Journey of an overactive thyroid

Plus the sad state of the NHS

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I wrote a few weeks ago about my crazy overactive thyroid, which is now within range. What this means is that the 40mg of carbimazole that I’ve taken daily for the past four weeks has drastically destroyed some of my thyroid tissue thus rendering it incapable of excess T3 and T4 production. The TSH hormones that drive production of the T3 and T4 that circulate around in my blood are still ‘switched off’ but other than that I am ‘normal’. I feel fine, although a little tired. I have gained back the few pounds that I dropped, and it will be difficult to stop eating so much, as I got used to whole days of grazing, non-stop, on carbohydrates, just to hang onto the weight I was at. The downside as that I’ll need to be ‘titrated’ now which means staying on exactly the right dose of carbimazole to maintain the correct range. I think it can be tricky and can go under, in which case I’ll need thyroxine, and my private endocrinologist has still got me on 30g of carbimazole for another four weeks, although by that time I’ll have seen an NHS endocrinologist who might say something else entirely.

The other downside is that my liver function is now borderline. It was borderline at diagnosis, which was due to the toxicity of all that excess thyroid hormone floating about in my bloodstream, causing the liver to work harder. Either that or it was the borderline wine addiction but to be honest I don’t think so. It’s only ever been 2 or 3 glasses at a time and often none at all for weeks at a time, so probably not that. I’m now off alcohol completely and will be until I’m off carbimazole, because the liver function has worsened and is now causing my skin to break out and probably some of this fatigue. I don’t know whether the NHS endocrinologist will try a different medicine but I’ll ask at the appointment. I also still don’t know what the cause is, because the test for Graves disease that the private endocrinologist asked for was messed up by the lab, and my GP cannot request the test as it needs to come from a specialist.

This whole business of going private is sad. Not for me. It cost £200 and it was money well spent. But the fact that so many are having to wait five months to get seen. If I hadn’t have gone private, my condition would’ve worsened and the symptoms would’ve been really unbearable. I’d have had to give up work and be signed off sick, and had no income because I am classed as self-employed and don’t get sick pay. If I hadn’t have had the wherewithal to research my condition and realise what I needed, and discovered that GPs are not experts in endocrinology, and would be unable or unwilling to prescribe carbimazole in the doses that I needed, I would have suffered so much more than I did, and for longer. If I wasn’t the kind of person who makes a decision to get things sorted, and then acts like a bull in a china shop until they are sorted, nobody else would have conducted that fight for me.

I’m an intelligent woman with a will of iron and, although I’m genuinely kind and caring, I’m not gentle when it comes to getting what I need or getting what my family needs. In the past I advocated for my daughter by regularly bombarding the CAMHS unit and reminding them of the NICE guidelines. I contacted my local MP who also advocated for her. I got her treatment earlier because I kept on. My letters were well-informed, articulate and medically accurate. But how unfair is this? I’ve realised more than ever before in my new job how much the system is screwing over the most vulnerable members of our society.

How are these people supposed to get help? There are those around us in situations which are festering, problematic and downright unsafe. A single parent with severe mental health difficulties who cannot see a psychiatrist for months or even obtain the medication that would help them to find some space and calm. A child who can’t sleep because their routine has become completely upside down, who has missed so much school that they can’t tell the time, a child who is out all night and in all day, whose parent has learning difficulties and doesn’t really know how to parent, despite all the love in the world. A clinic where nobody answers the phone. Informative leaflets emailed out to people who don’t have the capacity to understand them and nobody to advocate for them. Local councils with social workers so snowed under with enormous caseloads who, through no fault of their own, are unable to support these families. GP surgeries with locked doors and phone queues over an hour long. Single mums haven’t got the time to wait over an hour. The baby’s crying, the washing needs doing, the cat needs feeding, the kids have to be fetched from school. They’ve got jobs that they need to pay the bills. They can’t get any help from anyone.

