Can’t earn it

Advent 3

I want to give you an update on my health, and some really deep thoughts that I’ve had about it. I’ll start with a potted history and bring you up to date with where I am now. Then will come the deep thoughts 🙂

In 2016 I decided that I was really sick of feeling tired all the time and I was going to look into my health in a big way and get things going well. I checked for intolerances (and found salicylates) and allergies (sulphites), I went to a specialist about my sinuses and dealt with them so that they are generally clear. And I still wasn’t feeling that much better.

My wonderful and awesome GP decided to give me a whole slew of blood tests and we found that my thyroid was overactive. That put a whole new machine into operation. A run of specialist appointments and a medication that brought it under control. And I went from dragging myself through each day, hardly able to move, feeling stressed and burnt out and fatigued and awful to feeling pretty much normal.

I was excited to be feeling well again. I was told that the thyroid usually settles itself down after a couple of months and then I’d be OK. But my thyroid didn’t settle. It remained slightly overactive even after eighteen months. It was time to do something definitive.

The definitive option we decided on was radioactive iodine therapy. There was a chance with this therapy that we could kill off the thyroid gland just enough but not too much. No more overactivity but it wouldn’t be under active either. And I could have the correct amount of thyroid hormone in my blood stream without any medications.

So we did that back in June of this year. When I went to the specialist afterwards she was confident that we’d done what we needed to do. Everything would be good. A couple more blood tests to check levels and then only one test needed each year to keep a check on things.

All good, right? Turns out, not so much.

Over the last few months, very gradually, I’ve been feeling worse and worse. My energy has gone down. My weight has gone up. And it’s all been very gradual. I’ve been a bit like that frog in the pot of slowly boiling water.

I tried to do something about how I felt. I kept exercising. Hoping that exercise would speed up my metabolism, and build my fitness, and help me out. I listened to uplifting music and read uplifting books to help with the dullness and the depression I was feeling. I prayed and I made sure I rested once a week and I paced myself to keep within my energy levels. I found jobs that I could do to keep the businesses moving forward even though I wasn’t feeling energetic, and I put systems in place so that I wouldn’t forget the important things that I needed to do. But I kept feeling worse.

My biggest fear was that I’d have the last blood test, go to the doctor and be told, ‘your thyroid levels are low, but not low enough for medication, you just need to try harder.’ So instead of getting a blood test, I just tried harder and harder.

Finally the blood test day turned up. I joked with the pathologist that I’d be finished with this one. That this would be my last test for a year. I was all good.

I was seriously in denial. I don’t know how I could have even thought I was good. But I did. I thought that this low energy level was how life was going to be. And that I should be grateful for it.

The next day my specialist rang in a panic. She told me that I had almost no thyroid hormone left in my body. That she was seriously worried about my brain function. That I shouldn’t drive a car. That she didn’t know how I was standing upright. And she faxed a prescription through to the pharmacy closest to me so I could start taking medication straight away. I was to come and see her the next morning so she could get me on some faster acting stuff as well.

If you want detail, I had no measurable T3 and very, very little T4. And my TSH which should be lower than 4 was at 98. I was quite literally slowing to a stop.

When I took my first fast acting T3 tablet it was like giving a drooping plant water. My body lapped it up. Within half an hour I felt human again. The headache I didn’t really know I had, left. My brain cleared. My eyes could see better. My muscles worked again. My sore throat was no longer sore. I could walk, I could dance, I felt like singing. I suddenly knew how sick I had been.

And how foolish I had been to think I could fix this problem by myself.

My body needed T3. No amount of exercise, diet, or rest would have been able to fix that. My thyroid gland is dead, it is not making what I need. And without T3 I was also dying.

Once I was given what I needed, I immediately came back to life.

Now, you all know I’m a Christian, and this situation is the best illustration I have for what I believe about salvation.

We might think that we can work our way into being good people. That we can somehow build up to being good enough for God. So we do good things, we go the extra mile, we treat people as we’d like to be treated. And all of these things are good things.

But if we keep doing that we will wear ourselves out, and believe me, we will die. Because good works are not what our souls need. “Spirituality” is not what our souls need. We can’t do it for ourselves. We do not have the capacity to bridge this gap, to solve this problem. And it doesn’t matter how hard we try, we will die trying.

We need Jesus. He has paid the price for us to get us to God. He is the righteousness we can’t get for ourselves. He is our spiritual T3.

