Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thyroid, Tirosint and Menopause Update

There are quite a number of readers on my Blog who find my site by searching for Dr. Blanchard, my "famous" and sympathetic endocrinologist and Tirosint, the form of thyroid medication I was prescribed. Also, there are those readers who find my site by doing searches on menopause and perimenopause. I wanted to update all those old and new readers on how things are going for me on all that and more. Plus, I wanted to say thank you for bringing my readership up over 1600 page views,  all since my humble start in October of 2011. I am most grateful.

You may recall from a previous post that I was not doing well on the daily dose 25mcg of Tirosint. I stopped it last November and decided to get through the holidays and see how things went. By January I was feeling the sluggishness and semi-brain fog coming back, plus winters tend to be tough on me mood wise, so I started up my Tirosint on the lowest daily dose: 13mcg per day in January. I did get a few days of nausea, and some diarrhea but no rapid heart beat or feeling like I was just too hyper. It went much smoother for me and it continues to do so.

In the last week or perhaps longer, I have begun to feel my allergies kicking in, which makes me sluggish and tired. So I may look to have my dose of Tirosint increased to 25mcgs if I feel it is adding to my "slowed down" effect. It is hard to interpret sometimes what are thyroid induced issues and what is related to seasonal allergies, or getting sick or just plain ol' being tired! I think that is what makes thyroid patients among some of the most emotional and difficult people for a lot of doctors to manage. That is why it is great to have people like Dr. Blanchard, in Newton , MA who understands all this and takes it into account.

His background in endocrinology, while very traditional, has grown to embrace the fact that you cannot go by just a number on a blood test as an indicator of how you feel. You need to assess it, but you also need patient feed back in order to determine if the dosing is right for them. Too often doctors just look at your thyroid numbers, and not your symptoms, as an indicator of you functioning at the correct dosage. So, like  many other better versed and well spoken thyroid advocates tell you, do the research, know your body and demand better "service" from your doctor. If they won't listen, find someone who will. It is NOT easy. And believe me I know this only too well from my own personal journey. But that is why so many people have written books, and blogs and websites to help people understand that it is a challenging place to be in when your thyroid is not in balance. And there are so many factors that influence it.

In addition to my periodic thyroid updates,  in the upcoming weeks  I am going to post more details about all the things I am doing personally to help me manage the wave of approaching menopause. There are things I have tried that work great and some that I have left by the way side. The important thing to remember in all this, including your own personal search to be the best you can possibly be, is that what works for one may not for another. And try not to listen to all those women who tell you they are not having any problems, as it does not mean "it is all in your head" as it is not! Read, Read Read.....arm yourself with knowledge and take a good deal of comfort in the fact of knowing there are indeed many women just like you struggling to make sense of it all. And more importantly, know that somebody does care, because I know first hand just how emotional and draining this perimenopause time can be. 

I am indeed in a much better place then I was one, or even to two years a go, and that is due in large part to my tireless, and often frustrating search to find answers. There is no simple answer, there is no magic pill to make it all better, you have to come with a willingness to try new things and a desire to understand that where you are in the process is OK. In fact, the most important aspect of this whole approach to menopause is coming to the realization that there is indeed NOTHING wrong with you. It simply is, what it is for you at this particular moment in time. And what you feel today changes, again and again and again. Instead of fighting the waves, learn to let them wash over you or better yet, float on top of them, it feels so much better that way! And yes, some days are easier to do this then others, but keep coming back to the knowledge that everything changes, nothing is constant and you just might be able to ride the wave longer next time.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sleeping During a Sleep Study, Really?

There was a last minute cancellation at the sleep clinic and off I went Tuesday night to be wired, taped and bound for my study. I was having this study completed as my sleep pattern over the last two or so years has become more erratic. Rapid heartbeat and palpitations can pop up on occasion causing me to wake from sleep more often then I care to admit. While it is not a constant occurrence, it made sense to have a baseline test conducted just to make sure sleep apnea was not involved.

I arrived at the center at a little past 9:30PM, was shown to my room and told to get changed for bed, fill out a brief questionnaire and wait to get wired up for sleep. The room, while not homey, was comfortable. A queen size bed and nightstands, small flat screen TV, large multi- media player, dresser and chair made it feel a bit like a motel room, but luckily, not of the seedy variety.

The process of wiring me up took about 15 or so minutes and the result was that I looked much like an android from a sci-fi movie, in for a tuneup and repairs. My head was thickly gooped up in places for all manner of wires and tape to be attached, as were my face, ears, chest, and legs. These wires were to measure brain activity, leg movement and determine when my actual REM sleep was occurring. My chest was strapped in two places in order to monitor my heart activity. I also had a box, about the size of 3 decks of cards, on a  strap that I was supposed to carry with me to the bathroom or whenever I needed to walk. And as if this was not enough, two different slender tubes on hoses were placed just under and in my nose to measure my breath, monitor snoring, and in general to insure I was indeed breathing during the night. 

