I figured if I'm going to open this up as a spot for anyone to talk about Graves Disease, I should be honest and open with you about my journey so far - so with that disclaimer, let's talk about one of the ah-mazing side effects of Graves Disease: anxiety.
The definition of anxiety is 'a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.' Imagine that and then multiply it by 20 and you may get the idea of what anxiety mixed with Graves can be like for some of us. My own anxiety was raging when it was at the height of the disease, right after the diagnosis. I consider myself (and always have) an outgoing person by nature. I love being with people, going out to events or planning a day excursion with the BFFs to a festival - being surrounded by people was never anything I feared nor did it cause an issue.
But there was a time where leaving my home gave me such horrible panic I could barely get out the door.
Changes in our emotion and behavior can be a common side effect with Graves Disease. The symptoms are similar to those of anxiety (probably a reason so many doctors can have trouble finding a diagnosis the first time). This form of anxiety can be crippling especially if you aren't sure why it's happening to you. You're irritable, you're having trouble sleeping and you have heart palpitations. You're shaky and can't concentrate. Don't even get me started on the fatigue - some of us (like me) will experience an exhaustion like no other. I could barely get out of bed for more than 10 minutes at at time.
Is there a magic solution for this? A special pill to help? I wish I could say yes, but the answer is no. On the advice of my doctor, I took a look at my life focusing on where I could shut down some of the stressors, maybe re-establish some new, healthier habits and get rid of the ones that weren't working for me any longer. I got the gist of what I needed to do - I had to slow down and focus on my mental health, otherwise I wasn't going to get better.
I grew up in a house where "idle hands were the devil's playground" or some such madness. Basically, I have always been the type of person who likes to stay busy or be active. My mother was an amazing role model for this - there wasn't a club, committee or group she wasn't a part of when I was growing up. I think our living room was used almost every weekend for hosting bridge club, a Daughter's of the American Revolution gathering or even just having the her friends over after church. I grew up seeing her stay busy - of course I would have the need to stay busy, too.
Unfortunately, or maybe I should say fortunately, having Graves forced me to slow down. to look at myself and my "busy" - what could I do to tame my life? I started with meditation, Transcedental Meditation to be exact, and this practice opened my eyes to what true silence can be, should be. I was able to make space so my thoughts, and heart, could stop racing. I made this a part of my life that year when I was first diagnosed because I was determined to deal with the diagnosis my way - no RAI. This was my choice from the beginning. I'll share with you that my endocrinologist was wonderful about my decision - instead of pressuring me to do the RAI or to go with something he really wanted me to do, we decided to try it this way - a little blend of east meets western medicine - for a time. As long as he saw results he was happy with, we could do it this way. For that I will always be grateful. I had a doctor who let me have my voice.
At the same time, I was doing a blend of medicines prescribed by my doctor to help, as well as slowing down my life, taking time to relax and destress, meditating and doing some light movement when I could (I wasn't even allowed to work out for a period of time, so to go for a long walk was a luxury!) and I began to live a gluten-free life. The first sign that all of this was working for me was when my endocrinologist did a test at my 8-month mark to see how the nodules where on my thryoid. When I was first diagnosed there were 6 nodules. After a period of time doing it this way? There was one small nodule left and that one eventually went away, too.
Look, I'm not saying I have THE answer, I am only sharing with you my experience - and it's not always been this glorious, let me tell you - in fact, I've got plenty of "oh god, I did that?!" moments from this awesome disease all of which I will get to in this blog. To me, having these nodules diminish was a sign I was on the right track for my health, so I opted to keep going. If you're also trying to find your own sweet life balance after being diagnosed, I've put a few ideas below for you to maaaayyybee try to see if they'll work for you. Take care of yourself, there's nothing selfish about putting YOU first.
Meditation: However you bring this into your life, that's up to you. I chose TM at first to help me, cause if Oprah digs it then I figure I should check it out. Seriously, find a yoga studio that offers meditation or a meditation lounge, or download an app like Calm to walk you through a guided meditation. I cannot tell you how important this step can be for our racing hyper-thyroid minds!
Get moving: Get out the door if you can and sneak in some kind of activity like a long walk or start with yoga. You can find a studio close to your home or if want your privacy, check out Yoga with Adriene. She's got some epic classes that suit all types.
Get a Hobby: There are folks out there who take solace in their gardens, others find joy in painting or sculpting. Live near water? Try SUP'ing or kayaking on a calm day. Do something that makes you happy, that you feel passionate about so you can truly lose yourself in it and have fun.
Establish rituals: This is easy 'cause you're going to take time out where you put yourself first. Think bubble bath, sitting in the sunshine, going window shopping, treat yourself to a massage or take yourself out to dinner and a movie. I find baking relaxes me so I do it as often as I can. Make you #1.
Find balance: Don't pressure yourself, this is what has come in handy for me. If something that worked yesterday is suddenly not working for you today, sometimes you need to simply take a minute, readjust your approach and carry on. PS: A yoga practice will only help to nail this lesson down for you! ;) And LAUGH. As much and as often as you can! Get your friends around you, watch funny movies, go see a stand-up show... Laughter is the best medicine.
My last bit I'll leave you with - and you'll know what I mean when I say this my Graves-ians.... Forgive yourself. We're only human and we make mistakes so forgive yourself for the way you acted before you were diagnosed or while you're getting adjusted to your medicine.
Having patience with ourselves is one of the most beautiful gifts we can give.