At this point you’re all pretty familiar with my voice, right? Well, as we head into the holiday season and close in on our one-year anniversary (!!), we thought it was time we gave you what you’ve been asking for: more of me! This episode was initially recorded for a FB Live appearance with Naomi Batty of Holtorf Medical Group – and we had such a great chat, I thought it would make the perfect round-up for 2019 and give everyone more of an insight into my WHY – and how the podcast was born out of my adverse health experiences. Learn more about my journey through Hashimoto’s disease, sleep apnea, depression, and anxiety – and how I’ve found strength in the community that Uninvisible Pod has given me. Y’all are my secret sauce – and if I know how to do anything, it’s how to tell stories…and give you the platform to share yours. Here goes nothin’! (Please also note: this episode was recorded a few months ago, and in it I mention I am a finalist for the WEGO Health Awards 2019. By now you probably know – I won!)
Listen in as I share…
- how I was first diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and sleep apnea
- how common thyroid disorders can be
- why I think I was sick way before I was diagnosed
- how functional medicine was my saving grace
- how I sought resources after being diagnosed, and didn’t come up with much
- how to find support and resources, and to navigate through your own pride
- how I’ve treated my Hashimoto’s – with combo therapy
- how I experienced medical gaslighting: from a female endocrinologist I used to see
- how I’ve found peace with my body as it is now – and show it love
- the importance of staying open-minded to treatment options when you live with chronic illness
- how I learned to advocate to myself
- the importance of follow-up – and how it’s your responsibility to yourself as a patient
- the value of finding a doctor who is able to make time for you
- how empowering it is to become an involved and educated patient
- that it’s not all in your head – and you know your body better than anyone else does
- how getting sick forced me to communicate better than ever with my nearest and dearest
- that most autoimmune disease starts in the gut
- how peptides and supportive supplements have aided in my healing
- the importance of reducing everyday exposure to toxins – in makeup, skincare, hair care, household cleaners, etc.
- why I am a student of my body, and follow its shifts both excitedly – and accordingly
- how I healed my relationship with food when I adopted AIP
- how Uninvisible Pod was born organically from my experience and background
- the importance of diversity in the discussion of invisible chronic illness – and how I’m continually working to address those gaps in the conversation
- how great it is to find a community – and fellow Spoonie friends
- that things are not any less complicated post-diagnosis: they are just complicated in different ways
- why we have to be open to changing our own stories
This episode is sponsored by Embr Labs, creators of the Embr Wave.
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Every purchase you make using the above link supports Uninvisible’s ongoing mission, at no additional cost to you.
Naomi Batty: Hi, welcome, Lauren.
Lauren: Hi, Naomi. Thank you so much.
Naomi: Let’s just go ahead and get started. Do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?
Lauren: Totally. So as you said, I'm originally from Manhattan, from New York City. I was born and raised there. I currently live in LA, I'm 36 years old. And I will mention, because it is related to these thyroid issues, I started dealing with depression and anxiety and panic attacks in particular, when I was a teenager.
So there is the sense that a lot of the stuff that started with me started a lot sooner than we think it may have.
My background is that I trained as a classically trained actor and voice actor. My passion for health … people often ask me, “Have you always been passionate about health?” The answer is no. My passion for health started when I got sick — which is what happens for a lot of us in this community. Part of my work is to actually give people a passion for health before they get sick. In 2017, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and I was also diagnosed with sleep apnea at the same time. If you can imagine, I was dealing with a lot of fatigue — which was my most obvious presenting symptom. I actually had to stop working; I created a career change, and had to leave my job — and ended up having to reinvent myself, and I am now a podcaster and host and founder of UnInvisiblePod. I’m also the kind of girl who’s business on top and pajama pants on the bottom! I'm just keeping it real with you guys today. I look real cute, but only on this half!
Naomi: I love it! It's interesting that you say that fatigue was your big indicator, because I feel like nowadays, a lot of people just kind of write fatigue off … as we're getting older, it's fatigue, it’s life. It's everything. And I think it's great that you actually honed in on, ‘this is not normal.’
Lauren: Honestly, it all sort of kicked off because I had this experience — and I've written about this a bit — where I spent an entire weekend in bed. It was the weekend after my 34th birthday. I spent the Saturday and Sunday … those 48 hours, I was in bed for 40 of them. Fast asleep. And I remember waking up at some point on the Sunday afternoon, really groggy … that trope of ‘the more sleep you get, the more tired you are.’ I woke up on the Sunday and was, like, what is going on?? I was so weirded out, I called my doctor first thing on the Monday morning, and said, “I need to come in and see you.” This was just my general practitioner at the time. I had this horrible bout of really crippling fatigue, and my GP had the wherewithal to call for an autoimmune panel as well as the thyroid panel. Now, I’d been checking my thyroid for years, because my mom has hypothyroidism — not Hashimoto’s, as far as we know. And hypothyroidism actually runs in my family. So we'd always been checking my TSH … and we'll get into this, of course. But often, the very simple numbers that most practitioners test don't give us a full enough picture of what the thyroid is really experiencing and what it's doing to our bodies. And that little gland is life changing if it goes haywire. And I'm living proof. So yeah, it's important for me to talk about this stuff.
The more people I started talking to about it when I got sick, the more people started saying, “Oh, yeah, I had a thyroid crisis.”
