When I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism last year, I first felt relieved. I finally had a concrete reason for the way that I was feeling and I could start working on getting well again, now I knew what the problem was.
But, I also struggled with accepting the diagnosis.
I’m an impatient person and I’m a perfectionist. I always have been!
Because of this, when I didn’t get better straight away, I felt a failure. I struggled to accept my new condition and the thought of living this way (at the time, a very poor quality of life) for the rest of my life was devastating. This pushed me in to a depression and my anxiety disorder, that I’d had since seventeen and battled with before my diagnosed thyroid problems, also flared up.
I was also inadequately treated for my thyroid at this time, kept on Levothyroxine, which did not work for me, and left my thyroid levels less than optimal. Doctors kept on pushing antidepressants on me and suggested counselling. I’d had counselling before and it didn’t really work. When I explained this, they suggested trying CBT. I said of course, I’ll try anything to feel better.
As explained by the NHS:
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.
CBT cannot remove your problems, but it can help you deal with them in a more positive way. It is based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle.
CBT aims to help you crack this cycle by breaking down overwhelming problems into smaller parts and showing you how to change these negative patterns to improve the way you feel.
Unlike some other talking treatments, CBT deals with your current problems, rather than focusing on issues from your past. It looks for practical ways to improve your state of mind on a daily basis.
It’s about changing the way you look at things.
I looked at my diagnosis of having hypothyroidism as a weakness initially and I struggled to accept this new part of my life which was always going to be there. As someone who hates change, it devastated me; the thought of having to deal with something new, which also took over my life.. I just couldn’t handle it.
I found CBT helped me see my hypothyroidism as just another part of me, that I wasn’t to blame for, really, and the most productive thing to do going forward was to work on managing it as best as possible. It taught me that I don’t have to be ‘perfect’ all the time and I’m allowed days where my condition makes me very ill or I’m struggling. I’m allowed to put my health first and that’s not a bad thing. I’m allowed to be imperfect.
In regards to my anxiety disorder and depression, it focused on my deep rooted fears and self image and aimed to challenge my beliefs which were having a detrimental effect on me and my life, causing the excess anxiety and deep depression I was in. I am a perfectionist and this idea I had of always having to live to up everyone else’s standards, was unrealistic and inevitably causing me to feel as if I was failing all the time. This anxiety and depression took over a lot of my life in conjunction with my hypothyroid symptoms.
CBT helped me to view my diagnosis of hypothyroidism in a completely different way. It helped me to accept it and then look at it in a proactive way. I had six one hour sessions, over six weeks, but my therapist did say that it could be lengthened in certain circumstances. However, most people find six sessions to be enough. I was given homework, such as a thought record sheet to fill in, to track what kind of thoughts were getting me stressed, anxious or particularly depressed and upset, so we could work out what my deep rooted fears were, and challenge them to fix the problems in the way I was thinking. We established that my fear of always wanting to be viewed as perfect, in every single aspect of my life (from a clean house, to perfect health, to perfect nails, to a perfect job) due to a deep rooted fear of not being good enough for those around me and disappointing them, was the cause for everything contributing to my anxiety and depression.
In order for the CBT to help me, I had to want to get better and I had to go in with the motivation for this to work and give it all my effort. This isn’t easy when depression demotivates you, but it’s worth a try.
It’s after I finished my six weeks of CBT that I set up this blog, my Facebook support group, started NDT and found a better doctor. It gave me the drive to decide that I needed to do to be more proactive in my own health, in order to get my hypothyroidism under control. It helped me accept that no one is perfect and that’s totally fine. I need to be more realistic and stop worrying what other people think. I still use the techniques I was taught in CBT and believe it to be much more beneficial long term than just counselling alone.
It is worth noting, however, that not having optimal thyroid hormone levels may well impact how well CBT or other therapies work for you, since they’re known to affect out mood and mental state if too low.
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I run a Facebook group, called Thyroid Family: Hypothyroidism Advice & Support Group. This group is for underactive thyroid/hypothyroidism patients only, and not medical professionals or anyone else. If you have any questions on living with hypothyroidism, or want some support, help or advice, please join us.
I also run a group for the spouses, partners and other halves of hypothyroid patients, called Hypothyroid Patients Other Halves – Support & Advice Group. This is for the other halves only and not patients.