It’s a horrible speculation but is the NHS deliberately being run into the ground so that we can all go the American way and buy into lucrative personal health insurance schemes where the rich get richer and the poor just suffer? Where poor people with diabetes can’t get insulin because it’s not covered on their insurance? Where self-employed folks have no incentive to carry on and they have to go back into the corporate world? Or are we already there? I know that the families I work with are suffering because the NHS is no longer fit for purpose – which was to provide healthcare to every single person in a timely manner regardless of socio-economic status. If we are going the American way can we just get on with it then? Because what we’ve got now is neither here nor there. It’s a half-way house where people like me can badger, bombard and be heard, or pay the odd £200 for some timely treatment, and other people can just fall through the cracks in a ‘survival of the fittest, every man for himself’ kind of Trump-esque dystopia.

My thyroid condition will probably be well-managed and I’ll cobble together a path through it in a combination of self-management, education and professional input. But I’m sad for the NHS and all the amazing people who work in it. I hope against hope that this government really does put in some considerable funding and keep it going. I’ll never give up hoping that they really mean it and something will change. I don’t want to become the next state of America, driven entirely by consumerism, corporations, power and heirarchy. I want to live somewhere where every body is seen, valued and cared for with the same ferocious drive to thrive that most of us extend to ourselves and our own.

Why ‘healthy’ is a stupid concept

The truth about what ‘healthy’ means

We are a society that thinks in polar opposites. Man or woman. Black or white. Good or bad. Maybe I am more this way than most. As the product of a fundamentalist upbringing, I was taught about good and evil, us and them, Heaven and Hell, God and the Devil, and everything seemed so simple. But now I’m officially grown up, at 50, I find it glaringly obvious that the world doesn’t consist of polar opposites. We aren’t either a man or a woman. We might be male or female, although that’s not the case for intersex folks, and many people with bits of chromosomes that muddle the issue, and as for gender – well that’s a whole confuddling mess of cultural norms which many just don’t get. Even happiness isn’t that clear cut. Why do we have to be either happy or unhappy. For me, I can be 80% happy most of the time but there’ll be a small element of irritation or worry about some aspect of my life and that doesn’t make me unhappy – just a bit of a mixture.

So why do people still insist on saying that they are ‘trying to be healthy’ or comment on others being ‘so unhealthy’? People aren’t either healthy or unhealthy. What is meant by the word ‘health’ anyway? It is NOT used by most people to signify an absence of sickness. We all get colds and coughs but can still be considered by those around us to be healthy. Some people have chronic illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis or even Stage 4 cancer but are deemed to be ‘healthy’ and people raise their eyebrows in confusion as to how they became so sick. ‘She/he was always so healthy’ and I find this quite pernicious as though the person somehow failed and nobody knows how. I was asked by a good friend if I would be really pissed off to get cancer. Well, the answer to that is definitely yes! But not for the reason that she asked. She was alluding to the fact that I’m a vegan runner and therefore shouldn’t expect to become seriously ill. But people do! I’d be pissed off because it’s a vile illness, not because I didn’t deserve it. Nobody deserves it.

So ‘healthy’ is not used in our society to signify an absence of illness. If this were the case, we would not discuss our plus-size friends and acquaintances in terms of them being so ‘unhealthy’. Are they sick? Probably not. So why are they ‘unhealthy’? Oh, the risk of heart disease? Well, in that case, we are using ‘unhealthy’ to allude to risk. But lots of risk is genetic. My Nan and my Dad had heart disease so therefore I am at risk. But nobody calls me unhealthy. A friend in Leicester had a double masectomy because women in her family were 90% likely to get a hereditary and aggressive form of the disease. Did this risk make us think of her as unhealthy? It did not. There is a massive risk of heart disease from being sedentary. But 39% of British adults are failing to meet the recommended quota of weekly exercise, but we don’t know who they all are and have no way of knowing who they are, and I’m pretty sure that if we see them eating a salad every day and they are thin, we’ll think of them as ‘healthy’.

