly. Your stomach is relaxed and expanding out on inhalation. Your ribs are relaxed and expanding and your shoulders are relaxed and down. (You’ll find when you breathe deeply like this, that your shoulders start to ride up and get tense around your neck. Consciously lower and relax them whenever you notice this.
a. Inhale and exhale full deep breath five times.
b. Inhale a full, deep breath using good technique and exhale on a whispered “Ah.” (five times). Horse noise is great for finding where you are using your breath.
c. Inhale and exhale on a closed-mouth low “Mmm.” (five times)
d. Inhale and exhale on an “Ah” sound.
e. Yawn an “Ah” sound. (five times)

As always, if you like the post, please consider sharing it or "liking" it.

Until next time, Izolda. http://IzoldaT.com

*EZH: Exhausted Zombie Hypothyroidic

Friday, July 27, 2012

Aside from weight gain and fatigue, depression is one of the most prevalent symptoms of hypothyroidism. Bottom line: if you are hypothyroid, you will tend towards depression. And it's not that you might be predisposed toward depression naturally. It's more that when your thyroid is distressed and is underperforming, depression will often rear its ugly head and bite you on the butt. There is not really anything you can do about it. Even if you normally would never tend toward depression, you will often get depressed if you dip into being an EZH*. Distress and a sluggish thyroid, your slower metabolism, the weight gain, the slowing down of all your bodily functions, all of these things combine to depress you even if depression doesn't normally figure into your world view or your physical symptoms (not to mention the fact that the sluggish thyroid is a depression cause all on its own).

That's kind of what I go through. You see, I'm not normally a depressed person. So, when I first went very hypothyroid, one of the things that I noticed was that everything looked bleak. I found myself being depressed for the first time in my life. What the hell? I thought. Why was I depressed? My life was full. I had a partner I loved. I had good friends. I was doing work I enjoyed. So, what on earth was it that was making me depressed?

When I got the diagnosis, I found out. Since I had hypothyroidism, I was also likely going to be depressed. On top of all the other crap you have to wade through, on top of all the murky fatigue and other symptoms, I was also going to be depressed, perhaps too depressed to do anything at all about the thing that was making me depressed in the first place. So, as I've gotten myself together, and as I started treating the hypothyroidism, one of the things that started happening was the depression reached a manageable level without me needing to address it specifically, at all (this might not hold true for people who tend toward depression naturally).

In fact, one of the clues that tells me that I'm very hypothyroid is I get depressed. When I get depressed, for no reason, I know that I need to check my thyroid. But the tricky thing is that when I get thyroid-depressed, fatigue usually follows closely behind. And if I get it to that point, I might spiral down into the "why bother?" place and that is a bad place to be if you are an EZH. That is hard to come back from.

Normally, I don't feel that things are bleak. In fact, I tend to have a sunny disposition. I tend to want things to work out. I tend to hope that they're going to work out. But when the hypothyroidism grabs me by the throat, I don't think things will work out and I sink into depression. And here's the sneakiest part of all: if I'm all stressed out, the depression gets worse. That's one of the funny things about being hypothyroid. Hypothyroidism is supposed to make you tend toward depression. Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) is supposed to make you tend towards anxiety. But, if you're under stress and hypothyroid, then you might achieve that most egregious of double whammies: both anxiety and depression.

So, how do you deal with it? How do you handle your depression if it's coming on because of hypothyroidism? The trouble here is it's a double-edged sword. Your depression makes you feel that it's too much work to fix anything at all (and that it probably won't work so why bother trying)?  The hypothyroidism makes you so tired that it's almost not worth it to push out of bed and do the things you need to do, the things that you must do, in order to make yourself better. There have been times in my life when I basically turned myself inside out trying to maintain my life and when depression compounded the trouble, it became practically impossible to fix.

Nowadays, I try to take it easier on myself. I try to catch things early. I do daily check-ins. First thing in the morning, I ask myself how I feel. Here are some of the questions I try to answer:
  1. Am I fatigued? (More often than not, yes)
    1. What can I do about it? Sleep? Maybe. Exercise? Only a little.
  2. Am I aching? (Ditto)
    1. What can I do about it? Yoga, ultrasound, massage, bath, or passionflower supplement (before bed).
  3. What is my outlook for the day? 
    1. Open ended answer but it often depends on what my deadlines are for the day.
  4. Do I feel stressed out? (Often, yes, though I try to mitigate the stress with my daily yoga practice.)
    1. What can I do about it? Breathe. Breathe. Breathe (at least five, deep, full breaths before I do anything else). Yoga or Tai Chi. Reach out to a friend or my husband. Do something I enjoy even if it is only for a few minutes before I jump into my day. 
  5. Do I feel anxious? (Again, this depends on the deadlines for the day)
    1. What can I do about it? This one depends on the time of year. A cup of hot tea (no caffeine) will often have a soothing effect. I go for a hike with the dog and focus on the things I see in nature. And breathe breathe breathe. Taking full, deep breaths is one of the best ways I've found to handle anxiety if it comes up as part of my hypothyroidism. We'll talk more about how to breathe in the next post.
  6. Do I feel sad? (If the answer to this one is "yes," I start looking at other indicators that I might be in thyroid-depression. This is because I'm not generally prone to sorrow.)
    1. What can I do about it? This one often necessitates an increase in kelp in my life (the iodine in kelp helps in thyroid hormone production). Then, I try to do something I enjoy even for a minutes. For example, I play one of my favorite songs to dance to and I go crazy dancing. I move my body, even for a little bit. It helps break through the layer of sorrow very nicely. 
  7. Do I feel depressed? (If this one is a "yes" well then, I need to be ready to try to deal with it.)
    1. The answer to this one is similar to the one for sadness. I know I need to look at my TSH level if the depression persists for any length of time. So, in addition to trying to mitigate the depression, I will get my TSH levels tested. Here's a place where you can order and conduct the test online (not sure if you then have to have your doctor read the results, since I've not used this particular company before). http://www.healthhometest.com/product_info.php?products_id=38
There are more things to be done. And next time, I'll list more possible ways to combat depression. First on the list: Breathe. We'll talk more about how to breathe to get the most out of your breathing apparatus. Please note: I am not telling anyone to not see their medical professionals to treat their depression. This is a blog on treating the issues naturally so the topics of medication will not be addressed here.

