(Originally written March 2015)
“As you can see,” she said, coming to sit next to me with her checklist, “you’re coming up with an autoimmune situation here.” My naturopathic practitioner smiled as she showed me the paper from my food test results and strangely I smiled too. I finally knew.
I had an instinct that I might have an autoimmune disorder because it often came up when I researched my myriad symptoms. But now I knew for sure what no doctor had been able to tell me in three years of appointments, exhaustive blood work, and ultrasounds. “Your blood work is fine, you’re in the normal range,” they would tell me again and again. “Yeah, your vitamin D is a little low, but it’s normal enough. Your thyroid panel looks good. I don’t feel this lump you’re talking about. Your heart and lungs sound great. Blood pressure excellent. Try drinking some chamomile tea, get some rest, relax, and you’ll be set.”
I had questioned myself and what I thought I was feeling. Maybe I’m a hypochondriac? But I never really believed that. The pain was too tangible, too real, too persistent. I had never been able to get away from the physical signs of arthritic pain in my joints, dizzy spells, insomnia, heart palpitations, panic, the chronic lump in my throat, constant bloating, abdominal pain, and muscle weakness.
Maybe this is just what getting older feels like…I am 36 after all. But that didn’t ring true either. I knew countless 30-something’s who were thriving. Why was I in so much pain and barely surviving?
So I talked a while longer with my new practitioner and together we came up with a life-altering plan to heal with whole food, a couple supplements, more sleep, yoga, exercise and guided imagery meditation. Many of these I had already begun at some point on my health journey, but never at this level of intensity and never for the long haul. For life.
Within a few days – even under tremendous circumstantial stress – I began seeing changes in my health. Abdominal bloating was eliminated. Gut pain gone. The lump in my throat (a symptom of chronic silent reflux and stress) subsided completely. I even found myself dreaming again, a sign that I was entering deeper, longer sleep cycles.
This journey has been painful – physically, mentally, emotionally, and relationally. It has been unpredictable. It has been isolating. It has been infuriating. I’ve been shamed, teased, told to put it in perspective, and encouraged to “just relax” and “be happy.” But through it all, I have known the truth. This isn’t my fault. This isn’t something to shrug off. This isn’t a fake-it-til-you-make-it kinda thing. I have learned to let the sickness, my anxiety, and my anger about it inform me, drive me, and even empower me. As a result, I know more about my strength, my courage, my wisdom, and the nearness and unconditional love of my Source than I ever could have without this resistance.
This is just the beginning of my journey of learning about autoimmunity, the beginning of co-existing with my particular concoction of disorders, which are still not fully diagnosed. I don’t know yet the extent to which these disorders have affected me, but I’m starting down a pathway of healing that has finally proven authentic, effective, and freeing.
March is Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month. There are 50 million sufferers of more than one hundred autoimmune diseases . . . 75% are women. There is no cure yet for autoimmune diseases; there is only coexistence with a goal of remission.
If you suspect that you have an autoimmune disease, make one of your first stops auto-immune paleo. Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt work extraordinarily hard to inform, guide, and counsel people living with autoimmune disease. They have created a beautiful tribe where those on the autoimmune healing journey feel a little less alone.
May we all journey on, being kind, for every one we meet is fighting a great battle.
Peace . . .
This post dedicated to:
Mel – one of the bravest, kindest, most authentic Autoimmune Warriors I know.
My mom – who folds my laundry, plays with my kids, and gives me hugs every week.
My husband – for being my sure and steady oak through these years of suspected and untreated autoimmunity and anxiety; for not giving up on me and for letting me just be me.