If health isn’t used to signify the absence of illness, then, for the purpose of this blog post I will assume that it refers to a long, good quality of life. The chances of having such a blessing is determined by so many things that we couldn’t possibly know who was healthy or not without a PhD in long term health and its causes and many many case studies from different social groups and countries. For example, the biggest indicator of good quality of life in old age is socio-economic status. Yes, money. Why? I suppose having enough of it results in less stress and better quality fruit and vegetables, more information and opportunity regarding exercise and social opportunities as well as the gift of time – time that can be used in the pursuit of meaningful hobbies and interests. Another indicator of good quality of life in old age is social contact: laughter, friendship and the knowledge that there are people who have your back, always. People in happy loving marriages have better health outcomes. I can’t reference all this because it’s not an academic essay but it’s easy enough to fact check on google!

What are the indicators of poor health, early death etc? Being poor, being unloved, being part of a stigmatized group such as a gender minority. These are the things that make a difference and our focus should be on making a world of greater equality and acceptance. A world where a bearded person who wants to be called Annabelle is just fine. A world where a hairy person wearing a lace dress is just fine. Just another person in the street or, even better, the room. A world where people can be addressed using the pronouns that they choose, and where they can express their identity and be with the person they love, without fear of violence, ridicule or death. We are so far from this in the world as it is that it beggars belief. People are still being killed for being a minority and that’s not just in some far-flung, desert country that, deep down, we think of as barbaric and backwards. It’s here in the UK.

The real reason for this rant is the way that people seeing me lately, perhaps after a long time, comment on my appearance and, in particular, my weight loss. I started losing weight last year and put it down to marathon training although I had trained before without getting quite so thin. Comments have ranged from how much better I look, to whether I’ve forgotten to eat, to how ‘healthy’ I am. I’m not healthy. I’ve lost weight because my thyroid went berserk and my body is flooded with thyroid hormones which, untreated, are literally toxic. My skin has broken out in spots, I am exhausted from the carbimazole and I still need a betablocker at bedtime to stop my heart from attempting to escape my body. But I look healthy, apparently. Which leads me to the conclusion that ‘healthy’ means ‘thin’.

To be thin, in this culture, signifies obedience. We were trained up, us 50 year olds, to look after our figures, to battle the bulge, to not pinch an inch. We had Slimfast and the cornflake diet, now 80/20 and intermittent fasting. We still have Slimming World and Weightwatchers, and a hundred ways of losing weight that just stubbornly clings to our thighs, tummies and ‘problem areas’. Our bodies are a battleground of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and in order to be ‘good’ we must appear to be ‘healthy’. This means either losing weight, being thin or talking about losing weight. We must denigrate ourselves in order to fit into the ‘well-behaved’ group or women who, heaven forbid, must never eat cake with unrestrained pleasure or let their tummies flop out with happy abandon.

I’m tired of it. Now I’m on the right dose of medicine I am gaining weight again and hallelujah for that because it means health! Real health! I am a naturally curvy woman with thighs that touch and a rounded tummy, sturdy arms and quite a big bum. I want to be healthy again and that includes eating cake with friends, spending time with family, laughing, loving, moving with freedom and joy and trying to make the world a genuinely healthier place for every body of all colours, genders, sexuality, size, shape and socio-economic status.

On the wedding of an ex

The weirdness of a second marriage

I was four happy years into my second marriage when my first husband, to whom I was married for 21 years, got married again. I could get bogged down into a hundred and one reasons why this shouldn’t be an issue (I’m happy now, I left him, we were not close any more, our marriage was a disaster area) but it was an issue. I felt apprehensive as the day approached and it bugged me immensely that it was on my mind so much. I sent him a Whatsapp saying that I hoped he’d have an amazing day, and that I was excited for him, and that was true. But it was still an issue.

A happy day on my second wedding

I’ve had counselling to help me to work through my turbulent emotions, several times over, and I’ve got better at it, but it’s so hard sometimes to know quite what the emotion is. About his wedding, I felt uneasy. Troubled. When he first met his partner, a few years back, and it became very apparent that she was ‘the one’, I was angry to the point of fury that he had changed. Without going into boring, pointless details, I had wanted more from him for years and had tried a gazillion ways to make it happen, some of which were downright damaging for all concerned, but it didn’t happen.

And now he has changed. When I occasionally see him at the children’s birthdays and hear him talking about her, I can see it, hear it and feel it. This made me spitting, hopping mad. But the anger turned to sadness when, one day, I acknowledged to a wise woman that he hurt me very badly and I cried uncontrollably for hours. When I blinked away those tears of grief and loss I realised that I’m free of all that rage, now, and it was not anger that consumed me when he re-married. So what was it?