Until next time, Izolda. http://izolda.info
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*EZH=Exhausted Zombie Hypothyroidic

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Perseverance and Perspective: Hypothyroidism and Energy Level

Perseverance and perspective: that's what I am thinking about this morning. Oh how seductive it is to jump on the meds bandwagon. Oh how I sometimes crave chucking it all in and just going on Synthroid or some other drug to regulate what my body ought to be doing on its own. And then I remember, my body *ought* to be doing this stuff on its own. I remember distinctly hearing from Dr. L, the endocrinologist, that this hormone, Thyroxine, is something my thyroid should be pumping out and that the *only* thing the Synthroid will do will be just to replace what ought to be happening already. So, with that thought in mind, I persevere and come back to the idea that if it's what ought to be happening, then that is what I will work towards.

That attitude I have? It comes with a price and that price can be too high for many people to pay. When I was younger, my energy and vitality wrapped around me like shining, electrical veils. I could do anything I wanted to do and would still have sufficient energy for all the necessities. As I got older, I now believe, I burned my thyroid out with all of my frenetic activity. Did I party? You bet. Did I under sleep? By a lot. Did I rush headlong from one frantic task to the next? Always. And I never, and I mean never, gave myself any time to recuperate and recover my energy. Add to that my Type A personality, and I had the perfect recipe for endocrine disaster.

When it took me down, it did so hard. When I chose to treat they hypothyroidism naturally, I approached it from my Type A perspective. I jumped headlong into figuring out a treatment. I radically changed my life. The only things I didn't change? I remained a vegetarian despite all the literature that says I need to be eating fish (at least) and I didn't stop or even curtail my frantic and stressful pace.

Here are some of the things I do/have done: professional musician/singer/guitarist/violinist. Leader of various bands and performing groups, author (two books and working on a third and fourth, articles, etc.), volunteer at various shelters (for humans and non-humans alike), professional tarot/palm reader, educator (environmental education, music, violin, voice), website designer, filmmaker, photographer, jewelry maker, spiritual officiant, priestess, friend, and wife. I'm sure there are others, but you get the point.

The reason for the above list? I do them all, now, still. What does that mean for my thyroid? I constantly try to maintain the balance between getting to do all these things and my sluggish energy level. The price I pay: I can no longer do the partying, the under-sleeping, and the stress. Over the last year, my Type A personality has transformed. I no longer attend all (or even many of) the parties. I try hard to get enough sleep, and I try even harder to release the stress whose appendage-like presence has been such a constant for the last 40 years.

Yes, I do believe that my stress began that early (if not earlier). I was born in the former Soviet Union, and I'm sure that in itself was stressful. My early life is a bit of a blur, but I definitely remember when we emigrated. The journey felt exciting at the time, but I am sure it had its share of stressors on me. I was and still am a true extrovert and thrived on the new places, face, and ideas, emotionally and intellectually. Physically, I had an overabundance of energy and raced through life. But, I'm sure that kind of radical lifestyle change has its share of issues. Even if I didn't feel them at the time, I believe they had a long-term effect.

My activities have allowed me an incredible life full of friends, adventure, travel, creativity, and joy. They have also taken their toll on my vitality and now, as I try to regain some of the long-term vitality so I can keep doing what I'm doing (and then some), I am going through a period of relative stillness. I am blessed in that I often receive invitations to events by old and new friends. And right now, I attend almost none of these events. Why? It's because I am choosing to go inward and check in on what I feel I can do, right now, today. I used to jump up and run. "On to the next thing," is one of my favorite phrases. Now, I have to go inward before any activity to see whether or not my body can handle it. You know that saying, "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak?" That holds true for me, now, as well but from the thyroid perspective.

Sure, I could push myself and go do whatever it is I want to do. But then, I will pay a steep price. So, I introduced the mental/physical check-in. It's not that I don't want to attend the party or the show or the X. It's that unless I feel like I can actually handle it and not be completely debilitated afterward, I need to step back and bow out. Luckily, my husband understands my current state or we might have problems in our relationship. He often has to attend events solo because I am not able to go and he gets that it's not that I don't want to go. It's much more that I just can't go.

As an EZH, I often sacrifice the immediate activity in order to maintain the fragile balance that will allow me to function tomorrow. That's where both perseverance and perspective come in. I have to persevere in my choice to make my health a priority, and I have to maintain perspective on the balance between what I might want to do and what is best for my health.

