Friday, May 23, 2014

The Information Superhighway is Experiencing Delays

This will be stream of consciousness. I apologize in advance.

In an effort to find out more information about hyperthyroidism and thyroid disease, I have been scouring the Internet for reliable sources that will educate me enough to fight work with my doctor regarding my care. I have also joined 2 Facebook groups in the hopes of connecting with others who are experiencing some of the same issues as I am. I am now thinking that this was not such a great idea, though. All it has done has scared the ever-living hell out of me. From reading about cardiac arrest to heart failure to thyroid storm to bulging eyes to leaky guts to hearts pounding in throats all the live long day, I feel this strange combination of over-informed, misinformed, and uninformed.

I'm beginning to think that life was better when I didn't know what was going on and I was just feeling crappy all the time. Ignorance is bliss, or at least less disturbing than the "knowledge" that I have now.

And I still have a week before I go in for more thorough testing. I reckon this is so that the doctor can see if my thyroid levels have stabilized, changed, or gotten worse over time. And now that I know what the issue is, I am finding that all of the weird things that I thought were because of anemia or asthma or pre-menopause are just more obvious and amplified. This is making me edgier and more anxious to get the tests done. I am still in a gray area, but it's more like a big gray loop that I just keep going around and around.

I don't want to have something wrong with me. I don't want to always think and talk and write about hyperthyroidism of Graves Disease or autoimmune disfunction. I want to go back to the way it used to be, when I complained about how much I hate running, how slow I am on a road bike, and how freaked out I am about an upcoming race. Not knowing if I can do the things that I thought I hated, but now realize were a gift and a privilege, is frankly pissing me off. I don't want to be told that I CAN'T run or exert myself, I don't want that decision made for me.

As long as I am upright, I will keep moving, though. Even if it is mere walking, or yoga. This isn't the worst thing in the world, it is just an adjustment. There are others far worse off than me, by a long shot, and I need to put this into perspective.

On a side note, I have completed 23 days of my May Runstreak. I am plowing through, I have 8 days left! For June, I plan on swimming 20 total miles for the month as my fitness goal. Having a goal is a great thing.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fear of the Unknown

I'm in a gray area right now, and I don't like it one bit. After months and months of feeling just plain bad, I finally took myself to the doctor at the beginning of the month. I suspected that I had anemia, based on my nearly constant exhaustion, along with the muscle fatigue that I was feeling when I attempted any type of workout. At first, I chalked it up to the approximately 3, 500 races that I trained for and finished since the beginning of 2012, including 3 half marathons and a half Ironman last year. I figured that I had run my body into the ground, that I had exhausted every resource that it had available to it, and that my body was staging a revolt. But after Augusta, I gave myself several months of time off and lighter workouts, hoping that my body would heal up and I would be back to fighting form eventually. Of course, in my advanced age, I knew that it would take some time to get there.

But month after month, nothing ever changed. Training for St. Anthony's got more and more difficult with each passing week, each workout - no matter how big or small - felt like a Herculean task. I was tired all the time, and no amount of caffeine perked me up. I had insomnia, which I naturally thought was the reason for my constant zombie state. But then I started to notice other symptoms, things that I had never really experienced before: profuse sweating during and after my workouts, even when the temperatures were COLD, shortness of breath, excessively dry skin and lips, weird muscle aches, the list goes on.

I assumed I had exercise-induced asthma. I assumed I had anemia. I assumed I had overtrained myself into oblivion.

The doctor did a full set of blood tests - 4 vials of my blood's worth - and the results came back really great. Perfect cholesterol levels, perfect glucose levels, perfect B12 levels. But then there was my thyroid levels. The initial FT4 screening came back at .06, way into the hyper range. The low end of normal starts at .50. Now I have an answer. 

