Breaking out of the Caretaker Mold

Taking care of others at the expense of our own health. Does this sound familiar to any of you? Having spoken to literally a few thousand people who have been diagnosed with thyroid disease of various kinds, I have noticed a trend. A whole lot of us are the type who have spent our lives taking care of others, pleasing others, and at the same time neglecting ourselves. This and a highly stressful and/or traumatic event is what happens to a lot of us before our diagnosis. I happen to think that just maybe all of the stress we put on ourselves trying to help others in our lives, allows us to put our own health on the back burner until a breaking point. Something very stressful happens to us and we are pushed beyond our limits. Our poor minds and bodies literally can’t take anymore of what we’ve put it through and something gives. If our immune system and/or our thyroid is the weakest link at this point, then that is what gives.

Obviously this is just my own personal theory, but I have seen this played out many, many times. Ask ten people if they took good care of themselves before their thyroid diagnosis. Ask them if after neglecting themselves for others in their lives,they then had something exceptionally stressful happen and then ended up with a thyroid health issue and/or autoimmune such as Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s disease. I know one of the positive things about my Graves’ disease diagnosis was being forced to finally take a good look at my own life and start paying attention to what I needed. I was the one who tried to help everyone around me. Friends that needed places to crash for indefinite time periods, family that needed an ear to listen to even when I personally was exhausted, work that needed me to do just one more extra thing when I had nothing left in the tank. I made sure the people around me were better taken care of then I was for a long time. Add to that putting myself through college, and working. Then finishing college and going to work for a high stressful stockbroker job at the height of the tech boom and then tech bust, followed by a Grandparent passing away. All of this going on while I didn’t sleep adequately, didn’t eat properly and tried to do entirely more than I really should have. It’s really no wonder my body rebelled and ended up failing me right when I needed it not to do.

The good news for me is that I took the warning seriously. I started listening to my body, and my mind and emotions. I started figuring out when I needed to take time to unwind, eat something healthy, get some exercise. It took years to get to this point of view. I mourned my loss of being Super Woman, of handling everything that came my way without an issue. I mourned the person who could do everything and not break a sweat. Too bad I was living on borrowed energy the entire time, and burning the candle at both ends plus the middle.

A change had to be made, once I had my RAI treatment to kill off my thyroid and things started to calm down. I had to step back and re-evaluate how I lived my life. First thing I did was change careers. This was difficult, I had just graduated with a degree in Financial Planning and Counseling 3 years prior and felt like I was getting a handle on being a stockbroker in a call center. I knew though, that the constant days with a headset dealing with a lot of really agitated people wasn’t the best place to reduce my stress. At the time I realized that the part time position I took my last year in college helping to rewire a network and fix computers for the college was actually something I was not only good at, but I enjoyed immensely. I made the leap to switch careers. After a few years I felt like it was a good choice so I went back to school and got a second degree in Computer Networking Systems. This led to me going up in the Information Technology world and being an IT Systems Admin for a few small companies. I loved it. I did realize though after a few years that I was right back where I didn’t need to be. Too much stress due to too much responsibility in charge. Not enough downtime and I was letting it take over my health again. So, a few years ago after talking it over with my husband I decided to leave full time work. At the time I was hoping maybe a few months of rest would restore me to being able to work full time again in the future. That was in 2010.

I tried to do a version of my old IT job. I tried to build a computer repair business full time, and wasn’t entirely successful. I have several elderly ladies and a few others who I help with their computer problems from time to time still, but I didn’t have the drive or health to be able to build it into a successful business. Again, still too much stress. Stress is a bad thing to have too much of with a thyroid condition, especially caused by Graves’ disease. Autoimmune and stress are natural enemies.

In the rush to try to do something to get myself back to health, I started doing even more research. Everything I could find online, at the library, talking to others about thyroid disease. I started adjusting my diet. I started getting a small amount of exercise when I could. I started listening to my body’s cues, taking breaks and trying to learn how to read myself enough to prevent issues before they started. I was doing better, so I took a part time job that allowed me to earn some money and also adjust my schedule for rest breaks as needed. I also started seeing a counselor on a monthly basis. All of these things have helped me renew myself and find the new me. After all this time I have found I actually LIKE the new me. I have purpose, I am helping myself and hopefully others. I am back to being a caretaker type of sorts, but this time I make sure I am doing OK first, because I know that if I am not OK, then I cannot help anyone else.

If you have Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, thyroid cancer, it’s a whole new world that you are now part of. Adjustments have to be made to deal with this new reality. Allow yourself to mourn what has happened, but do not stay there.¬†Some fantastic things are on the horizon if you keep searching for the new you. I hope for anyone who reads this to know that having thyroid disease does not have to be the end. You also can find your new purpose. Maybe this will show you how to be more compassionate to others who have health issues, or you will take care of ¬†yourself better and end up living a much more fulfilled and healthy life than you might have been able to before. You might end up being a role model to other people, or you might find yourself a new passion that could change the world! Go forth and conquer your 2015!

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Photo credit: loop_oh / IWoman / CC BY-ND