Thoughts on Supporting a Loved One with Graves’ Disease
It can be very difficult to know what to say and do when a loved one is managing a life-altering condition like Graves’ disease. How can you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes when you cannot relate to the internal chaos that thyroid conditions can often cause?
No one can fully grasp the full experience and intricacies related to someone else’s medical condition, but everyone can do their best to learn, listen, and support their loved ones. As someone who has lived with Graves’ disease for several years, here are my tips for those who are hoping to show support.
Simply reading a few articles about a medical condition shows a great deal of support. It can also be helpful for recognizing signs of a medical emergency. For example, a “thyroid storm” is a complication related to an overactive thyroid that can be fatal. It involves a sudden influx of hyperthyroid symptoms – like a rapid heartbeat, shaking, sweating, confusion, and fainting, among others – and it requires swift medical attention. A partner or family member’s awareness of these types of complications can be life saving.
The thyroid greatly impacts many regular bodily functions (metabolism, energy level, body temperature, mood, heart rate, other hormones, and more), and Graves’ disease can wreak havoc on one’s body. My scariest symptom was a rapid resting heart rate. Before I got my Graves’ under control, I constantly felt like I was running a marathon while I was sitting still. I was scared to do anything too physical; even walking up one flight of stairs made my heart feel like it was pounding out of my chest.
Despite good intentions, phrases like “You’re never given more than you can handle,” “But you look great!”, and “It could be worse” may feel dismissive or triggering on the receiving end. We may not always say the right things, but we can learn. Consider focusing on listening or asking, “Is there something that I can do to support you?” or “What do you need in this moment?”
When trying to support a loved one, it’s important to remember that the other person’s feelings matter. It may sooth your worry and curiosity to call a friend and ask them multiple questions about their health, but consider how that might feel on the receiving side. I might be having a great day or I’m swamped with work, and then get a call about a potentially triggering subject matter. While on the outside it may seem to be a loving check-in, in my reality, it’s a sudden demand for my emotional energy that I may not be prepared for.
Symptoms of thyroid disorders are not necessarily visible, and I don’t always verbally express every moment that I am not feeling my best. If you’re a close family member or caregiver, consider asking your loved one if they would be open to scheduling a regular check-in – a time when they could describe how they are doing and if any additional support would be helpful. Having a predetermined time on the calendar also means that they can avoid being caught off-guard with questions, and instead have time to emotionally prepare for a potentially vulnerable conversation.
I am eternally grateful for my husband. During my surgeries, my husband took it upon himself to let friends and other family members know what was happening and sent them periodic updates while I was recovering. This was a blessing and meant that I could focus on recovering from the physical trauma of surgery and call loved ones when I had the energy. Now that I’m past these surgeries, my husband is still continuing this type of support. I remain grateful to him for helping me carry the emotional burdens that come with Graves’ Disease.
While these suggestions are based on my own experiences, I know that I am not alone. I hope that this information has helped foster new ideas or at least can be helpful in starting a conversation with the loved one you’re supporting.