Parked in front of the school a few years ago to watch for kids blasting out of the building, I jumped out of my Jeep Wrangler to chat with my girlfriend Carmen, who also was waiting for her 8th grader. I was cautiously dressed to combat the crisp fall weather. Why take any chances? Shivering with cold is no fun.
So I’d dutifully donned my signature fuchsia scarf and swaddled it securely around my neck. My puffer coat reached to the top of my knees. Really. Sensible. And my furry beanie? It’s warm and cute — nailed it: a win-win.
I gave Carmen a quick hug, and she asked what was up with all my winter gear. It was then I realized Carmen wasn’t wearing much — I mean, a fleece vest?
“I’m the classic cold-girl-type,” I automatically chirped. Maybe, maybe not, Carmen challenged without missing a beat, as only the best of friends will do. She magically proceeded to pull out of her back pocket all of her nursing training from years past and quizzed me about how I felt. So I told her everything … how I always felt cold even when others didn’t, and that cold temps disrupted fun outdoor activities with the family.
But I don’t think I told her how hard I was on myself: pushing myself to buck up, stop complaining and blend in; to be stronger and brave the cold like everyone else.
She pressed me, asking if I felt constant fatigue, at which point I laughed. As a mom perpetual exhaustion is unavoidable, something Carmen knew intimately as a mom of five. Carmen was serious, though, when she recommended that I chat with my doctor about getting my thyroid checked. Sensitivity to cold and fatigue were symptoms associated with hypothyroidism, one of many types of thyroid disorders. I gulped. The conversation was sobering for someone who had skated through life with ne’er a medical issue.
But then, roughly 60 percent of those with a thyroid problem are unaware they have a disorder.
Seeing me all bundled up had made Carmen think of her mom. As a child, she recalls how her mom was strangely unable to bear cold weather — and later learned she suffered from hypothyroidism. Combined with Carmen’s medical training, my appearance that fall afternoon and description about how I couldn’t handle cold temps raised red flags.
I’m so glad Carmen spoke up that day, because being cold and tired were things I’d never thought to discuss with my doctor. At age 46, I did. My lab work returned and it was official: I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism.
"Hypothyroidism, when your thyroid gland is not producing enough circulating thyroid hormone in your body, can cause a generalized slowing of your metabolic processes. This can cause symptoms of feeling cold all of the time, as well as constipation, fatigue, weight gain and reproductive issues," explains my doctor, Tammi Howard, M.D., an internist with One Medical Group in Washington, D.C.
I learned that hypothyroidism also can cause mood swings and often appears in middle-aged women, just when menopause is heating up. Oh, joy. No wonder I’d been feeling like there was a circus in my head. My doctor has me on levothyroxine to aid what I lovingly refer to as my slacker-of-a-thyroid.
I’ll never know when my thyroid started quitting on me. But it’s under control now, thanks to the gentle counsel from a perceptive friend.
So, friend, you may not have a Carmen in your life to notice some of the subtle symptoms that point to thyroid issues, but this much I know: If you’re that person who is unfailingly and uncharacteristically colder than everyone else and you’re lacking energy, no matter how much rest you get, bring it up with your doctor. The culprit could be the little butterfly-shaped gland resting in your neck that controls many factors critical to health and well-being.
After all, one in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder. It’s best to know if that’s you, right?
Like me, you desire to live the very best version of yourself so you can get out there to work and play like a champ.
Go ahead, then. Have a chat with your doctor.
Kathryn Streeter’s writing has appeared in publications including The Washington Post, Austin American-Statesman and The Week. Find her on Twitter, @streeterkathryn.
Photographs by Stocksy; Getty Images; Stocksy