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“But you don’t look sick!”: My Journey with Graves’ Disease


Until I was diagnosed with an (invisible) autoimmune condition, I had been generally healthy for most of my life. I had spent my 20s travelling, seeing live music, building lasting relationships, and starting my career in academia. I had worked as a Teaching Assistant in many different courses in my department and coordinated several research projects. I had travelled to conferences all over the world and I knew that I wanted to work as an academic for the rest of my life. Everything was on track and I was feeling excited for the future.

My story begins in 2012, shortly after I had submitted my PhD dissertation. It had been a challenging experience, but I was happy that I had managed to persevere and complete it. I was blessed to have amazing family and friends, and a job that I loved. I was feeling hopeful and looking forward to the next stage of my career. As I started my first contract (adjunct) role, however, it was clear that I was not well. Every morning I would wake up and my eyes would be red, raw, and very painful. I tried using multiple different kinds of eye drops but they only provided temporary relief. What was happening? I visited an optometrist and was referred to an ophthalmologist, who told me that my eyes were exceptionally dry but otherwise normal. In retrospect, however, this was the first sign that something was wrong.

Getting a Diagnosis

Over the next 24 months, I had become more and more exhausted as I tried to figure out what was going on. I started to have a lot of trouble sleeping and felt worn out all the time. I felt anxious as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning, but I could not pinpoint why. I kept going to my primary care doctor and explaining how bad I felt, but she was unable to provide a diagnosis. She knew that I usually worked between 60 and 70 hours a week at work, and kept telling me to take a leave and get some rest. In retrospect, this was good advice, but it did not solve the problem.