Here’s what it was. It was the irreparable, far-reaching rupture of the family. It was not about him and me; it was about a community of people that I am separated from. Our three children dressing up and going to a wedding where they would see their grandparents, their aunties and uncles, cousins and old friends. I knew, when we broke up, that this would hurt, and it does. His brother came over from Canada, the brother that lived with us for one summer when he worked for the post office in his twenties and we chatted, every day, in the kitchen, as I cooked for the kids and he helped with the washing up. We got to know each other well and since the split I have not seen him or his lovely family. He called once to say he wished he’d done more to support, when things were tough and we were living separately through the week. There was nothing he could have done. He was a great brother in law and I miss him.

I loved my ex’s parents, too. His mum has had a heart attack and I wished I could have seen her but distance has grown between us. I miss his sister. We were good friends. She is wonderful and her kids are adorable. I still think of them as my nieces. I never saw his other two siblings as often but always loved catching up with them and had such a laugh with his youngest sister.

So we move on. I’ve met lots of other people through Tim and now have a whole other extended family, a lovely mum-in-law, brothers and their wives and partners and good friends. But these first people, my children’s grandparents, Aunties and Uncles – these still feel like family. I love them and miss them. When we break up with a person, we break up with all of the people who come with them, whether we intend to or not. Sides are taken, sympathies are shown. The break up sometimes feels like the amputation of a limb that, although I’ve learned to live without it, still aches at times.

When an ex re-marries, it might mean nothing and that’s fine, but if it hurts, for whatever the reason, I really think that’s normal. What’s the answer? I think it’s to acknowledge the pain, live with it a while, know that it will pass, keep in touch with the people who matter enough, and be kind to yourself.

Allotment Honeymoon

Crazy about a plot of land

‘We’re gona have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and live off the fatta the land’, says George to Lennie in the classic American tragedy ‘Of Mice and Men’, a novel that I taught for fifteen years and know pretty much off my heart, along with all the themes, motifs, figures of speech and structural features. Now I also know the dream of land and why it’s so important as I walk the mile to my new allotment, with my spade at my side and a snack and drink in my rucksack.

This morning I could have written a journal for my counselling course, done some housework, gone to the gym or tidied up a bit before my daughter and her boyfriend arrive for a visit. But the lure of the allotment won out and once again I wondered up to the grassy, brambly, overgrown rectangular plot, 8 X 10.5 metres, that I can now call mine. It’s actually the council’s, but never mind that. My mum had an allotment for twenty odd years and I remember thinking it so tedious when I went to see it. She gave the kids little sections to cultivate in whichever way they chose. Abi had a flower garden, Kirstin had vegetables, Billy had a mix, and they all had sunflowers. They all enjoyed it but I used to drop them off and collect them with complete bewilderment at what the fuss was about.

My morning companion

I’m not sure what’s changed but gardening has grown on me over the years. I like to be physical and strong and enjoy working hard, and renovating the Victorian house that we bought has reinforced the sense of satisfaction when a tough job is completed. Hiring a concrete breaker and removing most of a kitchen floor (my stepson did some, too) was an absolute joy. Making concrete crumble into piles of rubble that could be removed to reveal the original brick floor which was then transformed again into modern polished concrete for a modern family kitchen made me feel productive in an act of creative transformation. I also liked the aching shoulders and the happy tiredness because I knew that part of me was going into the house in the form of my labour and my energy.

I think the allotment taps into this same energetic drive as I’ve spent three sessions now digging over grass and pulling out huge weeds and stinging nettles. I’ve piled up wood, netting and beer bottles left by the last allotmenter and sat in between efforts with my water bottle, admiring the evidence of my efforts. This morning, I munched on some chocolate covered almonds and realised that I’d got stronger as I managed to dig for an hour and fifty minutes instead of getting exhausted after an hour. There’s now a wholesome looking strip of soft, brown, crumbly soil with none of the irritating builders’ rubble found in gardens. It’s inviting, healthy and full of enormous, helpful worms, along with an extremely friendly robin who has visited on each occasion hoping to grab one.

