If you’re a content manager or creative director in charge or sourcing creative talent for work in your brand, you’re familiar with the complicated process of finding the right artist for the job. It can be hard! But it’s not impossible. And best of all, it doesn’t have to cost a lot.
Through many years of doing just this, I have developed some tried and true methods of getting the most out of your artist shopping to ensure that you’re able to pair the right artist with the right job.
Finding the right creative talent for brand work
When it comes to finding talent, there are several ways you can do this, whether you’re a business owner or a content manager:
Network with local creators. Artists and writers are everywhere if you know where to look! You may be able to find freelancers working in shared workspaces or working for other content managers, website designers, and marketing professionals. (Networking isn’t for everyone, but if you are a social person, this is a great start!)
Online networking via LinkedIn. Putting out a call for artists and creative talent on LinkedIn can be a good starting point if you’ve already networked with other professionals in your field. These connections will see your request and be able to put you into contact with others. If you’ve been a creative yourself, you may also have met writers and creatives in other business ventures who may be interested in working for you, or at the very least, connecting you with other contacts in their field.
Work with an agency. My personal favorite method of finding creatives is working with an agency. Most cities have creative agencies that pre-vet their creatives, have dedicated teams trained to help you find the appropriate talent, and offer simple methods of billing that make it a lot easier for your accounting team to keep track of payment. This method will also be your best bet if you’re a small business owner and want to leave the management of the creatives themselves up to someone else.
Some people choose to find creative talent via online gig sites, but this is not my preference. Gig sites (think Fiverr, Freelancer, and Upwork) make it difficult to develop relationships with creatives, strategically underpay them, and take large cuts of the funds for themselves. I’ve also gotten really terrible work out of Fiverr and Freelancer, probably because of the poor pay. I would rather spend $300 on an article written by a professional and have it be good enough to put live after a quick read-through than spend $100 on an article through Fiverr and have to rewrite the whole thing in order to put it on my site. (The truth is, I stopped working with Fiverr after this happened to me several times. I was working harder than I had been before because the articles I was receiving were of such low quality!)
Personally, I appreciate working with professionals who I can communicate with directly, who are appropriately compensated for their work, and who are willing to develop a relationship with my brand. I find that better work comes from creatives that feel appreciated, and the key to that is communication and compensation!
Hire for a single small job first
When I hire new creative talent, I seldom sign them for more than a single small project to begin. This is a matter of self-preservation as a content manager, because I can never be sure whether the new creative will work well with me and my team, whether they’ll fully understand the brand, or whether the rest of the team will like their work. This makes it a lot easier to part ways with an artist after the first project, if it doesn’t go well, without having to have any complicated “you’re fired” conversations. As a non-confrontational person, I prefer to avoid those at all costs! (Working with an agency also makes this easier as you can convey the message via your rep and allow them to handle the difficult conversations.)
To begin, I present each new hire with educational materials during a get-to-know-you meeting. Most often, these are conducted via phone call as the benefit of working with offsite freelancers is that they may be located anywhere. (This is especially helpful if you want New York or Los Angeles talent but you’re located in the Midwest, for example.) During these phone calls, I give a brief presentation (pre-written to avoid stumbling or stage fright!) about the brand and the project that I’ve hired them for, and then I allow them the opportunity to ask me questions. Open communication is the best way to get good content from a freelancer as they need to learn about your brand in order to present accurate information in an appropriate voice for your customer base.
In addition to a phone call, it’s important to provide your new hire with all of the detailed information they will need to understand your brand and the assignment.
How have you sourced talent for your creative projects in the past?
Have you tried the single project method? How has that worked for you?
I’m working on a story that first hatched in my brain 13 months ago, but it arrived as the “key” to a problem I’ve been contemplating for many, many years. This story is “the one” that answers the problems posed by many of the other stories I’ve already written (at least in part) and that’s why it’s so important to the whole.
However, I have no intention of revealing my secrets just yet because this story is merely mapped but not really written. And I don’t know about you other writers, but I myself find that the more I talk about a story the more absurd it sounds. Whenever I tell someone what I’m writing, I feel like I would rather crawl into a hole than explain the plot, which I suppose is why we develop pitches and sluglines. It’s really damn difficult to condense an epic novel into a bite-sized, digestible description for a person who ultimately may never read the story at all.
So instead, here is a clue:
Please feel free to follow along! Or, if you’d like, support me on my Patreon. Middle tier and above actually gets you some excerpts which I would love to share! The story speaks for itself a lot better than I can speak for it.
Here we are, in uncertain times, times which already struck for me shortly before the virus swept in, full swing, to our country’s workforce. But uncertain times are challenges, not necessarily the end of everything. I don’t know about you, but right now I’m still finding myself to be pretty excited about the future and looking forward to the new things that are to come for me. And of course, I’m making plans.