Until next time, Izolda. http://izolda.info
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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hot/Cold/Miserable: Hypothyroidism and Temperature Regulation

This week, I have been at a terrific annual meeting for the environmental education program for which I consult. The people (from 25 countries) are amazing. The work inspires me. The opportunities thrill me. What kicks my ass? The temperature. They keep it so cold that yesterday, I simply shut down. I was so freezing that while everyone else was at lunch listening to a talk on communicating climate change, I was in the room in which I was teaching, lying in a fetal position, aching, barely able to move, and trying not to throw up from the misery. My nails and skin turned blue. I hurt everywhere. I wanted nothing more than a very hot bath. The trouble is that while I would have benefited greatly from that hot bath, it might have gotten too hot and then I would have been miserable in the heat.

One of the most insidious symptoms of being an EZH*, is that your body can't regulate and adapt to temperature changes. You think you're going along fine. You think you can handle whatever is going on and then you get too cold, or too hot and BAM, you are miserable and feel like you have gotten the flu.

It takes me a while to get to the too cold state. I really will keep going for a long time and move or stretch or run in place to keep warm, but when the cold overtakes me, I am lost. EZHs typically have a lower resting body temperature than normal people. And our thyroids kick our butts by not letting us adapt easily when the external temperature is at an extreme or when it changes quickly.

Oh, how I'd love it if I didn't lose my ability to function when I am too warm. But, I do. I absolutely do. I get flu-like symptoms and would welcome a quick death. When I get too cold, like yesterday, I add layers (I bought a university sweatshirt from the bookstore and wore it the rest of the day. I practically kissed the feet of the students who had the store open.). But, when I am too warm, there are only so many clothes I can remove before I get arrested. I used to power through and just deal with it, but that has become less of an option for me. Now, I have to stop and take care of whatever it is that is making me either boil or freeze. 

And that's the important point here: EZHs have a special problem with temperature. We don't just feel a little cold. We turn into human popsicles, like Luke Skywalker on the Ice Planet Hoth. We don't just feel warm. We melt and have the same mental and physical acuity as liquified butter on a mid-summer's day.

When it starts to happen, step back, get warmer if you are cold and colder if you are warm. Take care of yourself, first and foremost. Stop trying so hard. Just because you can turn yourself inside out to get something done, doesn't mean you have to do that. I get that it's vulnerable to admit, publicly, that you have an issue, that you need help, particularly because there are no real outward symptoms. People can't tell how miserable you are by looking at you and so don't know that you have special needs.

The advice here: take it easy on yourself. Because we have an invisible disease (and not just invisible to others but often to ourselves as well), we might try to carry on regardless of how crappy we feel. We tend to feel like we ought to be able to do whatever it is we are trying to do and so we keep pushing. Our endocrine system can not take the strain and while other people who try too hard might be exhausted from the effort, we might end up curled up on the floor, barely able to move or worse, passed out or at worst, in a coma. This downward spiral will end in agony.

There is a lot to be said about our own perceptions of how much we should be able to do while living with this disease. Often, because it is invisible, we push ourselves further than is healthy. We don't necessarily let other people know and even if we do, few people have the knowledge to appreciate just exactly what EZHs go through. That makes it tougher to be honest and to communicate our situation properly.

Every time you get on an airplane, the flight attendants always give that spiel in the beginning. One of the things they say is, "When the oxygen masks drop down, put your own on first before taking care of others around you." Truly, those are golden words. If you don't help yourself, if you don't take care of yourself, you will be no good to anyone else.

Be honest with them and more importantly with yourself. Educate yourself and others. Assess your needs. And ask for help. It is crucial to your well-being and might even be vital to your survival.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it. Until next time, Izolda. http://izoldat.com

*Exhausted Zombie Hypothyroidics

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hypothyroidism Treatment Requires Permanent Lifestyle Changes

Treating hypothyroidism is like being on a maniacal roller coaster ride. When you're doing well, you have energy and can even fly pretty fast and loose. When you aren't doing well, life feels like it's taken a jello-filled body suit that weights three hundred pounds, forced you to wear it and still try to run marathons on a regular basis. In other words, it crushes you.

In my own process of treating it, things ebbed and flowed. For a little while, I was okay. When I wasn't, I thought I might turn inside out from the fatigue. At my lowest ebb, I ended up with an 83 TSH count (remember, normal is somewhere between .3 and ~4.5). I remember I was so exhausted that I barely made it in to see Dr. L, the Endocrinologist. She had advised me strongly that I needed to go on meds the first time she diagnosed me and at that point, my TSH level was a 14. So, when she saw 83, she was incredulous.

"How are you up and about?" she asked.
"What do you mean?" I replied.
"An 83 TSH count means you should be having trouble getting out of bed."
"Well," I was getting a bit nervous now. "Actually, I've been very busy. I've been doing a lot of running around."

Then, she said something that completely freaked me out. "With an 83 TSH count, you ought to be in a coma. Nobody walks around and does anything with this much Thyroid Stimulating Hormone in their system. This could get worse and very quickly. Your bodily systems could all shut down. You need meds. Right now."

"I still don't want to do that."

"At least, you can go on them for a few months to give your thyroid a break. Or it will burn out. You will have nothing left and you don't want to get to that point."

It's hard to describe how freaked out I was. I was barely hanging on, as it was. Moving through my days was taking every single iota of effort I could eke out of my exhausted body. The tiniest little thing took everything I had to give. And I had little left. So, I decided to trust her and try the meds.

"So, what you're saying is, I can go on them for a little while and then stop?"

