I Have An Autoimmune Disease…Here’s What You Don’t See

In 2016, I was diagnosed with Graves Disease–an autoimmune disease that leads to overactivity of the thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism).  While there are other diseases much worse than my diagnosis, I still deal with a lot of frustrating and annoying symptoms.

I look just like everyone else when you look at me, and like many people with autoimmune diseases, you wouldn’t know I have Graves Disease. My thyroid levels are controlled through medication, and I meet with an endocrinologist every few months to talk about symptoms and monitor thyroid levels.

While I usually look perfectly fine on the outside, there’s a lot going on with me that you might not see or notice.

I have many days that I am completely fatigued. While I love working out, some more strenuous workout activities can wear me out for a few days. In the past, I could run many miles, work out with weights, push myself hard during exercise and just deal with some sore muscles the next day while continuing with work outs. These days, it takes me longer to recover from a hard workout.  Workouts leave me exhausted and I need to nap or rest for a day or two before participating in another strenuous workout.

In addition to fatigue, I often have heart flutters and heart palpitations.  The palpitations can make me feel light-headed or breathless. On days where my heart rate is higher than average, I have a difficult time working out, and I have to slow down and partake in exercise that doesn’t raise my heart rate too high, like yoga or walking.

My hands tremor often. It’s usually slight and not very noticeable to others unless I hold my hand out to show them. But some days it’s difficult for me to draw straight lines, to hold my toothbrush steady while I’m brushing my teeth, or to put my coffee cup up to my mouth without it jiggling around. It can be frustrating.

Joint pain seems to be one of my biggest problems. When I do have flare-ups, the pain seems to be in my ribs, ankles, or knees. Over-the-counter pain killers are somewhat helpful, but the aches and pains can make things like sleeping difficult.

Graves disease can affect eyes (known as TED or Thyroid Eye Disease). Many days, one of my eyes will appear larger than the other. I deal with dry, red, burning or irritated eyes occasionally, most likely related to Graves Disease. Eye issues and bulging eyes are a symptom of Graves Disease…this symptom is noticed often in pictures  taken of me–one of my eyes will appear to be a different size than the other.

I also have days where my anxiety and irritability are more pronounced than normal. The anxiety will affect my ability to sleep, and I’ll have many nights that I only get four or five hours of shut-eye if I’m lucky. My mind races often, thinking about a million things at once.  It’s hard for me to chill out and relax. In addition to these issues, brain fog is a constant. I have a hard time remembering conversations or details all the time.

Yes, you might look at me or spend time with me and think there’s nothing wrong with me at all. You might think I look “normal” today and I must be better, or that I’m having a great day. I do have good days; but often, I am dealing with symptoms that I am hiding well and muddling through because I have to. Unfortunately, even with medication, I can’t control how I’m going to feel from day to day.

So if I have to decline joining you for a workout,  if I cancel our plans to go out because I’m feeling anxious, or if I hide behind sunglasses all day, forgive me. If I seem tired or irritable, forgive me. If I can’t remember what we talked about yesterday, forgive me.  Often, my autoimmune disease is to blame.

Even though you can’t see my autoimmune disease, it’s there.

My Kids Aren’t Perfect, And I’ll Never Expect Them To Be

I have an important announcement to make. My kids are far from perfect.

Don’t get me wrong, I think my kids are pretty amazing. There are a lot of things they achieve that I’m super-proud of. But I don’t expect perfection from them.

All three girls do well in school. I don’t really push them too hard, though. I don’t have a set amount of reading time or homework time. We don’t have tutors, and I don’t create extra work or worksheets for my kids. I don’t send them to summer enrichment camps. I expect them to do whatever the teacher assigns to them each week. I encourage them to do well, and I praise them on their successes. But I will not push them competitively to achieve. I want them to want to achieve. I don’t want it to be more stressful than the stress they put on themselves. Do I expect them to get all A’s? No. I love it if and when they do, but if they get a lower grade, it’s all OK. I’m more concerned with them trying their best. If it didn’t work out this time, then it didn’t work out. I don’t get angry, I don’t ask them why they didn’t get a perfect score or perfect grade, and I don’t compare them to the other kids in their classroom. To me, they are successful when they put their own effort into their schoolwork, and they do the best work they are capable of doing. Yes, that usually means an A or a good grade/score, but if it doesn’t end up that way, life goes on.

I also don’t expect my girls to be the best athletes in town. I want them to choose activities they enjoy. I want them to love the sports and hobbies that they pick. We aren’t  naïve—we talk about hard work, and they know that if they want to get better at something it takes patience and effort. I don’t force them to have extra coaches or practice more at home after their actual practices are finished. If they want to go outside for a  run or if they ask to go to the batting cage, I’m happy to go along. I am an encouraging mom, and I let them know how proud I am of their achievements in their activities. But, again, I want them to want to decide on their own to get better or do better. I could make them practice more, but are they going to love that sport or are they going to lose their spirit?

I don’t want perfection from my kids. I am not perfect, so why should I expect them to be perfect? I have bad days, there are a lot of things I am not good at. I fail at things all the time. And I’m just fine.

And I want my kids to be kids. They have their whole lives to worry about success, achievement, and working super hard to prove themselves. I want them to have time to play, chill out, and just have fun without worrying about being the best all the time.

I’d would rather my girls be kind to others, be encouraging, know how to accept defeat, know how to share, be proud of their friends achievements and not jealous. I would rather my girls look for the good in the world and think about others. These are the things that will change the world….not if they are perfect students and perfect I their sport or activity.

Here’s my message to my girls: Please, daughters. Never expect perfection from yourself. No one is perfect all the time. And striving for constant perfection only leads to stress, anger, depression, and feeling insecure.  Always do what you feel you can do, and know it’s OK if you fail or you don’t succeed. Your other qualities will help you achieve more in life than if you get straight A’s, are in the gifted program, or if you are the best player on the team.