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Thyroid Retrofit, with Apologies to Joseph Campbell

Post Published: 26 August 2010
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Category: Guest Bloggers, with Apologies to Joseph Campbell
This post currently has 5 responses. Leave a comment

One of the books I’d like to write is about feminizing Joseph Campbell’s Journey of the Hero, but in my story it would involve a heroine with a thyroid that gives her trouble. Lotsa, lotsa trouble. Sluggish, temperamental, irreverent, polarized – sometimes hyper, sometimes hypo. In short: crazy-making.

When you’re in the throes of hyperthyroidism or staring down your bathroom scale as you wrestle with weight gain from hypothyroidism, you usually don’t care too much about Joseph Campbell and how his Heroic Journey may be relevant to your path. But bear with me for a moment, and let’s together nurture the question: “Is there some wisdom, some important message, that my body is trying to send me?”

Why bother, you may ask. My TSH is now fine. Bother because our beliefs determine our health. As Christiane Northrup stated so pioneeringly, “Belief becomes biology.” She goes on: “If we don’t work through self-destructive thoughts, our thoughts set ourselves up for physical distress because of the biochemical effect that emotions have one our immune and endocrine systems.”

Plumbing the deeper messages of our thyroid (or endocrine gland of your preference) allows us access to greater resilience. It’s all about resilience when it comes to our endocrine and immune troubles. Most of my lovely patients (myself included) who are hypothyroid or cancer survivors or battle their autoimmune thyroiditis perceive their lives to be Stress City, and as a result, have adrenal dysregulation. From Chris: “It is not the stress itself that creates problems. It is, rather, the perception that stress is inescapable…. Perception can be changed.”

The first step in looking at your condition in this way, and changing perception, is to discern what Joe calls, “The Call.” This is your initiation – when you first became conscious that a big change is/was happening. Initiations are difficult, right? Initiations strip away what you don’t need, what you’re attached to but may be causing suffering.

What form is your initiation? A diagnosis of thyroid cancer? Hair loss? Fatigue so deep, it seemed to emanate from your bones? Initiation is a lot like birth, which I can say from having gone through it 5 and 10 years ago. Birth is painful and glorious. It involves contractions. Painful contractions make birth possible, and lead to tremendous openings in awareness and perception, expansions into a new state of being.

OK, enough – let’s get to the heart of the matter. Here is Joe’s seven-stage trip of the hero, femme’ed out for our purposes. It is largely paraphrased from Joe Campbell (who discerned these steps from scriptures and myths) and Jim Gordon, MD, who wrote about the Hero’s Journey as it relates to depression in Unstuck.

  1. The Call: Awareness that we need to change, not in a small way but a gigantic way. We realize we’re 20 pounds overweight. We get diagnosed with cancer. We tired of being chronically overwhelmed and overbusy. We can’t take another day of PMS. Some type of journey is ahead. Often we refuse the call, we try to charge onward. But the call is persistent.
  2. Guides: Finding and selecting those who can help, can augment our recovery; those people that provide synergy to the development of our own intuition and inner wisdom. People like Mary Shomon, Katie Schwartz.
  3. Surrender to Change: Figuring out what we need to let go more fully, how to take off the shoes that are too tight and get a pair that actually serve you. This is where letting go of attachments comes in (“Really? Don’t take that! Can’t I take the Journey with my Jimmy Choos?”)
  4. Demon Facing: How do we identify the challenges – the reasons we overeat, the reasons we keep overschedule, the reasons we don’t nurture ourselves. Perfectionism, being ruled by the inner authoritarian, the erosive effects of resentment. Identifying through this process “the unique daimon, the source of our own meaning, purpose and direction,” according to Jim Gordon, MD.
  5. The Dark Night of the Soul: the only way to heal the pain is to go straight through it – as Jim writes, “Allowing and inviting the deepest life-giving freedom to emerge  as we move through the despair that may come to any of us.”
  6. Spirituality: The Blessing – this is the realization that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity and transform our lives. Can be a belief in Unity, Peace, Higher Self, or whatever your conception of a higher power is.
  7. The Return: Re-learning how to live abundantly, joyously, drunkenly alive once again, consciously connected to ourselves and others.

So, my friend, I must ask: What is your Call to Action? How does that fit into your own arc of the Hero/Heroine-Myth?

Written by Dr. Sara Gottfried

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5 Responses to “Thyroid Retrofit, with Apologies to Joseph Campbell”

  1. Donna says:

    Dr. G,

    As a former HR professional I approached my job with the thought that perception is reality and addressed the concerns of employees in just that way. I could not help them if I did not feel their pain so to speak. It really helped us to work through it. I validated their fears and then was able to get them to see the truth.

