How to be spiritual when you have low thyroid hormone?
September 22, 2019 6:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm wondering how spiritual people would reconcile the following: I've had low thyroid this week, and it has dramatically altered my ability to feel "centered" and connected to something greater like I usually have the capacity to feel when I am healthy and chemically/hormonally where I should be. If my experience of spirituality is so fragile, is it real? If low thyroid can so affect my (and anyone's) experience of God and peace and joy, etc., how can I trust my experiences in times of balance? What if all I was experiencing was the health of my body? And how big can God be if we have to be balance chemically and hormonally in order to experience him?
posted by ygmiaa to Religion & Philosophy (18 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: -- cortex

I think you may be talking about two different things here: "how can I deal with my spirituality in times when my body is weak" and "how can I trust what I felt when my body was more hale and hearty".

We all have human imperfect bodies, and instances of poor health or any other body quirks will affect our ability to do anything. You are focusing on how low thyroid affects your connection to the Divine; but I suspect it is also affecting other areas of your life as well. You would also have other effects from things like hunger, having a cold, having broken your ankle, an itchy nose, etc. Any one of a thousand things that your body does can impact your experience of spirituality - heck, I broke wind in the middle of a prayer the other night and the timing made me giggle and it killed the mood. I suspect, too, that you haven't been concerned by how an empty stomach may have affected your experience of spirituality; so to me that suggests that you've found a way to accept that your stomach may not always cooperate with your spiritual concerns. I'd then add your thyroid as well, if that's the case.

Because I firmly believe that God understands. That's the line I added to my prayer the other night after...the incident: "Welp, God, you gave me a human body, and sometimes human bodies just do that." You're trying your best to connect with God, and on days you have a low thyroid it's just a little more difficult, but you still try. It's the effort God looks at, I believe.

Also - you ask "how big can God be if we have to be chemically balanced to meet him". Our physical imperfections can affect how we relate to God, but that isn't a sign of the size of God - only a sign of our ability to see Him. Like, if you have a pair of binoculars with a smudge on one lens, it'll be difficult to see what you're looking at, but that difficulty isn't because the thing you're looking at got blurry itself, that difficulty is because the tool you're using to look at it has something going on with it. In other words - it's not that God is smaller, it's that your body is just giving you a bit of an extra challenge at the moment.

All you can do is your best. And God knows you're trying.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:46 PM on September 22, 2019 [9 favorites]

It seems to me that if God exists then they exist independently of your ability to experience them.

By analogy, my brother lives in another city. I do not need to see or hear him to know that he still exist, and I have every expectation that I will see him again in the future.
posted by JDHarper at 7:49 PM on September 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

You may want to check out The Neuroscience of Religion on Wikipedia.
posted by alex1965 at 8:03 PM on September 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

There’s a book called How to be Sick that deals with chronic illness from a Buddhist perspective. How much of that you might find useful depends on your ability to translate spiritual concepts from another path to your own path, but I think it may have something for you, especially in the aspects of finding spiritual learning in the times when your body and/or mind are afflicted.
posted by matildaben at 8:15 PM on September 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

If my experience of spirituality is so fragile, is it real?

A different question to consider: why does it matter?
posted by aramaic at 8:37 PM on September 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is what faith is.

It is now time to critically examine your beliefs.
It is now time to line up all of your spiritual experiences.

Then you ask yourself: what do I truly believe, when put to the test?

You will either come out with deeper faith or doubt away from faith but it’s a necessary exercise either way.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:40 PM on September 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

I don't think anyone can answer these questions definitively for someone else. Everyone has to decide this stuff for themselves. Believing in a higher power is comforting & helpful to some people and isn't to other people, just like drinking coffee & wearing socks around the house. The only wrong answers are if you're using your beliefs to justify hurting others.
posted by bleep at 10:33 PM on September 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

The loss of peace and joy (associated with low thyroid or otherwise) is generally classified as depression. Depression is one way that we frame the disconnect you're describing. The nature of our bodies and our minds affects how we perceive all, including our dearly held beliefs. You won't always experience God the same way as your mind and body alter in their own ways. This doesn't mean God's fundamental nature has changed.
posted by RainyJay at 11:38 PM on September 22, 2019 [9 favorites]

I'm not remotely spiritual but it seems that what you describe is universal, and very familiar to someone with depression. For me it manifests not as a lack of connection to God, but as the inability to enjoy things I usually enjoy. Even Darwin, an accomplished scientist, once wrote: "I am very poorly today, and very stupid and hate everybody and everything." Hypothyroid and depression notwithstanding, we can't all be our best selves at all times. Sometimes you have to acknowledge that you feel bad and that it will pass. If it doesn't pass, that's when you seek help.

You might not be experiencing a crisis of faith so much as just a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week. It's generally not a great idea to make any life changing decisions while in this state. If it helps, I recommend writing down your thoughts and worries just to get them out, but also so that later you can't pretend it didn't happen. It's still you, in a good mood or a bad one. You can't have a concept of good without the bad to contrast it with, after all. And in a weird way, it all helps you appreciate the good that much more.
posted by Acey at 12:25 AM on September 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Like you I have found that feeling connected to the Universe is infinitely easier when I am healthy and happy. It could be argued that that is the whole point — we are encouraged to take care of ourselves body and soul and the reward is feeling that connection.

There are times when we do not feel the connection, but that doesn’t mean it stopped existing. It just means that we personally are not in a place to feel it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:19 AM on September 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

And how big can God be if we have to be balance chemically and hormonally in order to experience him?

