Living with Autoimmune Disease
Autoimmune disease is when your own body attacks itself. Your body starts creating antibodies and attacks its own tissues. When the immune system becomes compromised, the body starts losing its ability to fight the real enemies. Science and doctors are still trying to figure out why this happens, but they haven’t found any definite answers. The one thing they have identified is, that our immune system triggers some kind of physical reaction in the body. This reaction causes then systemic inflammation, in other word chronic inflammation in the body.
I know from personal experience, when you are at your doctors’ and you want some answers, the last thing you want to hear is “your condition is caused by an autoimmune disease”. Unfortunately most of the time, that basically means there is very little they can do for you, because there is no cure for most autoimmune diseases, only control of symptoms. This is why finding relief from my real difficult symptoms have been a journey of trial and error. I have found some solutions that have helped me. I have learned along the way, that we are all individuals, and what may work for one, may not be ideal for someone else.
Autoimmune diseases are becoming more common.
Some researchers are starting to see that perhaps the western diet has something to do with it. Others are looking at environmental issues that are causing the change in human bodies. And then there are those who are looking at the hygiene factor, saying that we have created clean freak societies which have lead to, not having enough contact with germs.
Could it be Lifestyle?
The interesting thought behind all this research is, that all the potential causes are linked to our modern day lifestyle and eating habits. I know of many people around me who have started having health challenges just in the last decade. Most of us are aware of some of the culprits in our lives. Challenge is, speaking from experience, that its easy to stick with what we are used to. It has been really hard to rewire my way of thinking. As I have made some small changes in my every day routines, I have gradually come to notice the positive impact it has had on my health.
Some will argue that there is the family history factor to consider as well. I totally agree with them. I believe if parents have health conditions, or even just one parent, then even if it skips one generation, you will potentially see it in the grand kids. Unfortunately that has been the case in our family. I have multiple autoimmune diseases/conditions and have seen this pass on to our children and now even to some of our grandchildren. I have seen this pattern in many families around me, one generation after another.
Some of the common autoimmune diseases
- Celiac disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type 1 diabetes
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Addison’s disease
There are over 100 autoimmune diseases and conditions.
The most classic behavior of autoimmune disease, is that the symptoms can go thru periods of remission and then a period of real major flare ups. This is why battling with my immune system has been real stressful and frustrating, both for me as well as my doctors.
These are some of the symptoms I have lived with (and still occasionally battle with)
- Feeling tired or fatigued
- Joint aches, weakness and pain
- Dry skin, feet and hands
- Stomach pain, bloating and cramping
- Constipation or Diarrhea
- Digestive issues
- Light Fever
- Swollen Glands
- Weight gain
- Anxiety and depression
- Brain fog
Battling with Symptoms
There are dozens of other symptoms that can occur depending on your specific diagnosis . Usually narrowing down to one specific diagnose can be the greatest challenge at times. I have also had doctors say that they see the inflammation and understand the symptoms, but cannot identify the exact cause. After battling for decades with my own health while trying to help some of my own children and friends, I have come to terms with some of my own findings. There are tons of research and opinions out there regarding this matter, and based off my experiences and research, this is what I have learned.
I have read many hard definitions on what chronic systemic inflammation is. My basic understanding is, that the genetics and the predisposition plays a major role in how our bodies react to inflammation. There has been several studies made about the different cells in our bodies, whose primary job is to control and help the immune system. So basically, the inflammation that is triggered in a body is due to its inability to generate enough “good” cells to fight the battles. Consequently when our immune system is in need of those good cells to fight against the foreign invaders, (who now thinks the good cells are the germs), the body goes in attack mode against its own tissue. This creates an environment for the inflammation to thrive.
Can inflammation be controlled?
I have discovered that this is one of those hot topics, where science and alternative or integrative medicine disagree over. Michelle Petri, a rheumatologist and a director of the Johns Hopkins Lupus Center, has studied about the impact of the different levels of inflammation in the body for decades. In her findings she has gradually discovered the possibility of how lifestyle, such as diet and exercise may have an effect. But despite all the research, inflammation “remains a mystery” says Petri.
Years of trial and error, I found that certain treatment option may be right for one person may not be the best for me and true the other way around. The traditional approach is, medication and the alternative approach is change of lifestyle. Either way, neither one is easy. I have also come to accept, that neither one takes away all the symptoms. But I owe it to myself, to find the best road map that is right for me. So, “Not everyone fits the mold ” can’t be more true.
After years of trying to find relief by way of traditional medicine, I researched the alternative route and found a great integrative medicine doctor. Together we made a plan, and now 4 years later, I have understood and experienced, that I can manage my symptoms to a certain degree and beyond that, well, that is beyond me. But now I feel more at peace. I still live with chronic pain, but now I can function. I can now enjoy my kids, grand kids and my hobbies, where as I couldn’t before.
Living with chronic pain
There are many realities associated with living with an autoimmune disease and chronic pain. Chronic pain can have a tremendous negative impact on relationships, the ability to work and social life. I have had some people say to me , “It’s just in you head, just get over it!! I’ve also watched four of our five children struggling (at times real severe) with digestive issues. This has forced me to try to understand better and find some solutions to chronic pain and symptoms. In reality living with pain just stinks! It means that, just because I went grocery shopping now I can’t dead head my flowers in my garden that I love. And just because I sat thru an entire movie, my husband has to help me get off the couch. It also means that I have to cook my meals at home 340+ days of the year(even when I don’t feel good enough). I have to cook at home because eating out leads most of the time either to bathroom or bed. Chronic pain has also caused me to feel depressed and isolated from my environment for no apparent reason.
I may not have all the answers to what causes autoimmune diseases, nor how to cure myself, but I have learned that by taking small steps towards changing my lifestyle, I have been able to feel hopeful. Because at the end of every day, all I want is to know, that everything is going to be alright. That I’m not alone in my suffering. That there are people out there that understand me and that all I have to worry about is, TODAY. Today is the day that I will try to enjoy the small things. This is day I will try one new thing that I couldn’t yesterday. Today is the day that I will look up to Heaven and thank God that I am alive. Even though I wanted to do so much more, I have to say “Well done, you really did awesome this day!”