Tag Archives: health

The Venus Flytrap: On Thyroid Disease

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Last year, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a condition in which the butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that controls the delicate and vital thyroid hormone is underactive. There are several types of thyroid disease, and stress tends to be an underlying cause. I know exactly when I developed my condition, and my personal symptoms included fatigue, anxiety, depression, unexplained weight gain and poor concentration. Thyroid dysfunction is extremely common (studies say everything from ‘1 in 10’ to ‘1 in 3’ Indians have it) and often undiagnosed.

From the very first day that I went on medication, I felt elated. I was in love with life. My face even stopped being puffy.

Sadly, my initial euphoria was probably just a case of being stoned, because it turned out I was on such a high dosage that my imbalance went from hypothyroidism to hyperthyroidism. But this brings me to some things to be cautious about if you decide to take a test – which I strongly recommend that you do, if you have the symptoms, given the prevalence of thyroid conditions.

I’d wanted to bring you some expert perspectives on thyroid disease, but you’ll encounter those anyway. So here are some cautions. The second endocrinologist I consulted told me that my first should have started me on a low dosage then worked up, rather than vice versa. The first had also been disastrous in terms of bedside manner, dismissing me when I asked about side effects. (Yes, you may have side effects – for me, my first period after going on medication gave me harrowing PMS like never before). When my dosage was changed, I asked the third doctor whether to expect problems. Again, I was told No. Untrue: the first two days that my body adjusted to the new dosage were exactly like my pre-diagnosis days. I felt terrible until I acclimatised. A friend who takes different hormone-based medication told me that she has sometimes taken up to two weeks to adjust to changes in dosage levels. Each body is different. Listen to yours, and put your needs first.

Also, certain prejudices that cut across healthcare in India exist in this field as well. When I said I wasn’t married, an entire section of my medical history was simply not addressed. The fourth doctor I met also fixated on making sure I could conceive “after marriage”. Grit your teeth, roll your eyes (and grab the drugs!). But be especially warned about fatphobia. You will be told that you need to lost weight, based on the obsolete BMI index, which was created on a sample base of only adult white European men – i.e. an accidentally racist, sexist and therefore flawed index.

But I share all this because, ultimately, my quality of life since going on medication has improved dramatically. Some people with thyroid disease take up exercise routines, make dietary changes and so on, but I’ve honestly done nothing different except pop a pill every day. I feel so much better, and accomplish and enjoy much more than I was able to. I’d really like for more people to experience the wellbeing I’ve gotten back. Maybe you will too?

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on March 1st 2018. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Breastfeeding – In Public, In India

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We had just ordered lunch at the 5-star hotel when Shamala Hinrichsen’s 8-month old got hungry too, so his lovely mom reached right into her dress and started to feed him. Our conversation continued as she rocked him gently. That was the first time I’d seen a woman breastfeed publicly in Chennai, without hiding her body. A foreigner of Tamil origin who’s been travelling extensively around India on work, she says, “I’ve seen women in rural areas do it with unapologetic authority. It’s a perfectly natural act.”

The Indian railways announced recently that 100 of their stations will have segregated nursing areas. In a letter to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, these areas were specified as “[a corner] provided with a small table and a chair with appropriate partition/screen around it.” But is that enough? Dentist Dr. Deepa V., whose child was recently weaned, never nursed openly owing to shyness. She says, “In public facilities, people still turn to the wall to hide themselves. I remember the looks my relatives gave me whenever I lifted my salwar to feed while travelling with them. I think this discomfort is the main reason why we train babies to accept formula milk earlier.”

Another mother, now nursing her 7.5 month old, related how she sat at an eatery in a Chennai mall and started to nurse, unable to do so in the stuffy public toilets. Immediately, the staff directed all the male customers to sit away from her. She was appreciative of the concern for privacy and comfort. “I think the horror stories we read about breastfeeding moms being fined, shamed or trolled are really a US problem,” she says. “There’s a solid sisterhood solidarity everywhere for the nursing mom. No judgement if I’m in a salwar kameez or saree or tank top or shorts and I want to feed the baby – that’s it, the sisterhood comes into force.”

Theatre director Samyuktha PC returned to work 3 months after childbirth, bringing her daughter to rehearsals, and openly nursed when required. “At first, I did cover myself, but the cloth over me just made Yazhini and I sweat so badly. And it felt cruel to do that.” From then on, she simply asked if others were comfortable, and carried on – anywhere. “But outside of home and work, bad experiences happened quite often – men staring, women thinking it was their right to drape me. But I was also supported and told I was courageous. I would rather it be normalised.”

While it comes down to personal preference, there’s no doubt that these preferences can be inhibited by societal norms. Which is why Shamala’s unapologetic public nursing seemed especially triumphant to me. In Mumbai recently, when she began to breastfeed on the ground floor of a café, men on the balcony level took their phones out and started to photograph her. She kept feeding. “Would I be gawked at or judged if I were feeding someone with a spoon? I think not. Possibly because it is from an appendage. My breasts. I would like to think people would be as judgemental if I were feeding from, say, my nose.”

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on July 13th 2017. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.