Autoimmune Disease Sucks…And You Can Handle It

I’m currently reading the book Diabetes Sucks And You Can Handle It by Dr. Mark Heyman, a psychologist who lives with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D). For those of you who don’t know, T1D is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system destroys the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. 

Although I don’t have type 1 diabetes myself, I started reading the book because I work for a continuous glucose monitoring company, which produces medical devices for those with diabetes to help them monitor their glucose levels. Reading about diabetes has given me some insight on what it’s like to live with this challenging chronic illness.

As I was reading Dr. Heyman’s book, I realized that there are a lot of similarities between living with T1D and other autoimmune conditions, like Sjogren’s Syndrome and Hidradenitis Suppurativa, which I live with. Being diagnosed with any kind of chronic health condition can be overwhelming, especially at first. You may think, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ or other unhelpful thoughts. Even after the initial shock of your diagnosis wears off, there is the ongoing challenge of having to live your ‘new normal’ of life with a disease. It can also impact your ability to do the work and activities that you love.

Dr. Heyman says that the first step to living well with diabetes is to first acknowledge that IT SUCKS. This may seem counterintuitive…after all, if you’re struggling with living with an illness, thinking about how much it sucks would only make things worse, right? But Dr. Heyman says that oftentimes, those with T1D try to ignore their disease, or to think positive thoughts only – this just doesn’t work. You can’t ignore your health problems as if that’ll make them going away. And trying to force yourself to only think positively is basically the definition of toxic positivity.

As Dr. Heyman explains, the best way to live well with diabetes is to acknowledge that although it sucks, you can handle it. Here is a brief excerpt from the boook:

You can handle T1D because you have T1D. I know this sounds like circular logic, but it isn’t. Diabetes is demanding. It requires a lot from you. And you are doing it. You may not be perfect, and it may not feel like you’re doing a great job at handling it. Feeling overwhelmed, and burned out are not signs that you can’t handle T1D. The fact that you’re still living your life and want to keep improving is strong evidence that you can handle the challenging parts of diabetes because that is exactly what you’ve been doing since being diagnosed.

I have never met anyone with T1D who isn’t stronger in some way because of diabetes. You know that managing this condition day in and day out means always being on your toes. You have to make important decisions about your health, pivot your strategy regularly, and keep going, no matter what. You are already doing this.

Sometimes it may feel like you’re not doing a perfect job, and of course, there is always room for improvement. But the reality is T1D has made you stronger. You have to be resilient to survive with diabetes. The fact that you live with T1D proves you are strong. I hope you see it too.

I found this passage to be pretty relatable as someone managing multiple chronic illnesses. You may sometimes feel overburdened by your disease, but at the same time, you are made stronger by the challenges it has put you through. Maybe you’ve also become more conscientious of your health than before you were diagnosed, or it’s led you to re-prioritize your life to make space for only the things that you truly love and care about. Seeing it through this perspective doesn’t mean ignoring how hard it is to live with a disease. Instead, it’s about acknowledging how strong YOU have become in the process of managing life with a disease.

Let us know in the comments below…how has living life with a chronic illness made you stronger or more resilient?

Actor Ashton Kutcher reveals autoimmune diagnosis

Actor Ashton Kutcher reveals he was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease. (Photo by Robin L Marshall/Getty Images)

Actor-turned-venture capitalist Ashton Kutcher recently revealed that he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease two years ago.

The That 70’s Show alum said that he was diagnosed with vasculitis, an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own blood vessels, leading them to swell and narrow. According to the John Hopkin’s Vasculitis Center, the symptoms of vasculitis vary greatly, depending on which blood vessels have been impacted and the inflammatory process involved. Some of the common symptoms of vasculitis include headaches, joint pain, fever, rashes, fatigue, weight loss, rapid pulse, cough, and frequent infections. However, the disease can also cause even more severe symptoms, like kidney and lung problems, stroke, aneurysms, gangrene, deafness, and blindness.

Kutcher said in a 2022 interview that vasculitis affected his vision, hearing, and sense of balance, showing that he had a more severe form of the disease. He commented, “You don’t really appreciate it until it’s gone, until you go, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever gonna be able to see again, I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to hear again, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to walk again.’”

According to Kutcher, it took him over a year to recover from his vasculitis flare-up. The actor acknowledged that while his vasculitis diagnosis put him on a “terrifying journey” he knows that he’s “lucky to be alive”.

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for vasculitis, and the exact cause of what leads the immune system to attack one’s blood vessels is unclear. However, treatments are available to help ease the symptoms, including steroids like Prednisone, chemotherapy drugs like Methotrexate, and immunosuppressants like Cytoxan. It’s unclear what exact treatment Kutcher received after his vasculitis diagnosis.

To learn more about vasculitis and read real patient stories, visit the Vasculitis Foundation website.

Could Alzheimer’s Be an Autoimmune Disease?

Prominent neurologist awarded grant to research Alzheimer’s as an autoimmune disease

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia; according to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for up to 80% of dementia cases.

Although little is still known about this disease, which causes significant loss of memory and other cognitive abilities, the most well-accepted hypothesis is that Alzheimer’s is caused by the build up of a protein called beta amyloid. When too much beta amyloid is accumulated in the brain, toxic clumps of the protein, called plaques, can form. These plaques are believed to be the culprit for Alzheimer’s; as a result, recent clinical trials have aimed to find a way to target and reduce the amount of plaques in the brain.

However, a prominent neurologist and medical researcher from Toronto, Ontario, Canada has put forth a new hypothesis on the development of Alzheimer’s. Dr. Donald Weaver theorizes that beta amyloid is actually a normal part of the brain’s innate immune system, and is there to kill bacteria and serve as a messenger protein. When the body’s immune response is triggered by an infection, trauma, or exposure to noxious substances, brain cells are triggered to release beta amyloid.

The problem arises, however, when beta amyloid mistakes brain cells for bacteria, and begins to kill these cells instead. This leads to fragments being created in the brain, which go on to trigger the continued release of beta amyloid. The result is a self-perpetuating cycle of releasing beta amyloid and killing more brain cells, resulting in a chronic disease.

Dr. Weaver’s theory on Alzheimer’s as an an autoimmune disease has garnered the attention of the medical community. He has been awarded the silver Oskar Fischer Prize, a grant worth US$400,000 from the University of Texas at San Antonio, to pursue research related to his theory.

Dr. Weaver believes that by exploiting the body’s natural way of controlling the immune system, Alzheimer’s symptoms can be reduced, and the disease could even be prevented. He commented, “If we accept the fact that Alzheimer’s disease is an immune-based disease that has certain triggers, then I think that we need to go back and revisit the risk factors.” Examples of risk factors include air pollution, head trauma, and genetic susceptibility.

Ultimately, Dr. Weaver’s research represents hope for a new way of tackling Alzheimer’s disease. Even more exciting is that Dr. Weaver’s research may have applicability beyond Alzheimer’s to other neurological conditions as well, such as Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and Encephalitis.

Jenny Hsieh, director of the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Brain Consortium, believes it’s important to provide researchers the opportunity to pursue ideas that are outside the box. “We just need people to be able to work on different ideas…because the bottom line is all of the current approaches to Alzheimer’s disease [are] not working.”

To learn more about Dr. Weaver and his work, visit: www.weaverlab.ca