May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
Under a doctor’s care for hypothyroidism, a Hypothyroid Mom reader named Courtney Rundell ended up in a mental hospital and was misdiagnosed Bipolar. A year later, she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune thyroid disease that can cause symptoms of both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Neither her psychiatrist nor endocrinologist reconsidered her bipolar diagnosis.
She took psychiatric medications for 7 years, even during pregnancy. After childbirth, she experienced postpartum psychosis, chronic illness and the 4 psychiatric medications she took daily to survive stopped working.
Written by Courtney Rundell, founder of the blog i bee free
Do I really have bipolar disorder?
This has been the question rolling around in my neuron-trap since discovering that my severely low thyroid hormones have been the root of my recent mental instability.
It’s a lot to process, heck, it’s a total mindf*ck.
I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis at 25 and was told it only meant that I had to take a pill every day for the rest of my life. After a few months, I threw out the pills because it was just too much responsibility for me. For the next several years, I had panic attacks, chills, mania, depression, constipation and severe fatigue. I even had vertigo for 2 years.
I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s again at 29 and was finally mature enough by then to take my medication.
I followed the protocol – bloodwork every 6 months and medication – and I never thought twice about it. I was still having panic attacks, manic episodes and depression, but I only related the constipation, vertigo and chills to Hashimoto’s probably because I was too embarrassed to tell my doctor about the mental stuff.
I’ve always had deep shame about my mental issues because I’ve always thought somehow, someway, it was my fault. That if I would just do something different, I would be sane.
Ends up the meds I was taking – Synthroid for a few years, then Levothyroxine for the past few years – aren’t the only thyroid treatment options available.
This is all new information to me.
Many women have been misdiagnosed bipolar when they really were dealing with hypothyroidism. Today, my angel Sonya from Hormone Soup turned me on to this article from Hypothyroid Mom that blew my mind. Dana shared a story of a reader who went through hell with misdiagnosis.
There is a proven link between bipolar and Hashimoto’s, but the medicine bipolar patients take called Lithium often causes Hashimoto’s which only gets a chicken/egg debate going full steam.
So which came first, Hashimoto’s or bipolar?
When I was diagnosed bipolar in the mental hospital everything made sense. My “happy attacks,” my ability to sleep for days, my drug and alcohol addiction.
It took me about 3 years to fully process and accept the diagnosis of bipolar. It was a grieving process in many ways. Somedays I was in acceptance, other days denial, other days sadness, disbelief, and rage.
I was 33 when I was hospitalized – it had been 8 years since my first Hashimoto’s diagnosis at that time, although I did have a sponsor (who was also a therapist) question whether I was bipolar or not around 25 or 26.
Am I an alcoholic/addict?
I was 7 years sober when I was diagnosed bipolar. I was easy to diagnose because I was sober and the doctor told me that when I was in my alcoholism, I was merely self-medicating my mania and depression with drugs and alcohol.
I loved booze and speed – up and down, down and up, weeee and yay.
Maybe if I get balanced, I can drink like a normal person? Oh, but I can’t drink on lithium and…
Unfortunately, the answer was and is still a resounding yes, you are an alcoholic. When I put alcohol in my body, it hits my chemistry differently than a normal drinker. Most people get a little sleepy and happy. Not me. Alcohol hits me like speed – I go fast, faster, fastest – but it’s never fast enough, so I need some coke, or meth, or crank.
Or whatever you’re holding.
The other telltale sign is the Godzilla-sized phenomenon of craving that hits me; I lose all power of choice once I’ve ingested booze. I go to the bar with the intention of having 4 drinks – seriously, who has one? – and going home. Then I kick myself when I order drinks 5, 6 and 7 and…
I can’t stop. I know, I tried time and time again.
So that was horrible news. I was not only alcoholic, but also bipolar. Great. This meant to recover I had to continue to work hard staying sober, but I also add a whole new program to treat the bipolar disorder.
And the PTSD. That was my other diagnosis in the psych ward, but after surviving my childhood, I never denied that one. But it was time for me to finally deal with my dark past, not just admit it was horrible. And I did. I not only went to therapy for over 6 years – over 2 of those years I went twice a week – I also did my homework, dream work, hypnosis – the whole deal. And I religiously saw my psychiatrist and took my medications – never missing a dose, never running out of a prescription.
And I got free. Before my miscarriage, I was in a 3 year remission.
And then I got pregnant and everything that worked before no longer worked. Here’s the deal, nothing screws up a thyroid problem more than pregnancy hormones – check out Dana’s story at Hypothyroid Mom.
My chemistry hasn’t been the same since pregnancy. My postpartum mania and depression were probably directly associated to my thyroid. And the suicidal depressions and sleeping comas over the past year are definitely Hashimoto’s. I really do think this is the reason I haven’t been able to bounce back after Baby.
But the Postpartum psychosis and OCD? I’m not seeing any relationships between these and Hashimoto’s – so far.
So what’s the answer?
I. Don’t. Know.
That’s the answer.
I need to process this. Write about it. Make lists. Blogging and researching certainly helps. And all you amazing, supportive friends in the blogosphere I’ve made since starting my blog throw me great links and articles all the time.
Thank you and please keep it coming.
My gut tells me that I’m not going to get off so easy. I would love nothing more than to not be bipolar, trust me, but there are a few facts that just don’t tie into thyroid no matter how hard I spin them.
I’m peeling away more layers of this onion for sure and I’m so grateful for answers. Yes, answers bring more questions, but I cannot deny the joy of having answers.
I can sum it up best by stealing what one of my girlfriends (who’s in a similar boat as I am) texted me today:
My bottom line is no matter the diagnosis, I can’t drink, I can’t eat sh*t, I need supplements and thyroid meds, so I don’t need a label, I just want to feel better now.
I couldn’t have put it better myself. Now is the time to get well – that must be the focus. It’s a long road ahead, but – I hope – a longer road behind. I’m just making sure I’m on the right one heading in the right direction for today.
About Courtney Rundell
After writing this article, Courtney finally found out the cause of her failing mental state after finding a D.O. (doctor of osteopathic medicine) who ran a complete thyroid panel. She had massive deficiencies in iodine, T3, cortisol, progesterone, zinc, magnesium and D3. Improperly treated Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Adrenal Fatigue were the cause of decades of suffering.
Courtney’s blog ibeefree is her journey back into the darkness of mental illness and slowly back to sanity again. It is a journal of her massive misdiagnosis and the reparation of her life after she almost destroyed herself time and time again. It is also a place of learning, loving, honesty and life-saving information.
“What a long, strange trip it’s been.” – Grateful Dead