As part of Autoimmune Month I thought I would share some of my experience as a Hashimoto’s patient and what I call Hashimoto’s brain. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the thyroid, leading to hypothyroidism. Many people, physicians included, do not understand the full impact the disease can have on people. It is often treated as an insignificant disease because there are treatment options and it is not viewed as a life threatening disease. The UK’s NHS, for example, advertises that people with chronic diseases are eligible for a flu vaccine – but it does not include Hashimoto’s under that list.
The reality is however this can be a life altering disease and should be recognised as such. If I get the flu it will not kill me, but it will make me very ill for weeks. Hashimoto’s, untreated or during a flare up (e.g. caused by a viral infection), is thoroughly unpleasant. I have often described it as a mix between really bad flu and a severe hangover that lasts for weeks. The fatigue can be debilitating. Any autoimmune patient who has experienced fatigue can tell you it is not just “feeling tired”. Autoimmune fatigue is as if someone has sucked all your energy and life out of you. Just getting out of bed can be a physical struggle.
Hashimoto’s also impacts the brain and cognitive function. As with many autoimmune diseases a common problem is brain fog, memory issues and depression. I have experienced all of these symptoms. When I was at my sickest the brain fog was so bad I struggled to string a sentence together. My memory was totally shot. It was not that I just forgot things, only to remember them later. When something was forgotten it was gone – as if it had never happened. There was no glimmer of recognition. I literally was unaware that the event had happened.
Whilst I now have my Hashimoto’s under control I have seen a lasting impact on my memory. This is what I call my Hashimoto’s brain. I find it much harder to remember things than before. I have found that I have older memories that have gone. When friends talk of events from years ago I literally have no spark of recognition. There are whole chunks of my memory that appear to have been “wiped”. It is something I have now got used to. I have got over the embarrassment of having to admit to friends that I have absolutely no recollection of what they are talking about. Nonetheless it is sad to have had so many amazing experiences “wiped”.
Protecting my brain and cognitive functions is one of the reasons I am now so careful with my health. If I have a flare up or get ill it means my memory significantly deteriorates. It also means I may get brain fog which can have an impact on my ability to work productively. This is why I am so strict with my working hours and conditions. I recently was explaining that I do not work late and try not to work on Fridays. The response I got was “it’s alright for some!”. I had to explain that this was not just because I was lazy or wanted a jolly. This was because I have an autoimmune disease and have to take my work life balance seriously. This is because of my Hashimito’s brain. It certainly is not “alright for some”!