These days, I don’t often take time off work or cancel plans due to my hypothyroidism. But every now and then, I may need to. In fact, before I was properly medicated for it, I needed a lot of time off work.
There are some things a lot of people don’t realise about me taking days off for autoimmune thyroid disease. Sure, I’m not coughing, being sick or have diarrhoea. But I am unwell and I need to be at home. So trust my judgement.
This post is especially apt since January is Thyroid Disease Awareness Month, so time to raise some awareness on what it’s like for us hypothyroid patients to spend the day at home unwell.
A classic hypothyroid symptom is aches and pains throughout the body, although most common in the legs. For me, this pain feels like a load of tiny people are lined up against all of my muscles and bones, and banging them with lots of teeny tiny hammers, all at different times but all equally as hard. Imagine when you’ve had the flu, and the aches and pains you felt with it. I’ve had swine flu and some other random flu that put me in hospital with pnuemonia, yet I’m telling you that hypothyroid aches and pains are worse than the ones I experienced with flu. The pain is so bad that I find it hard to distract myself from it and often find myself crying without even knowing. It has kept me awake at night and tends to only be soothed with a hot water bottle or bath.
The trouble with that, is that I’m often too fatigued to get myself to the bathroom or kitchen to run a bath or make a hot water bottle. Usually, I have to wait until my other half is home so he can help me up the stairs and get in to the bath safely, as I’ve slipped before when trying to get in unwell.
Probably the most well-recognised hypothyroid symptom is tiredness. But the word ‘tired’ doesn’t cut it. It’s fatigue. It’s pure exhaustion. The hypothyroid fatigue many experience leaves them unable to climb stairs. Unable to get to the end of the street. Or even unable to get themselves to the toilet or kitchen to get food.
We’re so tired that we feel nauseous and we think we’re going mad.
You’re probably thinking ‘then take a nap’ or ‘have a lie-in’.
Ahhhhh, if only!
The problem with hypothyroidism is that the metabolism slows down due to the lack of thyroid hormone in the body, and with this not only comes weight gain, but also a severe lack of energy due to the lack of calories burnt. Because of this, we could nap several times a day, get 12 hours sleep a night and often still feel no better. It’s frustrating. It’s upsetting. It’s scary.
The Lack of Concentration
Lack of thyroid hormone also causes knock-on effects with brain function, which takes us on to another very common symptom; brain fog. Brain fog is often described as feelings of mental confusion or lack of mental clarity. The phrase comes from the feeling of a fog that reduces your ability to think clearly. It can feel like a mental block. It can cause a person to become forgetful, detached and discouraged.
I’ve had days where I got up at 9am, had breakfast, watched some TV, did some things, then come 4pm, couldn’t remember what I’d done at all that day. I’ve tried getting in to a neighbour’s house with my front door key and I’ve put laundry in the bin instead of the washing machine. I’ve learnt to laugh about some of it, but it’s still scary.
Brain fog can cause us to have slow reactions, speak slower and muddle up words. Another reason why we’re better off not being at work – saying the wrong thing to a customer, mixing up files or inputting figures wrong on the computer can land us and our employer in potentially big trouble.
Being easily cold is another common hypothyroid symptom, especially cold hands and feet. I’ve layered up with four covers, the central heating on and fire on before, and still felt freezing. Therefore, being at work, where it is likely colder than that, also drafty and people wanting air-con on or windows open, is painful for us. When we’re already so cold, extra coldness can make our bones really ache and affect our concentration since more thyroid hormone is being used to try and generate body heat as oppose to good brain function or energy.
Many people with thyroid disease also experience mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. These alone can be torture to live with, with or without the physical symptoms on top. What might make perfect sense to you, could be difficult for someone with a mental illness, to grasp. Mental illness can make you look at things irrationally and emotions heightened. The slightest thing can make you crumble to pieces.
A day alone with our own thoughts might be what we need. Maybe we can’t even muster getting out of bed today due to the sickness in our stomach called anxiety. Or the impending doom and gloom hanging over us from depression. Don’t judge.
And you forget about how we feel…
Do you think we enjoy taking time off work? Do you think anyone who is unwell does? Sure, a day off if you’re pulling a ‘sickie‘ is enjoyable, but if you’re off work due to vomiting, diarrhoea, flu or a virus, is it fun and enjoyable? Not at all. Yeah, you’re not at work, which is a plus, but wouldn’t you rather be at work feeling well, than off work feeling horrible?
So how is that different to someone with a chronic illness or health condition such as Hypothyroidism?
We don’t like calling in sick. We feel bad and possibly even feel guilty, even though we don’t know why and have no reason to feel this way. We’re not faking, we’re legitimately very unwell, but society says we’re not really, so we should be at work. Especially if we have medication for said health condition; then shouldn’t we be OK?
Well, you’d think so!
I wish that was the case. Unfortunately, thyroid disease often isn’t simple to treat and flares up from time to time. It isn’t always easy to know when it will get worse before it does, either.
Please bear all this is mind, next time someone you know with hypothyroidism or even any other chronic illness, needs a day at home. We really are trying our best and this isn’t easy to live with.
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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.