Kim’s story began with childhood and teenage years, where it looks like she was undiagnosed hypothyroid. Then you’ll see many struggles to get the right diagnosis and treatment in her adulthood….and she’s now on her way!
Struggling with hypoglycemia as a child
As is the case with many other young people, dysfunction and high stress were commonplace throughout my childhood. As a young girl, managing Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) became a daily challenge and forced lifestyle changes early on. I grew up knowing that if I wanted to prevent low blood sugar, I would have to eat six mini-meals, timed perfectly throughout the day. I consumed very little fruit. By combining a complex carbohydrate and a protein with every meal, it helped prevent my blood sugar from dropping and ward off the uncomfortable and dangerous symptoms that could follow.
Childhood weight, hair loss, excess sleep, feeling cold–all during childhood and teenage years
Regardless of always being super active as a child, I began to experience unexplained weight gain. Severe allergies, chronic constipation, and digestion problems soon followed. Along with that, my hair started falling out and I experienced extreme fatigue. I could sleep for twelve hours or more and never felt refreshed. My finger nails became paper thin and peeled. My skin became super dry. Worst of all, I experienced significant muscle and bone pain. I was frightened and didn’t know what to do. I was cold all the time, even in summer, which was very strange. It was an internal cold. In school, I had problems focusing and had challenges with cognition. I also would become dizzy if I stood up or bent down too quickly. I was constantly told I was “overly sensitive.”
By age nineteen, I used exercise as my mental coping mechanism and natural pain killer. I had to force myself to exercise, because I lacked the energy to do so easily. When I succeeded in pushing through the sleepiness to work out, I would get a temporary charge. This Endorphin release would distract me from my pain long enough to survive, but I was not by any means thriving. I knew this was not a real solution and it was surely no way to live.
Adulthood craziness – eat less, exercise more, it’s all in your head
Back then I didn’t have any health insurance, so I paid out of pocket only to be told, by four different doctors, that my symptoms were in my head. They said I needed to eat less and exercise more. I couldn’t possibly do more than I was. I pushed myself into competitive running, lifting weights and was even fighting for the energy to teach daily aerobic classes. “Are you kidding?” I thought. Soon, I discovered through relatives that Thyroid Disease ran in our family. I didn’t know much about the disease back then. Those same doctors refused to test my Thyroid regardless of my request and family history.
Finally — a diagnosis…but Endocrinologists wouldn’t treat!
Several years down the road, and many dollars later, I found a PCP (an MD) that did listen to me. He tested my TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) and prescribed other Thyroid tests. My TSH was off the chart. I was diagnosed with full blown Hypothyroidism. He said if I had waited any longer, I could have gone into full blown menopause within six months, because I had been misdiagnosed for so long. He wanted me to see an Endocrinologist because he couldn’t treat me and that is when the nightmares really began. The Endos didn’t pay attention to the important FT3, FT4 and RT3 test results that the PCP provided.
Worsening health, the fallacy of Endocrinology, and poor treatment with Synthroid
For the next twenty years, my health got progressively worse. I visited numerous Endocrinologists who would only focus on the TSH test. They started me on Synthroid early on, which helped temporarily but appeared to be merely a band aid. When my dose was raised, I would feel good enough to function to a point. Most of my Hypo symptoms would be tolerable, but would never go away. Then when they felt my TSH would go too low, they would lower my dose, usually against my wishes. This would result in my serious Hypo symptoms returning and would nearly disable me. Their only “treatment” was to raise and lower my dose. Some of them actually said they didn’t know what to do with me. One Doctor in particular said that Endocrinology is very vague and they weren’t trained in solving the root causes. None of them thought outside the box and none asked me about my lifestyle (exercise, eating habits, stress, etc.). They didn’t look at or treat me as a whole person. They only treated my test results, which were all over the map, as was my health for all those years.
In my twenties and thirties, I learned about other medications such as Armour, NDT (Natural Desiccated Thyroid), and T3. The Endo’s who treated me didn’t believe in those medications, so they wouldn’t prescribe them for me. Eventually, I saw a Gynecologist because I had painful Uterine Fibroids. Even after two operations, they grew back as a warning that something was being overlooked, lurking beneath the surface. I asked her if the Thyroid affected hormones in the body, she said “No!”. Eventually I had to get a partial hysterectomy (keeping Ovaries and Cervix) to remove the fibroids, so I wasn’t able to have children. I grieved terribly through this.
