At the age of 22 I was diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disease called Hashimoto’s. Basically it means that my body is slowly attacking its own healthy thyroid tissue, which causes me to oscillate between between hyper and hypo thyroidism symptoms, on its way to full destruction of the thyroid. I’m so sensitive to these swings that I could wake up exhausted after 10-12 hours of sleep for weeks in a row and then on other weeks, I have so much energy that I experience the physical sensations of anxiety, basically on the brink of a panic attack.
I remember before being diagnosed that I would come home from work at 6 or 7pm, eat a quick dinner and crawl into my bed barely able to keep my eyes open. I would beat myself up about feeling so exhausted wondering why I was so broken and I’d drink those feelings away on the weekends. I would suck up the discomfort, put on some lipstick and a cute outfit and power my way through the days thinking, hey maybe everyone just feels like this and I’m being weak. I tried to will my way out of it for years.
There’s no medical cure for the autoimmune disease so upon diagnosis, my general medicine doctor prescribed me with a a synthetic hormone prescription called Levothyroxine. I started to feel better pretty quickly after taking it and was so thankful to be working with a progressive doctor who ordered the right tests because Hashi’s can’t be detected with standard thyroid panel tests and I’ve heard that a lot of doctors can miss it. I was able to stabilize on the medication for the next few years and would just have my blood tested every three to six months and make small dosage adjustments as necessary. However, managing the symptoms with medication does not prevent further destruction to the thyroid so this approach never fully made sense to me. And while the medication helped me with basic functioning, it never provided me with the relief I sought from the unpredictable symptoms of brain fog, inflammation and general malaise.
I wanted to know the root cause of the condition and learn how I could help my body stop attacking itself. My curiosity lead me to many places including a new job in Pittsburgh. It was during that time between 2009-2012 that I reached near burnout working on children’s brand start-up with American Eagle, traveling almost weekly back and forth to New York City and training for my first full marathon. It was then that I started doing my own research and finally reached out to a Naturopath, Maureen Tighe, for support.
Under her care I was able to make a significant improvement in the way I felt by addressing leaky gut syndrome, changing my diet, supporting detoxification pathways with supplements and avoiding endocrine disrupters (hello to clean personal care products and goodbye to fluoride at the dentist and in my drinking water). It’s been 15 years since I’ve been gluten and dairy free and I’d say making that change was when I saw the biggest improvements in my symptoms. As her per recommendations, I still take liquid vitamin D daily and use this protein powder on the regular in my smoothies to help with detoxification. Over the years, I’d been able to make progress in lowering the amount of medication I needed but my antibodies always hovered somewhere between 250-400 TPO. The stress and hustle of corporate America was something I really wanted to be able to handle but the reality was it was taking a toll on my health. When the new brand I was working on closed, I decided to leave corporate.
Not long after I moved back to California, and I discovered Isabella Wentz, who was able to reverse her own Hashimoto’s prognosis and then become an expert on the disease. Through working with her one-on-one, reading her books and taking her digital course, I was able to advocate for a few of the proper tests with my medical doctor to chip away at the root cause of my disease. I also started taking some vital thyroid supplements daily that I still take now like zinc and selenium. Through that exploration, I found out that I have a double mutation of the MTHFR gene which means I have detox pathway impairments. I started taking 10mg of methylfolate, active b-complex, and high dose methyl B-12 daily which still help a lot with energy. From these discoveries, I started to believe the trigger to my disease was a hormonal shift caused by taking birth control pills for the first time, right around when I had just started my career and my nervous system was re-calibrating to the shock of corporate life. Stress and hormones, what a volatile combination!
Over the next decade I was focused on building my company Sweet & Spark, and overall felt pretty good. If anything, I was more energetic (aka leaning towards anxious) than I’d ever been. I think this was because I was finally doing something I was truly passionate about and also because I layered in a T-3 hormone prescription called Cytomel which gives you more of an active source of energy than the T-4 Levothyroxine alone does. During this chapter, I didn’t have to make that many adjustments to my medication and lingered longer between blood tests. Even though my antibodies continued to rage, I almost forgot that I had Hashimoto’s!
Then in June 2022, came the biggest wake up call of my life. I found myself in the emergency room barely able to function after nearly weaning myself completely off of my medication over the course of an eight month period without having any blood test check-ins. I had recently closed my company after a decade of hard word and was finally feeling stress free and empowered. I did some of my own research and decided to do this experiment on myself without a doctor’s supervision. Because I weaned so slowly, I definitely had symptoms but they were so hard to notice and I was also justifying a lot of it as just depression from the business closure. Note to self and all reading this, NEVER stop hormone medications without support. I learned the hard way how much our hormones affect every single process in our bodies, from our heart rate to our blood sugar to our speech, temperature, digestion, mood, coordination and ability to take in and process reality. My TSH got up to 145 and the upper limit is 4.5. My medical doctor told me that if I didn’t go back on my original doses of medication that I could go into a myxedema coma and die. She scared the shit out of me so I immediately went back to my original dose which blew up my system. I think I lost 10 pounds in a week and could barely function.