Get the link to my Patreon profile
I set up my Patreon profile a few months ago, back when I was traveling in New York and then Alaska. Things felt a little frustrating then, as if I was in exile from my life, and I needed some hope and inspiration. Plus I was holed up with one of my best friends who always inspires me and gets me excited about creating! When we were there, I had things in the works that I wanted to look forward to and get help with. Now, with everyone I know in quarantine here at home, I can’t help but notice that the times are similar to what I felt during that month of isolation which wasn’t so very long ago. For me, the feelings that are coming to the forefront are those of hope and excitement about the opportunities that these troubled times will bring, not just at a personal level, but at a national one.
Yesterday a friend and I chatted about what life-after-coronavirus might be like, how this situation will highlight even more systemic issues in our government that will need to be addressed and changed after the event. I think workplaces will make changes, markets will make changes, businesses will diversify, and more, to make sure that they are able to stay afloat in times like these, times which are inevitabilities.
And on a more personal level, I too am thinking about ways I can diversify my talents and work. But even more than that, I’m thinking that life has knocked me down a few too many times in the past few months (even years!) and I have not answered its challenge. Now, I will.
Making plans for the future
I’ve set up my Patreon profile and I’m asking for supporters even though beside so many artistic and inspiring friends, I feel unworthy. The truth is, these artists and creatives in my life have been inspiring to me and provided me with the much-needed push that has made me want more for myself.
I want to share some of the things I’ve been working on, but I’m going to encourage you to check out Patreon to see them. I stand by the belief that you shouldn’t announce all of your plans to the public, but then again, I am quite a secretive person at times, I’ve been told. (I usually just refer to it as “thinking deeply” but, we can call it secretive if you want.)
Meanwhile, I do also encourage you to follow and support some of my favorite artists who are out there working hard already. Please feel free to check out my profile too to learn more about what I’m working on and how you can help me make it happen.
This coronavirus scare has half the business world working from home, and for many people, that’s an entirely new experience. I remember my first WFH position back in 2012. It took me a while to get into a groove of remote work that made me feel comfortable. Questions I asked myself when I first started to work remotely were:
How can I inspire my boss’s trust so they know I’m actually working and not just screwing around at home?
How much work do I have to do to prove myself?
How do I keep myself motivated when I’m sitting in my own living room?
Is it okay to watch TV and work at the same time?
What about working in pajamas?
There were about a thousand questions in my mind, these being just a few. As an introvert, I enjoyed the prospect of being at home and instead of having to get up, get dressed, and go sit in some cold office, but as a social person, I also worried about myself having a lack of community. Now that I’ve been working remotely for the better part of the past 8 years, I can provide a much clearer picture of what a day in the life of a remote employee actually looks like, as well as some tips for how to ensure optimal productivity and a sense of accomplishment.
What does a workday look like for a remote employee?
Depending on your job type, you may have a specific start time where you have to be clocked in and begin working. No matter what time that is, your life is automatically going to be a bit easier because you won’t have to factor in your getting ready or commuting time. That is easily my favorite part of the remote working experience. Here’s an example work day for me:
7:30 – 8:00am: Wake up, take my time getting out of bed, make my morning cup of coffee, cook some breakfast that features protein and veggies (my favorite: poached eggs, sauteed kale and mushrooms, and a carb like gluten-free toast, buckwheat, or rice), get my laptop out and start working through my morning emails.
8:00-9:30am: Thankfully at my most recent job, no one would ever schedule meetings before 9:30am because they were all commuting into Manhattan. I always took advantage of that window of time to get into my own work. Right after coffee and breakfast, I’m at my sharpest, so this is a great time to do some writing. For me, that often includes preparing creative briefs for important projects, writing corporate communications for my role as a senior-level copywriter, copyediting projects that other writers have submitted to me, etc.
9:30-11:00am: On some days, this is the time for company meetings, and I often schedule my meetings for this window on other days as well. Online conference calls are convenient and easy to do at this time of day because I’ve already eaten and had some coffee, and I’ve already been productive this morning. I am not a huge fan of video conferencing, and most companies I’ve worked for don’t require them, but if they are required, two hours into my day is time enough to get dressed and do hair and makeup. (I generally keep it pretty simple anyway.) On days when I don’t have meetings, I use this window of time to pack up some simple snacks into a lunch box and head out to the local coffee shop.
This is one of my most important tips for remote workers: Find a space where other people are working remotely, whether that’s a coffee shop or a shared workspace. For me, it’s Indie Coffee Roasters, a clean and modern space in downtown Carmel, IN where lots of professionals gather daily to drink exceptionally delicious coffee! It can be so helpful to have a space where you can go, see and be seen, and engage in a little social banter on occasion. I prefer to sit up at the counter where socializing can happen, but many professionals like to sit at tables to be a little more isolated from socializing but still near other people. Now that I’ve had time to become accustomed to remote working, I am able to be in a public place and still be productive, but it may take time for newbies to work up to this.
