#16 Hashi & Me: meet Sarah

Hashi & Me is a series of stories for people with Hashimoto’s told by people with Hashimoto’s and other thyroid problems. In each piece, one of us will share our experience with Hashimoto’s, our personal findings and tips. We believe one person’s experience can be useful for others, especially to newly diagnosed people.

This week meet Sarah. She is an IIN health coach trainee and autoimmunity blogger based in Australia.

How and when did you discover you had Hashimoto’s? Tell us your story.

Wow, discovering Hashimoto’s was a complex process. As a child and young adult, I mostly enjoyed great health—up until about 3 years ago when I went through a break up, moved to Australia and took on a high pressure job. I have always been a people-pleaser and perfectionist, so whenever I was faced with a big work project I ended up letting it take over my life and sense of self to the point where I completely ignored the signs that my body was struggling.

Doctors thought I had the flu and prescribed me with bed rest — it turned out that I had a kidney infection, but this wasn’t diagnosed until I was in the emergency room. After I spent 24 hours on an antibiotic drip and had a lumbar puncture procedure performed to check for meningitis, the doctors discovered that they were too late and the kidney infection had spread to my blood — I had septicaemia (blood poisoning).

Recovery from this acute infection took weeks, and since that point my immune system has never been the same. For the next 9 months I experienced almost monthly UTIs, thrush, sinus infections, etc. Doctors told me that nothing was wrong and kept putting me back on antibiotics, but I knew something wasn’t right. I became my own health detective and advocate by reading, listening to podcasts and getting tests done until I essentially self-diagnosed myself with Hashimoto’s and managed to convince a doctor to do the antibodies test which confirmed it (antibodies were sub 30 at this point, so we got onto it early).

As a result of working with doctors and my naturopath, I was later diagnosed with many other things which are often found in Hashimoto’s patients. These issues ultimately created the “perfect storm” for the disease to progress, including: a parasite, leaky gut, gut dysbiosis (overgrowth of E. coli), adrenal fatigue, vitamin deficiencies, a struggling liver and hormonal imbalances.

What did you learn since? Do you have some tips or findings to share with other Hashimoto’s people?

This experience has taught me so much. It sounds strange to say that I’m grateful, but in a way, I am.

Firstly, I have learned how important it is to set boundaries and value yourself and your health. This process has forced me to look at my anxious tendencies, self-esteem and self-worth in a way which has changed my life for the better. I believe it’s no coincidence that people diagnosed with Hashimoto’s are often people who strive for achievement and perfection — this disease teaches you to slow down.

Hashimoto’s has also been the wake-up call I needed to change the direction of my life. Previously, I knew I wasn’t living in alignment with who I truly was, but I kept doing it because I continued to listen to society’s “shoulds”.

Since diagnosis, I’ve been making big changes to ensure my life feels bursting with purpose and is fulfilling for my soul — something which everybody deserves. I’m currently training to become a health coach because I’m passionate about helping other people who are feeling lost, confused or disheartened to reclaim their health and happiness.

What does your day with Hashimoto’s look like?

It varies a lot. Some days I feel like “old Sarah” — bursting with energy, clearheaded and excited about life. Some days I feel like I can’t get out of bed, use my brain properly or emotionally cope with even the smallest of issues.

However, I’ve got to a point now where I’m not as overwhelmed by having to make certain food choices, or as frustrated on days when I don’t feel up to working out. I’m also more forgiving when my fuse is short or when I cry for no reason—I’m sure others can relate.

My list of symptoms ebbs and flows with my diet, environment, interactions and circumstances.

It’s important to keep in mind that one bad day doesn’t mean you will have a bad life. Allow yourself to rest. Create a list of self-care activities (I have one on my fridge) and don’t feel guilty for turning down a social event or taking a day off work if you need it — busy isn’t always a good thing.

Try to enjoy “being” instead of always “doing”.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that your body has a little war going on inside, and you might not feel great tomorrow if you go hard at the gym, then work until 8PM and drink a bit too much wine. Sometimes it feels pretty irritating when people say they’re also “tired” and that you “look really well” because you know they can’t comprehend what’s going on inside.

The key thing here is to remember that your body isn’t fighting against you — it’s trying to protect you. Generally people aren’t unkind — they just don’t understand. Personally, tools like meditation have helped me let go of the anger, resentment, guilt, fear, jealousy, anxiety, sadness, worry and other recurring emotions or thought cycles. This kind of inner work can help you speak more kindly to yourself. I think the saying goes something like this, “You can eat all the kale in the world, but if you’re not happy then you’re not healing.”

What was the biggest struggle and biggest victory you experienced?

The biggest struggle I had in the beginning was trying to get doctors to listen to me, acknowledge my symptoms and feel like they were on my side. The way I’ve overcome this is in understanding that I have certain doctors who I see simply to get the blood work done and to tick that box, versus some practitioners who I trust with seeing the whole picture and working with me.

I once experienced another struggle after what I can only describe as going in hard on healing—with a complete diet overhaul, supplement routine and big lifestyle changes. I put so much effort into all of this, only to be set back by some less than promising lab results about the disease progressing. This was an important moment when I had to learn that healing isn’t linear. I have now come to realise that this particular flare-up was due to work stress and high pressure situations, which I needed to learn how to manage — there are always lessons in struggles.

My greatest victory has been in taking the power back and feeling in better control of my health, life and decisions. On bad days, yes, this can be hard to appreciate, but most of the time I’m very proud of how I have evolved as a person since embarking on this journey.

My mindset has shifted and I truly understand what is important in life and I’m so grateful for what I have. I now make choices out of love, not fear. The chronic illness community is also full of wonderful, open-hearted people and it’s a beautiful gift to be able connect, share and help each other.

What advice would you give to someone newly diagnosed to ease their first steps with Hashimoto’s?

First of all, don’t freak out. It feels very overwhelming when you are first diagnosed and start googling everything under the sun, but don’t worry. Pick up Izabella Wentz’ books— these are a great starting point.

Go through and have a think about where you can take action, or how you can modify your diet and routine alongside the help of a professional who can guide you.

I would also suggest that you work on putting together a support team. Working with a naturopath was one of the best decisions I made because A) she believed and listened to me—something Hashimoto’s or thyroid patients often don’t experience, and B) she looked at me as a whole person — mind, body and spirit.

We also explored the root cause—this is vital because Hashimoto’s is not simply a thyroid problem, but an immune system problem. We started by testing and working on gut health, diet and supplementation. This totally eradicated my recurrent infections. We then looked at my adrenal and emotional health (still a work in progress), as well as how to manage stress.

Your support system could also include a functional doctor, an acupuncturist, and of course, loving relationships with family, partners and friends. Chronic or invisible illness is so often misunderstood, and that’s why it’s vital to have a support network around you.

Remember, health is not a destination — it’s a journey. There will be highs and lows, good days and bad days, but don’t beat yourself up over the flare-ups or the belief that you could have done something differently.

Together, we’ve got this.