This time five years ago I was trying to absorb the fact that I have Graves Disease, an incurable, but thankfully treatable, autoimmune disease.
Like many diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, my life drastically changed after my diagnosis. Initially I was devastated and angry. But five years later I can honestly say that Graves Disease has changed my life for the better.
Really, I changed myself for the better. But knowing I would be spending a lifetime with Graves Disease truly motivated me to examine my life and foster changes that would allow me to thrive in my circumstances. And there are so many ways that you can too! Even if you don’t have a chronic illness.
Don’t wait for a disease to make yourself a priority. Let’s talk about how to truly make yourself feel fantastic, inside and out.
Graves Disease Five Years Later
Five years after my diagnosis and I feel better than I ever did before Graves Disease, mentally, physically, spiritually. I like to think of Graves Disease as my spirit guide, teaching me love, resilience and kindness. We have a lifetime together after all. I might as well gift it a positive purpose.
After diagnosis, the original game plan was a year or so on medication to stabilize my symptoms and thyroid hormones and then surgery or radiation. The end result was that I would forever be on medication and would deal with the complications of an autoimmune disease and thyroid (or lack there of) issues for the rest of my life.
But five years later here I am, thyroid intact, radiation and surgery still an option but yet to be necessary. I continue to have regular blood tests and see my Endocrinologist once or twice a year. But otherwise I do my best to simply live my life. It isn’t always easy, but you have to work with what you’ve got.
And you know what? I love my life, Graves Disease and all.
My disease is still there and could potentially become aggressive again someday. I do everything in my power to protect my health, but the unfortunate truth of the matter is that autoimmune diseases are a strange beast. They ebb and flow. And while there are certain factors, like lifestyle, diet and stress that play a role, even under the best circumstances it’s hard to say exactly what will happen in the future.
But reflecting on the journey, I can say that Graves Disease has made me calmer and more grateful for the things I have and the people around me. It changed my perspective on life. It taught me to stand up for myself and stick to my guns.
Most importantly, Graves Disease taught me to love myself fiercely. I wouldn’t change this experience for the world.
You don’t need a disease to motivate you to change your life for the better. You can do incredible things for your beautiful self now. Don’t wait.
Here are some tips and tricks to help you build your ultimate happy, healthy lifestyle. I truly hope they resonate with you.
If you’re newly diagnosed with Graves Disease, or anything else, know that you can weather the tough times and there are still good times ahead. Take a deep breath, listen to your gut and make yourself a priority. You have what it takes to build an incredible life, even with a chronic illness.
Don’t Cut Out Modern Medicine
Creating a healthy diet and lifestyle is an integral part of your well being… but so is modern medicine.
If I had turned my back on my doctors and only focused on diet and lifestyle I would have been at serious risk of a thyroid storm, a life-threatening side effect of untreated hyperthyroidism.
To this day, I continue to seek medical care. I have an amazing Endocrinologist who stays up to date on all of the current traditional treatment options for Graves Disease. And I adore that she also points me in the right direction when it comes to supplements and alternative treatments.
While I haven’t had the need for radiation or surgery, if my disease ever becomes aggressive and unresponsive to other options, she will be the person I rely on to help me make the right decisions.
When you’re sick, your life may be on the line. While alternative health care, diet and lifestyle are all useful and incredibly helpful options, your doctor may very well save your life. Don’t turn your back on them.
Participate in Your Healing
With all that wonderfulness I just said about good doctors, I don’t want you to think of your body as a car that you’re supposed to leave in the hands of a skilled mechanic (i.e. your doctor). Your body is still yours and your health belongs to you. So get involved baby!
Ask your doctor thoughtful questions. Learn everything you can about your illness. Keep copies of blood work in case you need to refer back (sometimes this helps me come up with the questions I need to ask my doctor).
But it goes even further than that. Your life may sometimes be in your doctor’s hands. But your overall health is, in many ways, in your hands.
You have the power to take the best possible care of yourself, to feed yourself with kindness, to find ways to de-stress, unwind, rest and relax.
Will this fix everything? Not necessarily. I have an incurable autoimmune disease, and all the healthy eating and de-stressing in the world won’t fix that. But you know what it does do? It helps me thrive in spite of that. By taking the best possible care of myself I’m able to feel better than I ever thought possible.
