I’ve always been the type of person who does things in their own time. For some things, like hips, I was a late bloomer. Boobs, still waiting on. Others I got started on very early, like developing a thyroid disorder at the age of 4 that most often affects women over 40. One day I complained of a tickle in my throat, the next I was diagnosed with an under-active thyroid and have been taking synthetic thyroid replacement hormones ever since.
Now, at 27, from the outside, you’d never think anything was wrong. I have a growing career as a freelance illustrator where I make my own schedule, I appear physically healthy, despite my not-so-green diet, and I live in a beautiful home in Brooklyn with my loving and supportive fiancé. In reality, I’d been utterly exhausted, physically and emotionally, and was struggling to get through each day. I had to make a flexible career work because it was impossible for me to have a typical day without spending a good portion of it lying down, no matter how much sleep I got. My hair was thinning. My skin was dry, inflamed, and starting to break out more than usual. My memory was deteriorating, and my mood swings were getting the best of me. For the past few years, my symptoms were left unnoticed because I had been sick so long, I didn’t even realize that what I was feeling wasn’t normal until I was almost completely debilitated.
Being diagnosed so young, I didn’t fully understand what having a thyroid disorder meant for my body. I had seen multiple doctors, and my tests were always “in range,” so they offered little recourse, and, until my symptoms were too severe to ignore, I didn’t question them. I was finally recommended an integrated doctor who ran a series of more comprehensive blood tests. Her conclusion was not only that I had an underactive thyroid, but that it was caused by an ongoing autoimmune disease: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Her recommendation, aside from adding a few supplements and an additional thyroid hormone, was to clean up my diet. Over the next few weeks, I started to cut out gluten, dairy, soy, refined sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and mainly anything processed, and instead focused on organic, non-GMO whole foods. Within a month, I was feeling like a person again. I had energy for the first time, I stopped feeling perpetually bloated, my hair looked healthier, and my red, sensitive, and somewhat acne-prone skin started to clear up.
At first I was overwhelmed by the thought of living with an autoimmune disease for the rest of my life. When I felt such immediate results after cleaning up my diet, I decided this wouldn’t get the best of me. I would make this a positive learning experience—an experiment in being my best self.
Like most visiting this site, I love skincare, and I realize that what goes on my body is just as important as what goes in it. I had cleaned up my diet, but I was still exposing myself to potentially toxic chemicals in my skincare. I researched clean options and was shocked by how few regulations the FDA has on cosmetics. The EU has banned around 1,400 ingredients, whereas the US has banned just 30. Most of these chemicals are suspected of causing cancer and/or disrupting your endocrine system (hey, thyroid! Sorry, ovaries!), which regulates hormones. I started swapping out my current skincare and makeup products with clean alternatives, and guess what? They’re just as good, if not better. Brands like RMS, Drunk Elephant, Marie Veronique, Tata Harper, and Pai (just to name a few new favorites) know what they’re doing, and make incredible clean products that work better than anything else I’ve tried. I’ve even found amazing clean brands like Cocokind and Schmidt’s at Whole Foods.
I’ve been on this wellness kick for a few months now, and I’ve never felt or looked better. I’m surprisingly grateful I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder in this stage of my life because it forced me to really consider the effects of what I was putting on and in my body. You don’t have to drive yourself crazy completely overhauling your life—just start with small changes and see how you feel. Wellness isn’t about right or wrong or being perfect. It’s about making informed decisions and showing up for yourself.
Words and photography, Meghann Stephenson.