"It's highly irregular, but yes, you can do that. You can wean yourself off them when your thyroid has had a rest."

"Okay," I agreed. "I'll do it."

I went on Synthroid for three months. I weaned myself off and here's why. Nothing changed. I had no more energy than I had had before. I didn't lose weight. My metabolism stayed the same as it had been. With the exception of the fact that I guess my thyroid got a little break, everything else was completely the same as it had been when I wasn't on the meds. So, my body had enough thyroid hormone, but nothing else changed. I decided that I might as well feel like crap without the meds since I still felt like the exact same form of crap with them.

It turns out that my form of hypothyroidism is the kind where my thyroid is making (just) enough Thyroid Hormone, but it's very inefficient. It's working too hard to make it. So, the pituitary gland was doing its job and pumping out more TSH to keep my thyroid on task. And the inefficiency spiral went on and on.

So, even going on the meds, made no difference in my life. What did make a difference? Grabbing my life by the balls made a difference. I had to step away from the "tie-myself-into-knots" life I had been leading. The "I work best under pressure" paradigm had to shift or I was going to burn myself to a crisp. I had to bring balance back into my life or I could have died. Here's another insidious thing about this seemingly innocuous little gland. It governs so many aspects of our bodies that we would be shocked at just how much it controls.

Here is the webmd article on the thyroid, its functions, diseases, and issues. I took this entire situation to mean that I needed to change my life. I obviously couldn't keep going the way I had been. It was impossible to sustain. So, I stepped back and changed.

In my early 20s, I'd been working a job (that I loved) but I was working 14-hour days seven days a week. I started having pains in my gut. When I finally went to the doctor, she told me that I was developing an ulcer and that if I didn't de-stress, I would be in deep trouble. I changed my ways. I stopped working so much. I took care of it and the ulcer never fully developed.

The same had to happen now. Maintaining the level of stress and activity in my life would lead to permanent shut-down. So, I walked away from much of my busy life and started on a different path. Here's the thing: for the most part, I loved and still love the vast majority of the activities that make me so busy. I could list all the things I do/have done but I will spare you the details. Suffice it to say, there are and have been plenty. But, in order to chill out, I needed to get a grip and make some choices. And then, I had to stick to them. Forever. If I didn't, I'd keep riding the same roller coaster indefinitely.

And that's the crux. These changes that need to be made aren't temporary. They aren't about temptation and willpower. You can't just resist the temptations. You need to make a permanent lifestyle change. You cannot maintain good thyroid health naturally if you are still engaged in the activities and habits that kicked your thyroid's ass to begin with.  It will not work.

In my personal tale, allow me to talk about bread. I should. not. eat. bread. Period. For whatever reason, it exacerbates my drop into the fatigue hellhole. Bread exhausts me and enough of it slams me into sleep. Sometimes, the only way I stay awake is to literally slap my own face. It's not a good way to go, for me. And yet. And yet. I still go back to eating it and have done so periodically over the last fifteen years. I love bread. I really love it and once I have that one little piece, I start making excuses for myself about why I should have the next one tomorrow. Before I know it, the yoyo cycle of quick energy boost/fatigue hellhole has run amok again. And it can take weeks or months for me to get off that particular merry-go-round. Right now, I'm off bread and have been for the last five months. I feel great! But, and this is a big but, I have to remain vigilant about what I put in my body because even the tiniest crumb will start me down the cycle. Ideally, I want to become one of those people who just doesn't eat bread. I have done that with chocolate (which I love but which I have to avoid). I haven't had chocolate in three and a half years. Every once in a while I still miss it, but it's nowhere near how much I craved it before I gave it up. Potatoes are another temptation. they sing their crispy or buttery siren song and I am lost. But I am trying, hard, to be the kind of person who just doesn't eat them. That one might just take the rest of my life to attain, but I will not give up on myself. My health is too important to do that.

So, the big decision needs to be made by you. Am I going to change my life? Can I stick with the changes that are necessary? If the answers are Yes, then go to it. If not, then I would suggest you take the time to assess and evaluate your options. This method works if you work it, but only if you work it daily and permanently.

Do you have foods/habits/activities that exhaust you? What are they? How do you handle your fatigue?

As always, if you have questions, please ask. I will either answer them or try to point you in the right direction.
Until next time, Izolda. http://izolda.info

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Weight gain. Yep, I worried about it. I started getting heavy in my teens (right around when I likely became hypothyroid. Coincidence? Don't think so). I worked out. I tried to eat well. I did all the stuff you're supposed to do to stay in shape. In my early 20s, I became a vegetarian, I regularly did aerobics. I rode my bike. You get the picture.

But still the weight piled on like I was secretly eating four slices of cheesecake a night. And no matter what I did, I could not get the weight to come back off. When I got diagnosed with the hypothyroidism (I just realized I wrote it like it's a major epidemic like, The Plague, or the Black Death and heck maybe it is), it started to make sense. It wasn't my fault the weight had piled on. My thyroid was sluggish and the weight gain was one of the major symptoms. My metabolic rate firmly sat in the toilet and refused to budge. And exercising and eating healthfully made no difference whatsoever. (And the heavy exercising made things worse by taxing my already distressed thyroid.)

Now that I knew what the problem was, I was faced with a decision. Meds or no meds (oh and another thing they don't tell you: even if you go on meds, that doesn't mean that you will lose any weight at all. And you know, if you have read any other posts here, that I chose the non-meds method.)