C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters has some great passages on the experience of cyclical "dry times" in human spirituality. Apparently it's extremely common, and many saints record having felt these periodically, sometimes for long periods.
posted by Bardolph at 3:26 AM on September 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

This is what having a spiritual practice is for: keeping you connected (if you want to be) to spirituality when you're not always going to have the direct experience of spirituality.
posted by lokta at 4:35 AM on September 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

God is like the moon - there whether you see it or not. If God exists, then God exists.

I'd say that the whole point or comforting aspect of faith is the idea that something meaningful and bigger than us exists and doesn't depend on us. The good is still the good, even if we act badly - it doesn't depend on us. We're frail and little and partial; we see as through a glass darkly, right?

I'd also say that spirituality/ethics/etc is work. We're not like plants, where growing and being are our ethics. We grow and be but the rest of it is effort - maybe not effort like lifting a rock or studying for the GRE, but still a matter of thought and focus rather than purely following our bliss at any given moment. A change in our conditions for the worse - whatever that is - makes it harder or perhaps impossible for a while. That's not the universe; it's our partial experience.
posted by Frowner at 4:40 AM on September 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

And how big can God be if we have to be balance chemically and hormonally in order to experience him?

I mean, my own take on this is ...probably there isn't a god, in the traditional sense at the very least? But likely not even in the less traditional senses, and rather what people have named "god" is just an overall sense of peace and well-being brought about under particular circumstances or by particular patterns of thought.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:38 AM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have hypothyroidism, and I can empathize with how you feel. I did not personally experience a loss of the feeling of spiritualty, or maybe I did but would phrase it differently. I lost some of the feeling that things "matter" or "are important" or that I could influence them. I often feel small, helpless and essentially unseen.

I don't know if you have long term hypothyroidism or if this is a temporary problem for you, but I would like to note that there have been recent studies about this (depression symtpoms in people with hypothyroidism). Treatment with hormones is aimed at getting your thyroid levels to a specific number that alleviates most of the physical symptoms. I think this is a reasonable approach but they're finding that people still have mental symptoms at these levels, and that many people may need higher dosages to feel "right"

I'm currently in long term discussions with my doctor about this, and I'm hoping that it can get resolved one way or another. It is really hard to look at myself a year ago and see how different I felt and acted.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:25 AM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Do you have a spiritual counselor/priest/minister/rabbi/imam/pastoral care person that you can talk about this with in person? This is precisely the kind of thing they are trained to do. And reaching out to a person in real life, not just on the internet, might help if your brain/body chemistry are making you feel depressed.
posted by matildaben at 10:44 AM on September 23, 2019

I'm hypothyroid, and also a priestess and witch in a religious witchcraft tradition (so besides my own stuff, started dealing with my thyroid foo when I was teaching and doing group stuff with other people, and after a period of mostly solo stuff, doing group stuff again now.)

There are two things about thyroid stuff: one is that thyroid hormones affect huge amounts of stuff in your body, at some level. The second is that if they're out of whack, in most people, that out of whack has been going on for a while before it got to a point of diagnosis. (Mine was on and off an issue for c. 15 years as far as I can tell before I got someone to diagnose it and give me meds.)

On a religious level, it definitely changed things for me - specifically, for years after diagnosis, the thing I couldn't make work for me (where it had before) was guided meditations/pathworkings (the kind of thing where you go into a scene, talk to beings/experience stuff/etc.) I just - couldn't get there. Even though I'd done so in the past.

When I got diagnosed, I went out to dinner with two of my religious community elders, and they told me other people they knew with thyroid issues found that sometimes their bodies were conserving energy (because so much other stuff was harder - sometimes not a lot harder, but ... it's stuff we're doing and adapting to all the time, like metabolism and thermoregulation, and we don't really get a break from those ever!) And they suggested I be gentle with myself, and see what worked for me, and how it worked, and not assume that what used to work was still the thing.

Over the past couple of years (started meds in early 2010, this was 2017ish), the meditation stuff has started coming back more reliably, partly due to better thyroid treatment, partly due to me figuring out some other health stuff that's taking pressure off my body. I've had numinous experiences throughout, those moments of connection, but getting there has been taking different paths.

What helped me - which doesn't mean it will help you - was figuring out low-energy things that I could do routinely, and see what happened. I do a lot of spiritual stuff that is 'create this themed playlist when I have the focus, listen to it when I don't' or 'have this kind of book for when I've got the mental space for it' or noticing seasonal changes, that aren't a drag on me when I'm low-energy, or having a flare of thyroid stuff, or whatever. Having the habit, making a bit of space for it, has helped a lot, even if on any given day, there isn't a Big Moment.
posted by jenettsilver at 11:29 AM on September 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

I experience a similar thing, but it's caused by depression and anxiety rather than low thyroid function. I don't know if you're familiar with the Bloggess, but she has a mantra that "depression lies," and that's what I remind myself when depression is telling me that life is a meaningless, vicious fight to the death. Instead, I choose to believe the thoughts I think when my brain isn't malfunctioning.

I think you could make a similar case that "hypothyroidism lies."

(Also, someone mentioned C.S. Lewis here, and I do not belong to his spiritual tradition, but A Grief Observed is all about how he lost the felt presence of God for a long time after his wife died.)
posted by missrachael at 11:59 AM on September 23, 2019

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