My Personal Journey Beyond “Depression” and Hashimoto’s

I just published a blog post that was inspired by both my personal experience as well as my observation of so many of my autoimmune clients titled, Depression: Is it Undiagnosed Autoimmune Hypothyroidism?  So many begin their journey feeling demoralized, exhausted, alone, hopeless, and dare I say, depressed. Whether they have a depression diagnosis or not, the years of living with symptoms that are dismissed by conventional medicine and misunderstood by family and friends leaves them feeling depressed.

Depression is in quotes in the title of this post because I’ve come to question the accuracy of “depression” as a medical diagnosis. I agree with holistic psychiatrist, Kelly Brogan, MD, who in her book, Own Your Self, flips the quick diagnosis of depression on its head by asking, “Is depression (or any chronic illness) and our painful struggle with modern life an illness, or is it a logical response to a world that is ‘off?’”

[Brogan is also the author of A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies and Reclaim Their Lives.]

My Personal Journey
I’ve traveled this complicated path of undiagnosed autoimmune hypothyroidism and depression that was, perhaps, misdiagnosed. Undeniably, depression was a “quick fix” diagnosis with no additional testing for underlying physical health factors and minimal additional intervention for supporting the healing of predisposing factors that strongly contributed.

The way it looked in 2002, at 35 years old, the wheels were coming off of my carefully constructed life. We’d moved to Dallas from my beloved New York City in 2000. It was an important move for my family but I was struggling with the new culture, social isolation, sleep deprivation, and exhaustion (after all, we had three young kids).

Back in NYC, after leaving a corporate job I hated, I had no clue what was next for me personally. Soon after, 9/11 happened. I’d spent my entire adult life in NYC. It’s where: my husband and I had memories of our first twelve years of marriage, my three kids were born, and my friends and mom still lived.

I then found myself alone in Dallas grieving the devastation in NYC. It was all too much and I found myself barely able to get through the basic tasks of each day. I tried Bible study, social groups, exercise, meditation, volunteering…everything I knew to get me back into life. All these things only made me feel worse as I tended to compare myself to all the other happy, productive people who seemed to be doing just fine.

A few months of suffering culminated with me talking to a counselor. Once. He asked me a series of questions, diagnosed me with depression, and sent me to my doctor presumably for an antidepressant. She asked a series of thoughtful questions about my physical and emotional symptoms to determine which antidepressant was the best fit. She also dismissed me with, “Of course you’re exhausted! You have three kids and you’re not getting any younger.”

I distinctly remember leaving her office determined to discover what was actually going on with my low energy, low mood, migraines, gut pain, and insomnia. I thought, “I’m only 35 years old! I’m NOT going to live the rest of my life this way!” In hindsight, I see I was beginning a journey of discovering myself and owning my health: mental, physical, and spiritual reclamation.

Awakening to a New Model of Healthcare
From a conventional medical perspective, depression is a catch-all diagnosis for anyone struggling with life. In my case, an antidepressant was the quick solution, followed by: migraine medications, sleeping pills, and a variety of pills to relieve digestive symptoms. If you view the body as a mechanical system, that makes sense—it’s easy to check off a “fix” for each symptom. But anyone who’s been down this path knows it’s not that simple. It feels like a game of “whack a mole.”

An integrative and holistic approach views the body as a living, integrated system. Aside from critical distinctions (gunshot wounds, broken bones, heart attacks, etc.), a living systems approach is far superior to a mechanistic approach when you’re living with chronic illness. Most diseases in the Western world are chronic in nature and our conventional medical system is so ill equipped to support the myriad diet and lifestyle factors that need to be addressed for healing.

As someone who’s been there, I know the “list” of considerations with a holistic approach can sometimes feel never-ending. When you’re suffering and lacking expertise in either health model, it can feel overwhelming to make your way through the choices. Each of these paths requires time, money, and commitment—and although neither can guarantee outcomes, a whole body, systems-based approach is far superior to and significantly more effective than a mechanistic approach.

My Personal Journey, continued…
As I look back at my personal journey over the last 20 years through a different lens, one that takes a more integrative, holistic view, I see that I identify with all of these complicated, underlying issues that led to the overly simplistic diagnosis of “depression.”

It hasn’t been a linear path. I had to step out of my comfort zone in every area to find my healing. I’m not gonna lie. It was terrifying. Each step of questioning and peeling away a layer of deeply held beliefs felt like a death. Dr. Brogan calls this the dark night of the soul—the energy of transformation. It’s an awakening to your own truth. Honoring yourself. 