Obviously in our current circumstances, social working spaces are not appropriate options at this time. However, I highly recommend setting aside time to have FaceTime or Marco Polo chats with your friends to get your daily social fix.
11:00-12:30am: This is the window of time when I’ve first arrived at the coffee shop and I usually spend a few minutes socializing with friends. While many people who work in offices have already had some social time in their day, I’ve already been working for 3+ hours and this is my first socializing opportunity.
12:30-4:30pm: During this final period of the day, I usually stay at the coffee shop, have a working lunch where I snack on the food I brought with me, and finish the rest of my required work for the day.
When I close my laptop at the end of my time at the coffee shop, I usually keep it closed for the remainder of the day, which is how I manage my work-life balance. I find it to be important to keep the separation in place so I don’t find myself tempted to work evenings just because I’m “in the office” which doubles as my home.
Some questions about remote working
Should I set up a home office?
Personally, having a home office space has never worked for me. I like working right in the center of the action, but that works for me because I’ve lived in a home where I was the only remote worker and I’ve lived completely alone. This is something that is up to each individual to try out. Some people may need a door they can close to cut off the rest of the world while they work, while others, like me, may need to simply leave the house and go out in public to work.
How do I handle workplace questions? How can I avoid miscommunication?
Open communication is important in any workplace, but especially for remote workers. In order to ensure that I have a good relationship with my coworkers, I spend several weeks per year working in the office for face-to-face meetings with my team. This may not be an option for everyone, so in cases where you can’t work in the office, I recommend frequent check-ins and at least one phone call a week talking with critical coworkers to build relationships with them. When in doubt, pick up the phone. Verbal communications will clarify a lot of confusion that comes from text/IM communication.
How do I avoid distractions?
Distractions will be an issue when you’re working from home because you don’t have the fear that your boss is looking over your shoulder to get you back on task. However, personal integrity and self-regulation is a quality that you will have to develop if you want to be a trusted remote worker. It takes time to work up to this, but it’s important to do it.
What should I do when I feel unproductive or unmotivated?
This is tough! I personally only feel unproductive or unmotivated when I’m doing a job a don’t like, and this is something I avoid at all costs! I love being productive and accomplishing things. However, when these feelings do occasionally hit, I usually make a hard stop for 15 minutes and try one of these tactics:
Take a walk
Eat a nutritious snack
Change your work location
Do something that engages a different part of my brain, like draw a doodle or read a book for a few minutes
How do I maintain a work-life balance?
As I mentioned earlier, I find it important to have a hard start and stop on my workday. That, of course, doesn’t mean I would make myself unavailable in an emergency. (As the remote employee in a team of in-house employees, I would often get called upon to handle a situation that would arise while everyone else is on public transportation just after a workday ends and I’m the only one with access to the computer!) However, for personal sanity, it’s important to have a hard stop for yourself so you can shift gears into your personal life. I also enjoy working from a coffee shop or remote working location so I can have the opportunity for a commute home to decompress.
And the questions from the top
How can I inspire my boss’s trust so they know I’m actually working and not just screwing around at home?
First of all, a good boss will not make you feel micromanaged, so hopefully, this is a personal concern and not one that has been put on you by the person you work for. My best advice for this is to simply do your work and do it well, meet deadlines, and communicate with your coworkers and managers whenever relevant. The best way to inspire trust is to be trustworthy!
How much work do I have to do to prove myself?
This same concern should be addressed by the above question. If you really feel that you have to prove yourself constantly, you may need to assess whether your working environment is healthy for you. But that’s a different topic entirely!
How do I keep myself motivated when I’m sitting in my own living room?
I believe this question was also addressed above. Motivation is self-made, but taking breaks also helps!
Is it okay to watch TV and work at the same time?
My gut says no. If you really want to be productive and complete quality work, you’ve got to keep yourself focused. Besides, if you have a TV show you’re really invested in, you’ll get a lot more out of it if you watch it without the distraction of responsibility.
What about working in pajamas?
This is up to each person individually, but for me personally, I can never wear sweatpants and get work done. I believe in actually showing up for work, and for me, that involves wearing pants. But, you should do what makes you feel good and productive.
What other questions do you have about the remote working experience that I might be able to help with? Drop them below!
Have you ever hit send on an email only to notice a glaring typo?
Has anyone ever embarrassingly replied to one of your emails to say that they didn’t understand what you were trying to say?
Have you ever received a business email that didn’t make sense to you because of typos or poorly phrased sentences?
Professional communications are incredibly important in an internet-run world. Business people are expected to see and respond to messages quickly and efficiently, but that can leave way too much room for errors. In a world where we often respond quickly with text messages to our friends and family, it is possible to take that casually conversational style into the business realm where it just isn’t quite as welcome.
Giving your employees the tools they need to succeed
If you own or manage a brand, it’s in your best interest to ensure that your team is communicating effectively with each other and especially with your clients. It’s incredibly important to your business’s success that your employees are representing your business in a professional manner.