“Well, yeah, this happened to my thyroid." And I was, like, “Why aren't we talking about this?” I had been working in a lot of women's health advocacy, and very openly talking about periods and V-Jays and all that kind of thing. And all of a sudden, this happened, and I was, like, “Well, if we're going to talk about periods, we should also be talking about our thyroids.” Yeah, so just really kind of life changing, all of this.
Naomi: It's so true. And I think, yes, it's very common. But then there's so many people that don't know about it. I have the non-autoimmune, so I have hypothyroidism. I can just see … I am confident, although they haven't been tested, I am confident that numerous women in my family have it. You can see the symptoms. I think once you get informed, you can really start seeing it, and being able to help other people.
Lauren: I can't tell you the number of people who start telling me their symptoms, and I’m, like, “Oh, have your thyroid checked!” That's the other thing … When you have an invisible illness, particularly an autoimmune, and you dig really deep into the research, you become kind of a geek about it. And in a lot of ways, because I've had to become my own advocate, but also learned about advocacy and learned about communicating with health practitioners, I've gained a lot of medical knowledge as well. I'm not, by any means, saying I'm a doctor. But I can pretty much tell you what you need to check for. If you tell me that you're having neurological symptoms, I'm going to tell you to check for Lyme. If you tell me you're having fatigue, I'm going to tell you to check your thyroid. So there's some basic stuff that starts to become very clear. And it's not like the whole Goop check your adrenal thing. This is actually something that’s just as serious and needs to be treated.
Naomi: Yeah. You're talking about advocacy, and that is super important. It's not to say that doctors are stupid or anything, but just this idea of knowing your body and advocating for yourself, and being informed … that is so important.
Lauren: I think for women especially, one of the themes that has become very clear in my interviews — of which I've done a year's worth so far — is that there is a lot of gaslighting in the medical industry, too. I'll tell you toward the end of our interview about my own experience with that.
But, a lot of us, and in particular women, are told to sublimate everything our bodies tell us from the minute we're born.
And so, when we're already living in bodies that are shamed for bleeding, it's really hard to then think that fatigue is a big deal. I was already getting fatigued once a month. But a weekend of fatigue, it seemed off to me. Luckily, I'm kind of plucky about getting help for that stuff. So I'm just trying to impart that to other people. It's just important to get this stuff checked. Because it doesn't make you a hypochondriac. It actually makes you more aware of what's going on inside that you can't see.
Naomi: And then once you start to figure those things out and have them addressed, you start to feel … oh, my gosh, what I was experiencing before I considered normal, and that's not normal at all.
So yeah, it's great to just really be involved. So we talked about the fact that you have Hashimoto’s. You think that it started much earlier than 2017, when you were diagnosed?
Lauren: Yeah. Well, I started realizing, especially with regard to the fatigue … even though this was a really particularly severe bout of fatigue that I experienced right before diagnosis. You know that sensation people tell you, “Oh, I just had a nap. And I feel so refreshed!” Never in my life. People used to say that to me, and I'd be like, “Shut up!” (laughs) I didn't want to hear any of it because I thought, I don't like you; you’re getting this wonderful refreshment and I'm just sitting here feeling tired all the time. So, it was a recognition that I had felt some sort of burnout or fatigue for many, many years — at least since high school, or perhaps earlier. Burnout and fatigue are two different things, but also very closely interrelated. Because any kind of stress on your body, depending on how sensitive your system is, can be a trigger for any of these autoimmune symptoms to start. I do tend to think that a lot of the symptoms I was experiencing … such as the fatigue, but also the depression and the panic attacks and the anxiety that I was having … while there is a familial link with some of this stuff, it's become more and more clear to me that it could all be related to my thyroid.
Because there's a huge incidence of comorbidity between Hashimoto’s disease and depression in particular.
And of course, the more research I did, the more this became clear to me. While I'm someone who really believes in treating mental health issues and concerns, and have been on antidepressants for many years to treat my anxiety and my depression, I have actually, as my thyroid has been healing and my mental health has improved as a result, because I'm more on top of my health, I've been talking to my psychiatrist … and of course, everyone's different … this is just me, and is not medical advice of any kind … but I personally have been talking to my psychiatrist about the possibility of eventually weaning me off of my antidepressants and seeing how I go without them. Because it could be that this is all related to the thyroid. So, there's that kind of stuff. There's nutrition-related stuff. And a lot of what I've worked with … my doctor, who's Dr. Lisa Hunt at Holtorf … is really fixing my nutrition issues, fixing my digestive issues, and getting everything on track so that my body's actually functioning optimally. Because I thought it was. I was just sort of pushing through and getting things done, but it wasn’t! And I'm so much better for knowing that, and being able to take control back.