The other allotmenters are friendly so far. My mum recalls when she started and all the others were sexist old men who told her that the last woman ‘didn’t last long’ and ‘didn’t do much’. She went on to win the ‘best kept allotment’ award for two years running so screw them! There are lots of women at the Barnby Road allotments and it’s good to see that times have changed. I do not have my mum’s green fingers but I do understand now what she loved about her plot. It’s peaceful, in the way that there is literally no sound except the fork crunching into the soil, the wind howling through the trees, a loose bit of somebody’s fence tapping away in the distance and your own hard breathing as you work up a sweat that’s more productive than any weight lifting in the gym.

I hope to get the plot cleared myself. Alan with the rotivator could do it for me for a charge of £30 but I’ve got stuck in now and I’d like to put myself into the work as I put myself into the wallpaper stripping, floor digging and wall-painting in the house. I want that allotment to have my energy in the soil and the produce that we grow. I’ve learned about green manure, plastic sheeting and where to get seeds at a discount and I’m good to go. Tim will be the shed man and the designer of an aesthetically pleasing outcome and Mum will be the consulting expert.

Abi at her Grandma’s allotment

Decisions decisions

The frozen state of instant indecision

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Over the past year, these are some of the things that I’ve told my friends: ‘We are going to adopt a dog’, ‘we’ve applied to become foster carers’, ‘we are getting an allotment’, ‘we’re planning to rescue some chickens’, ‘we’re going to Canada to see my brother’, ‘we’re not going to do any more long-haul flights’, ‘I’m going gluten free’ and ‘I’m applying for a job at a nursery’. There are probably dozens more and frankly I’d be amazed if anybody believes anything I say.

When I say the plans, I mean every word of it. But when life changes so completely and at such a fast pace, it’s almost impossible to make sensible and realistic plans. Over the last few years, we’ve gone from owning three different houses (long story) to owning and living in one, to our own vast relief (although there’s enough stuff in this house for three, and that’s another post). I’ve paid off a mortgage. Our youngest sons have both become independent. I left my teaching job after fifteen years and am now a supply special needs teacher for my local council. I can work whatever hours I like, as long as I do a minimum of ten hours a week. This new life is a big experiment as I calculate my new earnings at my new hourly rate, with no holiday or sick pay. I’m also training to be a counsellor, through evening classes at a college in Lincoln. For years I was restricted by school hours, timetables, planning and marking, and now, although still working, there’s more freedom.

First, there was the fostering idea. Through my years as a teacher, I’ve always loved the troubled kids with their pain manifesting itself in a million difficult ways. I’ve had children in my classes who shout, scream, walk out in a temper, try to ingratiate themselves with me whilst ignoring instructions or distracting the class at every opportunity. I’ve had students with challenging behaviour put into my class from elsewhere because I could keep them in the room. The secret to this is, surprisingly, to treat them with kindness and unconditional positive regard (a great counselling term). Helping these children to have a go, to trust that they won’t be in trouble, to see them realise that they will always and only be met with kindness, has always been incredibly rewarding.

When I got increasingly tired and frustrated with teaching in schools, and could finally afford to take a pay cut, I was delighted to accept this special needs work. But I can’t afford not to work at all, so fostering is out of the question. I discovered that the ideal foster carer is around for visits, pickups, school meetings and problems during the day. There’s also the indisputable fact that my husband would be unlikely to react very well to potential police visits, destruction, mess or rudeness. Nothing wrong with that; it’s better to be honest. It’s no secret that I have fewer boundaries than most people, am rarely shocked and have pretty endless patience. These qualities are ideal in the job that I’m in and I get to work with kids who need me. So that’s all sorted for now!

Adopting a dog. See above. Not going to happen. I can’t help but wonder how people DO have dogs! All I’ve read makes it clear that they shouldn’t be left for more than four hours. Does everybody get a dog sitter or a walker? Really? It’s pretty expensive to do so. As a perfectionist, I would want to be the perfect dog mum and leaving it all day wouldn’t work for me! I did go gluten free because I read that it can help with Graves disease, which I am undergoing tests for. However, the bread is the worst thing I have ever eaten and it’s not vegan, so that’s on the back burner for now. I’m sorry for people who have coeliac disease and I hope they make you better bread, soon.

