Walking along a path

A severely low thyroid pulls one woman under

Debra McGarry settles on a stool at the Red Poppy Coffee Co. with yoga-like poise. The fingers she wraps around a steaming cup of green tea are both soft and strong from her years as a licensed massage therapist. Her gaze, as she leans forward to talk, is frank.

“I thought I needed to go to a psychiatric ward,” she admits.

Debra, now sixty, shudders as she recalls the time when her body went crazy and her brain “seemed to have a mind of its own.” She’d just turned fifty when her symptoms began, symptoms that her doctor diagnosed as pre-menopausal. Little did she know that those symptoms were also those of a malfunctioning thyroid gland. As her hypothyroidism (low thyroid) went untreated, Debra was plunged into a frightening ordeal.

Nightmares appeared first—dark dreams set in her childhood—followed by depression and increasing claustrophobia. Anxiety attacks left her struggling to calm her pounding heart. Her body puffed up; bags appeared beneath her eyes. Her skin, she remembers, became “like snake skin,” and she “felt cold from the inside out.”

The second year, Debra’s brain seemed to dwell in constant fog. “I began to feel like I was a third person looking into me,” she says. She lost her thoughts mid-sentence, and she couldn’t comprehend what others were telling her, either. “My thought process wouldn’t connect. It was horrible. It was embarrassing.” Maintaining her massage therapy practice got harder as she swelled all over, her energy plummeted to “hardly anything,” and she could barely walk. “I felt like my legs weren’t connected.”

Debra McGarry

Alarmed, Debra went back to the doctor yet again. The nurse had trouble finding Debra’s pulse, and Debra’s blood pressure was extremely low. She was driving home after a blood test when her cell phone rang. “You’re thyroid is really low,” the doctor said. “Come back tomorrow so we can test it again.” The next day, blood work revealed that her thyroid level was .05 mU/L—barely functioning. Normal adult thyroid levels range from 0.4–4.2 mU/L.

“I was just hours from being in a coma,” Debra says.

Debra’s doctor immediately put her on the thyroid medication Levothyroxine. “It took about a year to get back to feeling like my old self,” she says. As her body returned to normal, so did her mind. It was a great relief, she says, “to know that I wasn’t going crazy!”

The thyroid gland secretes a hormone that controls metabolism. Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid doesn’t make enough hormone. Symptoms include

  • Feeling cold
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain or swelling
  • Dry skin
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Depression
  • Memory impairment

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