    When I was diagnosed with cancer my fear of dying was my reality but I did not share that with others very often because the few times I did it did not work out to my liking. I wanted to talk about it, to plan, to make sure my son was taken care of, all those things one would concern themselves with if they thought they were dying.

    I agree with you and Joseph entirely. We all need to differentiate between good stress and bad stress but so many here have truly been through the wringer, including myself post cancer. I have a wonderful doctor now who believes the thyroid can mess with us emotionally and physically so I have a great attitude because I have hope and I feel good. While I am still hyper I know that day by day I will get to a better place because I have a support system. Validation is a wonderful thing if you have spent years chasing good health to no avail.

    What I want more than anything is for there to be more doctors that are willing to take the time to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. It recently occured to me that insurance companies should make thyroid testing mandatory because it could save them lots of money. Us thyroid patients cost them big time beause we are misdiagnosed and given medicine we don’t need which then does not work and the cycle repeats itself over and over again until people finally give up. My former PCP never once asked about my levels because I had an endo so instead treated me for everything but. Such a waste of my time and money not to mention the affect on my family life.

    I guess my point is that people can’t have hope until they get validated and that is not always easy to find. Things are changing and for that I am grateful but it does not change the fact that there are still so many people suffering so badly that they can’t get to thinking in this fashion until they get a doctor who gets it!

    Sorry if I’m a little off subject but my personal experience and my empathy for those still living the way I did makes me a little crazy.

    Thank you for your inspirational words. You are a lovely person and I appreciate you sticking your neck out for us.

    Fondly,
    Donna

  2. Bee says:

    I’ve held these beliefs intentionally for most of my adult life. Being in the medical profession, I also view my body and the things that go on with it as my own personal science experiment. I knew that fingernails were an indicator that things could be “off” internally. So I watched my fingernails go thru these weird changes for years. Lo and behold a cardiac birth defect was found in my 40th year. This is just 1 example of the subtle changes I’ve noticed when my body is trying to tell me something. Because of these beliefs, I’ve been aware of nutrition and the importance of sleep and exercise.

    That doesn’t always mean that I’ve been on the high road to health; but I was aware that the negative things i did to myself would or could or should impact me down the road. It’s weird- I look at the things I am now going thru with much the same “guinea pig” approach. I don’t think I create more stress worrying about my illnesses. But because I continue to live my life as fully as I can on any given day, stress from others is all around.

    What I’m finding interesting is the fact that I view this massive weight gain kind of anthropologically. My ancestry was from parts of the world where famine could and did have population consequences; thus, women from that part of the world tended to store fat to nourish their young during famines. Even tho my body has drastically changed with Hashi’s, I’ve been interested to see just WHY i’ve continued to hold on to these fat stores. My waiting proved eventful. I am just getting over a horrendous bout of mucus colitis that lasted 2.5 mos. Food wasn’t fun. Food hurt. But my body- the efficient machine that i’ve at times neglected-had enough fat stores to keep me relatively healthy- Hell, lets just say my fat helped keep me alive- bcuz I really couldn’t eat much. And it provided me with enough energy to keep working and assisting ailing family. It would’ve been very easy to give up, but I’ve also been born with a stubborn, competitive streak and I wasn’t about to give in to this bit of nonsense.

    So I don’t say “why me”- i just realize that some of us swim in shallower parts of the gene pool. “Stinking thinking” can certainly get in the way but I’ve been madder at my
    professional medical care than this vessel that’s housing my mind bcuz my care-or lack of it- has had a negative impact on HOW LONG I’m able to habitate this vessel. As I told my son, I take all these meds so I can watch my children grow old and my grandchildren grow up. So in many ways I’ve also got to thank the chemists and researchers who continue to also use us as guinea pigs for I would’ve surely been dead at this ripe old age of 58 if it weren’t for better living thru chemistry

  3. kitINstLOUIS says:

    There is proof that people who are slightly overweight will, for instance, be able to bear the brunt of chemotherapy side-effects and other insults, such as long-term respiratory illnesses is they have enough fat stores to get them through the crisis. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21655928/

    However, some studies show that overweight people are much more likely to actually get cancer..
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21655928/

    This study:

    http://walking.about.com/cs/howtoloseweight/a/aafatcancer.htm

    shows that obese people have a 50% greater chance of getting diagnosed with cancer. Of course, I’d have to ask whether it is more likely that someone who is in the 25 year process of developing cancer is also just more likely to become overweight because they feel badly and can’t move around as much as others do. I DO get tired of these studies who assume that correlation equates to the causation they are looking for. Are all these researchers skinny?

  4. Cate says:

    Why does “Demon facing” have to list overeating first?

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