Supply teachers don’t get paid in the holidays, so I have applied to work as bank staff at my local nursery. I’m quite looking forward to working with littluns again to be honest. This one was a decision that I definitely made well. Another one was planning to go to Canada to see my family over there and, other than that, no long-haul flights. In fact, no flights at all.

Having time, space and fewer financial commitments presents so many choices that it’s overwhelming sometimes! But the one thing I’m really glad I decided to do was to get an allotment and rescue some battery hens. The allotment is now ours. It’s a mess. I’ll need to take considerable time clearing and rotivating the overgrown plot. It’s right next to a field and I’ve already met the resident Mr Robin, who hangs about hopefully waiting for worms. There are inspirational plots around me for all the good ideas. I’m excited about the future raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries. Tim is excited about sprouts, cabbage and potatoes. We are both waiting for our first rhubarb moment. Being allotment and chicken parents will be a new high.

Younger me would have scoffed at this sedate life of allotment plans and part-time work. It’s not what I dreamed of as a young woman, although even back then my dreams were mostly to do with raising a family and earning enough to afford the odd holiday. I never longed for a life of glamour. Success is about being happy with a life of our choosing, not making a load of dough and wafting about in overpriced clothes in a house with a gym and a pool. I would like a gym in the house, to be fair.

Making big decisions is difficult and making these sorts of ‘how shall I curate my life now’ decisions is also a challenge. But trying them out for size, speaking them to friends and then carefully sifting through the possibilities is possibly the most fun opportunity I’ve ever had the privilege to engage in. Hurrah for midlife, allotments and rescue battery hens!

Decluttering

Hoping for space

Every day is declutter day around here. I’ve married a man who has accumulated a vast array of everything just in case it fits again or might be used again. There is a bewildering amount of stuff that surrounds him; too much, in fact, for the house. We have a lock box on the outskirts of town which is bursting at the seams. It’s full of boxes, weights, fridge freezers, tables, chairs, pictures, clothes horses, hairdryers, torches, books, elephants. cars, worlds and entire planets. I am on a mission to get rid of most of the stuff that we own but it’s a long, arduous and time-consuming affair. As for why there is so much of it, it’s one of life’s mysteries. I’m a would-be minimalist, on the other hand, and love the idea of only owning things that are useful or bring me joy. But how many of us could actually achieve this?

Starting with my own stuff seems like a better way of approaching decluttering than trying to throw out the endless galaxies that belong to my other half. So I went through some boxes today. Dressing up stuff. So many memories in there! There’s a green felt hat that must have been worn for a Peter Pan day. Also a burlesque outfit from a Christmas party with the Leicester Road Hoggs running club where we all did the can-can and then threw ourselves at the ground and rolled around in hysterics. A superhero costume that my son Will wore for Halloween one night. And finally, two 1980s floral Bo Peep bridesmaids dresses that have been in the box ever since my first wedding day 30 odd years ago. There were others but these are the two I’ve still got. It’s hard to part with the memories more than anything else. That August day with the warm sun, green grass, colourful guests laughing and joking on the New Bradwell green, my face aching from the endless smiling for photographs and so much happiness and hope. Obviously we got divorced in the end but let’s not ruin a good memory by going over all that.

Nobody needs this stuff but who throws away dressing up stuff? You really never know when you might need it again. A burlesque outfit is a good shout – I don’t know what for but it’s staying. The superhero outfit can go. Will might want it and if not it’s going to the tip. But the Bo Peep dresses will need to go. They’re massive, bouffy items that, despite the fond memories they evoke, are a drain on the brain. Even knowing, now, that they’re there, in an enormous box, is tiring.

If anyone knows of a theatre company who are putting on a show that involves an 80s wedding, a vintage fan who likes 80s stuff or a child who loves wafting around in large dresses, please get in touch. Or here they are on ebay! https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/174995193387https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/174995193387

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