You have to understand, the weight gain wasn't the main reason I finally went to the doctor to figure out what the problem was (the lack of energy and a menstrual cycle that wouldn't turn off was what did me in), but it was up there. I didn't like that my body hurt. I hated some of my other symptoms, but the weight gain and the accompanying issues pressed on me as if I was doing something wrong by not taking the weight off.

That's the thing, I think. Somehow, I felt guilty for not being effective enough in my effort to control my weight and my body. To top it off, as I gained more weight, people started commenting on my appearance. "Lose some weight!" or "Why don't you get some exercise?" were just two of the milder things I heard in the street from complete strangers (of course any friend that said something like that to me would stop being a friend immediately, but that's another story). The people who took it upon themselves to "advise" me on my weight/health/appearance had no idea about my efforts to maintain or lose weight. The only thing they saw was a fat girl/woman and for some bizarre reason they felt it was within their purview to harass me about it (sometimes under the guise of "caring." One particular woman said, "You're so pretty. If only you would lose some weight.")

I am sure there are some people out there who would like nothing better than to lie around, eat cheesecake and gain weight. I am sure there are people out there who are perfectly happy with their weight (no matter their size) and who don't give a da*n about the fact that they are fat. And I'd love it if we lived in a world where people of different sizes were just that, people of different sizes. And no one would say jack to them about it. But the perception persists that if you are fat or heavy that you are only that way because you don't care enough to get off your fat butt and do something about it (and that they get to talk to you about it). Is that perception appropriate? No. Is it still prevalent? You bet.

The idea that I didn't/don't care about my health and my weight, is patently untrue. I tried. I tried, hard, to lose the weight, but with hypothyroidism, it wasn't going to happen. So, I have had to deal with the lack of energy in combination with weighing more. And here's the thing, when you weigh more, it takes even more energy/effort to do the simplest things. So, it's a double-edged sword. Not only does the hypothyroidism make you gain weight, but you also have no energy, and then because you are heavier, it takes even more of that already scant energy to accomplish just about any task. It's enough to make you want to tear your hair out. Oh wait, the hypothyroidism takes care of hair loss for you, because, yes, that's another symptom.

Here's an image of a typical hypothyroidic.
This body shape often characterizes people with hypothyroidism. Often, the person will be barrel-shaped with smaller arms and legs but with a big, rounded torso. The upper abdomen will sometimes protrude further than than the lower.

We tend to carry our weight in the middle. Often, the upper part of the belly is big while other parts of the body are well within what would be considered a normal range by the CDC. They say that the stress hormone, Cortisol can be responsible for fat that gets stored in the middle of the upper belly. (Here is more information on Cortisol: http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/cortisol-14668 and here is information on Cortisol and belly fat: http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-body-shape?page=3). This is the way I am shaped as well. Because of this, I have been asked many times when I'm due, as if I am pregnant. It's quite shocking really that people don't realize that this isn't something they ought to be asking about.

For some reason, a person's weight (or reproductive status) seems to still be a subject up for discussion.  It boggles my mind.

Regardless, what can we EZH* do about the weight gain? There are things. First and foremost, get more sleep. I don't care what you have to do. Figure out a way to get more shut-eye. First, it will help you relax and release some of the burden on your thyroid. Second, it will give your body a chance to repair itself. Third, fourth, fifth ... there are lots of reasons. It might sound counterintuitive but it's so very true. So, get more sleep.

Second, keep your exercise consistent but minimal. That means no major heart-blasting super nuclear aerobics that blow the top off your head. The most important thing you can do for your thyroid and your metabolic rate is to give it time to recharge. Big, explosive exercise will kick your metabolic rate's butt straight into that commode from above. Do a little bit of exercise every day and consider doing whatever exercise will make you calm. Raise your heart rate a little but not too much. (More on all this at a later time.)

Third, regarding your food intake. Oh boy does it matter what you eat! EZHs tend to crave fast carbs and sugar. I think we do that because we desperately need energy, at all times. It is crucial that you stop eating white sugar (and all sugar, if you can). It fools your body into thinking you have more energy than you do. Don't trust the energy you get from it. It's pulling its sucrose-y wool over your eyes. Here's another counter-intuitive idea. Eat slower foods, in general. Instead of white rice, eat brown rice. Instead of white bread, try not to eat any bread and if you must, make it the really crunchy whole grain stuff. It will take longer to digest but it will give you better long-term energy. No, it won't be the quick fix, but the quick fix just leaves you desperately burning for more quick-fixes.

And that's the crux of it. Dealing with my thyroid issues naturally is a long-term proposition. There is no quick fix. Even meds won't be a quick fix. It takes consistent, daily work. I find that it's taken a daily commitment to myself. It takes me away from other things I could be doing, but it's worth it. The changes in my exercise regimen, awareness of what and how I eat, sleep patterns, and stress levels have raised my energy, brought the weight down, and gotten me *this* close to normal range. Oh how I will celebrate when I get there.

Until next time. Izolda http://IzoldaT.com

*Exhausted Zombie Hypothyroidics

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Stress: the Thyroid's Enemy #1

Stress! It kicks all our butts. They've done studies about which countries are the most stressed out and hey the USA is close to the top of the pack (I'm shocked. Shocked, I say! Not.). Here are some numbers from the Expat Channel. A list of the four most stressful locations to move to: South Africa, USA, Australia, Southern Cyprus. According to Forbes, the most stressed out cities in the USA won't surprise us: They are (in order): Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Washington, DC. There are also studies on the most stressful jobs. 

