You've Been Diagnosed with an Autoimmune Disease... now what?
Go ahead, babe. Take a deep breath.
I know you’ve been living in pain and shame, trying to find answers and relief. Maybe you’re still looking for a diagnosis or maybe you just heard those fateful words from your doctor “autoimmune disease.” You’re likely feeling overwhelmed with how you’re going to move on and what the worst case scenario involves. Or anger that you have to shoulder this burden and wondering why it had to happen to you. Or an intense wave of sadness that none of your hopes, dreams, and goals will ever come true and you’re doomed to spend the rest of you life like this. You’re wondering if chronic illness really means like, forever. And maybe a smidge satisfied that you’re finally validated with a diagnosis after years of trying to explain your symptoms.
Whatever you’re feeling, feel it. Don’t try to push it down or muscle through, because these emotions tend to bottle up and can get in the way with your healing process. There’s probably a lot of advice and two-cents being thrown in your direction. There’s a lot to unpack and you should take the time you need to
It’s still extremely painful for me to think back to the time when I was given my autoimmunity diagnoses, Psoriatic Arthritis and Sjogren’s Syndrome. I was in so much pain and deeply unhappy. While it was validating to be given a diagnosis it wasn’t followed up with solutions that sounded like they were going to do much good. The only option the doctor played out for me was a pharmaceutical drug that I would have to take for the rest of the life - that might work in reducing my pain. The scary list of side effects was so overwhelming to me and I knew in my gut there had to be another way.
So I took some time and that’s how I found the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), the healing diet that helped me live a life without pain. From my initial diagnosis to when I changed my diet and adopted a healing lifestyle, I took six months to research and grieve and while my condition did deteriorate I felt that taking that time to get clear on what I wanted from my life was key in me being able to start AIP and never look back.
I still have my bad days and I tend to flare after periods of high stress (hi finals) or travel, but my life is radically better since focusing my energy on my health. I hope you find some comfort in these lessons I learned through my diagnosis and share your own below so we can all support each other on this journey.
The pain and symptoms you are feeling are real, no question about that. But our minds also play an important role in the way our symptoms manifest. If we believe that we are sick and there’s no chance we are going to get better, even with all the healing magic progress will still be delayed. You know I’m all about feeling your feels and allowing yourself the time to grieve and be angry. In the midst of that, allow yourself to feel hope. Start each day with a positive affirmation “I am healing” or “I trust my body to tell me what it needs.” It’s amazing how shifting your perspective from one of discouragement to optimism can reap physical benefits in the body.
2017 was the year I started AIP and I called it my “year of healing.” That whole year any time I was making a decision I asked myself “will this bring me closer to health?” and if the answer was no, I put myself first. I said no to social plans, I quit my job, I applied for a masters program to learn more about holistic nutrition - all things that helped restore my health by adopting the mindset of healing.
I found it really helpful to fully understand my disease and what it meant to have an autoimmune disease in general. I highly recommend consulting books or scholarly articles instead of Dr. Google. Without fully understanding what is happening, it can be really scary and anxiety inducing. Find a doctor that you 100% feel is in your corner and supportive of the path you choose to take to heal. I feel so supported by my doctor so much so that I’ve continued to see her via Skype from Portland after I moved from North Carolina. Find a doctor that is patient and answers all your questions, who educates you on all the treatment options and allows you to make an informed decision, and who empowers you to take charge of your health. I definitely give credit to the diet recommendations, supplements, and protocols she has had me on to improve my health, but the encouragement my doctor gives me helps me to keep going on this path. You can find a functional medicine practitioner in your area by searching www.ifm.org.
If your budget allows supportive therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, or counseling this can be a comforting way to receive care in between visits with your doctor or for more immediate pain relief while you’re trying out new protocols. Build yourself a team and remember to always go with your gut.
USE YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM
Find your people and lean into them. I felt a lot of shame and embarrassment as a 22 year old being diagnosed with arthritis and the last thing I wanted to do was tell my friends who were all living seemingly normal, fun social lives that I was struggling. But that’s exactly what I needed to do. I found my tribe, the people who were really there for me and understood the best they could what I was going through. Friendships shift and it’s important to include the people in your circle who support healing and want the best for you.
If you feel totally isolated and that no one understands you, look to social media. We live in an age where we are no longer limited by our geographic location to the friends in our lives. I’ve loved being able to connect with people all over the world who are on a healing path with autoimmunity. Some of my favorite hashtags for finding fellow are #autoimmunewarrior, #autoimmunepaleo, and #autoimmunedisease.
FINDING A NEW NORMAL
This one is important. Life will be different, but it will still be beautiful. You might need to give up something you love and trust me, I know how hard that can be. Before I was diagnosed, I was a group fitness instructor and it was an identity that I held close to my heart. I was teaching 4-5 times a week high impact, high energy classes and I loved it. With my arthritis, that type of exercise makes me flare and I’ve had to let that part of me go. I was angry about it for a long time but I was able to find yoga which I now also love. Life changes and our obstacles sometimes end up pushing us to find other ways to find joy in our lives - we just have to let them. I now count my autoimmune disease as one of my biggest blessings. It gave me the chance to reevaluate my life. I changed my life from stress, pain, and anxiety to one filled with balance, energy, and contentment. The struggles truly make us stronger my friends, this is only your beginning.
The Paleo Approach - Dr. Sarah Ballantyne
Autoimmune Wellness Handbook - Mickey Trescott & Angie Alt
The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook - Mickey Trescott
He Won’t Know It’s Paleo - Bre-anna Emmitt
The Healing Kitchen - Alaena Haber & Sarah Ballantyne
Nourished - Racheal Bryant
You are never ever alone on this journey, love. Hit the comment button below and let me know how you’re doing - have you recently been diagnosed or have any advice for someone who is just beginning their healing journey?