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Tucked into your neck, like a secret, lies the control unit for your hair, weight, calcium absorption, and your mood. It is subtle, though gaining light in the press, however, if it is malfunctioning it can lead to miserable circumstances that are difficult to target and fix.
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in your neck. If you stand in front of a mirror and swallow while facing upwards, you can see it. This gland produces hormones that control several parts of your bodily functions. Often when someone’s mood fluctuates or they lose and gain weight for seemingly no reason, it can be attributed to an imbalance in the thyroid.
I was never a small human. I was born at twenty-four inches long and twelve pounds; I am a big girl. Though I never reached the anticipated six-foot mark, I stand at just over five foot seven and I weigh….well I have a weight. In middle school, I was active pretty regularly. I played soccer consistently every season until I graduated and alternated basketball, softball, cross-fit, yoga, horseback riding and boxing for seven years for the other two seasons, but was active about two hours for five days out of the week. My family has a pretty healthy ethos and frowns upon processed foods, though like many others I admittedly do have a sweet tooth.
However, unlike most of my peers, puberty did not bring a proportional shift of my weight to my height, even with a high proportion of muscle, I was noticeably larger than many people my age. This can be a difficult thing in a world where looks seem to hold a magical importance, and being thin is like having a pet unicorn, precious and something we all want. To make matters worse, my mother was fashionably thin growing up, so clearly I was bitter about remaining “big” despite my very athletic lifestyle.
Finally, after being concerned for a while, my parents decided to have me tested to see why I was in this position. Yes, I indulge, but so did every other teenager. So after going to an endocrinologist, they found my thyroid gland was under-active and I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. This meant that not only my size, but my mood swings and ever-thinning hair was for a reason, and in the end, not my fault. So I was put on medication, after about one year I lost thirty pounds without changing anything about my life, just fixing an imbalance of hormones with a tiny pill.
After that, changes went back and forth within my body. My levels would speed up too far and I would become overactive, hyperthyroidism. During this time, I wasn’t lucky enough to lose weight, but I did lose more hair and have even more violent mood swings. Finally, when I was seventeen, I decided I was exhausted at the prospect of dealing with this for the rest of my life, and after being diagnosed with Graves’ disease, I chose to have my thyroid removed. Unlike most people who may dread the thought of being cut open, I was so excited. I pictured a life of being a “normal” size, being able to borrow clothes from my friends and looking amazing in a bathing suit. I went into surgery headlong, and besides the pain of post-op, all I felt was anticipation and overwhelming relief… Finally, I was going to be gorgeous, the way I was meant to look.
Jokes on me. Yes, I no longer have Graves ’ disease since I do not have a thyroid, but I am still burdened with imbalanced hormones. I take a little pill every morning when I wake up, and I will for the rest of my life, but I am still unbalanced. Despite this being a large part of my experience for the past decade, I still get frustrated with being unable to shed weight and live a life that is not very restrictive and where I do not have to work out three hours a day to lose about seven pounds in a year. However, here I am, living an amazing life, with amazing people, and I am healthy and happy.
Thyroid disease can feel enormous (pun intended), but it is manageable. Anyone who has it has to recognize that a little weight gain and hair loss is inconvenient, but still a blessing in comparison with the struggles other people are experiencing. It really only becomes a problem when you feel sorry for yourself, which everyone does from time to time.
So yes, you may have to have late breakfasts after taking your pill, you may have to have a wardrobe with a selection of sizes, and you may spend a little too much on hair care. But you are still amazing, beautiful, and a natural force of strength. So any women with thyroid illness should take a moment to realize their amazing strength and invest some time into self-care and self-love; because, despite what society has to say about a little extra weight, we are marvelous and deserve to live our best lives.