People are out there studying stress because let's face it, it's a killer. (In case you need more proof, here's a list of scholarly work on stress and heart disease. I know I could find other ways in which stress kills, but I'm sure you get the point.) Here's an American Psychological Association study that links stress directly with depression and obesity. "And respondents who reported higher levels of stress were more likely to be obese or suffering from depression." (This is from a yahoo article about the study.) Another shocker: stress leaves you depressed and makes you gain weight.

Here's the thing: Two of the most prominent symptoms of hypothyroidism: (unexplained) weight gain and depression. So far, no studies have confirmed the direct link between stress and hypothyroidism. But, I'm here to tell you that I think it just hasn't been discovered yet. In my personal tale, the only time I ever go deeply hypothyroid is during stressful times in my life. At my most stressed out, my TSH level hit an all-time high 83 (remember normal range is somewhere around 0.1-~4.5).

I believe stress kicks the butts of people with the potential to become hypothyroid straight into the desolate land of the Exhausted, Zombie Hypothyroidics (yes, I know it's not a real word, and no I don't care, because I've written "people with hypothyroidism" way too many times already. In fact, I think from here on in, I will refer to us as EZHs.)

EZHs tend to gain weight easily and they have a hard time taking it off regardless of their exercise level or healthy eating habits. In my opinion, a lot of exercise (depending on the type you choose to do), will lower a EZH's metabolic rate even further. That will lead to less energy and more weight gain. Talk about irony... So, even when you do all the right things, if you are a EZH, you might just be making yourself worse, rather than better.

For example, they say that we should get 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise five times a week for optimal health (Here's the CDC list of recommendations on that). Or they want an hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise a week. But, and this is a big "but," intense aerobic exercise when the thyroid is already sluggish, makes the thyroid go into a tale spin (at least it does to mine and I don't know about studies on that so this is my opinion, here). Depending on what's causing your pituitary to pump out TSH (testing for Thyroid Stimulating Hormone [TSH] levels is the usual way medical professionals first test you for hypothyroidism and often what the diagnosis is then based on), you could be doing yourself damage by keeping up with a lot of exercise if you are an EZH. 

What's good for the goose, isn't necessarily good for the gander, here. EZHs need to look at what they are doing to raise their heart rate extremely carefully. Yes, we all need to exercise our hearts and our entire cardiovascular systems. No question. But, EZHs need to monitor themselves and not do too much (and that is going to be based on the individual) because I believe they will knock themselves further down the EZH Hole of Doom.

The same goes for the food we eat. We are told: eat dark, leafy greens. Yes! Let's do that. Let's eat lots of spinach. If you are an EZH, however, you need to watch your spinach intake. Spinach is a goitrogen. It contains substances that interfere with the production of thyroid hormones. Read more on foods to eat or not to eat, here. So, while regular people can and ought to eat spinach, EZHs might want to be wary of it. And the same can be said for other foods that regular people can and ought to eat. More on that later.

So, when EZHs are stressed or have gained weight or are depressed, we might reach out to exercise to help with that. We might start eating those dark, leafy greens. After all, that's what we're told to do. But, those very things can make things worse for us. So, then, we need to figure out what we can do.

First and foremost, Deal. With. The Stress. Alleviate what you can and try to handle what you can't. And breathe. Keep coming back to your breath when you start to feel like you are in that never ending loop of craptastic stress. Your breath can calm you down and get your nerves and stress levels under control. So, next time you find yourself in that "Crap! I'm perpetually reenacting the Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader fight scene from the end of "The Empire Strikes Back," (You know. It's the one where Vader tosses too many things at Luke and Luke just ends up flailing and failing.) just stop and take three, full, deep breaths. Stand or sit still for a minute and just breathe. You will feel a trickle of your own power and (dare I say it) sanity, return. That will alleviate some of the immediate pressure on your thyroid and your adrenals and that will help you take the reins again more calmly. Then, you can take this opportunity to take a stand for your own health, to lay claim to your own well being.

Take the power into your own hands to look at what you and your body need. It's incredibly empowering and can also be really frightening to stand up and take our own health in hand. I'm not saying ignore your medical professionals. I'm saying work with them. I'm saying educate yourself on the literature. I'm saying check in, really check in with your body. No one, and I mean no one, knows your body better than you. You live in it every day and you know your aches, your pains, your issues, your victories, your everything better than anyone else on the planet can possibly know. The thing is that sometimes, exactly because we live only in our own bodies, we start accepting our aches, pains, and issues as normal. This is my life, we might think, and this pain/pressure/fatigue, etc. is just how it is. 

Maybe other people experience it the same way and maybe they don't, but it doesn't matter. Your pain is your pain and your thyroid is your thyroid and ultimately, the person responsible for the state of your health is you. The doctors, the medical professionals, physical therapists, nurses, acupuncturists, faith healers, whatever - they can tell you the diagnosis, they can prescribe the meds, they can lay out your options, they can suggest what you should do. They can even tell you strongly. But ultimately, the decision on whether or not to follow the advice, take the meds, go on the regimen, get the treatment, stop eating high-fat food, stop eating sugar, start eating carrots, start exercising, read up on your condition, or do none of the above? It rests with you.

So what to do? I'm going to ask you to sit down, right now, and make a list. Write down the things that you enjoy doing, the things that relax you. Are they: reading? Walking? Listening to or making music? Seeing a movie? Meditating? Write them all down. Make the list as comprehensive as you can. Write down anything you can think of that makes you feel peaceful and relaxed. 