Seeking real answers, I visited a Gastroenterologist who prescribed colonoscopies, endoscopies, ultrasounds, biopsies and MRI’s. In addition, I requested to be tested for vitamin and mineral deficiencies due to my unresolved chronic constipation and digestion problems that were becoming worse. His initial solution was to give me Miralax fiber powder. I questioned the Doctor about vitamin and mineral deficiencies. I asked, “If I can’t digest and absorb nutrients, how will I get better?” He told me that was ridiculous and dismissed me.
Becoming my own health and wellness advocate
The lack of wise medical assistance combined with the man in my life back then saying, “Why don’t you face the fact you are sick and just go on disability. The Doctors know what they are doing!”, forced on a light switch inside of me. It woke me up and drove me to learn more and take ultimate responsibility for my situation. I wanted “a say so” in my treatment. I needed to become my own health and wellness advocate. As part of my formal education, and in my spare time, I researched medical journals, medical publications, and formed relationships with Board Certified Naturopath Doctors and MDs that were trained in Functional Medicine (Why did the body malfunction in the first place?). I learned that RT3, FT3 and FT4 tests can be key in helping diagnose and treating Hypothyroidism. I started to record and track my body temperature. Even in the summer, I was running between 95-96 degrees. I was this way for several years. No wonder my metabolism was slow, I thought.
Diagnoses of anemia, nutrient imbalances, adrenal problems, EBV and more
In my late thirties, I had to advocate for myself and push even harder to get answers. I was diagnosed with other conditions such as Anemia and the vitamin/ mineral imbalances I had suspected years before. A deficiency of HCL exacerbated my digestion problems. The reason why I was dizzy from sitting up or down too quickly was due to a form of Adrenal problem called Orthostatic Hypotension. Another piece of the puzzle was, I tested positive for the Epstein Barr Virus, compromising my Immune System. I had Saliva Hormone testing done and it showed I had high Cortisol at night. High Cortisol can affect the Thyroid T4 to T3 conversion. Also, I had high Estrogen which can put you at higher risk for some Cancers. I was so burnt out. Literally sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Getting Lost and Melting Down
Because I continued to gain weight, regardless of my output, an Endocrinologist put me on, not only one but two, heavy duty weight loss drugs. I wasn’t able to sleep shortly after taking these medications. I learned, after the fact, that both drugs listed insomnia as one of the common side effects. So instead of recognizing that I was experiencing this side effect of insomnia for the first time in my life after taking these medications, the Doctor’s solution was to take me off of my high dose of Thyroid medication COLD TURKEY. I was too out of it to contest the decision. Along with that move, he added antidepressants (I wasn’t clinically depressed), along with anti-anxiety medication to my prescription med list. I was anxious because I couldn’t sleep and lacking the Thyroid hormones my body needed.
The Endo also added a high dose of Estrogen (my levels weren’t even checked to determine if I had the need) to my growing toxic med cocktail. I learned later that Estrogen in high doses can suppress the Thyroid and cause generalized anxiety. I trusted my Doctor but his decisions eventually put me in the hospital. My body went into shock from all of this. To make matters worse, while in the hospital knowing I had Hypoglycemia, I was fed white rolls with cream cheese, bananas, and pasta which exacerbated the blood sugar issues throwing me into full blown Diabetes Type #2, regardless of my pleading for something else to eat. No one would listen to me. I had never felt so helpless.
After getting out of the hospital, I started a new life plan. I worked with Board Certified Naturopath Doctors, received Acupuncture, did Colonics, and detoxed my Liver and Gallbladder. I learned Qi Gong, received Reiki, participated in Music Therapy and explored many other healing modalities. It was during this time that I discovered I had high levels of Mercury and Lead in my system, which can suppress the Thyroid, and began multiple rounds of Chelation Therapy to address this. For the first time in my life, I felt I was getting closer to finding answers to my many health problems. I was moving in the right direction and found that my soul and my body were coming alive again.
I was able to reverse the Diabetes Type 2, by consuming mostly organic foods, whole grains, beans, lentils and lean proteins (very little animal protein). I bought a juicer and started making my own veggie juice (Thyroid-healthy non-cruciferous veggies only) to keep my body less acidic. This helps with body pain, inflammation and keeping Dis-Eases at bay. I started exercising again and added meditation to my daily wellness practice.
There were deep psychological and spiritual components along the path through the Labyrinth. I worked with a therapist throughout my journey, which forced me to “look in the mirror” and address what I saw, head on. I had to start with forgiveness of myself, forgiveness of others, and most importantly I had to learn how to laugh again. Really laugh. I took time off of the hamster wheel of life and did things that made me feel like a little kid. Letting that inner child emerge for just a bit is what I now call “Don’t 4Get 2 Play”. I started playing the drums which allowed me to release anger, fears, frustrations, feelings of helplessness, while at the same time fuel my creativity.