The truth is though, many business professionals are great at what they do, but that doesn’t mean they are great at writing! Even if your employees are never going to be “professional writers” in the traditional sense, writing coaching can help them to become more confident as writers so that they can communicate with clients, vendors, and team members with clarity and ease.
Corporate writing coaching for businesses
I love helping business professionals succeed, and one of the ways I can offer assistance is through corporate writing coaching. How does this work? As a brand owner or manager, you can offer your employees an opportunity for writing education, including group or one-on-one training, depending on the number of employees interested in the program and level of training that each individual needs.
Contact me directly at CrystalLynn23@gmail.com to learn more about what writing coaching entails, see an outline of a course syllabus, and get a quote for your brand.
Good writing and clear communication can be the difference between business failure and business success! Help ensure that your business and employees are set to succeed.
Writers can never truly advance in their careers, did you know that? We can ask for higher rates, but ultimately we still have to produce every single thing that we get paid for. In other words, if we want to advance in our careers by making more money, we still have to write more in order to make that happen. Does that make you frustrated as a writer? It frustrates me, that’s for sure! I’ve been a professional writer for 13 years, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered the possibility for upward mobility in my chosen career through a career in content management.
In the time that I’ve written professionally, I’ve produced so many pages of content that I couldn’t even begin to count. This content has come in the form of entire websites, web pages, blog posts, learning articles, white papers, magazine articles, short stories, essays, social media posts, media scripts, and more. There is a direct correlation between material produced and hours worked, which can be a frustrating thing for writers. We need more time in the day if we want to create more work and thus make more money.
So the question becomes this: What is the workaround?
Being a writer can be a frustrating career path. Even as your skill improves, it can be difficult to increase your rates based upon your experience alone, and the upward mobility of the career path is not as clearly laid out as many other career fields. Writers are often self-made, many of them without formal education in their specific field, making it difficult for them to claim expertise and charge higher rates. Additionally, it can be discouraging for writers to have to constantly create content in order to be paid, when other fields offer professionals the opportunity to oversee work being done and manage direct reports as they advance in their career. Content management is a relatively new role that offers a different option for writers who wish to advance in their field.
A content manager is similar to an editor in that they’re in control of the quality of the content and they manage its creation and presentation. Instead of doing this for a printed publication like a magazine they do it for a digital one: a website.
If you’re a professional writer interested in advancing to a role that is more managerial in nature and requires you to produce less while making more money, a content management or content strategist role might be the one for you. There are things you can do within your writing career to begin preparing you for this shift, making it possible for you to qualify for a new role, whether within the company where you already work, at a different company, or on a contract as a freelancer.
Most writers, whether they realize it or not, actually perform some of the functions of a content manager already. Some of these tasks may include:
Planning a content calendar for articles, social media posts, blog posts, etc.
Auditing existing content to ensure that details are up to date
Conducting light keyword research for SEO
Managing content projects that require additional artists (for example, white papers which are downloadable PDFs and often have to be laid out professionally after the content is written.)
If you’re doing any of these tasks in your job already, you can easily add light content management to your skillset on your resume. If you’re hoping to find yourself in a content management role full time, you should begin taking on some additional content management tasks and have a conversation with your current manager about your career goals. Even if your ultimate career goal is to become a content manager working for a different company, you can often use your current role as a learning experience, taking on extra tasks to build up your resume in the area where your interests lie.
The world of nutritional health is such a complicated one in our modern society, yet this statement seems like the type that I would have crossed out if I saw it as the opening line of one of my students’ essays 10 years ago. How could nutritional health be complicated, especially here in the United States, the land of plenty? Unfortunately, the answer is simpler than it seems. We have “plenty” of things to eat, but most of it isn’t real food.
the chronic illness and processed food connection
Let me be clear up front. I am not judging. How could I? I grew up eating lots of vegetables from cans, enjoying some of my favorite treats like boxed macaroni and cheese, ice cream sandwiches, Chicken in a Biscuit crackers, squeeze cheese, Ovaltine, Starbucks lattes…and writing this list out used to make me hungry, but now it just makes me cringe. When I was a kid, I struggled with all kinds of things like OCD, occasional depression (which I didn’t realize at the time, but understood later), anxiety, constipation, and upset stomach.
As an adult (age 24) I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis after a long period of unexplained illness. (You can read that whole story elsewhere on my blog.) Even after I was diagnosed, the medical care surrounding the treatment of the illness was confusing and weird. Doctors told me I was in a waiting game because until my thyroid actually “did something” (what a terrifyingly vague warning!) there was nothing they could do to treat me. Meanwhile, I asked what I should do about my diet and activity levels, and I was assured that since I was skinny, I was probably fine. So I carried on as always, going merrily along on my own unhealthy way, eating some real food, but a whole lot of fake, processed food as well.