Naomi: You talk about the connection between the thyroid and mental health. We just put out a blog … It almost seems like the doctors aren’t really caring, and it's kind of hard with a 10-minute, the typical, “Oh, you're experiencing this? Okay, so let's give you an antidepressant.” That's something we've heard from so many of our patients before coming to us … “The doctor just threw me an antidepressant. It helped a little bit, but I’m still having problems.” And so it's just part of being informed and talking to your doctor. “It's more than just my mental health … there's also the fatigue …”
Lauren: Well, and all of these stressors on our body … when our body doesn't function the way that we thought it could, you end up having — or at least I did — a very circumstantially-related depression. I was already prone to depression. And I got more depressed. I remember sending a text message to one of my best friends saying, “I can see it. I can see the tunnel of depression, and I'm sort of at the start of it. I'm about to walk into the tunnel, and I'm trying to divert myself." But sometimes when you can't control your body, you can't control your mind as well either. You sort of start losing control of your functions. And part of the way that I took that control back was researching and learning, with, actually, a lot of support from my family and friends. And finding out who the doctors were who were for me. Because not every doctor is for every person, and fortunately, a lot of doctors in our sick care system … because we don't have a preventive care system … a lot of doctors are dealing with the fact that they only have 10 to 15 minutes with a patient. And if they spend more time, their superiors or the insurance companies are going to give them a hard time. Often the only thing to do is to say, "Here's a pill that will help for now.” They put a Band-Aid on things. They can't necessarily work on functional medicine approaches. Finding a functional and integrative medicine approach made all the difference for me, and it's always what I recommend to people who are staring down the barrel of what could potentially be an invisible illness and they don't know what's going on.
I say, “Go get everything checked, and go to someone who knows everything that you need to check, and who will do it for you.”
Which, unfortunately, also has to happen a lot of the time outside of the insurance system. But there are a lot of ways to make that affordable for people. There are a lot of foundations that offer financial assistance. There are certainly ways to find help if you really want to find it.
Naomi: And just talking about the whole idea of sometimes taking that scary step outside of insurance-based medicine. It can be expensive, when you’re not used to paying that. My insurance covers my TSH. It's just having to see if it's not working for you … what it means to step out, and what that looks like. So when you first got that diagnosis, how did you feel?
Lauren: I wanted to throw myself a party! I was so relieved. I remember going into work, because it was really affecting my performance at work, but I was very close with my co-workers … and I went in that day and I was, like, “I've got Hashimoto’s!!" We all sort of had a little clap. I was, like, "Can we get cake?” Which, of course, was the wrong thing to be getting to help my Hashi’s! But after that moment of total relief, and thinking, wow, I've got a diagnosis, and now I can actually set in motion a plan of action … the reality set in, of, okay, I can set a plan of action in motion — but which one? What do I do? What's next? And it began kind of a manic search for resources, which honestly didn't turn up all that much. I think that's because at the time when I was diagnosed, I guess I was sort of on the wave of popularity as thyroid conditions have become more of a topic of conversation. They weren't nearly as much, two years ago as they are now. And that's because of the advocacy work that people like us are doing. I did find one person, Dr. Izabella Wentz, who's a pharmacist in Colorado who has Hashimoto’s, who had written about it, and I learned a lot from her. And because of a list of approved thyroid doctors on her website, I found Holtorf Medical. And when I say I found you guys, I mean my mother did — because I was so tired, I had to pass half of my work to her. Because first of all, she was very willing to help.
But also, I had the fatigue and I had the brain fog so badly that I was just this shell of myself.
I might be fine for half-an-hour and be able to seem him okay, but then I'd be in bed the rest of day. It's that thing with Spoonies — for those who aren’t familiar with the Spoon Theory … a lot of people outside our immediate circle also struggle to understand, even when we communicate what it's like to live in a body that just uses energy in a different way. Where your typical person might not lose all of their energy from a half-hour of conversation, it takes a lot of mental energy, and that drains my entire body now. So I've just become a lot more aware of saying what I need and learning what boundaries are for me. It's a lot of deep work that involves a lot of psychological elements as well, as we've discussed. It's not an easy road, but once you get the diagnosis, at least you can start doing something about it. And for me, there was a huge shift when I looked into the integrative approach.
Naomi: You talked about your mom being this great support system. How has that made a difference for you as far as having that support? Is it just her, or do you have a wealth of support around?
Lauren: I have a wealth of support; I must say I'm extremely lucky. And I reflect on it constantly because I can't believe my luck. I was just saying last night to my mom … my parents live an hour-and-a-half away. It happened that they moved closer to me before I got sick. So when I got sick, they were nearby, which was amazing. I've had a number of friends who've been so supportive — but it's because I reached out to them and told them what I needed. If I hadn't done that, I don't know that they would understand in the same way. I've got three friends in particular, here locally, who are my rocks. Actually, one of them isn't local. One of them's in Arizona; the other two are here in LA. So I have these friends who are super close by; one of them's five minutes away, who, some nights is, like, “Should I just bring a bottle of wine over and let's just chill and watch a movie?” And I’m, like, “Yes, that's all I can muster.” I want to be social. So I've had these really supportive friends. And then my family, both my mother and father, and my extended family who are in Australia, and all over the map, have just been checking in and been so kind and generous with their time. That's been huge and, honestly, has just made me closer with all of these people. I was already extremely close with my parents. But I reflect constantly on how fortunate I am. And I think I've realized how fortunate I am because I got sick. I think I took it for granted a little bit. Now I really realize how fortunate I am. And I also recognize my privilege in these situations.
I recognize that I had the resources available to me to be able to afford medical treatment that a lot of people can’t.