At first, my determination to fight this disease made me obsessed and angry to find answers and years later, I realized looking back, it put me out of balance. I realized that I was trying to help others heal while I, myself, was filled with loads of negative energy. I learned that acceptance can be key for releasing that energy and finding peace. On some days you need to “fight”. It’s okay to be proactive and take action, but within reason. On other days, it’s okay to lay down your sword for a bit. I don’t mean “giving up,” but take a rest when needed. You have to slow down and recognize when to recharge without feeling guilty about your simmering To Do List. By stepping back and regrouping, you regain your balance and strength so you are well prepared and positioned for what may come next.
Ups and Downs Through the Maze
Although I made a lot of progress, I was still challenged with several serious Hypo symptoms and decided to try again with another Endo. On one appointment, I broke down crying. I needed help, but she said without any eye contact whatsoever, “I can’t care how you feel, I only treat by test results.” I strongly requested she run FT3, FT4, RT3 tests. She didn’t believe in them. I tried to be the advocate for myself that I was training to be. I wanted to be on Armour Thyroid or other NDT medication. She rolled her eyes at me, got frustrated and asked me, “Why are you trying to be the doctor?” I wanted to explode.
Two years ago, I saw another Endo who agreed to prescribe a compounded, sustained release T3 along with Synthroid. I did see improvements, but he wasn’t comfortable with NDT, which was my goal at the time. He kept my Thyroid medication dose high so I could function, then eventually lowered it against my wishes, because he didn’t like my TSH levels which were not bad based on my history. I begged him not to make this change because of my past, horrifying experiences. I even brought my close friend to help back me up. He had lived through my nightmare. The Doctor didn’t agree, made the change, and then he went on vacation with no covering Doctor to help me. Within one month, I gained 30 pounds and became deathly ill. I filled up with water and began to urinate numerous times every hour. The intense bone and muscle pain returned again with a vengeance, this time so bad, I was vomiting. I couldn’t bare it anymore.
Out of desperation, I searched the internet and called the Medical Director of a Federally regulated lab (open since 1982) which tests hair. These tests, called HTMA (Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis), can uncover mineral imbalances in the body not always detected in traditional blood work. I learned that when certain vitamins and minerals go out of balance, you can become more susceptible to viral, bacterial and fungal infections. That is maybe what contributed to why I was sick all of the time, when younger. I also learned that every time my Thyroid meds were lowered, the Calcium would shift out of my bones and deposit into my soft tissue, causing extreme pain. When my medication was radically lowered, it would trigger the Kidneys to put out more water through frequent urination which depleted my potassium and sodium, decreasing my Adrenal function. I needed to address the Calcium issue. My insurance company, at the time, would only cover IV chelation which can strip the body of Calcium stores, leaving you in a state of Osteoporosis. Obviously, I chose an oral chelation compounded from the ND, which can shift Calcium back into your bones. I am still in the process of correcting my other mineral and vitamin imbalances though customized nutrition plans and supplements, but this is no overnight fix. It’s a lifestyle.
My healing journey continues to this day. As many of you know, for every two steps forward through the Labyrinth, we may find ourselves one step back. I recognize that I have more to work on, and work through, and have many more people to assist along the way. But I am “on my way” and that’s what counts. I’m a much stronger, more grounded, empathetic woman than I was at the start. I’d like to think I’ve gained not only knowledge but some wisdom as well. The kind of wisdom that can only come from experience. The kind of wisdom that may help and heal others.
Parting words. There are many good doctors out there, but they are not always easy to find. You have to be persistent in your searching. I’ve found word of mouth to yield the best results. Clearing out toxic people and their drama from your life is critical. They can prevent you from healing. I’ve also taught my clients to tap into their own intuition regarding their treatment options. Always ask questions and don’t be intimidated by a diploma. After all, it’s your body. My favorite questions are “What are my other options?”, “Would you give your loved one this medication?”. Understand and study what you put into your own body (food, medicine, supplements, etc.) Be aware of their short-term side effects and long-term ramifications in your life. It IS your responsibility. Also, having a wing-man or wing-woman with you at your doctors’ appointments can help immensely. They can jot down important notes so you can remain focused on the critical discussion and resulting decisions. Also, that second set of ears can be beneficial when you’re not at your best. Lastly, I believe Thyroid Disease should be viewed and managed in a balanced, multidimensional way by both you and your healthcare practitioners. Your spirit, mind and body are not as separate as some may think. Healing begins at that magical point where all three converge. Wishing you all peace, health and happiness.
Bio: Kim Ruggierio is the driving force behind Wellness Begins Here www.wellnessbeginshere.