When I say I am in a gray area, I mean that I have to wait another few weeks to get some more specific thyroid tests, and then we go from there. But, being the type of person that I am, I have done huge amounts of Internet research on Hyperthyroidism, and while I am relieved that all of these things that I had been - and continue to - experiencing are part of a real issue, I am scared to death. Ahead of me, I am looking at massive diet changes, copious amounts of medications for the rest of my life, and the possibility of having to have my entire thyroid gland surgically removed. I have never had a real health issue to deal with in my entire life, except for a fractured vertebra, and again, I am scared. I am scared about these changes that I will be forced to make.

Despite all of this, I have been loyally working to complete my runstreak. I have run every single day this month so far, at least 1.5 miles. It is difficult, it hurts, it is hard to breathe (though my asthma inhaler does help), and I feel like less than half of the athlete that I used to be. Many mornings, while running, I hold back tears when I think about how it used to be nothing for me to go out and run 5 miles, and now I can barely make it around the block. I am angry at my body for failing me just when I was learning how to take advantage of its every talent and resource. And for now, I don't know how to fix it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Just Breathe

After a miserable race at St. Anthony's Triathlon a few weekends ago that I would just like to put behind me (although, I am happy to report that I dropped more than 4 minutes off my swim time from that race 2 years ago!), May 1 arrived and it was time to hold up the bargain I made with myself, and start my runstreak. I was a little afraid, a little hesitant, and honestly dreading the idea of running 31 days in a row.

It was an ugly race for me, but at least I got this really cool (although really heavy) stained glass finisher medal

Before I was able to hit the pavement for my first run of the month, though, I had to visit the doctor. I've talked about how difficult running and training have been for me for the past several months. Mostly, my lung capacity has felt compromised when running (also a little with swimming and cycling), as if there is a cork in my windpipe keeping me from taking in enough air when I try to run faster than a jog. After doing a little research on my own, I began to think I had developed exercise-induced asthma. But I also worried that there were other issues afoot, thanks to my nearly-constant physical fatigue.

I visited an Internist, a nice enough woman who seemed to agree with my self-diagnosis, and prescribed me an Albuterol inhaler and some allergy medication. Four vials of blood were sucked out of me, and a complete blood work-up was ordered.

My first run after using my inhaler was nothing short of miraculous. Though my endurance is in a seriously pitiful place, I was able to run AND breathe simultaneously. I did not have to stop and bend over in order to attempt to suck in as much air as I could, and I did not feel even the slightest bit of panic due to the feeling of being strangled. It was as if I had been renewed. I felt like a runner again! I don't love using the inhaler, I hate being on medication, but I feel like it is helping me, and I am grateful for having a set of lungs filled with air again!

So back to the runstreak. It is now May 7, and I have run 7 days in a row! I am running 1.5 - 2.75 miles per day. I know the distance isn't there - YET - but I am already beginning to feel as if I could run farther at the end of each run. It is hot and humid outside, but now that I can breathe again, I feel like I have power and I feel my speed gradually beginning to return. This weekend, I plan to run a 4-miler, then next weekend, a 5-miler, then the next weekend, a 6-miler, and I plan to cap the month off with a 7-miler. Surprisingly, my legs feel strong each day. I suppose that is because I am not doing any real distance each day, but the continuity and the steadiness of my pace is hopefully allowing my legs to ease back into some real strength (and some of my thigh cheese to melt away). Incredibly, right now, I don't hate running. I am, however, frustrated with the feeling that I am starting over again completely.

My lab results came back yesterday, and my thyroid tested in the hyper range. I had feared that I had hypothyroidism, like my father, so this was a weird twist. Side effects of hyperthyroidism include shortness of breath (check!), restless sleep (bingo!), itchy & dry skin (bullseye!), moodiness & depression (BOOM), among a few others. I go back in 4 weeks to have my thyroid tested again, and we go from there. But to now know that there is a concrete reason for feeling like I have been falling apart for the past year or so is a such a huge relief.

One week down, three to go in my runstreak, and there's no real finish line in sight. My goals now are more humble, more like baby steps than giant leaps. I know that it will all come back to me, in due time.