Four ways to cope when chronic illness enters the relationship- part one

Woman Sitting On Bed And Feeling Unwell

Twelve percent of people and one in eight women in the United States suffers from hypothyroidism or from some other form of thyroid condition or illness. In this country, an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s is the number one cause of hypothyroidism.

It is estimated that five to eight percent of the United States population has one or more autoimmune conditions, most of whom are women (http://autoimmune.pathology.jhmi.edu/faqs.cfm).

I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s almost eight years ago when my general practitioner found high levels of two different kinds of antibodies attacking my thyroid on a blood test.

I originally thought I had a terminal illness because the onslaught of too many crazy symptoms to count came on very suddenly. It was one of the most difficult and terrifying times of my life. While I was glad to find an answer, I did not miraculously feel better afterwards.

Hashimoto’s induced hypothyroidism can occur by itself or alongside another autoimmune condition. A couple of years after my diagnosis, I also discovered I had autoimmune gastritis. This explained the stomach pain, sensitivity and upper GI problems I had endured for years.

For some, pathogens such as parasites, bacteria and viruses can occur alongside thyroid conditions. For the past five years, my blood tests have consistently shown high enough levels of Epstein Barr (the virus that causes mono) to be diagnosed with a constant case of mono.

I have had several episodes of having to stay in bed for anywhere between a few hours to a couple of days. Thank goodness, these episodes have lessened, have become less intense and are few and farther in between.

Genetics are hypothesized to play a role in autoimmune disease. In my case, that was true. I have two copies of the 1298AA variant of a genetic mutation called MTHFR (Methylene Tetrahydrofolate Reductase). Many people with immune problems and other chronic health conditions have this very common genetic mutation.

While in some MTHFR causes no problem at all, I happened on discovering it in myself because my B-12 levels kept rising, and I wanted an explanation as to why. People who have MTHFR often have trouble processing B-12 and Folate.

In the past eight years, I have also developed very sinister reactions to gluten and dairy and feel absolutely awful if I cheat on purpose or accidentally get either one in foods that I consume.

There are times I feel so fatigued I have no choice but to sleep and SLEEP RIGHT NOW! Mornings are often difficult, and I often wake with heartburn and stiffness. My energy is rarely even throughout the day, and some days are better than others. This makes things a little unpredictable.

Despite all of this, I function pretty well. I get told I look younger than I am despite feeling every bit of my 48 years. I have been married for 18 years, am raising two kiddos (16 and 12), own two dogs, have great friends, work and do pretty much everything a “normal” person does. I just do not always “feel” very normal.

The past eight years have not been easy. There have been trying times where I have felt fearful, sad and angry. When I see someone eating a delicious piece of cheese or sinking their teeth into a piece of sour dough crusty bread, I sometimes feel a twinge of jealousy that I cannot do the same without feeling really (and I mean really) bad later.

As much as my health quirks frequently drive me crazy, I also know I am not the only one affected. Shy of the physical symptoms, my husband has been almost equally impacted. Through the years he has heard numerous complaints from me about how I am feeling. He has been a shoulder for me when I feel tired or sad about all of this.

Most important, before we got an answer as to what was going on, I know he initially felt as much fear as I did. This has not been easy for either of us. And while it still can be persnickety, I am here to tell you there can be many wonderful and bright lights in the “chronic condition” tunnel.

In next week’s post, I will share a little bit about how to cope when one partner in the relationship has a chronic condition, what to do to stay connected, discover balance and restore a sense of humor.

 

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