Are watching television, surfing the internet, or drinking alcohol on the list? If so, those are the three biggies, I would advise against doing. They all get you out of your body and what you need to do when trying to do things naturally is be absolutely in your body so you can note and acknowledge (and perhaps act on) your status and any changes. (If you want to share some of your relaxation activities, please comment here and let me know. I'd love to see them.)

Once you have your list, start choosing one or perhaps two to do every day. Do only what you can. Remember, you don't ever want to put unnecessary pressure on yourself or your thyroid. Take it slowly. Start small. If you only spend two minutes dancing like a crazed marionette in your living room (one of my relaxing rituals), you will reap incredible benefits by opening the steam valve, even a little. (More on opening the steam valve at later date.) Do the things that will help you relax and remove some of the stress on your thyroid. It will thank you. Mine has thanked me by coming down to a TSH level of only 4.79. I am this close, .04, from being in the normal range. And I'm going to keep working on getting it completely back to being smack dab in the middle of that range. It's more work but it's worth it.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

How I've Been Treating My Hypothyroidism: Yoga is One Way

(When last we met)

I had my diagnosis and had just gotten zinged with just enough energy to start my own campaign toward health. Since I had some energy, I was going to strike while the iron was hot!

Here's one thing they don't tell you about hypothyroidism. If it's bad enough, it might make the soreness you get from playing professional football look like you've been napping on bales of cotton candy - all day, every day (not dissing athletes, I promise. I'm just trying to make a point). Add to that the utter lack of energy to get your body moving to dispel the soreness and you have a potent combination.

The intense bone-deep aching in pretty much every part of your body just doesn't go away. I had been hurting like this, for years. I figured that was the way things were with me. My mom had (and has) similar issues with pain, and I thought it was my lot in life.

Imagine my surprise when I researched hypothyroidism and determined that the high levels of pain I experienced constantly were a symptom of my sluggish thyroid. I couldn't recall a time when I wasn't in pain. My back, legs, neck, arms, and shoulders, muscles, joints, tendons, pretty much everything hurt, all the time. And again, before I was diagnosed, I had lived with it for so long that I simply never gave thought to the fact that it might be something I could alleviate.

So now, I went into major research mode. I devoured everything I could find out. The symptoms, the signs, the treatments, the therapies - that knowledge became my heart's desire. In one book, after I read the depressing list of symptoms yet again (of which I experienced pretty much all), the author suggested a course of treatment that included a daily yoga practice.

"Yoga, huh." I thought. Sure, I'd heard of yoga. My mother had been a practitioner when we lived in Moldova in the former Soviet Union. I remembered seeing her lie on her belly and then lift her legs and a healthy chunk of her torso off the ground where she balanced seemingly effortlessly. I had thought it beautiful but it did not hold my interest. Instead, I chose aerobics and Tai Chi (more on Tai Chi in a later post). I had studied Tai Chi for a few years but my practice of Tai Chi had lain dormant for some time. Aerobics were my exercise of choice. And, I did aerobics (through VHS tapes made by Kathy Smith) every single day. (It turns out that aerobics were exactly what I *shouldn't* have been doing, but that's for a later post as well.)

So, yoga. YOGA! I did some research and purchased a Yoga VHS tape. You want to talk sore?? I hadn't know from sore. I thought I'd been in pain before I started doing it. Boy did I get a rude awakening. The main difference between aerobics (which I was used to doing) and yoga (which I obviously wasn't) was that in aerobics, I moved quickly but hardly ever consciously. The yoga tape, on the other hand, showed me a very different method. Doing the tape required slow, deliberate, and conscious movement. And the instructor didn't let you get away with *anything*. She constantly gave cues to keep your legs aligned, or your arms straight, or whatever was necessary in the asana (or pose). And you did everything, glacially. So, one asana held, meant resigning myself to straining, shaking muscles that made me want to die.

The first weeks my stiff, sore body begged me to quit, but I persevered. I kept with it and eventually (read about six months), I improved to the point that I was able to get through the tape without breaking down and weeping bitter tears onto my yoga mat. And, my muscles felt better. I wasn't in as much pain! (Here's the kicker, though. You lose any advances you make in yoga, and in feeling better, if you stop doing it for even a few days. So, once you start, you pretty much have to keep it going consistently. I believe there is some research on hypothyroidism and muscle tone [with slow build and easy loss] but I can't find the citations. Anytime, I've stopped for any length of time, I've paid the price, big time. This seems to hold more true for people with hypothyroidism than for others. Here's Mayo Clinic's list of symptoms)

Although I had left aerobics behind and embraced yoga, my numbers failed to improve a whole bunch. I hovered around a 14 TSH even though I was now popping kelp supplements with the zeal of an addict, and I had cut out spinach, broccoli and my beloved cauliflower. I also radically reduced tofu, another thyroid inhibitor (which made me cry because I *love* tofu).

So, I did more research and found out that asana that open your throat and chest are good for stimulating the thyroid. Okay. I bought my first yoga book and looked up any and all asana that worked that area of the body.

I will get much more into the asana I use and how to do them in a later post, but I wanted to give you at least a couple to review. The Yoga Journal has a great visual dictionary about asana and they have broken things down into their anatomical focal points. Here are their recommendations for asana to affect the thyroid. http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/finder/anatomical_focus/thyroid

I am not sure agree with all of them, and certainly a good few them are likely too challenging for a beginner.

