Something happened recently. Something I never truly expected would happen to me. I’d sort of secretly hoped it would happen, but as I didn’t personally know anyone it had happened to I wasn’t really sure whether it was even truly possible. I’d certainly been told often enough that it wasn’t possible. But it turns out they were WRONG.
After four and half years since my diagnosis of chronic illness (I wrote about that here: https://arabiannotes.com/a-new-normal-learning-to-live-with-chronic-illness/), specifically, Autoimmune Thyroiditis – Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s, my test results showed that my antibodies had almost entirely reversed. My Hashimoto’s has gone into ‘remission’.
One thing that is important to say is that lots of people don’t like the term remission for Autoimmune Disease (read more into this here), and not without good reason – it’s complicated. So it is important to point out the distinction that while the antibodies that indicate progression of the disease have reversed (meaning the condition is currently no longer progressing or causing further damage to my thyroid and body), the illness itself is not cured – it will never go away, but as I am now living proof – it can be well managed, and even reversed.
So many doctors told me that there was absolutely nothing I could do to improve my health, that it wasn’t possible to do anything to achieve any kind of result except take medication, and even that wouldn’t slow down the progression or destruction of my thyroid. And let me be clear – I still do take medication every day. It’s definitely been an important part of the puzzle in regaining my health. But not the bog-standard Levothyroxine my diagnosing doctor told me was the only option – and once I found the right help it didn’t take long to realise that medication alone wasn’t enough.
Back at the start, when I was first diagnosed I was SO unwell it was a struggle to get out of bed at all. My doctor at the time diagnosed me, prescribed me Levothyroxine and told me to be patient – it was all I could do, and “these things take time” I was assured. I was patient for longer than six months and all the while continued to get sicker and sicker. To the point where I was probably only awake for a few hours of the day. I was always just so incredibly fatigued and so cold. I couldn’t think straight, I had no energy at all and any lust for life I’d previously had was well and truly gone. It got to the point where I was so desperately unwell and so desperately unhappy that I just knew it couldn’t continue. There HAD to be another way. I tried numerous doctors and specialists, all who wanted to run the same tests themselves and then simply tell me to be patient, for there was no other option. I was at my wits end. There just HAD to be something I could do? There had to be someone out there who could help me?
Of course at this point I did what any self-respecting product of this over-connected world does and turned to our trusty friend Google. It was through that, that my searching happened upon the idea that something could in fact be done about my illness, and the more I searched, the more information and the more doctors and bloggers I found on this same subject. Of course I approached with caution at first, I mean we all know that not everything you find on the internet is true or trustworthy, and there are plenty of charlatans out there who are just trying to sell snake oil – or worse! I went back to my diagnosing doctor with what I’d found, but it was all dismissed. They insisted there was most definitely, absolutely nothing I could do that would make any difference – and assured me that no diet, no lifestyle changes, no nothing, except the medication I’d already been given would help.
Except it didn’t help. And how long was I expected to be patient while all the time becoming sicker? They had no answers for me. So I kept searching and reading and I learned about something I’d never heard of before called ‘functional medicine’.
Functional medicine is a form of medical care where the doctor looks not only at the symptoms, but at the whole body and looks to identify not just how to make the symptoms go away, but at the root cause of the illness that is causing those symptoms, and anything that may be triggering those. Makes sense really once you get your head around it – I mean everything in the body is literally connected after all.
So I went back with a deep dive into the bowels of our trusty friend Google, scouring search results and local Facebook groups to see if I could find mention of any functional medicine doctors in the UAE, and eventually I found some leads that led me to the two doctors I still rely on today.
I still recall sitting in the new doctors office, a sad, pale, poorly shell of my former self. But I was given hope. Only a few weeks earlier I’d come across a book boldly entitled ‘A 90 Day Plan for Reversing Thyroid Symptoms and Getting Your Life Back’ and had started following the plan set out there – I’d decided I had nothing to lose by trying it! The doctor told me I’d made the right decision and I’d started on the right path and supported me with further information as well as running a barrage of pertinent tests I’d not been able to access elsewhere. Many doctors refuse to do the full thyroid panel as they often rely almost solely on the TSH reading alone. I quickly learned that this is not nearly good enough and doesn’t show the whole picture. I went away from that meeting with a new prescription for a different medication – one that would be customised specifically for me and produced through a specialist compounding pharmacy in Dubai – but most importantly I also went away with the feeling that there was hope. That was the day everything started to change for me. From there it was simply one step at a time – reading more, learning more, talking to my new supportive doctors more, and slowly but surely, starting to do more to support my health and take back my life. Thank goodness I found that hope.
One of the hardest things I found in the first few years was coming to terms with the changes I needed to make. I was completely on board with making changes because, let’s face it, my life couldn’t get much worse. I really didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter if I wanted to improve my health so I dove straight into it all. But that doesn’t mean it was easy. It definitely was not. In fact I’d go as far as to say there was a grieving process associated with all these changes. I’ve thought about this fact a lot – there was a lot to get used to: eating new things, eliminating inflammatory foods, cooking a lot more, learning to eat different types of foods and mourning for foods that I couldn’t eat anymore because they were part of the problem and contributing to my sickness. It was also a huge learning curve in general – learning about my condition and what it meant, and also starting to understand that my life had changed forever. And even more than this – learning to listen to my body, trying to accept my new limitations and learning to be ok with slowing down and not being able to do all the things I used to be able to do – that was probably one of the hardest things to overcome. To learn to not beat myself up for resting when I needed to, to get used to the idea that that’s what my body needed, that I wasn’t being lazy or wasting my life – learning to accept that this is what my body needed to be able to move forward more positively. And then there’s all the questions that naturally arise: it’s hard not to question why did this happen to me? How did this happen to me? Why is it so hard to find the right help and answers? It really shouldn’t be so hard!
Funnily enough, just as I was pondering about writing about this aspect, I came across this post on instagram that sums it up:
It’s something that eases with time I think. I suppose this is probably different for everyone but after a period of time all the questions and sadness started to fade away. My new routine became more, well, routine and normal, and of course it really helped when I started to see results and improvement in my health. That was definitely a big thing for me, if I ever felt as though I was missing out on something, reminding myself of the differences my sacrifices have made was key. I just had to remember to ask myself the question – “do I want to do this / eat this / go to this: will it support my goals or will it set me back?”. With that question in mind, it soon became easier to move on from actions / events / behaviours / foods that I knew would result in making me feel unwell again. It sounds a bit cheesy, but I had to focus on remembering to choose health as I knew all too well from experience that we really do have nothing if we don’t have that.
And now, four and half years of learning, grieving, changing and accepting, here I am now – technically in remission. And although it’s a huge goal I am celebrating, there are also more questions and realisations that arise from this. There’s the realisation that this is not the finish line. The stark realisation that this doesn’t mean I am ‘healed’. I still face occasional symptoms from the condition although thankfully it currently affects my daily life to a much lesser extent than it did in the beginning. I am able to function within my new limits and enjoy my life now, but there is still more work to do – there will always be more work to do. Staying on top of this is still a daily battle and I have to make sure I continue in the same way to do my best to manage this condition and hopefully stay in remission. But I have climbed a mountain and while the question is now – can I improve my health further still? – it feels good to pause and reflect on just how far I’ve come with this chronic illness – and thank goodness I have.
Although at times it felt like there was none – I learned that there is always hope, there is always help. Unfortunately, it’s not always as easy to find as it should be. So for anyone wanting to know the specifics of what I did to be able to reverse my antibodies and the resources I turned to, I’ll be writing about that soon – there’s a lot of information I need to compile!