I was scared.
Scared to get out of bed.
Scared to get dressed.
Scared to leave the house.
When I was at my worst with Hashimoto’s more than 2 decades ago, my health turned me upside down and shook all the change out of my pockets. I went from being a vibrant, energetic, professional musician who was on stage 6 nights a week to gaining over 100 pounds, having panic attacks and hiding at home, unable to fully function. I became afraid to do things that were normal to do.
Fear overwhelmed me and I didn’t know how to get out of it.
I remember that day that I went to my endocrinologist — a brilliant man and diplomate in his field — and he rolled his eyes at me and my thyroid,
“I’m tired of messing around with your thyroid. Let’s just take it out and stabilize your medication.”
My eyes were swollen with sickness and concern, “What are the complications?”
He sighed while he palpated my thyroid, “Well, it’s swollen in the back and the thyroid is wrapped around the vocal cord nerve. We could nick the nerve and paralyze you vocally.”
I swallowed hard.
“I’m a singer and a speaker… aren’t there any other options.”
He snickered in a mocking way, knowing that I was a person of faith and knowing that he wasn’t, and said, “God?”
He wrote the authorization for me to see the surgeon and as I was gathering my purse he said, “Oh, and you really should start walking at least 5 minutes a day.”
I nodded and left, feeling scared and alone.
Me and God…
We needed to take a walk.
When I was a kid, summer in New Jersey was all about being up at the crack of dawn, grabbing something to eat and then, making a break for the outdoors. The days were filled with riding bikes, playing stickball, climbing up trees, jumping into pools, and running from yard-to-yard on adventures with friends in the neighborhood.
My mother had to call us in (repeatedly) for lunch and a rest — and then, we jetted off for another 6 hours of play before coming home for baths, dinners, and Italian ice on the front stoop in our nightgowns. When it was dark enough, we’d flit around the front lawn to catch fireflies and put them into our glass jars with holes in the lid.
There was no stopping me when I was little or when I was in high school in sports, or in my young 20’s when I’d be at exercise classes and work with a personal trainer…
But this summer of my 29th year, after my doctor’s visit, I was scared to move.
He wanted me to walk for 5 minutes a day, and the thought of that took my breath away.
The symptoms of untreated or mistreated Hashimoto’s can leave your body feeling like an alien. The symptoms, the pain, the exhaustion, the weight gain…
Part of it is because of the physical reality that your thyroid affects every cell in your body and plays a key role in your brain function, organ health, and regulating your heart rhythms. When your thyroid slows down, your heart slows down. Then, any extra demands on your body become a stress that can show up in scary symptoms.
Another part of it is that psychologically, you can get tripped up by so many things going wrong in your body that you feel jangled and unsure of what’s happening and what you can do about it.
It all left me feeling so vulnerable and insecure… like I couldn’t trust my body to do what it normally did — like exercise.
When I used to push myself and sweat up a storm, I felt alive because I had stressed my muscles in good ways and then, that hot shower and sleep felt like heaven!
But now,every time I tried to exercise even a little I was getting palpitations and breathless, anxiety attacks, and my body ached to my bones — the recovery time was weeks and in that time, I became afraid to try to do something that might trigger it all again.
So, I had become scared of even taking a 5 minute walk.
My husband knew that I loved the beach. Especially the island at Balboa Island — near where we lived in Newport — so, in an effort to support me in my exercise, he drove me 15 minutes to the island so that we could take a 5 minute walk in a place that brought me joy and peace.
There was no goal of walking ‘3 miles an hour’ or even 2 miles an hours – nope…. This was a ‘put one foot in front of the other, as slowly as you need for 5 minutes’ — which I did at a pace that would have exasperated a turtle — after which I laid down on the concrete like a beached whale dressed in black and promptly had a panic attack.
A man in running shorts and a baseball cap rushed over and informed us that he was a doctor and wanted to know if we needed emergency medical attention.
I wish I were kidding,
But I’m not.
That was my first intentional walk but, despite the trauma of it all, it wasn’t my last.
Each day we drove 30 minutes round trip so that I could walk for 5.
We’d walk and talk until 5 minutes turned to 7 — and 7 to 10 — and 10 to 20.
And within that next year, I made dramatic changes in my diet, found a new, non-snarky endocrinologist, my thyroid stopped being swollen, I lost 70 pounds, and I walked briskly and joyfully for 45-60 minutes a day.
A lot has changed in 20-something years.
Now, I live ½ a block from the beach and take 2-3 walks a day.
4 years ago, I got my yoga teacher training certification.
And I go to Italy for about a month each year and walk 6-8 miles a day on cobblestone streets through some of my favorite cities in the world.
I leave this house.
I get on planes.
I move my body.
A lot has changed.
I’m not where I was as a kid running all over the neighborhood, but I appreciate where I am today and during this summer of my 50th year, I am pausing to celebrate the difference that’s in my life.
It’s not just about moving your body.
It’s about moving your mind.
I know we’re often looking for the windfall of great big changes in our life — whether it’s our health or our relationships or finances or dreams that we want to show up in dramatic ways… but I can say from experience that sometimes we just need to start with small steps in a focused direction for a few minutes a day in order to get to where we really want to be.
Where are you being called to take some baby steps in your life today?
Don’t wait for the big things to happen….
Just walk toward them each day,
One step at a time.