How do I be a good partner to my SO who has a thyroid condition?
September 5, 2012 5:33 PM   Subscribe

My SO has Graves disease. How do I be a good partner to them?

I'd never heard of Graves until we started dating. My SO is currently on hormone pills. I'm trying to be very supportive but sometimes it can be very tough with mood swings that seem to come out of nowhere. I do my best not to delegitimize the feelings they may be having in the moment, I never tell them "You're being crazy right now" or anything to that effect and I do my best to present positive ways of thinking (without being a dick about it).

I know that this is a disease and I know that this isn't who my SO really is and I don't hold anything like the mood swings, irritability, stomach issues or whatever against them. They are a wonderful, caring, supportive person and I love them more than I have ever loved anyone.

But it is hard though, sometimes the mood swings come out of nowhere and sometimes they can even lash out which I try not to take personally but even I kind of lose myself in the moment. Occasionally the mood swings can get very intense, not violent necessarily, but there is a physicality to the mood swings that makes me scared for them.

I'm by no means perfect but I really do want to be there for them as much as possible while at the same time not creating some kind of problematic role for myself like a caretaker...

I love this person and I want to know what they're experiencing and what the best thing I can do as a supportive partner.

What do I need to know about having the disease, dating someone who has the disease, how to support them and how to support myself?
posted by You Guys Like 2 Party? to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had Graves disease for several years, and although admittedly it was a very mild case, I did not experience any of the symptoms you describe. I was dizzy and had a really fast metabolism, but no mood swings or physical responses to people. Did you know your partner before they developed the condition?
posted by slmorri at 6:00 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

how to support them and how to support myself?

Please remember to support yourself. Being sick does not give anyone the right to be an asshole. It is perfectly OK for you to disengage from situations where your partner is treating you poorly or directing their issues towards you.
posted by sarahnicolesays at 6:10 PM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your partner still needs to be held accountable for his or her actions. You're right that saying to them, "You're acting really crazy right now!" is neither constructive nor supportive, but not telling them when they are acting rude or upsetting isn't good either. You must be able to say, "Hey, what you just did/said right then was really upsetting. Please check your behavior and attitude towards me right now." Let your partner know that the physicality of the mood swings makes you uncomfortable. You can tell them, "When you slam doors like that, I get really scared and upset. I think it will be best if I leave if you keep doing that. I'll come back when you're feeling better."

Also, I think it would be a good idea for your SO to be evaluated for other conditions that could be exacerbating their mood swings. They shouldn't have to endure such extremes either.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:21 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nothing that you're describing is typically associated with Grave's disease. I'm puzzled too by the mention of "hormone pills" since treatment for Grave's usually works deliberately against the production of thyroid stimulating hormone. To try and answer your question better, I guess, it depends on the treatment your partner is having for Grave's which can range from anti-thyroid medication to radioactive iodine to thyroidectomy. None of those treatments, in my experience, contributes to sudden mood swings.
posted by last night a dj saved my life at 7:22 PM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've never heard of Graves disease either, but when I was suffering from an excess of emotional volatility, I found the best way to negotiate the dilemma you describe was through DBT (dialectical behavior therapy -- it's not just for borderline personality disorders any more!). Its framework let me avoid both (a) invalidating my emotions, and (b) interpreting those emotions as facts about the world outside myself.

The workbook I used wasn't awesome, but the results were. I just noticed there's a book specifically for couples, with a foreword by the queen of DBT, so it's probably pretty legit.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:47 PM on September 5, 2012

Link to couples book.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:48 PM on September 5, 2012

Thirding or fourthing the "your SO may need a second opinion" because this sounds like not a typical Graves's experience.

So as someone with a different chronic illness that does sometimes affect my cognition, I prefer it when my husband says "Sweety, I think you may be too woozy to make a good decision right now" when he thinks that's the case. I would ask your SO if they would prefer something similar---not "you're acting crazy" of course, but maybe "you seem really tense right now; should we plan to talk about this some other time?" or like that. Just putting that out there.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:13 PM on September 5, 2012

I'm going to go against the grain and say that yes, extreme moods and difficulty controlling emotions are sometimes symptoms of Grave's disease. The Wikipedia page. I have Grave's disease and while mine is a fairly mild case without those symptoms, my father also likely had it, and did display emotional problems. He died without treatment or diagnosis, but he did have the opthalomopathy, his autopsy showed borderline brain abnormality, and once I was diagnosed and read up on Grave's...a lifetime of his unpredictable behavior started to make sense.

However, I'd like to emphasize that he was untreated. If your partner is taking something (to me, too, "hormone pills" should be "anti-thyroid pills"), and still having these huge mood's not working. Your partner should set up a new treatment plan at minimum, or even see a new endocrinologist, as well as a psychiatrist, to better manage their symptoms. In addition, it's far from impossible that your SO is suffering from psychological problems independent of Grave's, which is something to be determined by an endo and a psychiatrist working together on your partner's case.

Helping your partner get the proper treatment is the best support you can give. My partner had to push me for quite a while to push my doctor for a diagnosis of what was wrong with me, because after living with it for so long it just becomes part of life, even though you know it's not normal.
posted by syanna at 8:50 PM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have a related thyroid condition, and have had a boatload of symptoms, but none of them remotely approached violent mood swings. I echo the advice to rule out other medical issues that could be causing them.
posted by gingerbeer at 8:51 PM on September 5, 2012

I have Graves' and your SO's symptoms sound very familiar to me. It started with massive anxiety, wild mood swings (feeling fine one moment, in pit of despair the next), and yes, irrational and aggressive behaviour towards my boyfriend. Very minor things would set me off - one forgotten sock on the floor and I'd go into HULK SMASH mode, stomping around, launching into tirades about his laziness and his many other (so I thought at the time!) character faults. Sick of my lashing out at him, he gave me an ultimatum - start seeing a therapist, or he'd leave. It was only then, when I went to the doctor for a referral, that I was diagnosed.

How long has your SO been on medication? The symptoms should be getting better, although I understand it may take a while for the thyroid levels to go back to normal (I was lucky and responded really well and quickly to the treatment). Before my lab results came back, I was actually prescribed Citalopram for the anxiety, and that helped me a lot even before the thyroid medicine kicked in. Maybe that would be an option your SO could discuss with their doctor.

As for how you can help - I think "not holding it against them" is a very good start. Looking back, I am very embarassed about how I treated my boyfriend and it helps that he understands that my actions were not representative of my true self. At the same time, you need to look out for yourself, of course. I don't know what would have happened if he hadn't set that ultimatum, but I am very grateful that he did.
posted by Lost Sock at 12:56 AM on September 6, 2012

My mom has Graves' disease. Her symptoms were all over the place before she was diagnosed and found the right treatment. I think the best thing you can do is learn about the disease and then be patient -- it is a disease that can take some time to get under control. Like the other posters above, I am not familiar with hormones being used as a treatment. I would really, really encourage your SO to seek a second opinion. Among many other symptoms, my mom also had mood swings and anxiety which have diminished using beta blockers and Methimazole (an anti-thyroid medication). In the meantime, it sounds like you're doing a good job, though the physical aspects of the mood swings you describe sounds troubling. I would sit your SO down and agree on a gameplan for those kinds of moments, while stressing that you understand that it's a part of her disease and you want to make things work. You might find this webpage useful and it might be useful for your SO to read it too.
posted by saltwater at 7:08 AM on September 6, 2012

I am glad to hear others weigh in about their experiences. I hope your partner gets appropriate treatment and that these symptoms/experiences abate. Your partner is lucky to have a partner like you.
posted by slmorri at 6:00 PM on September 6, 2012

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