So often I’ve thought about doing a poll at Hypothyroid Mom, a poll to see how many people with thyroid disease are struggling with issues in their personal relationships.
I haven’t done the poll because…the truth…I fear that the percentage would be even higher than I imagine.
Written by Rock Robbins, Married to Hashimoto’s
If you read my first article, Married to Hashimoto’s: Where’s the Woman I Married?, you know that I married Stacey in 1989, and 7 years later she got a diagnosis, and I was Married to Hashimoto’s. She didn’t get the light easy breezy, take a pill and call it a day version. She got the misdiagnosed for 2 years, gained 100 pounds, hair failing out, skin bleeding, heart problems, brain toxicity, and we slept in the car outside the Emergency Room night after night for months.
Yeah, we got that version.
Today’s article is sort of my confessional: Where I blew it and what I would do differently if I could go back 20 years.
Seeing as I can’t go back in time, one of the best things I can think to do, moving forward, is to live differently and share my honest story of the lessons I learned so that you can have a shortcut. Not the most flattering portrayal of me, but whatever, if this helps someone get to their health and happiness faster, I’m good with that.
1. Stabilize my family financially
Back 20 years ago, I was not working consistently. I’m not sure why that part of me wasn’t awake in my 20’s like it is for some other guys. Likely, it was that I didn’t have a dad growing up and that my mom took care of everything. Whatever the reason, the result was that it made life more stressful for my capable and healthy wife. I don’t know if your wife or girlfriend is like this, but my Stacey is a rainmaker – super, crazy productive. Back then she was a seriously entrepreneurial, headstrong, ‘make it happen’ force of awesomeness. If a door wasn’t open, she could either get someone to open it for her, or she could force it open. (FYI – that’s not exactly healthy, but that’s a story for another time.) She made it seem so easy when she was feeling healthy and indestructible… so, when I wasn’t pulling my weight financially, she didn’t wait, she just stepped up and made more money happen by overworking. I was in my own world and was okay with the imbalance while she picked up my slack.
But the reality is that it was too much for her to work my part and her part financially. If we’re on the teeter-totter of financial responsibility, and I’m not working my side as a young and capable man, that’s a recipe for burnout for her. Which is exactly what happened. When her Hashimoto’s symptoms started kicking in, and she could no longer provide easily, she didn’t just go, ‘Wow, I need some help here Rock, you need to find some work.’ She pushed through those warning symptoms and worked even harder. Unhealthy dynamics on our part, and too much stress, ladies and gentlemen. Just too much stress.
Why do some Hashi women burn the candle at both ends?
There are some common issues in Hashi women we’ve seen over the last 20 years. These ladies are uber-productive, caring, and dynamic. They make life happen and are the heart and soul of their families and communities. One of the hard truths is this: A lot of women we’ve talked to with Hashimoto’s have gone through some kind of abuse, neglect or injury in their childhood. So, because of that old baggage, they’ve got their own internal mental circus going on – and one of the main issues they deal with is performing for their worth. That means they’ll bypass their inner signals to ‘stop in the name of health’ and keep going so that she can keep being worthy of love. This is a huge deal for many women.
Other unpleasant side-effects are dealing with issues of trust, self-rejection, fear, perfectionism, control, and guilt that sticks like glue. They’re almost always ‘on’ – taking care of everybody. Sound familiar? And my counterpart to that with Stacey was that I didn’t have to be ‘on’, because she was taking care of it all. Lots of fun for me, not so much fun for her.
Back to the financial thing…
It’s about value. If I value my woman, I’m going to do what I need to do financially so she doesn’t have to overdo it and have that extra burden of stress, which affects her mind and body. We both played our parts, but in owning mine, the first bit of advice to the younger me is to get up and start working it. That will provide the context/stability for the next parts.
2. Stabilize my family emotionally
The next bit of advice for my younger self is – be that steady and unflappable presence when life started going nutty. When all the weird symptoms, doctor visits, confusion, hormone changes and frustration were rocking her world, I didn’t need to take it personally and get sensitive about it all. I would be that calm, confident, and protective force in her life. My younger self would have to step up his game and say and do things like…
- “We’ll work it out together, hon, you don’t have to work it alone.”
- “Let’s just mark down your symptoms and keep working your health plan.”
- “I’ll talk to the doctor about why these treatments aren’t working, and we’ll work the next steps.”
- “Alrighty then, which supplements are you avoiding taking today? Let’s do that now.” (make it fun)
- “You need to rest, I’ll take care of the …”
- “Our family doesn’t seem to understand about Hashimoto’s, so I’ll fill them in that it’s a legit health issue – and not that you’re lazy – and that you need more time to heal.”
You get the idea. That kind of consistency when “the fit hits the shan” let’s her know she doesn’t have to be managing everything while she’s dealing with brain fog and a life that’s turning upside down. And that, my friend, helps with the stress because we’re truly being a partner in this, not just along for the ride.
SIDE NOTE #1: For a while, she may still want to jump in anyway, and try to control things that are over on your side. I’ll address that coming up here.
SIDE NOTE #2: This is not permission for you to be criticized by her. Thyroid hormones can make someone be totally out of whack. You can have compassion and not take it personally, but it doesn’t mean that you should be treated like crap either. I talk about that in my book, “The Guys’ Guide to Hashimoto’s”
3. Focus on our priorities
You know how when life is going well, we have the ‘luxury’ to do other things… we can go to the gym, go kayaking with friends, or go golfing, etc…
But when there’s some big health event, or an emergency, the circle of our big life pulls in and you focus on your core priorities – make sure you and your family are safe, healthy and whole.