In 2013, my health hit a wall. I started experiencing those stomach problems that had always plagued me, but with even more intensity than ever before. I had acid reflux almost every day, and I could never decide what was causing it. Over time, I started to realize that the acid reflux generally followed food consumption, so eventually, I stopped eating almost entirely and subsisted primarily on my daily Starbucks chai and any other small amount of food that didn’t make me feel too full. Sure, I ate salads and things like organic chicken, but I was consuming more sugar than anything else. (Back when it was still funny, my friends affectionately called me “the hummingbird,” because I lived on sugary beverages and was always jittery with anxiety.)
My doctors had no idea what to do with me. I was diagnosed with GERD, chronic acid reflux, and an anxiety disorder, but these issues, they assured me, had nothing to do with my Hashimoto’s diagnosis. Of course, that wasn’t reassuring in the least! Over the following 2-3 years, I stopped eating gluten, which is recommended for anyone who has an autoimmune disease, took food allergy tests, got back on a serious exercise regimen, and minimized the sugar intake in my diet. I started feeling better, but still, I didn’t feel good. Even though I was now 100% gluten-free, the acid reflux occurred regularly and without warning or any identifiable triggers, I spent nights lying in my bed having inexplicable panic attacks, and I spent an entire winter focusing all of my energy on the simple task of not ending my life.
How was I so sick, so desperate, and so unhappy, and yet no doctor seemed willing to admit that I had a problem? I convinced them to do an upper GI scope and they happily told me that my stomach was incredibly inflamed, but there was no sign of any apparent “cause,” and they sent me home. This was when the depression reached its peak. How could I go on with my life when I was suffering so much and there was no explanation about why?
The simple answer? I was suffering from malnutrition and no one caught it.
baby steps: Treating illness with nutritional medicine
When I found Kelly Brogan’s book, A Mind of Your Own, I had been searching for information about alternative treatment options for depression. Even though my depression was so deep that I was continually envisioning my own death, there was a little part of me that still wanted to believe I could get better and could live a life where I felt good, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
I started with baby steps, trying Kelly Brogan’s 30-day reset diet. It was fairly simple and at first, if I’m being honest, absolutely nothing happened. On that diet, I was still consuming some sugar through natural sources like honey and maple syrup and berries, but with the removal of other potentially inflammatory foods like grains and dairy, I did start to notice some physical changes. It wasn’t until I bit the bullet and cut out my favorite vice that things really started to happen.
Breaking up with processed sugar
Breaking up with sugar was the best thing I could have done for myself.
Within the first few days of quitting sugar completely, I went through a few normal mood swings. They were far less than they would have been if I hadn’t already been significantly reducing my sugar intake in the 6 months that preceded this. After getting off sugar, I started feeling less of that groggy, sad feeling and instead, I started feeling calm happiness, energy, and confidence. I thought that it couldn’t be just the sugar, but by then, my body had become pretty accustomed to the clean diet I was eating so the only major change had been to cut the last little bit of sugar out of my diet.
Now, when I slip up and have sugar, I feel those unpleasant sensations in my body starting over again. I realize now that underneath what sometimes felt like my body completely rejecting me, there were subtler elements that I often didn’t recognize, like the achy feeling that occurred with a sugar crash, and the depression feelings that would often occur because of the ongoing body aches.
I’d been dizzy and nauseous and achey and unhappy, because I didn’t realize that I was riding a nonstop rollercoaster of sugar spikes and crashes.
Should you stop eating sugar?
I’ve talked with a lot of people who seek me out asking for advice. They see my food pictures and admire me for eating healthy, but often I start losing them as soon as I tell them what’s actually required.
“I can’t eat dessert anymore?”
“What about Starbucks?”
“How much sugar per day can I have?”
And before you know it, they’ve gone MIA. It happens, I’m not judging. In fact, I usually recognize my old self in their actions and, if anything, it strengthens my own resolve.
By the way, if you’ve asked me for advice and not been able to follow through, don’t cut off communication with me because you’re embarrassed. I know it’s hard to follow through, but that’s why I’m here to help you. I didn’t have anyone to walk me through it and that would have been helpful.
It’s okay to be “not ready,” to perhaps “not believe” that it’ll make a difference, or even to “feel fine” and therefore be willing to put it off again and again. It’s okay to live your own life and make your own decisions, but before you do, I recommend that you at least look at the information that’s out there and USE WHAT YOU LEARN to make your decision.
I’m dying to help everyone. As soon as I hear someone feels sick, I am there trying to preach the gospel of good nutrition, but I’m learning that I can’t save everyone. Some people need to be convinced with facts and evidence, other people need to get their hearts ready, and still other people may never change their minds.
The best I can do is share the information that I find most useful and hope that it will help someone else, or help someone else help someone else they love.
Take baby steps, if you must. One. Little. Step. At a time. Just never stop moving forward.
