2016 was going to be my “year of yes” at work. I wanted to be promoted this year, and I was willing to take on extra work and work extra hours to make it happen. And I did – from February to April, with a short break in March, I was working nearly every night and weekend (in addition to my day job), switching on my computer at 5 AM to send out another draft, and trying to fit in an hour or two here and there to do homework and watch lectures for my class (Bayesian Inference – I’m working on a masters in operations research). Then suddenly, in February, I stopped sleeping.
Extreme Insomnia and Other Symptoms
I’ve always had insomnia, since I was born (according to my mom) – I have the kind where I can’t switch off my brain to fall asleep. It was bad in high school, got better in college, and has been really manageable ever since – I’ll have a sleepless night or week only every once in a while.
But this time, I was barely sleeping at all, for several nights in a row. I would be in bed by 10, and staring at the ceiling or reading till about 5:30 AM, at which point I’d get an hour of sleep before waking up again at 6:30 to go to work, or I’d just get out of bed and get some work done. Mike got scared when I broke down the second week in and started ranting like a crazy person about moving somewhere far away to just get some sleep. I started taking sleeping pills regularly, and found that they worked about half the time, but left me groggy the next day.
I also started sweating profusely at night, and we tried everything from lowering the bedroom temperature to tucking ice packs next to me in bed. I packed on 10 lbs in a month from eating too much at night and during the day to stay awake (I noticed when one day, I couldn’t zip up my work pants, lol).
In April, Mike started googling my symptoms, particularly my insomnia and sweating. He thought it looked like hyperthyroidism, and asked me to see my doctor. My doc agreed and got my thyroid stimulating hormone levels tested. A few days later, it came back as low, indicating hyperthyroidism. I got my T3 and T4 levels checked next, and sure enough, they were abnormally high, confirming the hyperthyroidism diagnosis. The doc also tested for thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI), which also came back high, indicating that my hyperthyroidism is caused by Graves’ Disease, an autoimmune disorder that stimulates the thyroid. Graves’ is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism.
Why Do I Have This?
While we know that Graves’ disease caused my hyperthyroidism, it’s not known what causes Graves’ disease. Women under 40 tend to be at higher risk, and for those with possible genetic inheritance (I suspect my dad may have had it), stress can trigger it. This totally fits my case; my symptoms didn’t appear until I was under prolonged high stress at work this year.
Do I regret saying yes to all the work that came my way? Sort of. I wish I had handled my stress better, and it definitely bothers me that I might have damaged my health in doing so. But I also think that if my symptoms were caused by stress, this might have been inevitable – something now or later in life is going to stress me, and there may or may not be much I can do to reduce it immediately. I also wanted to advance at work, and that’s still important to me. That said, I’ll be reducing stress in ways I can control when it gets overwhelming. I’ll say no when I need to. I’m not taking a class this summer because I have the feeling I need a break.
I’m also glad it’s not something more serious. It sucks that something’s wrong and that I’ll need to take medication for a while, if not the rest of my life, but it’s not life threatening and in fact, it’s fairly common (3% of women deal with Graves’ and hyperthyroidism symptoms at some point in their lives). Stress can do terrible things to the body and mind, and I consider this a wake-up call to not take on more than I can handle, and to learn to manage my stress better.
The next step for me is a thyroid scan next week, where I’ll take a radioactive iodine pill and get my thyroid imaged that afternoon and the next day. After that, my doctor and I will talk about treatment plans and prognosis. The good thing is, hyperthyroidism is very treatable and symptoms can even go away in some cases. I’ll provide more updates here as I get more info!
Have a great weekend all, see you here next week :)