Which is why I think it's so important for us to talk about ways in which people can find that support, or those communities, if they don't have immediate access to them. There are so many ways to find support, especially now. I think now's a better time to be sick than even two years ago. There's a lot of help out there, and a lot of information and resources available to people. And it's just about getting past yourself and getting past that block of being able to seek help. Because that pride can be a really tough emotion and state to navigate. I had to strip myself of all my pride in order to get it back. It was like a breaking down to rebuild. And it's empowered me more than I've ever been before. I'm also in my 30s now, so I care less about what other people think — which helps! I think it's all a journey. And I think if people offer to help you and they're good solid, reliable people … don't turn that down. It’s only going to improve your relationships. Of course everyone's different, but yeah, I'm just so lucky and I can't believe my luck at this point.
Naomi: Yeah, that's great because we've definitely talked to a number of people where there's just no support; they feel that they don't have that support. And it takes an extra toll on them because then they feel like they're battling alone.
Lauren: Absolutely. And that kind of additional stress on the body … again, it's not only a trigger for the symptoms, it's also something that keeps you in a sick loop, mentally and physically — and they're so closely intertwined. Healing is such a holistic process. You have to be looking at all of these elements. So, really fighting for what you deserve and what you need. I've had to call my insurance company and threaten them before. I've been there! I have the resources — and I’ve had to do stuff like that. Really, the whole point of starting this podcast and talking so openly about this stuff was to impart to people that there are ways to get well, even when it seems like we're at the end of our rope. And there are communities out there, and there are people who are going through the same things we're going through. And we're not alone.
Naomi: When you were first diagnosed, what was one of your first action steps for trying to get the thyroid back on track?
Lauren: So, the first endocrinologist I had, who only tested my TSH, put me on Synthroid, or levothyroxine; T4 is what it is. She put me on that and I was on it for six weeks. She retested me, just my TSH.
We have these experiences of the gaslighting, like I mentioned — and I was gaslit by another woman, which was extra irritating.
But I went into her office six weeks later, and I said, “I’m not okay.” And she looked at me. And she looked at her chart in front of her. And she said, “Well, your numbers are fine.” And I said, "Well, I don't feel fine.” And she said, “Well, I think it's time you see a psychiatrist.” And I was, like, “Look at my chart, because I already do, for a start … " But also it was one of those experiences where I sat there and thought, 'You don't see this, do you? You're not here to engage with this, as a whole person.’ So that was a wake-up call. I remember that appointment; I remember calling my mom right afterward, and she said, “That's it. You're not seeing that doctor again.” I grew up in Manhattan, I grew up thinking doctors were God and they had all the right answers. And here I was in a situation where this doctor wasn't able to help me anymore. And it was the first time that I was, like, I guess this isn't my doctor, and I guess I need to go to someone else. I'd never been able to fathom an idea like that. So, it was at that point that we really hit the ground running more with searching on Dr. Wentz’s website and looking for other resources, and ended up finding Holtorf. And I also have an integrative endocrinologist at UCLA now, who's amazing. So I sort of work in between both of them, and they complement each other really beautifully. And they communicate with each other. So it's just great now. What happened was that my doctors at Holtorf were the first to mention combo therapy to me. I was, like, “What are you talking about?” And it's that combo of the T4 and the T3 that for so many of us, we absorb the T4, and it may show that it's in our system on these blood tests, but we're not properly absorbing it in our systems. It's sort of like calcium and vitamin D; we know that you need vitamin D to absorb calcium, is that right? I think it's that way around and not the other! But, you know, you need one to absorb the other. Same thing with T3 and T4 — for a good number of us … not for everyone. My mom, who has hypothyroidism, is on Synthroid, no problem. But I, on the T4, was still feeling really sick. And I knew it was not just the sleep disorders that were also impairing my function.
It was really systemic. It was really physiological. It was all my systems breaking down.
So, when I went to start seeing Dr. Hunt, the first thing she did was put me on T3 with my T4, or cytomel and levothyroxine. And immediately, there was a difference. I started perking up. It's been an ongoing journey over the last couple of years, just changing my dosing here and there because our hormones shift constantly. So it's really important even once you get that diagnosis and you start treatment, to really be mindful of your body and be able to track changes — whether that's through journaling about them, or being able to wake up and feel the difference and be able to call your doctor and say, “Hey, can I come in and see you? I need an adjustment.” I've been doing that now back and forth for a while, and I'm in a pretty decent place. But always mindful of stuff, and ready to change as needed. And sometimes I still have bouts of fatigue. I had one this weekend. And when it happens, I think, okay, so right now I just need to rest. Sometimes it's just that I need more rest than your average bear. I'm okay with that. It's just sort of leaning into that, and leaning into my body being in a different state than it was before, and acknowledging the changes and moving forward and being positive about them.
Naomi: I think it's great that you pointed out … it's going to happen where we're going to need to adjust, and we're going to need to relook at things. Because like you said, our bodies are changing. And I think sometimes we can get into the the idea that … okay, I'm feeling great. I should be on this one forever. And that doesn't work a lot of the time.
Lauren: You have to be open-minded.
You have to be able to rock change in a really big way, and you have to become flexible if you're not.