With Jesus we will live.

Without Jesus we will die.

It’s as simple, and as difficult as that.

It’s not that our good works are bad. They are good. But they are not what we need. And they will never be enough.

If you are a Christian like me, then praise God with me that Jesus has bridged the gap and given us what we need.

If you are not, let me tell you, God loves you. He wants you to know him. And he’s given his all to give you all that you need to get to him. You will die without him, you won’t die if you depend on him. Feel free to ask me about it. I’d love to tell you.

Or get yourself along to a church this Christmas. You will give any Christian the best Christmas present in the world by asking them about Jesus.

So where am I now? I’m at the beginning of another long process. My thyroid levels will stabilise over the next couple of years. I will be taking thyroid hormone for the rest of my life and right now I’m very happy with that outcome. It will mean that my levels stay just right – not too high, and not too low. I’ve tried both, I don’t like either. I want some stability now and this is the way to get it.

And I look forward to what I’ll be able to do fitness-wise, business-wise, life-wise with a body that’s working like it should. I’m excited. It’s lovely to have energy again.

A blessed and happy Christmas to you all.

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Grateful on International Women’s Day

This is me and my colleagues today. I’m centre back with the dark glasses 🙂

I’m sick. Not that you’d know it to look at me.

I’ll explain.

In May 2016 I was diagnosed with Graves Disease. Good name that. Tells you exactly where you’re going.

Graves is an autoimmune disease where your body develops antibodies that attack your thyroid. But they attack it in such a way that it makes your thyroid work harder.

This affects everything. It makes your heart beat faster, your digestive system work faster, your body heat up more, and so on, and so on.

It means you can’t rest. You can be sitting on the couch, or lying in bed and even sleeping, but your heart is beating like you’re running a race. So you become very tired.

And you eat like there’s no tomorrow because your body is using up everything that you put into it.

And your brain! It starts working faster too. You become anxious about everything and you can’t stop working because it all needs to be done and it-all-needs-to-be-done-right-now.

You start to feel like you’re going crazy.

So like I said, I was diagnosed with this in May of 2016, and I was immediately given medicine, and the symptoms went away (though I personally had trouble stopping all the overeating). And you simply wouldn’t know I was sick.

But the antibodies are still there. So every six weeks or so I have a blood test to make sure that my thyroid hormone levels are within the limits they should be, and every three or so months we check on the antibodies to see if they’ve decreased. That’s another blood test.

My antibodies have decreased, but not quite enough, so we’ll be doing some fun stuff to fix the problem ‘definitively’ as my specialist says. Basically kill my thyroid gland. But you’ll hear about that later in the year.

What I wanted to say today was that it hit me how blessed I am to be in a country where the government is paying for all the blood tests I’ve had. Where I can go into a clean and safe place, and I have the choice of pathology centres so I can choose one that is convenient for whatever I happen to be doing that day, and I can have my blood taken quickly and easily (and mostly painlessly). The blood goes to a trustworthy laboratory and the results are available within the week.

All this is just amazing. A blessing beyond compare.

So yes, I’m sick. But I’m so grateful for the blessings in this country that mean that my illness is no more than a slight inconvenience.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world could work together to provide this kind of healthcare and safety to others? To the poor and needy?

On this International Women’s Day I am so aware of the women who can’t give birth safely, who can’t feed their families, who work themselves to the bone from age 5 or so to feed their parents and siblings, who have to carry water for kilometres in order to drink and cook with it. In short, all those who are so much worse off than me.

I encourage you today, if you can, to give a little – a few dollars, a coffee’s worth, to help some women somewhere in the world, and we’ll see if we can’t make this world a better place.

The same 24 hours, but…

Have you ever been told by someone, probably someone on the great interweb, that we all have the same 24 hours in the day and that if you just woke up an hour earlier, or went to bed an hour later, or somehow jigged your life so that you weren’t wasting precious minutes, you could actually achieve your dreams?

I remember watching a video to that effect, it pictured a guy practicing piano in his basement at night when he could otherwise have been watching TV or sleeping or something, and in the end he had all his friends over for a little concert and it was a delightful scene.

I watch these things and I get all excited and I want to change my life to fit more of my dream in. I become determined to just squeeze a little more into life, to sleep a little less or to somehow rearrange things so I can fit more in. But I have decided lately that the whole premise  is not true. We don’t all have the same 24 hours. It’s a lie. Or maybe a half-truth.

