Disclaimer: the posts in this three part series are about my experience with some health problems. I am not a medical professional nor am I an expert on these topics. Seeing as how these issues are quite complex and certain treatments work for some but don’t work for others, I have chosen not to give specifics regarding my testing levels or my medications. I’m sure you can understand and respect that. The only reason I am sharing my story is because I desperately hope that it can help other people who may be suffering from the same thing(s).
Thyroid, Adrenals, and Hormone Problems: My Personal Battle
We’ve all done it: had that gut feeling which we completely ignored, only to look back in retrospect and wonder why in the sweet hell we didn’t listen to it.
I knew something was wrong with me for a couple of years, but I was:
- In denial
- All of the above
I have written about my battle with Metabolic Damage numerous times (here, here, and here) however I’m bringing it up again now because it’s directly related to my hormone and Thyroid problems, and it sets the framework.
I prepped for a Figure show in 2008 and for 18 weeks in which I followed a nearly zero fat diet – to the tune of one TBSP of peanut butter per week and daily fish oil – while subsisting off of about 1,000 calories per day. (To put this into further context, I am 5’10” and was around 158 pounds.) The show was a blast and I took first place in my class weighing in around 138 pounds, but that was where the fun stopped.
After my show, my weight immediately skyrocketed to about 176 pounds all on a clean diet. I impatiently spent the next year waiting for my weight to plateau, and then slowly decrease, all while trying not to lose my shit.
It was challenging, but my weight eventually came back down and I felt pretty good… not 100%, but better. I thought the worst of it had passed, but it would come back to haunt me. More on this later.
Dieting and training
Michael and I were planning to get married in November of 2010. Of course I wanted to look my best at our wedding so I made the rookie mistake that is all too common among soon-to-be-brides. In August, I increased my training frequency, duration, and intensity (oh yeah baby, the trifecta of training idiocracy), cut calories and slashed carbohydrate intake.
Around the end of October 2010, I started waking up between 2-3am and would lay there for at least 2 hours before finally falling back asleep. This puzzled me because I’ve always been really good at sleeping – both falling asleep and staying asleep. I chalked it up to pre-wedding jitters and the fact that I had a cross-country move looming ahead.
Fast forward 1.5 years to January 2011, and I was still having the same sleeping problem. At least 5 out of 7 nights I would wake up between 2-3am and lay there until 5am before drifting off again.
I do not do well without adequate sleep – never have. I was in a foggy haze every day because I was so tired. I remember countless mornings crying out of frustration and exhaustion. I don’t take medication, but I had tried every “natural” sleep aid on the market, along with aromatherapy oils, warm baths, cool showers, meditation, music, sex, reading… nothing helped me sleep through the night.
I finally went to a doctor – a Naturopath in Kentucky – and told him the issue. He advised me to take Melatonin. I told him that concerned me because it was a hormone and I didn’t want to take it; instead I’d rather get to the culprit of the issue. (Makes sense, no?) He told me, and I quote,
“Oh. Well, I dunno then.”
He shrugged his shoulders, slapped me with a $65 office visit fee, and sent me on my way.
Everybody told me it was “probably just stress”, but that didn’t add up. I don’t have kids, my job is a friggin’ blast, my marriage is great, my life is heaven… sure, I have some stress, but I knew in my heart that there was more to it than that.
“Jen… there is a lot of your hair in the shower drain. Like, a lot A LOT. Is that normal?” My husband had just gotten out of the shower one day in the spring of 2011 and looked very concerned.
For the past six months, I felt gobs of hair sliding down my legs as I rinsed out my shampoo; so much hair that it left me uneasy each time I showered but I kept trying to turn a blind eye to it.
When I saw my stylist, I asked her if my hair looked thinner. We both decided that it probably didn’t, and then we proceeded to rationalize things. “Well, I have really long hair… and I have to blow dry it and curl it every time I style it… I don’t wash it every day, so it probably just seems like a lot of hair that I’m losing.”
I used to only be able to wrap my hair tie around my hair 3 times, but now it goes around 4 times. There is no imagining there.