After all this is completed,  I was escorted to my room, and asked what time I prefer to have the lights out. I then was literally plugged in and asked to go through a series of eye and leg movements to make sure the equipment was working properly. After a few adjustments and a reassurance from the sleep technician that I could indeed sleep in any position, I opted to get things moving along since I knew it was probably going to take me a long, long time to fall asleep.

Oh, by the way, did I mention the video camera on the ceiling, high in the corner opposite the bed,  where the tech can view you in all your glory as you attempt to sleep? Oddly enough I found this aspect of the study to be the least annoying. What I found most difficult were the wires attached to my legs which did not give me room to move and stretch out on my side. This felt restrictive and confining as I was unable  to place my body in my favorite sleep positions. Three times technicians had to come in to replace the wires. The final time they resorted to using strong tape. I am not sure why they did not do this the first time since clearly it was needed. The other thing that woke me frequently is that every time I flipped my body from side to side I had to move wires out of my way to stretch out my arm.

It was a rather rough night.

When the technician woke me at 5:30 AM and entered the room she mentioned my having a tough night of sleep. I asked her who is able to come in and NOT have a rough night? She laughed and agreed. She quickly took off my wires. I did my best to scrub off the residual goop and was on my way home in time to snuggle with my son and see him off to school. Then after eating a light breakfast I promptly went back to bed and slept for 3 hours.

Full test results will arrive within a week or two, but the good news is no sleep apnea and my heart rate was pretty steady. Snoring was soft too. So this places all my sleep disturbances back in the realm of perimenopause symptoms, which I indeed suspected was the culprit. The rise and fall of estrogen and progesterone cause the heart to behave rather erratically during this transitional phase in a woman's life. As though we don't have it tough enough ladies, or so said my sleep technician!

So I am comforted at the fact no large breathing apparatus is required for my sleep, but have to admit, sometimes I wish menopause would hurry up and get here already. The erratic ups and downs are for me, and many women like me, a roller coaster ride. And I don't like roller coasters. But......I am learning to make the most of it as this is my life and it is up to me to make it work in the best way I can manage. Life is all about change and it just makes sense to let it happen, then let is pass, because what I am feeling today is not what I will be feeling a day, week, month or year from now.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

There IS Sound in Silence

I am truly in awe of the varying degree of sound that exists once all extraneous conversation and noise have been halted. There is such a cacophony of sound that exists: from the clink of glass,draw of breath, flap and flutter of bird wings, creak of muscle and bone, scrape of shoe, squeak of sneaker, rustle of  clothes, sizzle of  salmon cake frying, trill of telephone ringing, jingle of dinner bells chiming, gentle voice of teacher speaking, tapping and tinkle of utensils scraping plates, crunch of lettuce being chewed, gulp of food being swallowed, click of door closing, whoosh of door opening, wooden creak of seat, hungry stomach grumbling and gurgling, moist throat clearing, soft exhalation of air, rush of trees bending and waving, plush carpet rubbing, clicking of light switch on/off, whine of faucet turning, gush of water flowing, cyclone of toilet flushing, loud firecrackers of hunters guns, blazing fire crackling, dried leaves crunching, tiny birds singing, Burmese Mountain dog dog running, wind quietly blowing, sisters joyously singing,  sisters reverentially praying, book stiffly opening, pages quietly turning, pen gliding across paper, paper crisply ripping, sighs of contentment, rush of cold drinks pouring, clack and clunk of dishes being washed, zizzle of zipper, slap of feet on tile, crack of hands clapping, whiz of cars passing, gurgle of coffee pouring, slurp of hot drinks sipped and savored, pop of place mat shifting, whoosh of sofa cushions shifting, and so on and so on.... 

Silence is so full of sound, you need only stop and listen, in order to hear what truly is there already. And the result? A complete sense, if just for a moment or two of letting everything be as it is, without needing to fill up the silence with anything other then what is already there. There is sound in silence.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Retreat Into Silence

So much to share so much to tell, and what a stark contrast to the sensory overload felt on the fun filled, action packed, on the go, tiring vacation in Orlando, Florida. This past weekend I participated in my first silent retreat, but more importantly, it was my first retreat ever. I am not exactly sure why over the years I had developed some kind of  nervous trepidation about attending a retreat. When I was younger, my sisters participated in retreats as part of their Catholic school experience. I recall feeling jealous and in awe of what exactly this thing called a "retreat" was and badgered my mother about when she thought I would be old enough to attend one. It never happened for me since my own parochial school life was disrupted when we moved to a new town. The Catholic school there had a wait list for new students, so my parents made the tough decision to place me in public school. (So sad to recall a time when Catholic schools actually had wait lists.) And there ended my interest in retreats.