(And before we go further, please note: pretty much anything you want to do that opens your throat and allows you to spend some time breathing and allowing the airflow to massage your thyroid is great.  [By the way, I know the airflow isn't actually directly massaging the thyroid. The stretch of the area combined with breathing seems to impact it and that's the best way I can describe it.] Something I do when I need a pick-me-up: I sit back in my chair, I look up, and I breathe deeply. I allow my eyes to softly gaze up at the ceiling as I stretch the area around my throat. Again, don't let the back of your neck pinch. Keep it long and relaxed. Thirty seconds to a minute, or ten long, full breaths ought to do.)

Now, I'm going to list a few asana that have worked beautifully for me, but first, a note. Opening your chest and your throat requires bending your back. However, bending your back does not mean pinching any of the vertebra. When you bend your back in any asana, you want to maintain a feeling of elongation in the entire back (which might mean you don't bend as far but that's okay). So, while you are doing a back bend that looks suspiciously like you have transformed into a pretzel, you still want to protect the back by keeping everything as long and relaxed as possible.

To me, yoga is about proper alignment, balance, strength, flexibility, and doing only what you can on that day. I encourage all my students to progress gently. Some days, you will rock a full pose, but on other days, you might want to go only half way. Reserve judgment about all of it. It's where you are today that matters. If you focus on what you are doing right now, in this moment, whether it's yoga or brain surgery or flying a spaceship, concentrate on that and not on what you could be doing better/faster/more.

So, here are a couple that have helped me a great deal. Remember. Start slowly. Do only what you can. Listen to your body. If it even thinks about hurting, stop. But if you do a little (with comfort and conscious awareness) you will be surprised at how well you do, eventually.

Sphinx Pose: (Yoga Journal Description: http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/2464#)
(Attribution: Creative Commons)
This is one of the first back bend poses you do when you start practicing yoga. The pose allows an opening of the chest and throat without creating much tension. To do the pose, lie on your belly with your legs flat and touching each other. The tops of your feet should be on the floor. (Note: for beginners keeping your legs flat and touching like that can be challenging. Do the best you can, but remember not to do it until it hurts. Start small.) Bend your elbows, set them directly under your shoulders and hug them into your sides. Inhale and left your torso and head off the ground. You will do a mild backbend. Keep the back of your neck elongated and press your hands into the floor as you gently open your throat.

The direction to open your throat might sound strange. It's really about focusing on the throat and imagining that it is bigger than it is. See you if you can become aware of the muscle bands around the area of your throat. They might be tight so try to relax yet engage them. Feel the stretch. Now, gently lift your lower belly off the floor by pulling the muscles of your lower belly toward your spine. Keep your eyes soft and looking forward and little above eye level. Concentrate on the breaths. Make them full and long. And see if you can feel the sort of internal massage your throat/thyroid gets while the air progresses over the area, while the area is being engaged/stretched. After five or ten breaths (whichever works for you when you try it), lower yourself back down on an exhale.

[Note: Here is a terrific book that takes you through yoga in a way that makes real sense. It's a progressive eight-week program that starts small and lets you move on your own terms and in your own time. It's Rodney Yee's "Moving Toward Balance." 
http://www.amazon.com/Moving-Toward-Balance-Weeks-Rodney/dp/0875969216/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340835870&sr=8-1&keywords=moving+toward+balance (I'm giving the amazon.com link for it because there is a great description and comprehensive reviews.)]. I love this book. You don't need to do everything in it. You don't need to complete it in eight weeks. Again, do what works for you.]

Cobra Pose (Yoga Journal Description: http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/471#) is one of the best poses for thyroid stimulation. Fair warning: you might cough after doing it. If you look at the image, you will note that the back is pretty well bent in the full pose. At first, you might not be able to get all the way there. Please, don't hurt yourself trying. It is a challenging pose. To start, lie on your belly, and put your hands directly under your shoulders. With your eyes moving first, look up and allow your head to follow as you curve your neck and elongate your throat. Remember, keep aware of the back of your neck. You want it long and relaxed rather than pinched. Support your torso with your hands by pressing them into the floor. If you can straighten your arms, and move fully into the pose, that is terrific. If you are not there today, then go only as far as you can without hurting yourself. Be sure to keep the eyes looking upward and elongate your throat. Breathe five to ten deep, full breathes. When you are finished, lower yourself slowly back onto the mat on an exhalation. Cobra will leave you buzzing and stimulated and once again, you don't want to do it for too much or too long. Oh, and do Child's Pose after any backbend poses to release the spine and give you a cooling stretch in the opposite direction.

Hypothyroidism is a tricky bugger. Just when you think you've found the panacea, you find out that too much of a good thing really will kick your butt. That's exactly what happened to me. I threw myself into yoga (the physical aspects of it) but I didn't do much about how busy and tense I was. And even the busy-ness of my new mission of getting myself healthy took enough out of me that my thyroid remained sluggish and got a lot worse.

That's another thing they don't tell you. With hypothyroidism, the thing that will kick your butt? Staying (too) busy, active, and stressed.

Next time: Stress: the root of thyroid evil!


Please Note

Welcome to Natural Thyroid. This blog details my process of treating my hypothyroidism naturally. Please note: I am not telling you *to* do or not to do anything with my posts (remember to work with your medical practitioner, whether it's an allopath or an alternative medicine practitioner).