When I was around 11, I woke up and my eyes were swollen shut. My mom took me to the eye doctor, who recommended I wash my eyes with baby shampoo if this ever cropped up again. He diagnosed me with something I couldn’t pronounce, but the solution seemed simple enough, and it wasn’t until later that I realized I had been given my first autoimmune diagnosis. One of many to come.
My Autoimmune Diseases
- Blepharitis – affects the eyes, swollen red lids, was diagnosed around 11 (2003 ish) and have not had it crop up again until this last month of my life (April- May 2017)
- Psoriasis – severe chronic plaque psoriasis was my diagnosis at age 14, (around 2006). The scaley, itchy skin condition used to affect my knees and elbows and has always (to this day) been primarily a plague to my scalp. This is the condition that I would say affects my daily quality of life most dramatically.
- Eczema – stress induced, it has mostly been on my neck, at several points of high school and college
- Cysts – the first one I had in 2015 and had to get stitches, and have had more since without medical intervention.
- Psoriatic arthritis – something with my joints I began to notice and feel in 2016, a swelling and morning ache that accompanies bouts of severe psoriasis
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – cysts on both ovaries, likely rendering me infertile and causing extreme pain when a cyst bursts. I was diagnosed with this condition in April 2017.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – December 2017
I am just a barrel of laughs, right?
Actually, I don’t often focus on my AIs, although it is something I deal with every single day, making part of my habits and routines look a little different from others.
But it’s a big part of my health struggles and part of the bone level changes I mentioned when I created this blog, because I want to talk about this.
I never cared about my own health in my life. It was my absolute last priority, after every other thing possible. It just seemed like a waste of time. Exercise was something to do with friends or occasionally to clear your head, eating healthy was something you rolled your eyes and did occasionally when you start to feel sick after the continuous fried foods and processed snacks.
I did dance for 14 years of my life, as well as volleyball, soccer, and basketball. I dabbled in track and field – I loved hurdles and hated running, and tried tennis but mostly watched my sister excel in that arena. I tried several things during college, from the school gym to Crossfit, post-college tried Koko FitClub in Massachusetts, back in Dallas switched from ClassPass (yoga, spin, aerial hammock) to the apartment gym – slogged an hour of cardio during the Summer/ Fall 2016, then gave that up too. I couldn’t find anything since dance to really stick as an enjoyable, affordable, and sustainable way to get myself moving.
I ate a lot as a kid. I loved food. I depended on it for comfort and definitely had an unhealthy relationship with food, but spitefully resisted any changes my family tried to get me to make. I never learned how to make my own food until I lived in rural Massachusetts for a year and had to learn or starve, as the closest grocery store was 8 miles away and the closet restaurant or fast food place was well beyond that. So I taught myself to cook and fell in love with preparing my meals and hosting others. I still never erred towards the healthy. Randomly, on August 31st, 2015, I cracked open the Whole 30 book I had received for Christmas the year before and decided to start my first Whole 30 on September 1st. I did my next one in March 2016. It did help to reset my thinking around food in some ways. But In January 2017, I was reading The Healing Kitchen and discovered for the first time that the way I was eating, what I was eating, could have a significant impact on my autoimmune conditions, and influence their severity and improvement positively or negatively.
My mind was blown. For some reason that idea had never been presented to me. Eat healthy, exercise, sure. Eat this, cause inflammation in your body, watch it all burn, avoid it, eat this instead, see everything improve? I had no clue that has an option, and frankly, I felt robbed.
Robbed of a chance to make a healthy decision for myself – based on something other than external pressure of the media, sample sizes expectations, and societal and social advantages to be small / or at least smaller.
Yes, I could’ve done the research and found motivation from countless other sources – but I did not want to be “healthy” because I perceived it as something other people wanted for me because they wanted me to be different than how I was, and that made me feel unloved for who I was in that moment. I could not see their self-improvement suggestions as heartfelt and caring – it’s still hard for me to take constructive criticism about my body and weight even from doctors who have no skin in the game of my life.
Reading books and online literature, listening to podcasts, looking at blogs, I saw what had been under my nose for the past 2 years – trying a strict, thorough, temporary medical elimination eating method, while focusing on increasing nutrient density, improving sleep amount and quality, movement and sunlight exposure, reducing stressors, and cultivating community (been nailing that last one for a while 😉 – this was the AIP lifestyle in a nutshell, and these factors, when monitored and course corrected, could help? Why not give it my best shot?
February 1st, some ladies in my community group started a month of Whole 30. I started eating AIP – autoimmune protocol. Today, May 8th, 2017, I am still going with no plans to stop. It is hard. Mostly because spice. But also because ice cream. And queso. But also because social gatherings where I have a club soda with lime… and that’s it. And because another load of dishes to unload… again. Because I am cooking every meal I eat, all the time. Nothing comes any way but raw. There are no shortcuts to eating this way.
But I also know exactly what I am eating. And so it’s no longer causing my body to spike in inflammation from food! Now, of course, this is a not a panacea, nothing is, and there are so many contributors to inflammation – sleep, stress, mental health, community, exercise, time outside, macro and micro nutrient density. But food is fuel and can act as an important pillar of health and ameliorating conditions like autoimmune!
It’s taken me a while to write this post – it’s June 4th now. I am going on a trip soon with my family to Utah, stopping in Kansas City beforehand to see some dear friends and then doing an in town mission trip in early July. I “eat out” with friends still (water and lots of reassuring smiles) and hang out with friends daily – it just requires a little more forethought and preparation. I acknowledge both time and preparation are luxuries and I am fortunate to have them, but I will say it gets much easier with practice. It seemed very overwhelming at first, and was emotionally, socially, mentally, and physically draining. But I took a step back and reevaluated and gave myself some re-prioritization, and some permission to live my life differently and not fear being a burden to anyone else. I know I will not be eating strict AIP forever, and living this way is helping me to be more intentional with every choice I make to help my body and give it the best fighting chance I can while still loving and living my life!
In the future, I will be writing about my AIs, AIP, and more. In the meantime, The Paleo Mom is a great place to start to learn more about AIP eating and lifestyle, and the science behind the whys!