In many ways that means relinquishing a feeling of control — in order to regain it. But it really is, on a base level, acknowledging whether or not you're okay, and going from there. And really fighting for what you need. It's interesting … I was reflecting on this recently with a friend … that I remember learning in college that follow-up is up to you; it’s not anyone else's job to hand you things like they do in high school. I learned that lesson. And I think I learned it again when I got sick, that a lot of the follow-up I was responsible for. And I'm okay with that. I’m certainly a type A personality, so that's not a problem. It's about really keeping track of stuff, and being organized enough to make the note about … here’s when I'm having my follow-up appointment, or, here's who I need to call to make the appointment, or, here's what I need to refill my medication so I'll have enough when I go on that trip. It’s just being mindful of that kind of stuff. Because I'm now on medication for the rest of my life. That's fine. But it's just really keeping an eye on everything. I'm also a woman in her 30s; my hormones are going to shift massively between now and my mid- to late-40s. So I'm very mindful of how that change is going to track with all of the hormones in my body and all of the glands from which those hormones are secreted and the entire endocrine system. And part of that has come from an anatomy lesson and talking more to my doctors. And what's great about the integrative approach at Holtorf, as well … the first appointment with Dr. Hunt, I was in there for like an hour, an hour-and-a-half, and I had never felt listened to in that way before. It's kind of amazing when people give you time like that. You can really get to a root cause as well. And treating the root cause is really important for healing, too. I can't recommend the integrative approach more, because I think that's the game changer. And I think more and more traditional Western doctors are beginning to make that shift, but it’s still lacking in some ways in the training. So it's sort of a balancing act. And as patients, we have to stay informed. Not only in terms of medical and technology and scientific developments, but also in terms of the insurance system, and what we can actually have with what we're paying into.
So, there's a lot to stay on top of, but it's also part of being a grown-up!
It's just about reorganizing things so they work for you. And for me, I was sort of lucky that I had to leave work and reinvent myself — because now I have a career where I am able to make my own hours, and that's really helpful. And there are so many remote work opportunities out there for people who feel that they need to work freelance or work from home; there are so many ways to do that now, too. So it's a way better time to be sick than ever before, like I said.
Naomi: I think a lot of what we've been talking about comes down to the idea of listening to your body and knowing what's going on. And then, on top of that, finding a doctor that understands that those things are important. You sound like your first endocrinologist wrote off the fact that you felt a certain way. But you are the person that knows your body the best.
Lauren: And those feelings are valid, and they're not made up in your head. It’s, like, okay, I found this lump; I should get that checked out. Okay, I've got this mole; I think it's a little funky. Check it out, whatever it is. For me, it was this fatigue, this brain fog; I even had muscle cramping. And I really was just, like, I need to fix it.
I realized I was living a half-life.
I wasn't happy living that way, and I decided to make my life more full in ways that worked for my body now. I also think part of what's really important about that is not only communicating with the powers that be, be they our medical providers or our insurance providers, but also with our friends and loved ones. Because it took me four months to reach out to people and say, “I am having a rough time.” I know people who take years to say that, and it damages you psychologically the more you hold back.
So, it forced me to communicate. Which also made me closer with those people I communicated with. So your inner circle becomes, in some ways, smaller because not everyone can handle what you're dealing with. But the ones who show up … it's unbelievable when they do.
Naomi: We talked a little bit about treatment … you said you switched to a combo therapy. If you're willing to share, what other treatments do you think worked for you? And how long do you think it took to find that symptom relief?
Lauren: I think one of the things that really worked for me were peptides, so taking oral peptides and then injectables as well. A lot of people may not be familiar with the fact that most autoimmune conditions actually start because of gut dysfunction. So whether it's leaky gut. Whether it's the presence of, maybe, illnesses that you had a long, long, long time ago — like strep or EBV (Epstein Barr virus) or mono. There are all these things that can live in your gut and populate your microbiome in ways that are not ideal or optimal. I found that doing the injectable peptides really helped my gut to clear up some of what was going on, and it accelerated my healing as well.
I found that whenever I’d go into a dip, when I’d get back on the peptides, it gets me back on the level.
So for whatever reason, if my gut is below optimal level, I can get it back to functioning better when I do the peptides. Recently, I was in seeing Dr. Hunt, and I told her I was going on a trip and I was feeling kind of fatigued. And she said, "Well, if you're feeling a little bit lower than usual, just do the peptides for a few weeks before your trip.” And I was, like, ‘So smart!’ Sometimes you need a reminder! I know that, but Dr. Hunt is great and she was, like, “Yeah, just do them for a few weeks.” And I was like, “You're absolutely right.” That was really helpful. And then I think getting on supportive supplements was huge, too. Probably by the time I hit my late 20s, my parents were, like, “You need to take multivitamins.” We know that the standard American diet isn't exactly helping us.A lot of us suffer from malnutrition, or aren't getting nutrients in the right way. And when you have an autoimmune condition, that can make things even more complicated for absorbing these nutrients. So, for me, it was really taking a full picture of my blood work, which gave me a sense of what was going on in my gut. And even doing stool samples and things like that to make sure that things weren't off, and detoxing a bit. I detoxed from heavy metals. One of the huge steps I took, actually, was switching to largely all-natural skincare and haircare. And it hasn't done a bad job, as you can see! Just reducing toxicity in my everyday life. Getting on some of these supportive supplements, which, for me, were iron and omega 3s, and things like that. And again, being aware that you might not be on all of those all the time. At one point … and this is an anecdotal piece of evidence … I overdosed on vitamin D, which messed with my skin. That doesn't happen to everyone, but it happened to me. It's just about finding your way through that stuff … Okay, I'm on too high a dose, I’ve got to bring it down. I've been off vitamin D to get my levels in a better place.
