It has been a little bit since we featured a story on the Laugh Always Spotlight Edition! I had the pleasure of meeting Sara and she explained that she has Graves Disease. I have never even heard of this! She wanted to share her story and experience in hopes to inspire others out there with the same disease. Read on for her inspirational journey!
“Dare to be what you are, and learn to resign with a good grace all that you are not and to believe in your own individuality.”
“You have Graves Disease.” These are the four words that changed my life. Of course having an incurable illness changes everything. So maybe that isn’t so surprising. But, shockingly, Graves Disease changed my life in the most incredibly amazing ways. Ways I am unbelievably thankful for.
This experience has, at times, been difficult and agonizing and has cracked me open and left me vulnerable in ways I never thought possible. But it’s also taught me to love myself fiercely. And that love is the reason I feed myself with kindness, talk to myself with respect and adulation and live in a way that brings me incredible joy. It’s even changed my career path, expanded my interests and fueled my passions. Sounds kind of bonkers right? Let’s back this story up a little.
I was 22 when things started to go wrong, slowly at first and then suddenly, as if everything was falling apart all at once. It started with unexplained weight loss and within a year it weaved its way into what felt like a never-ending nightmare… complete with anxiety, insomnia, hot flashes, insatiable hunger, excruciating muscle spasms, a racing heart that may or may not have been trying to escape from my body and more. My vitality was slipping away from me at such a young age. I was horrified and so angry. I mean, we’re supposed to be strong and healthy until we’ve grown old, right? I learned the hard way that that isn’t always the case.
A year and a half after the first symptom hit I was a mess. And it still took months of doctors’ appointments and tests for those 4 life changing words to find me. And even longer for me to truly absorb and understand what that sentence really meant for my future.
So what exactly is Graves Disease?
This illness is an autoimmune disease that causes Hyperthyroidism. For some unknown reason your body decides that your thyroid is the enemy and attacks it with antibodies. Thyroid hormones affect almost every cell in the body, so the symptoms are wide ranging and have a huge impact on your well-being. Medical treatment is an absolute must and I urge anyone experiencing Graves to get medical help. If left untreated, Graves Disease can have severe consequences (including a potentially fatal thyroid storm).
In some cases (like mine) the same autoantibodies that attack the thyroid can also go after the eyes causing Graves Ophthalmopathy… say that one 5 times fast, I dare you! That tongue twister is a super complicated way of saying Graves Eye Disease. This time the immune system attacks the muscles around the eyes, causing swelling that makes your eyes bulge. This often leads to irritation, grittiness, light sensitivity, tearing, and blurred vision. It’s as fun as it sounds.
And while all that sounds pretty grim, it’s the autoimmune part that’s the biggest problem.
Autoimmune diseases, at this time, are incurable. Your body is pretty freaking smart and can sometimes store and remember antibodies, protecting you from experiencing certain illnesses more than once. Which is pretty amazing, right? But when your own immune system starts attacking you this awesome ability kind of backfires. My body will never forget Graves Disease antibodies. And so even in remission (something I am thankfully experiencing right now) they’re still there. They always will be. If their levels get too high and they decide to attack I will get sick again.
And at this point you may be wondering “Hey Sara… where’s that life changing goodness you were talking about?” It really does sound pretty grim so far, doesn’t it? And it was. It really was. For the better part of a year I wallowed in misery.
My doctor’s placed me on strong, long term dose of medication to balance out my hormones and advised me to simply rest and wait. I wasn’t expected to get much better. The plan of action was to get my body to a place where surgery or radiation would be safe options and to go from there. You see – since we can’t cure Graves Disease we usually go at it like an army would go after an impenetrable wall. We blow up that thyroid or remove it from the picture surgically. It’s much easier to replace hormones medically for the rest of your life (and hopefully find some sort of comfortable balance that feels natural) than it is to supress them.
Does that fix the autoimmune problem? Heck no! That problem can’t be fixed. And there are potential consequences that exist because of that regardless of which treatment plan you take. But it does make things easier to treat if you can’t achieve remission.
And so I wallowed and I waited. But after months on medication I didn’t feel any better and I was so incredibly tired of being sick and tired. I decided to take a little action and see if I could somehow play a bigger role in my healing.
I started a food and symptoms journal and brought it to a doctor’s appointment to talk to them about how my diet was potentially affecting my illness. And we noticed that gluten was a huge issue for me. It was time to break up with a food group I had been subsisting on for my entire life.
But instead of viewing this as a huge loss, I went home feeling renewed. I felt like I may finally have a small piece of power in my corner. I could change my diet and potentially help make things a little better. This was a pretty exciting change of pace after feeling powerless for so long.
This was going to be my golden opportunity. But I found myself thinking that if I had to make such a huge change, why not take it one step further? Instead of simply cutting out gluten, why not radicalize my diet and embrace healthy eating in a way I had never consider? This decision changed everything.
I began eating with thought and devotion, embracing health supporting foods that would fuel my well-being. And after 30 days I felt AMAZING. And I found myself excited to discover new vegetables and create new recipes.
You see, I was never what you might call a healthy foodie. A huge part of my diet was prepackaged junk and I hated most vegetables. But learning to eat in a way that supported my biological functions and ultimately my health changed my prognosis. Not only because it made me feel better, but because I started to care deeply about how my every day choices were affecting my health.
Changing my diet taught me to listen to the messages my body was trying so hard to tell me. It inspired me to treat my body with unconditional love and forgiveness. It led me to work on self-love and revamp my lifestyle so that it supported my well-being. This entire journey allowed me to create a respectful and loving relationship with myself that I never envisioned.
Ultimately, changing my diet helped me realize that I can still be healthy. I may have an incurable illness, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t find a way to thrive with it. Changing my diet gave me my life back.
And you know what? It gave me my health back too. Thanks to my lifestyle revamp I am currently in remission and I still have my thyroid. I will always have Graves Disease and may experience flare ups, but I’ve learned to accept this as part of my journey.
I may someday need to resort to surgery or radiation and I’m glad those options exist for me if needed. But I’m also very thankful that I’ve create a lifestyle that allows me to thrive with Graves Disease. One radical choice changed everything.
So why exactly would I tell you I’m grateful for Graves Disease itself?
While I certainly would never call it a gift, because I wouldn’t give it to you, Graves Disease was the catalyst for so many positive changes in my life. Without it I never would have discovered the joy of feeding myself with kindness and sharing healthy, nutritious meals with those I love. I wouldn’t have become my own greatest ally or realized how incredibly important it is to love yourself fiercely and make your own well-being a top priority. Before Graves Disease my own self care was pretty low on my list of priorities.
In the excitement of all of those changes, Graves Disease inspired me to create mshealthesteem.com to share my experiences and recipes and inspire others to love and care for themselves just as fiercely. Because you deserve it.
If I can take those 4 life altering words and use them to propel me forward in such a positive direction, imagine what YOU can do.
Wishing you health and love,
Sara is a wellness writer, Graves Disease Thriver and the creator of www.mshealthesteem.com. At 24, Sara was diagnosed with Graves Disease, an incurable autoimmune disease. While learning to live with a chronic illness she realized that she needed to make a commitment to her wellbeing and treat her body with kindness. She empowered herself to do everything she can to thrive in spite of her diagnosis. Sara writes articles on self-care, acceptance, wellness and nutrition – as well as simple, delicious, healthy recipes anyone can enjoy (dessert’s her favourite). Start your own wellness journey today with her Free Self-Care Planner and Healthy Dessert Recipe E-Book.
Thank you for reading Sara’s story! If you want to read other stories like this one, head on over to the Laugh Always Spotlight or you can read the most recent article here —>
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