At the beginning of my personal journey, I was four years into exploring natural health. After a particularly rough winter in 1998 with my babies, I began to quickly lose faith in my traditional pediatrician’s ability to support our health. Her only answer was pharmaceuticals…after they were already sick. She had no tools in her toolbox to support my efforts to keep them healthy. Nothing.

I soon became fascinated with the world of natural health and nutrition. I changed pediatricians and found one who was both a medical doctor and naturally minded. Mark Nesselson, MD gave me the tools that changed the course of my family’s health. I began reading books and taking classes and given that I was already on this path, it was easy for me to question my depression diagnosis and get to work on discovering the underlying factors involved.

When I went digging from an integrative perspective, I discovered some underlying factors: hypothyroidism with antibodies (Hashimoto’s), severe blood sugar imbalance, adrenal fatigue, post birth control syndrome, and gluten intolerance. Wow! Any one of these factors could potentially leave someone with depressive symptoms. Taken together, they painted a picture of the perfect storm.

I took my healing very seriously and began to use the tools I was learning to address each of these imbalances. It took some time, but the fog began to lift and my energy and enthusiasm for life came back. I was a believer—this holistic health stuff was for real!

What I didn’t see 20 years ago was the massive influence of all the other predisposing factors and spiritual factors that were contributing to my physical and emotional symptoms. At that time, these were rarely talked about, even in my natural health circles. Below are some of my personal influences. You can learn more on this topic here.

As much as it’s been a struggle to admit this to myself, I’m a highly sensitive person. I feel deeply. I came into adulthood in the conservative 80’s full of Wall Street successes, MBAs, and women wearing suits that looked like refitted men’s clothing. No emotions allowed. That wasn’t me but I felt compelled to “hide” me if I was going to be successful.

Childhood trauma comes in many forms. Again, even “little t” trauma is traumatic to a child and can have a lifelong impact. My parents love me, but they are a product of their generation and family of origin as well. This is a hard one because I’m also a parent—and I now realize that you can do all you know to do and it still not be all the child needs. Trauma lingers in the recesses of your soul—those triggered responses that you can’t identify that keep you trapped, living small, and protecting yourself from the unnamed dangers lurking around the corner.

I’ve had a few toxic relationships over the years that needed ending. Even in relationships that I’ve kept, I’ve learned how to set healthier boundaries. I feel like this shift is bigger than my journey alone—it’s an evolution that women, in particular, are experiencing. Letting go of the idea that it’s “selfish” to care for ourselves. Letting go of striving to be small, quiet, invisible, in order to achieve the cultural ideal of “selfless.” Learning to find your center in self before venturing out into serving family, work, community, and the world.

I’ve run my entire life at an unsustainable pace. Until recently. I’ve made a few wobbly steps to shift my pace. It begs the question, “Do I believe that my value is based solely on my accomplishments?” I’ll just say, “It’s a work in progress.”

Finally, opening my throat chakra is a big one. In fact, it’s taken much spiritual healing to write this story—to get out of my comfort zone and be more vulnerable. I’ve realized that I began hiding my voice at a much earlier age than my 20s when I entered the workforce. As a child, I often felt I was too much. Too loud. Too colorful. If I wanted to be loved and accepted, I had to tone myself down. Acceptance came with the high price of making myself smaller. Quieter. More “normal.”

If you’ve paid attention to the timing, you’ll observe this has been a long journey for me. Over 20 years. It’s important to note that I was able to reverse my Hashimoto’s within a few months and I’ve remained in remission all these years. The feelings of depression lifted substantially that first year. And I’ll say that physical and emotional healing are simple compared to the spiritual healing required to live life to your potential.

Again, this hasn’t been a linear journey. But over the years, I’ve learned that even a “step back” happens FOR me, not TO me. It’s an opportunity to take the next BIG step forward in my health: mental, physical, and spiritual reclamation.

I would now say these opportunities, the steps back, are life (the Universe, God) showing me it’s time for a change. A new approach. An awakening to more.

It’s the energy of death and rebirth. Resurrection.

Winter into spring.

I’ll end with one of my favorite poems by John Roedel. Known for his book, Hey God. Hey John., he beautifully writes what he believes God is saying to him about life.

my love,

don’t set your watch
to your healing

don’t give it
a deadline

instead

give it all the
time it needs

to replant the garden
of your flowering purpose

oh, my love, oh, my love,

I wish you could
see what I see

I wish you
could see
how incredibly
beautiful you
look

while you heal

John Roedel, remedy

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