So it's really just being able to shift with your body, and being open to those changes and being a student of your body.
I get excited when I get my labs. I’m, like, oh, what are we shifting now? It keeps me on my toes. It keeps my mind active, too — it’s kind of like doing the crossword, but for your body! It's really about keeping track of that stuff. And being excited about it. I went from taking probably 40 pills a day, to taking maybe 15. Sometimes you've got to do more in order to do less later on. Most of those 15 pills I take now are non-prescription, they’re supplements. It’s about being mindful of that. I also recently even got tested for celiac, because I think some of my digestive issues that haven't resolved yet … and there's a strong connection between celiac and Hashimoto’s … and wouldn't you know it, I came back positive on the the labs. So you’ve just got to keep studying and keep being aware of what sometimes doesn't even show up as a symptom that you could still have. I geek out over it now, over the science. The connection between the brain and the gut is, to me, so cool. And ways that we can heal ourselves holistically really excite me. We’ve had people on the show like a neuro-humorist who talks about the power of laughter and healing and laughter and joy. And just bringing all of that back to yourself and giving it to yourself as a gift. Because healing is such a gift. Again, we take it for granted when we are living in normally-functioning bodies. But we also live in a world that doesn't exactly cater to having body dysfunction. Whether that's a very obvious physical disability that requires a wheelchair or a cane, to something invisible. I also feel like that 9 to 5 grind and the way in which we're expected to perform in that grind as well, for minimal or lesser and lesser amounts of pay, is a difficult one to reconcile as well. I think we all have to find our way through that. I'm such a Millennial saying that! But everyone's got to find their own way through this stuff.
I think you’ve just gotta take a look at your life and take stock.
And shed the stuff that's not helping— whether they’re relationships, or medications that aren't working … but do that with your doctor! Or doctors that aren't helping — and find the right ones for you.
Naomi: Yes, absolutely. Were there any major adjustments that you had to make for your thyroid condition?
Lauren: Yep. I discovered the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), probably
a year or so after my diagnosis. It came up in various conversations with people. I'd had different nutritionists and doctors say, “Have you looked into Paleo? Have you looked into keto?” Now, I’d done those before, before I was sick, and none of them really resonated with me. I'm also very much a proponent of body-positivity. And diet culture … I don't jive with that. It’s something that I'm trying to reject, actively — because it's still constantly in our faces. The idea of going on another diet that I would probably yo-yo on was a little iffy.
For the first time in my life, I actually approached it from a health perspective and not from a weight loss perspective.
I said to myself … I think this was probably last September … I said, okay, I'm going to commit to doing this for three to four months and see how I feel. By New Year's, I remember looking in the mirror; I was feeling a lot better, I’d lost 15 pounds in puff, in bloat. But the weight loss was a side-effect, just extra weight I was holding onto, and it's certainly not the last 15 pounds! It was a lot of water weight that I was holding onto, and discomfort, and it was making me feel like I didn't fit in my clothes and all that kind of thing. Because a lot of us with hypothyroidism end up having weight gain and rapid weight gain, where we are asking, why is that happening? And of course that happened to me. Look, yes, I lost weight, and I've kept it off. But more than anything, going on the Autoimmune Protocol made me feel so much better. It was largely cutting out gluten and dairy, legumes, and a few nightshades. And going from being vegan, because when I got sick, I was largely vegan. Eating meat again was tough because ethically I have issues with eating meat. But I also realize that there are ways in which to consume meats that are much more responsible and sustainable. Again, this is an access thing, right? I recognize my privilege fully in the fact that I live in LA, I live down the street from Whole Foods. I have a farmers’ market every Sunday; I've got farmers bringing in grass-fed everything and pasture-raised everything. So I have access to better meats. Now, If you live in a food desert, that may not necessarily be the case. So everyone's got to reconcile their options differently.
But for sure, changing the way I ate has helped me immensely. I just feel cleaner. You just feel brighter.
I detoxed. I used that diet to detox. It wasn't nearly as strict as I thought it would be. I used an app that was really helpful to get me through it, called RealPlans, which is an amazing app. It made all my shopping completely intuitive and all my recipes were there for me. I never thought it would be that easy. And it was so easy. I'm a big fan of AIP. And also, big fans of people looking at what they're eating and how that's feeding their bodies. And not in a way that's emotionally damaging. Really important to take the health perspective and go … not how do I look, but how do I feel when I put this in my body. And that's not just about food, it's also about your skincare, and about your clothes and all that kind of stuff. It's being as ethical and responsible with as many of your choices as you can be.
Naomi: Let's talk about the podcast, Uninvisible. How long was it in the works before it came to be?