Being well depends on more than simply having a great doctor. Make your health and your self a priority. You deserve it. And you need it. Your wellness depends on it!
Love Yourself Fiercely
If I asked you to tell me what the foundation of a healthy lifestyle truly was, what would you say? Diet? Sleeping habits? Stress management? A killer exercise routine?
Those are all great things. And they all play a role in a healthy lifestyle. But I wouldn’t personally say that they’re the foundation that holds everything together.
It’s all about self love baby!
When your healthy lifestyle is built on a foundation of self love, everything comes together. You eat well because you love yourself, you move because you love yourself, you do the things that bring you joy because… you guessed it, you love yourself.
Make a choice to work on loving and accepting yourself, as you are. Once you’ve made the commitment to love and accept yourself fully, everything else can come from a positive, self loving place.
A deep love and respect for yourself changes your perspective and motivates you to take amazing care of yourself. Is it easy? Not always. In fact, your relationship with yourself is just like any other relationship. It takes time, effort and care. And it’s a continuous journey. You’ll have good days and you’ll have bad days. And that’s ok.
When you prioritize that relationship, you can truly create something great! And don’t you deserve that? I mean, what relationship is more permanent and lasting than the one you have with yourself? You’re going to be spending a long time together – why shouldn’t it be in a relationship that’s built on understanding, forgiveness and love?
The best place to start is with communication! Isn’t that the key to every successful relationship after all?
Become more mindful of negative thoughts and hateful body talk. Try and work on replacing those thoughts and words with positive, health-esteem promoting statements like “I accept myself as I am” or “I am incredible and worthy of love”. Make a point to speak kindly to yourself as often as possible.
But don’t be too hard on yourself ether. It can take time to build that self love foundation, and that’s ok. Try to be patient and understanding with yourself. You’ve got this.
Make Time For Self Care
You matter! And the things that make you feel awesome, relaxed, and special? Those things matter too.
You deserve to foster soothing habits that de-stress you, feel-good activities that support your well-being. or just the little things that make you happy.
Self care is a form of self love. And we already know that that’s a pretty big deal.
I like to think that they go hand in hand. Self love inspires self care and vice versa.
So whether it be long baths, good books, dry brushing, stir fries, clay face masks, writing, or anything else… dedicate some time for you.
I know that the idea of making the time for self care can be a little overwhelming… It can seem impossible to make time in your busy schedule for you.
Prioritizing helps, and I have an awesome, free self care planner that can help you do just that.
And remember – Sometimes the best self-care is allowing yourself to rest and do nothing. Self-care should never stress you out, so don’t be hard on yourself if you’re having a particularly busy day and can’t make everything happen. Your routine should be flexible to your changing needs.
Examine Your Diet
You know when you’re reading a good book and something huge happens that changes everything? Well, in the story of my life, that huge, life changing revelation took place the day I decided to really think about what I was feeding my body and how that affected my health.
Everything changed after that day. Everything! I had spent months on medication, which helped to save my life, but I still felt like a big ol’ pile of crap. But after an elimination diet and some food and symptom journaling, I was on the healthy eating track and feeling better by the day!
Today I’m in remission and faring amazingly well, all things considered. And while I owe thanks to many different things (including everything listed in this post), healthy eating is a critical player in my well-being.
Everyone’s different, and what works best for my body may not work best for yours. But it’s incredibly important that you pay attention to your diet and how it affects your health. Because there’s one thing that’s true for everyone… what we eat affects our health and, ultimately, we can all benefit from a healthy diet.
If you’re dealing with an illness like Graves Disease or a sensitive stomach, you may need to do a bit more ground work to find the right diet for you. An Elimination Diet and Food and Symptom Journaling really helped me figure out what made me feel awesome and what made me feel like crap. If you need a little help in that department, I have a post all about it right here.
But it doesn’t have to be overly complicated, especially if you don’t have any health woes. Anyone can make a healthy diet work for them!
And if you’ve tried and failed to maintain a healthy diet, struggled for months only to find yourself waking up in a blur, covered in burritos and chocolate sauce (a strange mix, but I won’t judge ;)), or wish to create one but can’t even imagine how you’d make it last, this post is for you.
