For most of my life, I think people would have described me as kind, caring and annoyingly cheerful. I’ve been given nicknames like Snow White and Mary Poppins, and I always felt like those were pretty accurate comparisons. But, thanks to graves rage and other mood swings, I know that people’s opinions of me changed. I didn’t notice it right away. It took a long time for me to see that I was starting to resemble a Disney witch more than a Disney princess. Once I had my epiphany, I began looking back to see if I could remember when things started shifting.
A couple of clues that my ‘rage’ may have been out of control.
One day at work I walked into a Hygienist’s room to tell her that the patient she was waiting for wasn’t going to make it in after all. This particular office didn’t do full lunch hours. So I thought she’d be glad to know that she had time to take a break. When she saw me, she jumped a little and gave me a weird, worried look. I thought maybe I just startled her so I asked if she was OK. She said she was fine, she was just afraid I was coming in there to ‘yell at her again’. I laughed because I never yell. I’m Italian so of course I’m louder than most people. But I would never ‘yell’ at someone. When I asked her when it was that I’d yelled at her, she turned red and said she didn’t mean it. She said she was just hungry and went to take her break.
That same year, at our Holiday Party, I was having fun chatting with some of my co-workers. We were talking about first impressions. One of the Assistants said that when she starting working there, she was terrified of me. Of course I thought she was joking. How in the world could anyone be afraid of me? When she said she was serious, I asked what it was about me that was so scary. She told me that it’s because I have no filter and her first impression was that I was mean. Once she spent more time with me, she realized I’m actually very nice. But still, she was always on her guard to see what ‘mood I was in’.
A couple of clues that my moods were a bit unpredictable.
I didn’t realize it at all then, but she was right. Looking back I can see that my moods really were all over the place. Like when I broke down crying at the grocery store. I was making a bunch of stuff for Christmas Eve and just had to pick up ingredients for my Caprese Salad. Basil was the only thing I couldn’t find so I asked the produce guys where it was. One of them said, “Oh sorry, we’re all out of basil.” Wow. It hit me hard. No basil? You can’t have Caprese Salad without fresh basil. I just stood there with my bulging eyes on the verge of tears. They could see me struggling and started to panic. They both took off saying they would check in the back or call one of the other stores. I just walked away sobbing. Covered in crazy and sobbing because the store was out of basil!
Once I was home alone cleaning the house and started to feel really anxious. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular. But I remember I was feeling super edgy. Like I just wanted to crawl out of my own skin. So much so that I went out to my car and just screamed at the top of my lungs. Just sat in the drivers seat and yelled until my throat was sore. To this day, I have no idea why I felt this way. And, I have no idea why I had to do my screaming in the car.
I could go on and on with stories. Probably over about a two year time span. I knew on some level that I was losing it, but I was too exhausted to dissect my feelings. I kept making excuses. I’d tell myself, there’s lot going on right now and I’m just feeling off. But this last incident is the one that made me start doing some real self-reflection.
It was a typical day at the office and an Assistant came to me to ask if I could re-arrange one of the doctor’s schedules. He wanted one of the patients rescheduled and then a few others to moved up to earlier times. I thought it was odd that she was the one asking me about this. He would usually come to me personally with a major schedule change. When I asked where he was, she said he was in his office, he just didn’t want to ‘deal with me’.
I was shocked and of course, very angry. She wasn’t my favorite employee but now she was being downright rude. Before I could say anything else, she told me that he was afraid to approach me and if I didn’t believe her, I should just go ask him. So I did. I went back to his office, closed the door and asked him if he felt that I was unapproachable. He looked really sad and said yes. And it broke my heart. I liked and respected my boss and I felt horrible because I really had no idea that he felt that way about me.
That’s what initiated my first doctor visit. I started with my OBGYN. After metaphorically putting a mirror in front of my face and doing a lot of honest soul-searching, I decided my problem was hormonal. Besides the emotional stuff, my menstrual cycle, which had always been regular, was getting whacky. So I was convinced it was female hormone related. But my doctor just shrugged it off saying I was too young for menopause and it had to be something else. I won’t bore you with the details. But it took almost two years before a doctor finally listened to me and I was eventually diagnosed with Graves Disease.
It was really hard to accept that I’d probably not been a very nice person for a long time. Even though I couldn’t help it, I still feel really bad about it. Besides the rage and mood swings, my memory’s a bit foggy. So I don’t even know how many people I’ve offended!
One great thing has come out of all of this though. When someone is unfriendly or lashes out at me, I don’t take offense or try to retaliate. Now my first reaction is concern. Maybe they aren’t feeling well or they’re having a really bad day. Maybe they don’t even realize how they’re coming off and they really can’t help it. It’s made me more sensitive and empathetic and I’m really happy about that. I would have appreciated more of that from others when I was going through my worst times.
What I got from all of this is that everything we go through in life teaches us something. Whether it’s good or bad and no matter how old we are, we’re always learning and growing. For a while I separated my life into two parts, Anna before Graves and Anna after Graves. But lately I’ve realized that I’ve been changing all along. I’m more self-aware now which really helps me to think before I speak. I don’t get called Snow White much these days. But, no one has given me reason to believe that I’m her evil Stepmother either, so to me that’s progress!
If you’d like to chat about your experiences with Graves Disease and gain some support as well, feel free to join my Facebook Group.