Educational resources about nutrition
It’s no secret that I love listening to Chris Kresser, whether in his books or his podcast. He collects the most interesting data on nutrition and shares the world of other knowledgeable experts, and he presents the information in the most educational and applicable way. While this podcast might not be the best choice for your START on a nutritional journey (for that, I recommend the reading suggestions at the very end of this post), if you’re already taking your steps toward better health and finding yourself struggling, this podcast may help put some things into perspective regarding supplemental nutritional support.
Chris Kresser’s mantra is “Eat real food,” and I’ve taken that for my own as well.
By the way, this resource is mentioned on the podcast. I’ve explored it a bit and so far, it’s extremely robust and helpful. It details tons of important nutritional facts all in one handy “cheat sheet.”
(If you listen to the above podcast, there’s a COUPON CODE that can be used until, I think, March 26, 2018, so hurry up!)
Imagine a disease that makes you gain (or lose!) tons of unexpected weight, lose your hair, feel nauseous all the time, and experience severe mood swings like bipolar disorder. And these are just some of the possible symptoms. Sounds like a great time, right? It’s not. This disease is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and it affects 14 million Americans, most of which are women, among whom you’ll find me.
What is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
I’m not sure how common the name Hashimoto’s is for people who don’t have it and aren’t exposed to the topic on a regular basis, but in my family and among my friends, everyone has at least heard the name. I’m not shy about telling people about my condition, not because I am a hypochondriac who wants to rest on the laurels of my illness accomplishments, but honestly…because I’m embarrassed.
But before I get into that, let me explain what Hashimoto’s is. Some people mistakenly take the easy answer and say that Hashimoto’s is a condition in which the thyroid gland is underactive. While this may be (sort of) true, it’s not the only thing to expect if you get a Hashimoto’s diagnosis.
In fact, you may never experience this particular symptom, or it may be your main symptom. The disease manifests itself completely differently for everyone, which is why it’s often so hard to identify! The only people ever tested for it either a) have some kind of thyroid level issue, or b) have a family member who has already been diagnosed. I fell into the latter category when I was diagnosed 8 years ago after severe cases of anemia and depression.
Recently, a childhood friend of mine was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and began to experience many of the things I’ve experienced, from symptoms to a lack of concern from doctors, and it made me see the importance of drawing attention to this oversight in the medical community. Her hair was falling out in handfuls and she was prescribed an antidepressant. She and I both suffered endlessly from GERD and I was referred to a psychiatrist. This is what we deal with! We talk nearly every day about the latest development in her condition and her dealings with medical professionals. I sometimes fear that it isn’t very encouraging for her to see that road I’m 8 years farther along on isn’t much easier than hers so early in the journey, but the more people I know who share my experiences, the more I want to help.
If you suffer from an autoimmune disease, you may recognize some of the signs and symptoms I mention here. You may also recognize some of the reactions from doctors. If you’ve ever been treated like your symptoms were unimportant or like you were saying something crazy by mentioning them, I want you to know that you’re not alone!
How thyroid disease is diagnosed
When thyroid disease is discovered, it is usually done with a blood test. More than the basic TSH, T3, and T4 have to be tested, however. The test required is a 6-panel test that also identifies thyroid antibodies, which are the indicator of thyroid disease.
Note: Many patients have reported that doctors are extremely reluctant to offer this test if the patient doesn’t have a family history, probably because the test is considered expensive. Check with your insurance company and opt for the 6-panel test if you can afford it. This is especially important if you have thyroid indicators in addition to inexplicable physical symptoms. If they counter your suggestion with an offer of antidepressants, push harder. Taking an antidepressant will not help if you really do have thyroid disease.
When I was first diagnosed, I had perfectly normal thyroid hormone levels and off the charts antibodies. The doctors assumed that my condition was Hashimoto’s because my mother’s doctors have assumed that is her diagnosis because her sister had a confirmed Hashimoto’s diagnosis (although her daughter had a confirmed Graves diagnosis). See, it’s all just a matter of guesswork. Doctors also assumed that I had Hashimoto’s because I was lacking some of the major symptoms of Graves disease, which is kind of, though not exactly, the flipside of Hashimoto’s.
Mayo Clinic gives a fancy description of the disease, explaining it as follows:
“Hashimoto’s disease is a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid, a small gland at the base of your neck below your Adam’s apple. The thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system, which produces hormones that coordinate many of your body’s functions. Inflammation from Hashimoto’s disease, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, often leads to an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).”
The article, which details largely the same information that’s found on other popular medical websites, goes on to explain that the causes of the disease are not known. The suggested reasons that the article offers, things like genetic predisposition, hormones, excessive iodine, and radiation exposure, as well as age and gender, are interesting because current science has begun ruling out some of these as the causes. For me, this is just another example of the smoke and mirrors surrounding Hashimoto’s.
What are the symptoms of Hashimoto’s?