What you choose to eat has a powerful effect on your health. Choose wisely. Because you can either fuel your disease (or create one) with tons of processed, nutritionally impotent, inflammatory junk food. Or you can support your body and feed it with kindness. You’ll feel better for it.
Eat More Plants
While we’re on the topic of healthy eating… I should mention that plant stuff is the best stuff.
My food philosophy is to feed yourself with kindness always. Load up on greens, fruits, veggies, healthy grains, nuts, seeds and, if you choose, small servings of local, organic, ethically raised meat. There is, of course, room for healthy, delicious desserts too.
If you need a few options, I’ve got some awesome recipes for you right here.
But the important take away here is this:
You can’t have a healthy diet without plants.
Veggies alone are so rich in water soluble vitamins, which we need access to daily for optimal health, as well as fat soluble vitamins. They are one of the best sources of fiber, keeping that marvelous digestive tract of yours running smoothly. This also means they also help to fill you up! And veggies have a unique abundance of phytonutrients and marvelous antioxidants, further supporting that precious body of yours.
Saying yes to a diet high in nutrient dense plants not only boosts your intake of healthy goodness, it also crowds out a lot of the junk. Let’s become friends with awesome, whole foods and back away slowly from inflammatory, processed foods that do us no good.
You are by no means required to go vegan if that doesn’t suit you (I’m not) – just work on making plants a very big player on your plate.
Embrace Clean Beauty
Photo Credit – Beauty Barlour
Do you have a ton of beloved makeup? Go-to moisturizers? Adored bubble bath and bath bombs? Have you ever thought about how that may affect your health? I sure didn’t!
The fact of the matter is, we all love self-care products. On average, women use around 12 products per day, and men stick to about 6.
But, bad news bears…. those products contain around 168 unique ingredients, some of which might not be the best options for your health. In fact, 1 out of every 24 women are exposed to ingredients that are known to be potential reproductive and developmental toxins. Every. Single. Day.
How? through our personal care products. And dudes aren’t exactly safe from junk ingredients either.
Kind of takes the ‘care’ out of self-care, eh? (Find out more at EWG.)
Why does that even matter if you’re only putting it on your skin?
It matters big time! Your skin is your protector, shielding your body from harm and playing an important role in your innate immune system. It’s our largest organ, and has approximately 11 miles of blood vessels and countless nerve endings!
Unfortunately, sometimes the things we place on our skin can pass through and be absorbed into our bloodstream. Think about things like nicotine and birth control patches; those products literally medicate our bodies through our skin. And some of the ingredients in your self care products can potentially find their way in too (source).
Even though we don’t generally think about it this way, when we place something on our skin we are, in a sense, feeding our bodies.
So, much like how we should consider what we eat, we should also be conscious of what we’re placing on our skin too.
Thankfully there are tons and tons of options out there! And the Environmental Working Group has a fantastic database to help you make awesome, informed choices.
Sitting all day is terrible for your health… and may even take years off of your life. While a few hours a day on your butt may be unavoidable depending on what you do for a living (I’m certainly not innocent here – writing involves a lot of chair time), it’s important that you make a point to move. Preferably a few times everyday.
That doesn’t mean you have to get a gym membership, invest in fancy equipment or take up running if that doesn’t interest you. If you hate it you won’t stick to it. Make it fun! Switch things up and keep it interesting.
Personally, I enjoy yoga, weight lifting, crunches, jump rope, long walks and random solo dance parties. The Fitness Marshall is also an awesome way to dance, work out and have fun (this one’s my favourite). Extra points if you’re giggling through it all.
Regardless of what you choose to do, find ways to move that beautiful body of yours everyday. I know that we often have such a strong resistance to developing an exercise routine. But exercise actually makes you feel damn good, mentally and physically. And even short bursts of physical activity are good for your health! Your immune system is definitely a huge fan.
So find that outlet that you enjoy. Martial arts, dance, yoga, running… whatever floats your boat. If you enjoy it and have fun doing it it’s much easier to make it a priority.
Build Your Tribe
It takes a village… to be healthy, fulfilled and happy. Seriously – I wouldn’t be where I am today without my amazing, loving family, incredible friends and extremely caring and helpful doctors and health care providers. They’re my team and I’d be lost without them.
