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.