Over the last few years since working more deeply with  a mindfulness practice in daily life, I sensed a retreat was indeed the next step for me.   I started to explore my options.  There are a multitude of places in the New England area to attend one, including Aryaloka in NH, a place I know and happen to love. I think a large part of my nervousness mentioned earlier stemmed from my not wanting to share a room with other participants, which is a must at Aryaloka. So quite frankly since I already had enough trepidation about attending a retreat,  I did not feel it necessary to add to this anxiety by sleeping in a room with 1, 2 or possibly more strangers. Far too intimate an experience for me and I personally think it can detract from the overall benefits of a retreat experience. Some of the other,  larger places in my area that do indeed have private rooms, sounded more like spa visits (which are wonderful) but not what I was looking for this at this time. I was at a loss and confused so turned to a trusted friend and long time meditator like myself, Judy Gross, for advice. She was quickly able to assess what it is I desired and mentioned feeling much the same way I did about sharing a room. We talked about Insight Meditation in Barre, Massachusetts. A tranquil and quiet place for true contemplative retreats. I had looked into them prior to our talk, and wanted to attend, unfortunately the retreats there are often for 7 to 10 days and it is too difficult to schedule with my 7 year old son, husband's travel schedule, and no family in the area to lean on for childcare  purposes. So Judy mentioned her own upcoming mindfulness retreat she was leading at Our Lady of Hope House of Prayer in New Ipswich, NH. I signed up the very next day.

The irony that my first retreat experience would be held at a Catholic based retreat center was not lost on me. In fact, like most things in my life, I just knew this was what I needed to do and where I needed to go. So, I packed my bags and headed off to the retreat with some sadness in my heart at leaving my son and husband overnight, and a bit of nervous energy about being with a complete group of strangers for the weekend. But, if I have learned anything in this life of mine, it is that one learns far more from facing one's fears then running from them, so off I went.

From the minute I walked in the door at Our Lady of Hope, I felt this strong sensation of being in the right place at the right time. Serendipity? Fate? Karma? Who knew for certain, all I knew was that the homey and comforting atmosphere of the center took me back to my childhood. There was a warm, motherly sense about the place that just felt right and as I walked into the bright and cheerful kitchen that had a huge window looking out upon the many bird feeding stations perched high up for our viewing pleasure,  I felt a wave a calm pass through me, and the words "everything will be OK" enter my mind.

I was greeted by a very warm and friendly woman named Kathy, who showed me to my room, along with Judy, who we met up with coming down the stairs. We walked up two flights of stairs and down a thick and softly carpeted hallway to a small room at the end of the corridor. The furnishings were spare but the homey atmosphere that abounded was palpable. From the minute I walked down that hallway I felt as though I had been transported back to my youth and overnight stays at my Nana and Grundy's house. There were rose patterned sheets for us to make up our beds, a comfortable chair in the corner with a hand crocheted quilt that added some colorful whimsy and more Nana-like comfort  to the decor. There was one nice sized window that overlooked the woods, a closet/wardrobe, desk with lamp and as an added bonus, a large vanity and mirror, complete with soap, towels and a sparkling clean water glass. Next to the bed was a small, wooden night side table with a pretty, shiny blue and gold reading lamp and alarm clock placed on top of a pure white, lace doily. I was so taken in by the charm and attention to detail in this room and instantly felt like I was indeed going to be well-cared for over the course of this weekend.

After settling in and making up the bed,  I proceeded to the kitchen to await the arrival of the rest of our group. Once we were all present the housekeeping needs and agenda for the weekend's activities were discussed and we all settled into the comfortable room that would become our meditation, yoga room, and meeting place for the duration of the retreat. We were surrounded by books, a beautiful wooden mantle and fireplace, comfortable furniture, capreted floor, soft couches and a huge bay window overlooking the woods, and sky. The silence for all of us, now began, we were not to speak for the entire length of the retreat, until just before dinner was served on Sunday. No speaking for meals as well and it goes without saying that we were not to use any cell phones or mp3 players here. For some, this may strike a note of fear, although I can assure you the benefits far out weight any initial nervousness this might engender. And, an added bonus, it was nice to not have to make small talk at meal time with people one barely knows in an effort to feel comfortable. This can be so draining sometimes.

Rather then go into a lengthy, minute details about the retreat I want to do something here I rarely do with anyone, let alone complete strangers, and that is share a small, somewhat  edited portion of my journal entry written just before our evening meditation and supper break.  These thoughts came crashing in as though on a wave, but rather then struggling to make sense of it, or give it meaning, I let the thoughts come and go, as though I simply was a conduit, and the thoughts just needing to flow onward and outward.