Lauren: Good question. I would say I was probably ideating on it for a good six or seven months before it happened — so it was actually pretty quick. Because it happened so organically. And this is something that I was very fortunate with, because I already have a background as a voice actor. I already have recording equipment. I had this stuff at my disposal. I can talk to a brick wall; it's not hard for me to talk to people, in case you hadn't noticed! I did have a lot of those skills already in place. It was a very natural shift. Because I had also started doing a little bit of freelance writing for health.com and other publications, I had been starting to interview people, too. So I was starting to get used to that. Literally when I got sick, the first thing I did was post on Facebook and say, “Who's feeling these three symptoms … and let's talk about it!” Because I thought, well, Facebook is my easiest way to reach 1000 people. So, that opened up so many conversations. And then of course, that conversation of: Why aren't we having this conversation more publicly? So yeah, I had the equipment. I was having the talks already. And I was, like, why don't I just hit “record” on these. And they've ended up having such a beautiful response from people who are tuning in. I also really feel the need to represent a diverse population of the disability community, the invisible illness community. There are people who have visible disabilities, who have additional disabilities that may not be visible. There are people who have completely invisible stuff going on.
There are people who live at the intersection of invisibility in more than one way in their lives.
So I'm really trying to explore all of those avenues and talk to people, not only here in the States as well but all over the world. Really trying to open those conversations up, and continue having them. I’ve found with this podcast … the more I've done it, the more I've met people and talked to people . And of course, I'm always harping at my doctors to come on the shows, too — which some have already. It's always growing, and it's really exciting. And I've been getting some really lovely press. I'm actually now a finalist in the WEGO Health Awards, for Best in Show podcast. Which will be announced on Thursday, and I'm so excited. Just being one of the final five in that category is so amazing, among so many other finalists who are doing such wonderful work. I just feel like I'm getting the response.
I'm a big fan of throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks.
Again, I realize that I have the privilege to do that. I certainly have done that in my life; I had to change my career a few times because of the arts that I had trained for isn't always viable for all of us. This ended up combining all of my passions and my skills. So I'm just sort of pushing forward with it. And we'll see what continues to be born from it. I'm open to it growing and changing as we all grow and change.
Naomi: I've listened to, probably, most of them — and it is so good. I love the different things that you touch on, and all the personal stories of what people have gone through.
Lauren: I would say, also in many ways, the personal is still political Whether it's with regard to the state of our insurance in this country, or with regard to the state of disability in this country. And these various intersections that people who've been on the show live at, be they intersections of race or gender, that may affect the way in which they're being treated by their medical providers. I think it's important to be examining all of those points of view. And for us to have conversations with people who we maybe wouldn't necessarily meet in our everyday lives, or whose opinions and points of view are of such value. Because everyone's point of view is so valuable.
So it's really just about talking to as many people as we can, and getting all those diverse perspectives.
Just making sure that everyone's getting heard. There are so many through lines in those conversations, too. It's really interesting how much we have in common when we hear these “different stories”. And that's kind of beautiful, too. And it reminds me how small the world is, in kind of a nice way … that we're all interconnected. We can all be friends. I've made so many friends because of this podcast! It's such a blessing in that way. I was just sending DMs with one of my friends who's on the podcast this week … well, for the next two weeks, because we have an amazing long interview. He's on the show the next two weeks, and we were just sending direct messages checking in on each other and checking in on his dog! It's such a gift. That excites me. And also, what's great is to be a Spoonie and have Spoonie friends who get it. There's just so much freedom in those conversations, and my aim is to educate but also to liberate. And to remind everyone that you're not alone. There is a lot of overlap in the stories that we hear and in the stories that we share.
Naomi: So would you say that's your goal, making sure that these people are heard?
Lauren: I have a million goals! (laughs) I’m quite ambitious at this point. But the main goal of the podcast and the reason I started the podcast … it’s the same reason I became an actor … it was that I felt that stories needed to be told. The thing that has underlined my career from the beginning has been storytelling.
I believe in the power of stories to change the world, to change the way that we think about the world around us.
I believe in the power of stories to influence politics. And so, to me, the importance of getting those stories out there and allowing those stories to change the world simply by existing on a larger platform … is the central goal. And because I didn't feel like I had that many resources, and I felt really alone when I got diagnosed … and then I started meeting people who are just like me. So also just feeling like we have a sense of community and that we have their resources at our fingertips. So those are all a huge part of it. But another huge part of it is making the invisible visible. Giving validity and legitimacy to these conditions that hereto for have been ignored, or glossed over, as you mentioned earlier on in this interview. So, really to give them voice. I believe everyone deserves a soapbox at some point. Just providing a soapbox. It’s very rare that I get to stand on the soapbox myself, which is why I'm going on and on! But it's very exciting to me.
Naomi: Well, this is great. So let's get people to you. Where can our followers find your information and follow UnInvisible?
Lauren: You can follow us on social on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @UnInvisiblePod. And you can also find me on the Internet at UnInvisiblePod.com. And then you can listen to the show wherever you listen to podcasts — Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher, IHeartRadio, all of it. I'm on all the platforms. And if you ever have questions, I do endeavor to answer every note I receive personally; feel free to reach out via the website or send me a DM on any of the platforms that I'm on. I love to connect with my listeners.
They're the reason I keep going. These conversations need to be had.
We all sit with some degree of prejudice or limited perspective. And the more we can open that perspective up and engage in civil discussion, which is something that the world is going further and further away from, the better we'll all be for it. So, whether or not you have an invisible illness, if you know someone who does, if you've got loved ones who you want to understand you better … I think it's a great listen. And I hope you guys will keep tuning in. Thank you for those of you who voted in the WEGO Health Awards. Keep following along. There's lots more coming from us. I am working on a few little projects that have been on the back burner, that are coming forward. Lots more coming and lots of great interviews heading into the rest of the year and the beginning of next year. And we're not even a year in.
