Why Starting Synthroid Is Not So Simple

*This blog post was originally titled "Making Friends with Synthroid" and was published on November 6, 2014 on nadhahassen.com. It has been updated and edited for Thyroid Transitions.

Looking back at this post reminds me of how far I've come and the importance of adapting, accepting and moving forward. This post chronicles a time when my thyroid hormone medication was a reminder of everything that I had lost - my thyroid, my health, my income, life as I knew it, my comfort zone. The fluctuations in hormones after my thyroidectomy contributed to my feelings of depression and lethargy. Starting daily medication for life in my early twenties was not an easy thing to wrap my mind around, and it shouldn't have to be. Three years later, I am still on Synthroid. We are getting along better. 

I wake up in the morning and look over at my bedside table.

I first see the glass of water and then I remember.

I have to take my Synthroid.

Reality hits me. Again.

I want to go back to sleep.

Making friends with my hormone replacement medication, Synthroid, has been a lot harder than I anticipated. Synthroid just sits there on my bedside table, silently, grumpily, reflecting my own emotions. This pill is levothyroxine (T4) (Synthroid is just the brand name) and it is supposed to replace everything that my thyroid used to do before I took it out, but I can't help feeling skeptical.

Synthroid was told to stick with me and it doesn't seem like it wants to. The doctors told me that it would take a few weeks for it to start working, but I don't feel it yet. To be honest, I don't really want to be friends with Synthroid either. Having to take this pill reminds me of pain, surgery and cancer. This is a rocky point in our relationship for Synthroid and I because we don't even know if we're compatible yet. It may take a while before we figure out the right dosage and right now, just the thought of it makes me feel tired. The doctors will have to work out what dose works best, so I'm feeling alright and so that my TSH is suppressed enough to prevent potential cancer recurrence. This part of medicine is just trial and error. I'll have to keep trying because, after all, I can ill afford to give up yet. 

Some people find the transition to hormone replacement medication easier than others. However, others who have had thyroidectomies or radioactive ablation never really feel better despite the fact that Synthroid is supposed to be a great substitute. Doctors and others aren't completely sure why. Another issue is that I have been told that it is just a little tablet, to be taken once a day. No big deal. The significance of taking a tablet every day is downplayed. "Everyone is on medication sooner or later." Is this really what it has come down to? Every human being needs medication so that their body functions properly? Doesn't seem ideal. 

I'm supposed to notify my doctor if I experience certain symptoms. Yes, I am feeling them all - sleeplessness, nightmares, changes in appetite, nauseousness, heat intolerance, sudden cold shivers, fever, headaches, leg cramps, weight gain and irritability.  One of my doctors suggested that I'm imagining the symptoms. I sighed when I heard that. It's not in my head because I can feel it in my body. But even so, my body and my mind are both a part of my health, so shouldn't we be focussing on making me feel better? 

In some ways, I am glad my body (and mind) is resisting this change. It isn't something I should just have to accept. I get to ask the questions I have, contemplate the reasons behind my decisions. Some people diagnosed with thyroid cancer choose not to undergo surgery and instead completely overhaul their diet and lifestyle. Battling cancerous cells in a more "natural" way. It is an option and the prerogative of those who choose it. I did look into it before I made my decision but ultimately decided to go with the thyroidectomy. The overarching idea tends to be that we should not be so quick to cut out something from our body that has an important role - simply because there is a human-made replacement.


Perhaps part of what I am experiencing with the medication is what many others experience with their scar. I don't want to be reminded of this every day - and that's exactly what Synthroid does. With time, I am hopeful that my relationship with Synthroid will be put into perspective and that I'll be grateful that it allows me to keep living and functioning. 

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Nadha Hassen

Founder at Thyroid Transitions
Nadha is a health researcher and chronic illness advocate based in Toronto. A "thyroidless thriver", she strives to support people at all stages of their thyroid process. She is currently a PhD student and received her Master of Public Health (MPH) from the University of Toronto, specializing in Health Promotion.
Posted in Life Transitions.

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