Pretty much my entire life, I was pretty comfortable with my body. In high school, I would stand in front of a mirror and pinch the extra skin on my waist and wanted it gone. Although, I didn’t spend hours lamenting over how I wanted to be thinner, taller or prettier. I was pretty happy with my appearance—until I hit college.
There, I was hit with much worse than the freshman 15—try the freshman 30…and the sophomore 15. No matter what I did, I gained weight. I crash dieted, worked out every day for months and started eating once a day or less—and still, the pounds kept coming and I was getting more and more miserable. I actively hated my appearance and started buying baggier and baggier clothes to hide under. I became my own worst critic. I would stare at photos taken of myself for close to hours and would obsess over my double chin and extra weight. I would have actual panic attacks over clothing, and once spent an entire day crying in bed because I had tried on a pair of jeans that fit me six months ago that didn’t anymore. Simply put, I hated myself, I hated my body and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t lose weight. I stopped taking photos with my friends and retreated into myself, becoming more and more depressed and soon, never leaving my room except to eat.
I had hit rock bottom—until my mom, worried about both my physical and mental health, sent me to the doctor for blood testing. There, I was given a solution to the problems plaguing me since I started college: I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to keep the body running normally. The body reacts through fatigue, dry skin and unexplained weight gain.
It’s not often that you’re given an all-encompassing solution to a medical issue. I have many friends that have medical conditions that took them from specialist to specialist, leaving many different offices with many different diagnoses. It was simultaneously a relief and anxiety-inducing to be given this diagnosis; I know what’s wrong with me—but now what?
I was sent to a specialist, who told me I would need to get on life-long medication to regulate my TSH, as well as receive blood work every six months for the foreseeable future to ensure the medication was working. The side effects of the medication I was prescribed, called Levothyroxine, included weight loss, increased energy and loss of appetite—all of which made this sound like a miracle pill.
Cautiously, I accepted my new diagnosis and, of course, began researching everything I could find about my new lifelong condition. I started my medication (once a day on an empty stomach before breakfast) and waited for the “side effects” to kick in…and waited…and waited. A year and some change later, there’s been no magical weight loss like what I was expecting. But instead, something much better happened: I was myself again.
I’m not going to lie, it took me almost a year to fully accept my changed self. There were many tear-filled, dramatic fitting room exits to be had before I could stand in front of a mirror, or see myself in a picture, without instantly critiquing everything I saw. One of the worst things about hypothyroid is how hard it is to lose weight; many people have ridiculous fitness regimens just to lose a few pounds—which is why I cringe whenever someone tells me “just do some cardio, you’ll lose that weight!”
A year after my initial diagnosis, I did my now routine blood work and waited to see if the medication was doing what it should. When I was diagnosed, my TSH was making way below average what it should have been—and when I got my blood work back, it was exactly average. I have never been so happy to be called “average” in my entire life.
Besides learning how to live with hypothyroid, I had to learn, and am still learning, to be kind to my body. I take my medication every day, proudly buy my size L or XL shirts and have learned that binging on pizza is okay every once in a while—you gotta treat yourself every so often after a hard final, right? I no longer leave fitting rooms crying because nothing fit—in fact, I have more clothes that I feel confident in than ever. Going from average weight to being considered “curvy” was a system shock—but one that I have learned to live with and accept.
If you’re going through something similar, just know that you’re not alone. I felt so isolated before I got my diagnosis, and that was the start to me accepting my body the way it is. Listen to your body—if something is wrong, go see a doctor. Don’t wait for months as I did. Most importantly, be kind to your body and yourself—you’re the only “you” that you’ve got. In the immortal words of RuPaul: if you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love someone else?