As for the symptoms of the disease? Well, these are endless. A few of these which I have experienced at some point in my life are:
Joint and muscle pain
An inability to get warm
Hair loss and thinning or brittle hair
Slowed heart rate
Most general practitioners don’t know or understand the condition and give patients a referral to an endocrinologist. Perhaps I’ve always been sent to the wrong endocrinologist, but my personal experience has shown me that even these experts don’t understand the disease. What they understand is how to prescribe thyroid hormone and how to check in with you every year or so to make sure you’re still alive and your thyroid levels are still normal. I’ve never had a doctor take interest in my particular symptoms, which go beyond the above list and also include “little known” concerns (which can still be found listed out neatly on a variety of medical websites) such as:
Non-specific aches and stiffness in muscles and joints
The mental fogginess one? Where you’re thinking about something and you get the concept but you literally cannot remember the words to express the thought so you just start crying because you can’t talk and everyone thinks you’re a crazy person? THE WORST!
The list goes on, but these are the primary symptoms I’ve personally observed in myself. While Graves is typically the condition that boasts such symptoms as extreme weight loss, anxiety, and panic attacks, because Hashimoto’s is characterized by a swing between hyper- and hypo- states, it’s possible to pick up symptoms from both diseases, depending on where in the cycle you are. And most people with Hashimoto’s swing like a pendulum between hyper- and hypo- states until they begin taking meds or have their thyroid gland removed.
When your body is practically registering on the Richter scale, how could you not experience mood swings?
Why am I embarrassed of my autoimmune disease?
Embarrassment is never something you should feel about a legitimate medical condition that you can’t control, but I feel it. The reasons are endless, but let me go ahead and jot down a few things I can think of right off the bat. I’m embarrassed because:
THIS IS THE BIGGEST ONE. The mental fogginess, or what it usually simply called “brain fog,” affects my conversations and my personal relationships. In high stress situations, I may try to express myself and I end up stammering away at someone, trying desperately to express myself but the words will not come out. Of course it usually ends in tears. It’s like there’s a barrier between my brain and my mouth and I can’t speak for a time. I feel like I sound senseless and pathetic, and based on the facial expressions of the people I’m talking to, I’m certain that I do. I’m a professional writer and a former teacher with, honestly, decent communication skills. The brain fog is truly horrifying because I begin to imagine it’s similar to the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia, but if I panic while it’s happening, it becomes worse in the moment. To me, this is the one symptom that hurts me worse than all others.
I experience weird, unexpected symptoms sometimes, like sudden inexpressible emotions, usually because of the physical symptoms like sudden severe body pain, sudden weakness, sudden exhaustion, sudden dizziness…you get the idea. The key is “sudden.” I become embarrassed when this happens at a party or during a social event. While other people who have been diagnosed with autoimmune diseases say this is the case for them, most doctors look at you like you’ve lost your mind when you mention it. Their first response is to provide you with an antidepressant because, yes, sudden pain all over your body is extremely depressing, but an antidepressant doesn’t help the cause: the actual pain.
Doctors are always trying to treat me separately for health conditions that are actually related to thyroid disease. I have been treated for GERD, chronic sinus infections, anxiety, depression, anemia, B-12 deficiency, migraines, etc., and no doctor has voiced the suggestion that these conditions were related to my Hashimoto’s diagnosis. In this case, my embarrassment is more a feeling of being crazy. I have long suspected a connection between these concerns and the disease I’ve already been diagnosed with, so why won’t any medical professionals take that connection seriously? Hashimoto’s causes inflammation, which in turn causes most of the conditions.
The research is there, but the process of treating systemic inflammation is still largely experimental. (Fortunately, there are things we can do ourselves to counteract inflammation.)
People in my life think I’m “sickly.” I would say this applies to people who don’t know me very well or who only see me during those occasions where I have sudden symptom onset. But even in some cases, my friends and family misunderstand. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me “you’re always sick.” It’s a simple, offhand comment, but it hurts me deeply to hear it. I am embarrassed that people realize how often I feel sick because I try to keep it light and avoid mentioning my pain and my discomfort as much as possible. (I’m uncomfortable writing this extremely public post because I don’t want people to feel weird about my symptoms, but I want to put aside my embarrassment for the sake of the people who have similar experiences and want to know that they’re not crazy.)
I am an extremely health-conscious person! I am embarrassed when my body betrays me because I spend so much of my time thinking about what I’m eating, planning my next workout, and practicing mindfulness to offset depression and anxiety. When someone says “cheer up,” I feel embarrassed because they don’t know how far I’ve come, probably just in a single day.
After realizing that doctors weren’t going to take me seriously, I embarked on my own health journey, playing my own doctor in some cases. I realize that there are ethical reasons why patients should not make decisions without a doctor’s input, but when you’ve experienced the shrug and head shake over symptoms that are legitimate and real (for example, hypochondriacs can’t fake anemia and B-12 deficiency) you begin to see the benefits of setting off on your own.
Note: I don’t recommend or endorse a self-care approach that abandons medical knowledge, but I am doing it safely and with professional guidance, where needed. There will be more about my methods in future posts.
