Early last year I was faced with an irrefutable feeling that something in my body just didn’t feel right.
I had been experiencing hot flushes, skin rashes and intermittent joint pain that I just chalked up to being sore from the gym. It all came to an uncomfortable head that I just couldn’t ignore any longer and when I was finally honest with myself. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt truly comfortable in my own body.
Truth be told as I pieced the timeline together I had been experiencing some form of inflammation since I was diagnosed with psoriasis in my early 20’s. It was at this point I had to come to terms with the fact that I was experiencing autoimmunity and needed to take action to figure out what exactly was going on so I could heal myself. The purpose of this post is to talk about my own personal experience with autoimmunity in the hopes that it might help someone else out there overcome, what can be, a frustrating and lonely road to healing. The good news is this story has a happy ending and a new beginning.
What is autoimmunity?
Autoimmunity means your immune system has lost the ability to differentiate between you and foreign invaders it’s meant to protect you from. It develops when your immune system decides your healthy cells are foreign and begins to attack cells, body tissue and eventually your organs in extreme cases. The signs and symptoms are so varied that autoimmune diseases are often missed all together.
Autoimmune conditions and how they’re diagnosed
Autoimmune diseases are tricky to diagnose as the symptoms of one may overlap with another, or several others. You could have fatigue, hot flushes, rashes and joint paint as your main symptoms, but those symptoms could also match with numerous other autoimmune diseases making it difficult to diagnose and treat. You could literally go down a rabbit hole chasing inflammation around your body with little to no improvement. Our current medical model, although evolving, will do just that- treat symptoms by throwing medication after medication at symptoms rarely getting to the root of the problem.
It’s common to have more than one autoimmune disease, in fact once you have one it’s much easier to have more. In my situation I was first diagnosed with psoriasis in my early 20’s. The first flare up was the worst, but after some dietary changes and help from a naturopath I was mostly clear within 1 year. A decade later I found myself with new signs of autoimmunity. First there was a feeling heat, like a fever. I often woke up hot and thirsty and couldn’t sleep. It progressed into a butterfly shaped red rash on my face, and niggling full body aches. I had ridges in my finger nails that I hadn’t had before and I generally felt like I was falling to pieces. After years of feeling healthy and strong, I was at rock bottom. Thankfully I finally snapped into practitioner-mode and got myself to a doctor to run some blood tests.
Autoimmune diseases are diagnosed through a collection of signs and symptoms and various lab tests. The first stop is usually to the GP to run some basic blood tests. Depending on the result of these tests your doc may send you on to a rheumatologist. A rheumatologist is a specialist physician who has expertise in diagnosing and treating autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, the most common being arthritis. Off I went to see the rheumatologist for more testing to rule out or include, lupus, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and psoriatic arthritis. Based on the symptoms I presented with, these were some possibilities that my rheumatologist considered. I left with a battery of test referrals in my hands and off I went to learn more about what was happening in my body.
Current treatment options
Depending on the severity of an autoimmune disease treatment options could include, lifestyle changes, natural therapies like Naturopathy and Chinese medicine, physical therapy, medications and/or surgery. Some people are in so much pain that they need steroids to keep them going while others can manage to live a relatively fare-up free life by just changing their diet. The fact is, there is no cure-all. There is no magic pill that will cure your autoimmune disease. In fact that’s often the first thing you’re told when diagnosed with autoimmunity, there is no cure.
Autoimmunity cannot be cured, it can be reversed!
This is a hot topic in the medical world right now. There are a few doctors, that I know of, who have written books on the subject. I’ve listed them in the resource section of this post. Some of them have reversed their own autoimmunity and are now dedicated to helping their patients do the same. The first book I started with was “Solving the Autoimmune Puzzle” by Dr Keesha Ewers. She talks about reversing autoimmunity like building a puzzle. First you solve the 4 corners of the puzzle, which she considers the root cause of disease. They are, genetics, leaky gut, environmental toxins and trauma. The key is to address the four corners and by doing so uncover the root causes, confront the data, connect the dots and create your life with intention.
How you choose to solve your own puzzle is entirely up to you, but I will say in all honestly, it was a deep and introspective process for me. It was less about diagnosing my specific autoimmune disease and more about figuring out how I got there to begin with. At some point I turned away from trying to find a name for it and just start systematically dealing with my sh*t. I sought help from a functional medicine practitioner, my colleagues at Mornington Chinese Medicine and an NLP practitioner (Neuro Linguistic Programming). I changed my diet, my internal dialogue and cleaned up my act in general. And damn do I feel better for it! No more aching body, sleepless nights and red itchy skin. I can honestly say I’m slowly but surely reversing my autoimmunity.
Causes of an autoimmune disease
Interestingly enough I found the causes of autoimmunity changed for me as I started doing the work to get my health back. The most commonly accepted explanation is that your genes are the main cause of autoimmunity. You either have the gene for rheumatoid arthritis, or you don’t. The other school of thought is that your genetics load the gun and your environment pulls the trigger. Environment in this statement includes, your home life (past/present), trauma (past/present), internal dialogue, state of mind, availability of nutritious food options, toxic load- which could include all of the above as well as the multitude of chemicals found in countless products that we use daily.
With this in mind consider how past trauma that’s been repressed for years, combined with a diet low in nutrient dense foods and day to day toxins might lead to the presentation of inflammation in the body. It will take believing that the mind-body connection is the legitimate crux that affects our overall health and wellbeing. It’s not so far-fetched when you see all of these moving parts come together right before your eyes. For me it was making changes across the board. In no particular order I addressed the big old toxic dump that was my thoughts and feelings, cleaned up my diet, worked on my gut health and began tossing products that were laden with chemicals that would put stress on my liver.
If this post has opened up some questions for you, then please reach out. Start wherever you feel most comfortable, but certainly enlist the help of a experienced healthcare practitioners, friends and family. Sometimes it takes a village, but you can be certain you will feel so much gratitude in your life once you clear out the junk that’s holding you back.
The human body is amazing and healing IS possible!
“Solving the Autoimmune Puzzle” by Dr Keesha Ewers
“The Autoimmune Solution” by Dr Amy Meyers
“Dirty Genes” by Dr Ben Lynch
Andrea is available for consultation at Mornington Chinese Medicine on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
To book please call ph: 5973 6886.