Journal Entry:

First retreat, here in NH, Temple? No Litchfield? (no that sounds wrong) perhaps brain tired, no not tired, calm, so many emotions, feeling Nana and Grundy-Aunt Dot, so Catholic here, Our Lady of Hope, food delicious - atmosphere- homey- people, sweet, like it here and glad my first retreat ever is with Judy- she creates an air of so much security and love - she cares - I like my room, # 4, corner - nice bed- upstairs,  floor #3  walking meditation, smells like church here, safe -  smells that remind me of childhood - deep purple napkins and place mats on dinner table, candles glowing, wooden cross, Lent, beautiful - birds outside window - love to watch them - thinking of Aunt Dot's house here and my childhood - lots of emotions barreling on in but through it all,  stillness, child-like curiosity, wonder, feel good and protected here, sisters are so kind to do all this for us, place spotless, Chapel was so peaceful and dressed for Lent, all in deep purple, feels good, it is a lovely haven here. looking forward to rest of day, love it here - so peaceful, much to learn - body in stillness, mind at rest - world left alone - feels good to let go!

I will end here, but will add more later in the week, after I have had to process it all. Needless to say, this is going to be the first of many retreats to come in my life as the benefits of making this time to shut out the world and have someone else take care of you have been profoundly felt.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Forbidden Journey

Just got back with my son and husband from a week long stay in Orlando, Florida. Home of the ultimate in manic vacations! It is amazing the variety and choice of attractions and theme parks designed to thrill our senses and scare the life out of us, all in the name of good, clean fun of course. You can choose your very own personal threshold level of thrills and adventure, it seems almost limitless, and some days are indeed endless as well.

No matter our personal choices or limitations, there is one ride that we were all looking forward to with GREAT anticipation: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It is housed in Hogwarts Castle at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure theme park.

Entering Hogsmeade for the FIRST time!
To get to the ride and assure yourself a a quick entry onto it, take our advice and get there at least a half hour before the park opens. Once your tickets are purchased and the gates open, walk as fast as you can, straight ahead until you come to the Dr. Zeus/Cat in the Hat section, bear right there and follow the path on till you see the Hogwarts Express and the entry archway into Hogsmeade, a thrill in and of itself, especially if you, like us, are true Harry Potter fans.  It was simply magical walking down the street and viewing the buildings that were so meticulously planned and designed. The theme music fills the air and you literally feel as though you stepped through a magic portal into a Harry Potter book.  (Assuming one could do so of course.)

The street, when you arrive early as we did, is not so jammed packed and you are able to peruse the various shop windows that have been delightfully arranged. Try to find Hermione's ball gown, a screaming mandrake, and the "oh so full of himself" moving picture of  Gilderoy Lockhart. One of our favorite characters. Oh and make sure you visit the restrooms, a ghostly presence is "moaning" about!

Once through the town you arrive at the entrance to Hogwarts and the thrill ride adventure. There are plenty of lockers there to stow your stuff, since you cannot bring anything along on this ride. As soon as your valuables are safely stored, you walk on into the queue area to start your journey. This has to be one of the best ride queues ever imagined since the entire wait process takes you through several rooms in the castle. Once again if you are a true fan, you will love seeing the entrance to Dumbledore's office, "moving" paintings, the Dark Arts class room and best of all, the Sorting Hat that greets you with a cautionary message just before you hurry to get locked down into your seats to begin the Forbidden Journey.

Now I do not wish to alarm anyone, but do heed those rather large and lengthy warning signs that let you know this in indeed a MOTION ride and while not a roller coaster, you are moving rapidly, and tossed backward and forward at a VERY fast pace. The ride is in perpetual motion so the line moves FAST! In fact, the ride attendants move forward on a track that is moving backward constantly just to get you seated on it. WOW! You are quite firmly locked in the four seater ride "car" and are barely able to move much more then your legs and arms. There is a recorded track that plays near your head with the voices of all our Hogwarts friends guiding us through the adventure and letting us know how we are doing on our broom ride. No spoilers here other then to say you move VERY fast, the ride is intense and it is unlike anything you have ever experienced in thrill attractions! Once was enough for me but I am VERY glad I did it! The perpetual motion and "in your face 3-D graphics" had me shutting my eyes in a few places so as not to be dizzy. It is an incredible experience and one that should not be missed, although I do feel sympathy for all the older and younger folks who literally were a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing afterward! It does take your breath away, truly.

Oh, and ladies, be wary of the thigh/crotch shot on the automated picture that gets snapped of you and your seatmates, it's a "real charmer!! HAHA! Nothing you can do about it so just laugh when you see it.

The biggest thrill for me though, was when my 7 year old son, who is not afraid of any ride, and goes on anything, looked at me and told me he was so proud I went on it! Indeed, so was I!!! It was truly AMAZING and worth every moment just to let him know Mom still has it in her to face her fears.......just no roller coasters!!!