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.