I’ve been in a strange place lately, one that I’ve never been in before. I’ve had days when I’m energetic and days when I’m totally beat. Maybe because one day the thyroid medications are working at the correct level and the next they are not. I’ve had days when dragging myself up the stairs to my office feels like climbing Mt Everest and other days when I can run up the stairs with barely a second thought.

One day I’ll be feeling amazing, and the next, I’m lying on the couch unable to think.

Now I’m no stranger to having low energy levels. And I think I can remember some other times in my life when I’ve had great energy – like when I was doing weight training twice a week and walking for an hour every other day. Or the time when I decided to take up baking as a hobby, deliberately messing up the kitchen and then cleaning it again. But I’ve never had the energy available to me change this quickly before and it’s given me new insight.

Let’s go back.

When I was diagnosed with my thyroid disorder I was living a normal life. I was teaching and researching at uni three days a week, tutoring on a fourth, writing (or trying to write) on the fifth. I wasn’t doing anything extreme but I was tired. So tired. And I wasn’t sure why. I was trying to exercise but failing. I was trying to eat well but failing. I was trying to follow my writing dream and I was managing that some of the time. But I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t fit much into my days. Why cooking a nourishing meal just was too difficult to fit in. Why it was so hard for me to get even half an hour’s writing in.

But none of these problems were my fault. It wasn’t that I was eating badly or not looking after myself, my energy levels were low because I was sick. Not because I was unfit, or not trying hard enough, or not believing in myself enough. No. I was struggling because there was something wrong and I needed to find out what it was.

Once I started taking the blessed and wonderful tablets my world changed. Suddenly I could fit a whole heap more into my day. It was not that I stayed up later or got up earlier, though occasionally I did, but that I could do more with the hours I was awake. I would think,‘Maybe I’ll make muffins’ and then I’d make muffins. I would think ‘If I just whipped around the bathroom it would look so much cleaner and I’ll be less frustrated’ and then I’d pull out the cleaning equipment and ten minutes later the bathroom would be clean. It was amazing!

Then I had to have some surgery. Nothing big, but it required a general anaesthetic. And suddenly I was back at square one again. I still went to work, cooked, tidied, washed, did everything that I had to do. But there was no margin in my energy. I would be more likely to sit on the couch for just that little bit longer, to surf Facebook just that little bit more. I couldn’t think enough to write, I had to let myself recover.

I’m starting to feel better now, it’s been over three weeks since the surgery and I’m healing, I think. I hesitate to suggest that I’m better, even to myself, maybe I’ll relapse again tomorrow, or do too much, and it will be ‘tired, so tired’ again. I’m definitely not at those high levels of energy yet.

And these fluctuating energy levels have taught me something. We might all have the same 24 hours in the day, but we don’t all have the same amount of energy, and therefore we don’t have the same amount of useful time. When I am energetic, the amount I can get done in a day increases dramatically. My dreams are within my reach. I can put in ‘just a little bit more’ and I can accomplish so much. But when I am tired and my body is unwell I can’t perform in the same way. Everything I do takes just that little bit longer and I take longer to recover from any exertion.

Therefore, I contend that we don’t all have the same 24 hours. We cannot judge ourselves by what someone else accomplishes each day. That person might be one blessed with huge amounts of energy and they will be able to achieve heaps. But we must not call ourselves lazy or undisciplined just because we achieve less in the same amount of time. There may be a reason (like thyroid disorders, depression, glandular fever, or the horrible CFS) for your tiredness, but I also think that everyone is just made differently and each of us has different energy reserves. A bit like spoon theory I guess, spoon theory even for people not struggling with a chronic illness. (Can I say that?)

Many of us want to achieve our goals and are working towards them as best we can. We’re not going to get further faster by beating ourselves up because we’re not as far along as Betty-Sue or Gregory. Maybe we all need to accept ourselves and each other just a little bit more. Stop calling ourselves lazy and start giving ourselves a break.

Remember you’re a human being, not a human doing. You are valuable just because of who you are. Rest in that and enjoy doing what you can. And I’ll try to do that too and be patient with myself as I heal.

Dr Google and I

Well, it’s been a few months. It must be time to discuss my health again.