That’s when I decided I needed the support of someone with more of a holistic approach so a friend recommended Dr. Dara Thompson and I’ve been working with her ever since. It took us about 3-4 months to safely get me back on the T4 & T3 doses I needed to be at (88mcg and 15mg respectively) and in the meantime I was in a hypothyroid collapsed state where I could barely get out of bed. I spent a lot of time in bed learning how to really love myself no matter what. There was a deep moment in there that I briefly saw my life flash before me and realized that I was not my body, only a loving awareness no matter what. It was a moment I will never forget!
Once the thyroid stabilized, I was still feeling pretty awful so we started running a slew of tests. I continue to hold the vision of uncovering the root cause of my Hashimoto’s and putting it into remission once and for all by getting my antibodies into a healthy range.
The first thing we did was test my sex hormones to find out that I had super low progesterone so I started a daily protocol of 1tbsp of maca powder, GLA, arctic cod liver oil and vitex only on day 15 to menses. It shortened my periods from 36-39 days to 30-34 and my mood is more regulated through the month. I used to experience debilitating PMS every other cycle or so.
We then tested for active viruses and learned that I had elevated strep, EBV and toxoplasma gondii antibodies. The only one you can treat is toxoplasma gondii but we monitored it over a few months and my immune system ended up clearing it on its own. We’re still waiting for the EBV and strep antibodies to clear. If they don’t on their own I may try low dose naltrexone for a bit to help my immune system with the inflammation.
Then we tested my cortisol and learned that I had a decently normal curve through the day but that it was super high in the morning and still elevated in the afternoon, probably from the active viruses which put so much stress on your body. I started taking 2 ashwagandha and theanine pills a day and said good-bye to caffeine. I was a pretty heavy coffee drinker so it took me a long time to reset from the caffeine, I would honestly say it was one of the hardest things I’ve done. During the week I detoxed from it, granted I had some other things going on in my body, I felt severely depressed and disassociated from my body. I realized caffeine was definitely a drug for me that helped me go past my limits for years. Without it I’ve had to learn new ways of working within my own tolerances which has been a pretty frustrating journey on it’s own.
From there we tested for molds and heavy metals and I was normal for mold but had a few extremely elevated metals which we decided we’d do a chelation therapy treatment to help detox the backed up metals which are often stored in your tissues and joints. I’m just starting this process now and it will be a few months of medication cycling for 3 days on, 11 off. Since I already know I’m a detox impaired, I invested in an infrared sauna blanket and go in it a few times a week. You can use code: JILLIANBREMER for 15% off on that one.
We also ran a food allergy and gut test. The food allergy test said my body creates antibodies when I eat chicken, salmon, pork, basil, cinnamon, apples and a few other things. I cut them strictly out for 3 months while I was re-stabilizing the thyroid and then started to eat them again in moderation. I don’t notice any symptoms when I eat them now but due to my heavy metals issues, I do try to avoid tuna and seafood in general. Although, it’s so delicious I can’t lie, I still sometimes have it on my salads for lunch! My gut test came back pretty perfectly which I wasn’t too surprised about because thankfully, digestive symptoms have never been one of my main issues.
Shortly after I closed my business I started working weekly with a somatic based therapist too, so I’ve been learning how to self regulate my nervous system throughout all of this as well. Which is basically energy management. The timing of finding her couldn’t have better aligned with my physical challenges. I often wonder how much of our health challenges stem from unregulated emotions in general. I’m such a sensitive person and have always tried so hard to keep up with the world at the expense of abandoning myself. I’m learning how to self regulate and establish healthy internal and external boundaries now.
After all of this though, I was still having some pretty nasty symptoms. Mostly with severe exhaustion and my nervous system being overstimulated when I would go anywhere with people or noise. I had spent so much time alone and at home resting that I was learning what depression really feels like. So we did one last test for Lyme disease in December 2022 and it came back positive for Tick Borne Relapsing Fever and not fully negative for Borrelia burgdorferi, the name of Lyme bacteria, so my doctor decided she wanted to do a full treatment. Finally a solid answer! And little did I know but a very long healthy journey ahead…story continued in this post here.
My healthy journey has solidified my belief in the importance of owning and advocating for our own health. It’s hard work but I will never give that responsibility fully away, even though I can now fully admit that we can’t do it alone and that the proper support is there for us when we need and are ready for it. We are so worth the love and attention we need!