Thyroid disease misdiagnosed as depression
I mentioned my struggles with depression and anxiety and I’ve admittedly been able to alleviate some of those concerns through diet, exercise, and mindfulness techniques. There are times when mindfulness doesn’t work, where the panic attack comes on and nothing seems able to offset it or where the pain moves through the body at such a rapid rate that there’s nothing to do but crumble into despair. (Eventually, I hope to master a technique to replace despair. I had this experience not too long ago and it knocked me right off my feet, literally and figuratively. It caused an emotional breakdown because I don’t know what to do when I’m doing everything technically right with diet, exercise, and meditation, and yet the symptoms persist!)
I started reading Kelly Brogan’s book A Mind of Your Own, so I was already beginning to feel frustrations over the way that the field of psychology indiscriminately prescribes medication instead of looking at the root causes. Again, here is a case of doctors (medical or not) simply ignoring the cause-and-effect of conditions. And let me emphasize, sometimes these are conditions a person already has been diagnosed with and the doctors are completely ignoring the connection between the diagnosis and the symptoms. I’ll get back to Kelly Brogan’s book in another post, but for now, here’s my initial reaction to this research. While studying this subject, I found another post making the rounds on social media, and it’s click-baity title, “4 Conditions That Resemble Depression But Aren’t,” got my attention right away.
The article starts out great, focusing on a lot of the same concerns that Kelly Brogan references in her book. I particularly appreciate the section that explains the misdiagnosis of standalone depression (emphasis added by me): “Mental illness is often difficult to diagnose, particularly because there are few psychological tests to help clinicians make a diagnosis. Diabetes is diagnosed through blood tests, cancer is diagnosed through biopsies and medical imaging, but mental illness is largely diagnosed through checklists of self-reported symptoms.”
Let me clarify this. People are telling their medical and psychological doctors that they are feeling listless, depressed, sad, unmotivated, sexually disinterested, etc., and they are being prescribed medication for depression because of these symptoms. Very few other medical conditions would be treated this way. Doctors want a diagnosis before treating a patient with the medication designed for an illness. (For example, a doctor wouldn’t prescribe thyroid hormone to a patient who had gained a ton of weight unless a diagnostic blood test had been performed to confirm that need!)
On the flipside, I tell my doctor that I’m feeling listless and depressed, anxious, bloated, sick to my stomach, weak, etc., and I am being prescribed medication for depression too! (And not taking it, but that’s a different story.) But I already have a legitimate medical condition that can cause these exact symptoms, so why am I being treated with antidepressants? Who wouldn’t be depressed about these symptoms? That doesn’t mean that these symptoms are depression!
When I started reading this article, I really thought it was going to go the direction of Kelly Brogan’s statement (my emphasis added again): “I believe depression is a meaningful symptom of a biological mismatch with our lifestyles–we eat poorly, harbor too much stress, lack sufficient physical movement, deprive ourselves of natural sunlight, expose ourselves to environmental toxins, and take too many drugs. I believe that inflammation is the language the body speaks, expressing imbalance, inviting change. We usually suppress these symptoms with medication. That, to me, is like turning off the smoke alarm when your house is on fire.”
That makes sense! But this article goes a completely different direction.
I was particularly unimpressed with the section of this article that detailed the way that hypothyroidism is often misdiagnosed as depression. Although this is true, the author still gets a lot wrong on this front. The description explains that the thyroid gland failing to release sufficient hormones causes the patient to experience “fatigue, diminished concentration, and low mood” which are obviously symptoms of depression, Other symptoms these sufferers may also notice are sensitivity to cold temperatures, dry skin, hair loss, and a hoarse voice. So far, accurate. It’s the conclusion.
“Hypothyroidism can be properly diagnosed through a simple blood test, and treatment requires only one pill a day.”
Behold, the great lie of the medical field.
I have talked with so many medical professionals who truly believe this, and so many autoimmune disease patients who have been told that this is what they should expect from their care: a single daily pill and then everything will be fine. Unfortunately an autoimmune disease is not the same thing as an underactive thyroid, just because they have that particular symptom in common. Meanwhile any number of the 14 million people who have Hashimoto’s may read this article and wonder why their symptoms persist in spite of the “single daily pill.”
It’s outrageous, isn’t it? I think so.
This is just an overview. I have so much more that I want to cover about what I’m doing, how I’m treating myself, and what my results have been. First and most importantly, I wanted to make sure that everyone had a good, foundational understanding about what Hashimoto’s is, from the perspective of a patient.
I’m still embarrassed. No one wants to feel crazy or exhibit craziness, especially when, inside, they feel completely normal. I don’t like who I am with Hashimoto’s, I hate that self, and since I made the decision to transcend my disease, I will continue to fight to do so. Whether deciding and achieving are exactly the same thing remains to be seen, but this is my journey toward health and happiness, and I will not give up.