Last week I went to the doctor to discuss, well, I wasn’t really sure what I needed to discuss. I needed a specialist repeat referral for my nose issues (nasal polyps) and I also just generally felt like things weren’t quite right. I had had a ticking eye for about, oh I don’t know, maybe four months. Yes, pretty much straight. And I was tired. Still. Despite changing my diet and everything. There were other fairly vague things too – headaches, other ticking muscles, those sort of things. I hate to call them symptoms, they were too small and too vague and I wondered if I was just making it all up.

The doc said that I should go and get a blood test to check mineral levels for the ticking eye and ‘while we’re making a hole in your arm’ to just generally check everything. ‘All the over forty stuff’. Great, I thought, an old people blood test.

I had to fast breakfast. They were checking my sugar levels. I hate fasting. It’s one of those spiritual disciplines I’ve never got into. But I managed and they made that hole in my arm and then I bought a coffee and a croissant, and feeling all Parisian I got on with my day.

The next day was a rather huge teaching day. Students in a lab all day.  During my lunch break I received a phone call from the doctors surgery. I had abnormal thyroid levels, the nurse told me, and the doctor wanted to see me next week.

I was floored. Totally. I had been so sure that nothing was wrong, and then to be told that I had a thyroid problem was totally out of left field.

At the end of the day I went home and Dr Google and I went to work. I looked up all the thyroid symptoms and decided that as I was tired all the time and wore five layers in the cold and  had a bit of a slower bowel than most and had been putting on weight all year I had to be hypothoridic. Hypo means low levels. Symptoms of low thyroid levels include constipation, lethargy, depression, cold sensitivity, and weight gain.

I talked to a few people about it. ‘I must have low levels’ I said. ‘It’s the only thing that makes sense’. I had almost a week before seeing the doctor and I worked myself into quite a state. I got to the point where I decided that the worst thing I could be told is that nothing was wrong. I was so hopeful that fixing these ‘low levels’ would fix all my problems.

I found that the treatment for hypothyroidism is taking hormone tablets and that no surgery would be needed. I thought this could be the silver bullet – making me slimmer, more energetic, and more easily able to get through my day.

‘Am I too excited?’ I wrote in my journal, ‘What if nothing changes?’

I bet you can tell what happened next.

When I finally got to the doctor after almost a week of stressing she told me that I had hyperthyroidism. High levels of thyroid hormone. Dr Google and I got it completely wrong.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include anxiety and a need to keep on going, to keep moving. I can see that so clearly as I look back over my journal entries.

I wrote things like:

It’s 930 am and … I haven’t done the budget yet. I haven’t done much at all. I just put the shirts on to wash and I’ve written a list and eaten breakfast and read the bible and chatted to Moz.

It’s now after lunch and I’ve realised that I need to live in the moment. You see, the doc may or may not have an answer that will improve my life but today I need to live for today. Today I am tired, I have a headache and a sore throat. … I can’t sit here in dreamland planning what my life is going to be like. I don’t even know if the blood test said that my levels were high or low.

So today I’ll continue to potter around. Might watch more TV, might read, might sleep. Recovery is the name of the game. … I ‘m pretty pleased though – I’ve done most of the washing, a little grocery shopping, cleaned the kitchen.

So instead of depression, anxiety. Instead of lethargy, exhaustion. Then there’s increased appetite (which for most people is coupled with weight loss but I seem to be one of the lucky 10% who gain weight instead). The body just generally speeds up and there’s a little risk of death by heart attack – I’m glad I finally listened to the messages my body was trying to tell me.

Still, there is no great drama. I take a nasty drug (that could do horrible things to me but I’ve decided it won’t) and in a few weeks or months I’ll probably start feeling better! The thyroid hormones are so important to body function that the body stores them just in case you start running low. So I need to use up some of the stores before I start to come good.

But I think I’m already feeling the effects of having this dealt with. The anxiety has started to drop. I’ve become more able to relax when I’m relaxing, and I felt a heap more energetic during my work days last week.

I have also become aware of some symptoms that I managed to completely overlook before. My heart pounds regularly like I’ve been running up a hill, but without the hill. I had just ignored that before. There are other things too – I can bore you with the details in a private message if you like!

I’m glad that I have the thyroid to blame for my lack of mindfulness. And I am so glad that I got checked out. And so grateful that I live in a place where I can get easy access to proper treatment.

It took a bit of processing, like about five days of constant processing, to get to this point of acceptance but I just want to say to you all, if you think you and Dr Google make a great team, maybe you should try chatting to your GP as well 🙂

Onwards and upwards.