So what's my deal anyway? I have Autoimmune Thyroid, or Hashimoto's. Couple that with late-Stage 3 Adrenal Fatigue and you have the perfect storm. I thought I was healthy, but then my health started to deteriorate quickly and the only way to get out of this perfect storm requires a complete transformation. There are certainly more strongly afflicting diseases than I have, but don't let the idea of chronic diseases lure you into thinking they are not life changing, because they are.
I used to think I had it all together: I was a very active endurance cyclist, I stayed active in my work, I ate "healthy", I was married to a great husband (still am), and I generally excelled at everything I set my mind to. I was on my second career of being a professional pilot which was progressing at a good pace. I worked hard, played hard and life was great! Don't get me wrong, life still is great, but it got rough for a bit.
Initially, I started noticing the subtle cues: At first it was odd things like gaining 5 lbs in a week when I had cycled over 125 miles in the previous 5 days. Sleeping for 12, sometimes 14 hours each night and still being exhausted in the mornings. And then my hair started to fall out... in handfuls. This was enough to get me to see my doctor for a checkup, yet all the tests came back normal according to her. About this time, I also had a few things happen, I call them my acute stressors: I had my first pressurization emergency as a single pilot (i.e.: no second pilot to help me) at FL230, my mom unexpectedly passed away and then I had a crash on my bike which left my body way more injured than I had realized.
About this time, I saw my doc again. There was no improvement in any of the subtle things going on, and in fact I started noticing more. I started getting night sweats, hot flashes, and I was having bouts of depression. What the heck was going on? She first took me off the NuvaRing because we thought that was playing havoc at my hormones. Then, she called me to tell me that one of my blood labs was abnormal. I had an elevated TSH and that I should see an endocrinologist because my thyroid was malfunctioning. Finally! A clue!
Along with the Endocrinologist, I sought out a naturopath to try to solve this without going on medication. See, the FAA monitors a pilots' health by having each pilot examined by a Designated Medical Examiner (fancy name for a general practitioner who can manage additional FAA paperwork). You are required to declare any medication you are taking and medication for any thyroid issue, including Hashimoto's, requires additional scrutiny of the FAA medical team. I wanted to avoid the additional scrutiny and wanted to avoid being denied an FAA medical to begin with.
The first team of docs (Endo + naturopath) made my condition worse. The endo wanted to continue to increase the meds (I finally consented) even though I felt worse each time we did so. The naturopath kept wanting to change supplements and I just felt like I was getting nowhere. They were both mainly interested in fixing symptoms without helping me understand how I had gotten to this point. The time for my annual FAA medical was fast approaching and it became clear that I'd have to stop flying - at least for a while.
I was fed up! I fired the first set of docs and started scaring myself with Dr. Google. Until one day, I came across Chris Kresser's website where I read about the causes of Hashimoto's, why my thyroid medication was not working for me, and realizing I had a lot of work in front of me. I was lucky enough at the time to be able to be accepted as one of Chris' patients. After my first round of tests and initial consultation, he also recommended I add Dr. Thomas Cowan, MD to my team of doctors to help with my healing path.
After starting to get my thyroid under control, I felt better, but nothing like I used to feel. I still had a lot of issues with fatigue, especially after exercise. I started being tired all the time, no matter what time of the day. I started getting unexplained heart palpitations (not due to thyroid meds, which can happen). So we did even more testing. This time we revealed that I had late-Stage 3 Adrenal Fatigue. Chris was refreshingly direct, "This is fairly serious. If you continue like you are, your one step away from Addison's Disease." That got my attention! I didn't need another disease to tack on to the one I already had.
And thus, my true path of healing started. Until this point, I had been focused only on what it would take to return back to flying full-time and getting my thyroid "under control" - at least enough to pass an FAA medical. I was being my normal Type A self and making sure I had checked off each action item in my healing plan. What I didn't realize is how much of a mental and lifestyle shift this would require.
Next several posts, I'll be writing about what changes I made to my lifestyle and some of the treatment protocols I have been on w/ Chris & Dr Cowan. Stay tuned, the journey is just beginning!