How on earth can I say such a thing? I can say it because I live it, I have treated hundreds of patients with it and I diagnose it more often than I would like. Autoimmune Illness is truly an epidemic. It can also be a blessing if you learn to manage it.
If you have an Autoimmune Illness chances are that you have more than one. It’s like a rainbow, once you are on it you are basically an open door for any one of the hundreds of autoimmune illnesses to strike you without warning. In my opinion, it’s not longer about a single diagnosis, it’s more like “Welcome to Autoimmune Illness, join the club, your immune system is now attacking you.” Most doctors tell you that nothing can be done about it, that you will have it forever and that it will likely get worse. Many then try to hand you steroids as the only option.
I first heard those words in my early 20’s. I then spent the next decade believing them and living a fairly unhealthy life and feeling like a victim of some process that I had no control over. Things got worse, new autoimmune diagnosis racked up on me and I was in fear everyday. My weight was swinging, I had daily headaches, itchy skin, puffy face, depression, anxiety and so much pain.
All Autoimmune Illnesses have two things in common. 1) Your own immune system is attacking your own tissues. You are canabolizing yourself via your whacked out immune system. 2) At some level your Mitochondria are being destroyed. Mitochondria are your “cellular powerhouses” which create the energy that your cells, and hence your entire body, run on. This is bad news- your tissues and your mitochondria are under attack.
What’s a girl to do? Take back the control, that’s what this girl did!
Here is where I found the gift and blessing in all of this. You have nearly complete control over this whole process. It’s true and it’s shocking when I tell most patients and even other doctors this fact. The last MD I mentioned this to literally dropped his jaw in shock and shook his head like it was impossible.
You can call it whatever you want, “biohacking”, “clean living”, “balanced lifestyle”, etc. I call it being “dialed in”. When my body is dialed in for optimal function I know it because I feel optimal. I now know when my immune system is getting the best of me (I call these “flares”) and I know when I am messing with a good thing and pushing too hard for too long and a crash is imminent.
Here are my Top 7 Reasons for considering my Autoimmune Illnesses to be a gift and a blessing.
1) It keeps me honest
I can not eat poorly, neglect my sleep, neglect my personal downtime, work myself too hard or neglect daily movement.
As a Type A middle-aged woman (which most autoimmune people are) I have been known to burn the candle at both ends, then pop up new wicks to burn all along the length of the candle. I have been known to live off of processed food for decades, sleep only a handful of hours a night for extended periods of time, enjoy too many libations, chain smoke, overextend myself socially, had more work drive than most mortals and spent months on end plopped on a sofa eating carbs.
Now I don’t get to cheat on any of the above. I am subsequently in the best shape of my life, mentally and physically. I spend time daily working on each of the above points to keep my immune system in check. It’s all about modulation and balance. It’s a journey and a process, but a non-negotiable one if one wants to keep their immune system happy.
2) Pain is my Alarm Signal
Most autoimmune disease has a large component of connective tissue distruction and with that tends to come some level of pain for most of my autoimmune patients. For myself personally pain is a big factor. When my pain ramps up for no particular reason I know I’ve been taking poor care of my body, period. It feels like someone plugged my spine into a light socket and the pain fibers light up all the way up and down it like a Christmas Tree. I used to just live like this without a clue as to what was happening, which is a very scary place to live. Now I calmly think back 3-7 days and evaluate my diet, my sleep patterns, my exercise patterns and the people I’ve surrounded myself with (yes, people can be toxic and inflammatory to your immune system as well).
I am thankful for the pain signal now and no longer fear it. It’s an early warning that I am derailing and need to get back on target.
3) I Don’t Plan on Being Surprised By Illness Later in Life
Too many of my patients come to me in their 50’s with either a recent diagnosis of some degenerative disease process or I find it on testing. They are always shocked, like they’ve been living the life of a saint for decades and suddenly they now have diabetes. “How could this just happen?” they usually say. Well, it didn’t “just happen”, they’ve been working on it for decades. It takes years to get oneself into a health mess, it rarely just happens out of the blue. These people generally eat what I call the “Whatever Diet” meaning they eat whatever is around.
For us lucky autoimmune people who are taking great care of themselves, employing Conscious Eating, have strong body awareness and are striving towards balance, we feel imbalances fairly quickly. I can usually feel when things are off because I have a “flare” which generally involves pain in my case. I also monitor my insulin, blood sugar and inflammation levels like a hawk.
While I accept that I am not immune to degenerative illnesses, I do know that I am doing everything to keep my immune system modulated, my oxidation levels down and my mitochondria alive and well. This keeps me from being the ‘sitting duck’ that many people really are when they are not paying attention to their overall health and wellness on a daily basis throughout their lives.
4) Naps Whenever You Need Them!
That’s right! When exhaustion hits it’s time to bed down. Fighting through a bought of extreme fatigue when you are autoimmune is a sure way to crash and burn for days to weeks. When I am so tired that it hurts I go have a nap. Often it’s just 20-60 minutes somewhere quiet, but I give myself full permission to do it whenever I need it. I no longer ‘power through’ for the sake of it. Now, if I have a full day of patient care obviously I need to be on target, but on my off days I allow myself a full hour or more throughout the day just rest my bones. I often take this hour in the sun to soak up the Vitamin D if available.
Rest when you need it, you have permission.
5) Exercise is No Longer a Chore, It’s Medicine
No longer do I pursue exercise with excessive fervency to sweat off fat. Exercise is my medicine now. It’s well thought out, it’s specific, it no longer involves exhaustive cardio sessions and it’s designed with one goal in mind- make me strong and modulate my hormones, both of which modulate my immune system.
It is also not an option, it is mandatory. Daily movement of some sort is mandatory to keep things in check.
Exercise has a transient effect of up to 24 hours of being a potent anti-inflammatory! Which means you need to do it daily to keep that goodness going.
6) “No Drama” Policy
This makes life really easy. I do not have space in my immune system for toxic people or relationships. Therefore, if someone (a friend, a co-worker, a parent, etc) is causing drama, I have no qualms about walking away. Sometimes I walk away for a break and sometimes permanently. I used to feel terrible guilt when I had to end a unhealthy relationship, now I know it’s just what needs to happen. Part of this comes with age, however a big part of it for me is keeping my immune system balanced.
I am also keenly aware of what I call “Energetic Vampires”. These are people who live off of the energy of others or suck the life out of you. I can generally spot them now a mile away and I steer clear of them all together. These are not healthy people to be around when one has autoimmune illness.
7) Just Say NO
I’ve also learned to say NO quite well. I can’t help everybody with everything all of the time or I’ll crash. So I kindly say NO when I need to. I know my limits and I now respect them.
This may entail not getting involved in something or not attending an event that I know will drain me or leaving an event if I’m feeling tapped out or simply not getting involved in projects that I know will over-extend me. Guilt-free.
Try it, it’s liberating!
Those are my Top 7 Reasons that Autoimmune Illness has been a blessing in my life. Rather than feel disempowered or hopeless with this condition I have chosen to embrace it, live with it as symbiotically as possible and design a life of health and abundance. I now modulate my immune system as well as I can, rather than having it control me.
How do you embrace your autoimmune illness and find power and gratitude in it? Share in the comments below.
© Dr. Tyna Moore and www.corewellnesspdx.com, 2014-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Dr. Tyna Moore and www.corewellnesspdx.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.