And then there’s you – my magnificent Health-Esteem community. Always inspiring me and bringing me so much joy.
The point is – you should not, and, in fact, cannot do all of this by yourself. I’m by no means claiming that you are dependent or incapable. You are totally magnificent and you have the insight, intuition and ability to do incredible things (for the world and for yourself). But having a group of people who love you, care greatly for you and have your back is not only uplifting and inspiring, it’s necessary and endlessly healing.
Who lifts you up? Who do you feel happy and comfortable with? Who do you feel safe baring your soul to? Who makes you laugh and forget the world and your woes?
These are your people. Cherish them, be open with them about your life and your needs, share in their’s. Let them know how grateful you are for their love and support. You will be better for it. And so will your health.
And on that note…
Building your tribe is not only about embracing and opening yourself up to loving, supportive people… It’s also about removing yourself from toxic relationships.
Is there someone in your life who leaves you feeling drained or anxious? Are you walking on egg shells with anyone? Keeping your true self hidden for fear of rejection or judgement. These aren’t your people. And while it can be difficult to admit to yourself that a relationship isn’t healthy, it’s better for you both in the end.
Being well and loving yourself fiercely only works if you feel safe and empowered enough to be yourself. And you can’t do that if you’re around people who make you feel like who you are is unwelcomed.
You deserve a close-knit tribe of people who inspire you, empower you to be who you truly are and motivate you to grow. Releasing yourself from toxic relationships is deeply healing and so, so uplifting.
You’re a pretty big part of your tribe too. Remember how we talked about self-love as the foundation of a healthy lifestyle? You should make a point to be one of those loving, supportive people in your life. You deserve that.
Take Care of Your Mind
Prior to Graves Disease, I never gave much thought to how much stress affected my physical well-being… but since then I’ve learned that the state of my mind has a HUGE effect on the state of my body.
In fact, my first Graves Disease relapse was definitely brought on by a period of extreme stress. Stress is a pretty big trigger for autoimmune disease onset (source). And even if you’re autoimmune disease free, prolonged stress affects you emotionally and physically.
So learning how to cope with stress is in your best interest. Because, while we can remove ourselves from some overly stressful situations… life happens and stress happens. Preventing it entirely is inevitable.
Learning how to calm your mind is a gift. Whether it be meditation, gratitude journaling, painting, writing, a weekly massage or the support of a counselor, therapist, or therapy pet… you deserve outlets that soothe you. Find what works for you and embrace it.
Follow Your Passions
What pulls on your heart strings? Is there something you’ve been aching to do? Dreams that are calling to you? You need to go for it!
It can be something tiny, like learning how to paint. Or something grand, like embarking on a new career. Big or small, follow the things that call to your heart. They’re pulling you towards them for a reason and you owe it to yourself to explore them.
It can be scary as hell. Things like this call for us to have faith in ourselves and take a leap. And nothing is ever certain. But if you stand still so many things will pass you by and you’ll be left with those ‘what if’ feelings. That sucks a heck of a lot more than trying and failing.
Graves Disease inspired me to go back to school. It encouraged me to leave a job that was draining me and embark on a strange journey as a writer and free agent. Something that terrified me, but has become a crazy interesting and fulfilling experience. I started my own website with absolutely no idea what I was doing (and sometimes I still don’t). And I picked up a camera and began to document my journey as a health-esteemie.
I have big dreams and I’ve been chasing them with vigor. There are no guarantees. But in life there never really are.
Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t. But they always lead us somewhere. And embracing my passions and following my heart has never led me astray. Especially over the last five years.
It’s been an astonishing, life altering, exhilarating five years. I have never been so vulnerable, but I’ve also never been so enlivened.
I’ve learned so much and I know that if I continue to live my life with these building blocks at it’s heart I’ll be ok.
You’re a priority, you matter and so do your thoughts, feelings and dreams. You deserve love, joy and vibrant health. It’s out there waiting for you. Go get it.
Thank you for all of your love and support these past five years! I’m so grateful! Here’s to many more thriving.
Health and love,
Thought of the day: It’s up to me to make my world shine; I am far more capable than I ever imagined.
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