“I don’t have any pop. No power. I can’t explain it. It’s like my body has nothing to give”, I was telling Mike as we were walking out of the gym over the summer. I was exhausted, and the kicker was that I was barely working out. My training was going downhill quickly because no matter how much I wanted to train, my body was not cooperating. For the first time in my life, I was physically unable to “just push through it”. It wasn’t a mental thing or lack of wanting to – I think I’ve proven throughout my training career that I’m pretty strong in the self-will department – I just simply couldn’t summon the energy to do hardly anything; all I wanted to do was lay around, which is unlike me.
My stomach was bloated and hurt all of the time. I had been completely gluten-free since November of 2011 with minimal dairy and sugar, but something was still off. No matter what I ate, my stomach immediately ballooned out and felt like I had swallowed a big boulder.
I’ve always been a book worm. English class was my gig, and I was accruing college credits for advanced English while I was still in high school. I love to read and write, and reading comprehension has always been a strength for me. I could zip through multiple paragraphs and recite every detail of what I glanced at. That all started to change about three years ago. I noticed I was having a really difficult time concentrating. I’d have to read and re-read paragraphs over and over again, only to get to the bottom of the page and be unable to recall what the beginning said.
I’ve also always had a laser sharp memory. I was picking up the old rotary phone and dialing up my entire family to chat with when I was just four years old. Yes, four! I memorized everybody’s phone numbers and would call them before my parents got out of bed. Again, about two years ago I started forgetting the simplest things. I couldn’t remember the words to a song that I had sung along with on the radio at least a hundred times. I’d space out appointments that I was looking forward to, and ask my husband the same questions over and over again, unable to recall his answer or if he ever answered me at all. I remember talking to Michael one morning and telling him that I was scared. My brain wasn’t working like it used to. I thought I was going crazy!
For the last two years, I have been plagued with PMS symptoms like I’d never experienced before. Debilitating cramps, extreme bloating, and fatigue like you just can’t imagine. For 7 days a month, I felt like I physically couldn’t stand up. It was that bad. I’d melt into the couch and be completely worthless. The most interesting part of this is that I had an IUD for birth control (The Mirena, not the copper one. This is an important detail), which meant I never actually had a period, however I suffered all of the awful PMS symptoms.
What Took So Long?
I’m sure as you are reading this you are wondering what in the hell took me so long to get to a doctor, and I don’t blame you. Looking back I realize that I was straight up in denial. I knew something was seriously wrong, but I was hoping it’d just fix itself.
I kept thinking that if I just trained harder, got my diet even tighter, meditated more, etc etc, that everything would fall back into place. I tried to rationalize everything and was worried it was just a bunch of psychosomatic bullshit.
Another contributing factor to all of this is that I don’t believe in modern day medicine. I feel like, for the most part, doctors treat people reactively, instead of putting an emphasis on being proactive. They never inquire or advise about the importance of a healthy diet or exercise, quality sleep or stress control, they just throw prescriptions at everything after only visiting with you for 15 minutes. They don’t get any background or lifestyle information, which is key to a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. I also don’t take medication unless it’s an emergency, which doesn’t make me a good fit to see an MD.
This left me unsure of who to go to that would care enough to get to the bottom of things, so I did what so many other people do with thyroid/hormonal problems: I ignored them, which only made things worse.
I had been to an Endocrinologist in Las Vegas after my Figure show when I was going through that whole messy rebound and he ran a basic thyroid panel (TSH and T4), both of which showed within “normal range” and he declared that my thyroid was fine. He also told me that, “You bodybuilders need to be careful, or all of that muscle will turn into fat” (probably similar to how your grass can magically morph into asphalt if one isn’t careful). I politely thanked him for his time, rolled my eyes, and hightailed it outta there. That basically marked the end of the faith that I had in many doctors.
The A-Ha! Moment
In summer of 2012 when we were living in Salt Lake City, it was my dibilitating PMS that finally motivated me to seek out a Naturopath I had heard about that specialized in women and hormones. She sat with me for 90 minutes, frantically typing on her laptop as I told her my entire story. The extreme dieting and training over the years, the brain fog, PMS, freezing cold feet, lethargy, hair loss, digestive issues, etc.
We had my hormones tested, ran a basic thyroid panel, and did a food allergy test, and ohhhh buddy… just as we suspected – things were (medically speaking) totally effed up.
In part two
, I’ll chat about the outcome of my labs, treatment plan, what worked and what didn’t!