I remember trying to take her out when she was the most sick to do the same things we used to, and she couldn’t handle it. The noise of the movies being too overstimulating (anxiety). Having to leave the restaurant as soon as we start eating (stomach issues). Having to cancel plans or leave early (exhaustion).
So, the next thing I would say to young Rock would be, “Rock, you need to prioritize getting Stacey’s health and her treatment plan dialed in. It may not be easy, but if you take care of this now, and invest in her, you’ll get back so much of the fun, healthy, and energetic woman you married. Life may not look exactly the same as before, but it’s worth your focused investment. If you keep putting her health to the side, it will just lead to a lot of years of frustration with one health issue after another, and bouncing from one doctor to another. It’s time to partner with her and take this seriously.”
So, I have the perspective now that the shortest distance to her restored health, is to invest the time now, don’t wait around and just hope it’ll get better by itself.
We are an important part of our wife’s healing.
4. Change our lifestyle
Again, I’m in front of the younger me. “Rock, next up – some things have got to change…
- First off, you need time for you to recharge and re-center. Make sure you’re eating well, do your exercise early morning, or at night after she’s asleep, or on the weekend. Get enough rest. It’s like those safety drills at the beginning of a flight, make sure you put the oxygen mask on you so that you’ll actually be able to help the important people around you.
- No more letting ambitious Stacey clog the calendar with one thing right after another – make margins of 2-3 hours between events. Probably no more than 1 or 2 nights out a week until she’s feeling better. If it looks like there’s too much, step in and clear the schedule – even if she protests.
- Make sure she’s doing things that are relaxing, fun, and bring her joy. Painting pottery, watching old movies, watching Food Network – whatever. Make sure she gets out with her friends too for perspective.
- Take her out to walk around the neighborhood or at the beach and let her talk, talk, talk and talk some more. Gentle exercise helps her body, and the talking relieves the pressure valve on her head where her thoughts are constantly ricocheting around. She’s likely worried a lot about her health and her future and needs some talking it out with you.
- If there are any contentious relationships that are stressing her out, they have to go (or at least be paused) – even if they’re family! Step in and protect her here. “Sorry, Stacey is resting right now and can’t talk. What do you need?” Then filter the B.S. out of the conversation and share that, or don’t even share that if it’s too much.”The punch line on this, guys, is that you need to take care of you, and you need to help her take care of herself.
5. Call in the troops (family & friends)
I’d tell the younger me to work with Stacey to bring our family and friends into the conversation of what’s going on health-wise. This is one I wish I had done more proactively with my family. They would dig into her for being lazy because they didn’t understand what she was going through. And I’m sad to say I didn’t jump in and help them understand like I could have. Not always an easy task, as so many people believe that Hashimoto’s is as easy as taking a pill, and boom! You’re fixed.
But that’s not always the case.
As a recovering Lone Ranger (where I don’t reach out and try to do everything myself), I’m finally getting how powerful it is to have a network of people who are there for you and your family’s health and wholeness. We both could have used more support that time. So, reach out to your family, your spiritual community, or your network of friends, and bring them into the conversation. There are so many burdens that don’t have to be shouldered alone.
6. Get counseling to work on the emotional side
My wife did not start off life as a driven, approval seeking, Type-A personality out of nowhere – she had a family and life history that shaped her into the person she is. And as her partner, I have my complementary issues that fit with her issues – we’re a bit like Yin and Yang – two puzzle pieces that fit together.
My wife was already dealing with Hashimoto’s and addressing her physical issues with food, supplements, sleep, and exercise. That’s just one part of the big picture. It’s also important to address the mental issues that run the show behind the scenes. Stacey’s not just her symptoms. We had to look at – WHY does she push herself so hard? WHY does she push past when her body is telling her she needs a break?
And I had to look at “Why did I let her?”
My wife has been on a journey to work on her whole health – mind, body and spirit. And because life isn’t a one-way street when you’re married, I had to work on mine, too.
Wait… what? There’s more? Since my wife and I have been dancing together in life in one certain way for such a long while, when one of the partners changes and learns a new dance of health and wholeness, it affects the old dance we’ve been doing for so long. So, there’s going to be an adjustment time! Woo hoo!! That’s going to mean some stepping on each other’s toes as we learn to be in this new dance. My goal is to be gracious, but I have been known to be a pain the butt in this adjustment process.
So, here’s the deal guys: The truth is that so many of us are really great guys married to really great women. We’re just in unchartered territory with this Hashimoto’s thing. Some of you are already right on task, some of you might be well-intended but asleep at the wheel – like I was, or maybe you’re somewhere in between.
It’s all good and it’s all just a starting point.
The point is that you don’t have to live with 20 years of wishing you had done it differently, you can learn from mistakes like mine and take a better road ahead.
As for Stacey and me, we have a great love and commitment to each other – it helped us get past the crankiness, craziness, and hard times that come in every relationship. The commitment was necessary, because there were times when I wondered if we were going to make it. Looking back, I’m so glad we worked through those hard times, because it paved the way for all the good times.
So, there you go. My 20 year retrospective. I hope that this was a helpful perspective from my past that will help your future – now.
Hang in there.
You’re not alone.
We’re in this together.
(Rock with sons Seth and Caleb, and wife Stacey)
Rock Robbins is an Author and Coach. His upcoming book is The Guys’ Guide to Hashimoto’s. Rock is married to Stacey Robbins, author of You’re Not Crazy and You’re Not Alone: Losing the Victim, Finding Your Sense of Humor, and Learning to Love Yourself Through Hashimoto’s – together they’re empowering the Hashimoto’s community to use this diagnosis to live a happier, healthier life. Rock lives with his wife and 2 sons in Southern California. They’re currently traveling in Europe as they write their latest books. www.marriedtohashimotos.com