Naomi: I’m excited for you.
Lauren: Thank you, I am excited, too! Because a lot of this is uncharted territory, too. There are a few other like blogs and podcasts out there about invisible illness, although a lot of them are focused on one particular topic, Hashimoto’s or whatever. My goal is to actually cover something a little broader. So there are episodes on all different topics. And if you're looking for something specific, go to the homepage of the website … there's like a little word cloud on the bottom right, if you scroll down … and you can click on the words that might correlate more directly to what you're looking for, and you'll get episodes that relate to that. So it'll help you narrow down your search as well. You can also look through the Instagram profile and everything for all of the past episodes and check it out. And we're always looking for new guests! So reach out if you've got a story to tell.
Naomi: We're drawing to a close, but just a couple more things … If you had to sum up your advice to fellow sufferers in one sentence, what would that sentence be?
Lauren: I did write this down for myself, because there's so many things, I need to write it down! So my advice is:
Life isn't any more complicated now than it was pre-diagnosis. It's just complicated in a different way.
And I think perspective is everything. Truly, my life is just as complicated now as it was before I got sick. It's literally just different minutiae. You know, there's still minutiae; there are still cogs moving. They've just been replaced by other cogs. And I'm more okay with that than anything. Getting to that place of acceptance, changing your perspective, being open to these stories, being open to changing your story. Our biggest roadblock is ourselves in so many instances. Being able to change the way you look at your story, and taking inspiration from the people around you or seeking inspiration where you're not getting it. You're not alone. But keep on truckin’.
Naomi: Yes, absolutely. Final thing … What is the worst comment you’ve received?
Lauren: The one that I always joke about with my mother! I'll be writing to her about something … my mom and I are super, super close. So I'm texting her all the time. We're talking most days … And my favorite flippant comment that she makes is, "Are you getting your period?” Which usually comes from her — and she's usually right! Whenever she says it, I think, wait, let me check the calendar. And I'm like, oh, that’s what it is! If it were from anyone else, I would be, like, “Stuff that right back up in your mouth. I'm not hearing it!” But from my mother, I can handle it. But just like most people … be wary if you're saying that to people. The other one … and PS, I vetted this with her to make sure it was okay that I said it … she's okay with this. Hi, mom … The other one … I mentioned it earlier … was when I was sitting in front of that doctor and told her I wasn't okay. And she said I was. And I was, like, “I’m not.” And she said, it's time to see a psychiatrist — which I think is just the most cruel way to write someone off when they're telling you there's something wrong with their bodies. And also, don't just say, “Go to a psychiatrist” … recommend one! And also, just having not read my chart and not paying attention to the fact that I was seeing one. There were so many factors that went into that comment that were so upsetting. Don't ever write people off. The number of practitioners who I've spoken to on my show, and who I've just asked privately — who haven't even been on the show yet — who I've asked, “What’s the incidence of hypochondriacs that you actually come across in your practice?” It's almost zero. So, you know, you're not making it up.
What you're experiencing is real. There is a way to get to the bottom of it. And I just want to validate that for people who are listening and watching along, because it is so important to fight for what you need if you're not getting it. Tell those haters to stay away!
Naomi: Because unfortunately, I'm sure so many of our listeners and followers can relate to that.
Lauren: I think a lot of us go through it. And I think, again, there's a gender disparity. I think more women experience this than men. I've talked to women who will bring a male advocate with them to their appointments, and all of a sudden they'll be heard on a different level. My mom even told me that when she was my age, when she was in her 30s, she wouldn't have been allowed to bring her mother to appointments; the doctors wouldn't have let her mother in the room. That has changed, that you can bring an advocate with you. So if you feel like you're not being heard, bring an advocate.
But bottom line … things are always going to be complicated. That's life.
Just work around the changes. You can do it.
Naomi: Well, this has been a great interview. Thank you so much for joining us!
Lauren: It's been such a pleasure.
Naomi: I’m excited to hear what's coming up soon.
Lauren: Naomi, and Holtorf … you guys have always been such massively kind and generous supporters of my work. I can't thank you enough — and of my health, I can't thank you guys enough. If you're in LA, go to their practice in El Segundo. Dr. Holtorf himself is out there, and he's been on the show. But also, I see Dr. Lisa Hunt and she's amazing. Her expertise is in thyroid, and Lyme disease — which is a lot of what the practice specializes in. And I have friends who've been on my show who also see Dr. Hunt, who have Lyme. And Hashi’s. There's this beautiful overlap in our worlds, and I'm just so thrilled that I found you guys and that we have this ongoing generosity between our platforms. I'm just so happy for all you guys to tune in. So please, check out the pod and there's a new episode coming out tomorrow. So stay tuned for that. That's with Ariel of @carpe_that_diem, which is on Instagram, and it's a really exciting interview. I get so excited about all of them. I’m, like, “It's the best one yet!” They're all so exciting to me! I really hope you guys will join us. It’s a two-parter. Part One is out tomorrow.
Naomi: We'll be posting that on our page as well. So you'll be able to find it there. Thank you again and thanks, everybody for watching.
Lauren: Have a good one!