My first panic attack happened in September 2015, on one of the hottest days at a popular beach spot in San Francisco. I never will forget that sensation of being so scared, feeling incredibly unwell, my heart racing and being terrified that my life was going to end. That was the beginning of many panic attacks.
My anxiety has stopped me from doing many things to enjoy with my family and son.
Shortly after, I sought treatment, but instead of finding the root cause, the doctors handed me Xanax and put me on antidepressants — classic band-aid remedies for people suffering with thyroid issues. Specifically, I’ve got hypothyroidism and the related autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s disease.
My journey to my thyroid healing only started at age 40, but my struggles began when I was 14 years old when diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. It seemed to have happened after I got my first menstrual cycle. My eyes were protruding a little bit, my hands were always clammy, increase appetite, but didn’t gain weight, high energy, but always felt tired, couldn’t concentrate in school – my mind would be racing. It was actually a family member that told my mom that something seems off and I should see a doctor. The pediatrician felt my hands and made me look from side to side by only moving my eyes, and felt my throat looking for a goiter, then suggested I get some blood work done to see if had thyroid issues.
I was taking up to nine tablets day of anti-thyroid medications for three years. The doctor wanted to do kill my thyroid with radiation. Luckily, my mom was my advocate and suggested giving it some time and prayers, then my thyroid shifted back into range with no medicine… or so I thought. I still had the symptoms of clammy hands and little bit anxious. I also developed a gut issue problem where I couldn’t hold down my food once I swallowed. If I were to get excited or not I would need to vomit for no apparent reason. I got an endoscopy to look at my digestive tract and they just said something about my indigestion pump not moving fast enough, so I was given some pills for 6 months and no vomiting happened within that time, but my stomach was always really sensitive. I would get yearly routine thyroid blood tests and it always came back “normal” — I believed them when they said everything was looking good and I never questioned what thyroid tests they were doing. I went through college and a nursing graduate program with symptoms of irritability, mood swings, stomach issues, heat intolerance, and so on. Everyone would say you’re just stressed out and you self-doubt yourself, you’ve always worried and had anxiety. So once again I brushed it off and feeling alone.
Fast forward to May 2014 — I was 35, my son was just born. Three months later I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism/Hashimoto’s (but nobody told me about the latter) until I saw a Functional Medicine Doctor this past year to tell me to get a full thyroid panel. I got access to my all my labs that were done and looked back, and saw that the first endocrinologist tested my thyroid antibodies, but never told me that I had Hashimoto’s. That next year I would experience my first panic attack. I was living with two conditions, but only trying to focus on one….barely. When I was pregnant I always reminded the OBGYN to test my thyroid levels. She always said everything is fine. But the last month of pregnancy they said I need to go on some thyroid meds. At that point still weren’t discussing my numbers. I just trusted them.
I was put on meds only for 30 days before I gave birth. As I was unable to breastfeed, I knew I should be getting my menstrual cycle back after a few months, so I asked to get my thyroid levels checked. My results came back and were out of range. I had hypothyroidism and ironically got my menstrual cycle that same day after getting my results, but my cycles have never been the same since.
For the last two years, I have mid-cycle spotting and sometimes it’s feels I have cycle for the whole month. I get a lot of anxiety before I get my period and sometimes after. Doctors haven’t really solved my mid-cycle spotting, but did do an endometrial biopsy and ultrasound to make sure nothing serious was going on.
The last health care practitioner put me on birth control and that’s when everything went haywire; my anxiety increased and my thyroid levels were way off. Nobody educated me about how I should properly to take my medicine or that maybe there should be an increase in thyroid meds if on birth control.
It was just another band-aid on a problem. They never looked at me as a whole person. I was determined to find another endocrinologists, but that was an emotional rollercoaster to say the least. My first endocrinologist back in 2014 put me on the T4 medication Levothyroxine, which is considered “the golden standard” thyroid medication. I saw him only for 6 months since he was retiring. He said “you’re fine and you can see your Primary Care Physician” to manage my thyroid care.
I didn’t think my symptoms of anxiety such as panic attacks, “butterflies in my stomach,” constant urination, irritability, stomach issues, irregular periods could be related to my Hashimoto’s or my thyroid medication since all the doctors would always tell me that my labs were “normal,” or your levels are not that off. My favorite answer is that “most women have psychological issues like anxiety or depression as they get older,” so it couldn’t be my thyroid, and it’s “all in my head,” but isn’t my head connected to my body?
Overall, I saw 13 healthcare practitioners to help make me feel better. It was really a Functional Medicine Doctor that found comfort in providing and educating me in my care. When I started searching for an endocrinologists it would take months to see them as a new patient, but here you were suffering, but they couldn’t see you for months.
My on going healing process: I found endocrinologist to switch my medications and it seems to be helping. I work with a therapist, which I recommend everyone to see. I also have been working with a hypnotherapists. These are both valuable assets to have as part of your healthcare team. Like all healthcare practitioners, find someone you connect with and you are both communicating with each other, not just you and not just them talking the whole time. Finding a functional medicine doctor /integrative medicine doctor they can bring western and eastern medicine together to have more time to listen to your needs and can support you in so many ways. Lifestyle and diet changes are key to finding what helps for your body and mind to say healthy. Remember that sometimes one thing you’re trying to solve is connected to something else. For example, adrenals, thyroid, sex hormones, gut, and liver are all connected. So if you’re having gut issues it can cause your thyroid problems. Last but not least, mediation, journaling, and gratitude and prayers to the universe, God, space, the galaxy, whatever you like to call it, but give it thanks and appreciation and it will help guide you to find peace in the midst of chaos or stressful situations.
This journey is not easy and it takes time, practice, and money. Every time my anxiety would creep up, I would ask my husband “will I be okay?” and the feeling always passes. Sometimes it was like my “fight or flight” hormone was always on because it always sense danger. Since Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition that makes antibodies attack the thyroid gland, you will have to find that balance to love and nourish your body and take control back.
We will work together in finding your balance and get your mind and body back. You’ll receive tools so you can be well-informed, educated and powerful to speak to your healthcare practitioner and let them know what you want and listen – you’re not just labs. Don’t judge yourself, you’re strong and doing amazing. We will get there to where you want to be!