Practicing Gratitude When You Have a Chronic Illness

Gratitude doesn’t change what we have in front of us; it changes the way we see what we have

Anonymous

This past Thursday was Thanksgiving here in the United States. I spent the day with my husband’s family and I couldn’t be more grateful to have them close by when I’m far away from my own family.

This got me thinking about practicing gratitude in general. How often do we really give thanks for what we have? Only once a year, when Thanksgiving rolls around? Or are we only thankful for what we have when we’ve lost it (in other words, when it’s too late)?

When you have an autoimmune disease or any other type of chronic illness, it can be challenging to feel grateful for what you have. I mean, how could I feel thankful for having near-constant joint pain, fatigue, widespread dryness, skin issues and brain fog, among other symptoms of Sjogren’s Syndrome and Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS)?

But, if I challenge myself to think harder, I can actually think of many ways in which I should be grateful for what I have. Many people, especially those who are less fortunate or who live in developing countries, don’t have access to a reliable healthcare system, including adequate treatment options, necessary medications, and educated health care professionals. Even here in the United States, many people with chronic illness struggle to afford their medications, health insurance or co-pays for doctor’s visits. While I am by no means rich, I’m thankful that I have the ability to take care of my healthcare needs when many people cannot.

Another thing that I’m grateful for is the amazing chronic illness community that I’ve connected with in the past two years of blogging on this site. Having a chronic illness can sometimes be lonely, and you may feel like no one understands what you’re going through (especially if none of your family or friends have a disease themselves, or if you don’t have a satisfactory support system). However, by connecting with others on WordPress, Instagram and Reddit who are in a similar situation, I’ve quickly realized that I’m far from being alone, and I’ve learned new methods of self-care that have helped me manage my illness.

Thanks for reading this blog post! If you’re an Autoimmune Warrior, what are you thankful for (that you may have forgotten to be grateful about)? Comment below and let me know!

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How Chronic Illness Can Kill Your Self-Esteem

Chronic Illness and Self-Esteem

I recently read a post on Reddit on the r/autoimmunity subreddit titled ‘Losing Everything‘. In the post, the author describes being diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune condition affecting one’s moisture-producing glands. The author has also been living with other autoimmune diseases, including Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis (GPA), for quite some time.

She goes on to say that since being diagnosed with these conditions, she feels like she is losing everything that makes her ‘herself’. For example, she is an artist, but she has lost the use of her dominant hand as a result of her conditions, leading her to quit her art. She also had a unique style, with beautiful thick hair and piercings. However, most of her hair has now fallen out and she had to remove her piercings due to constant infections.

The author’s post made me think of my own struggle with chronic illness and how having Sjogren’s Syndrome, Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS) and Benign Fasciculation Syndrome (BFS) has impacted my sense of self.

Although I have both good days and bad days, I often resent my body and these diseases for what they have ‘taken away’ from my life. I often think to myself, what would I have accomplished by now had it not been for this disease? Would I be further along in my career? My education? Would I have more social connections and deeper friendships? It’s hard to quantify, but I feel like my life would have been very different had I not developed autoimmune issues. In other words, I don’t feel like I can be my true ambitious self because of my chronic illnesses.

I could also relate to the author’s mention of her outward appearance, like her hair and piercings. I notice that I often think ‘why bother?’ when it comes to things like fashion and beauty, which were important to me before my diagnosis. I think this is because I’ve adopted the mindset that I am ‘diseased’, so why bother to look nice? This is definitely a negative mindset that I’m continuing to work on, but, I think it’s important to acknowledge how chronic illness can impact your sense of self- whether it’s your own self-image, or even your outward appearance.

I also recently read a powerful testimony on The Mighty by Megan Klenke titled, ‘How Chronic Illness Can Drastically Affect Your Self-Esteem’. In her post, she describes the shame that many individuals with chronic conditions and disabilities face, such as having to ask for help to do tasks that they once did independently, using a wheelchair, or dealing with embarrassing side effects of medications. Furthermore, Megan also points out that simple things like missing family functions or get-togethers with friends as a result of illness can make one feel left out and like an ‘awful’ family member or friend.

A YouTuber I follow named Samantha Wayne also created a video detailing her struggle with the impact of lupus on her self-image. She ended up being hospitalized and had to take time off to rest. During this time, she says she felt useless and like she wasn’t doing enough. Also, she had to step back from her job because being on her feet all day was taking a toll on her health. The medications she was taking, such as prednisone, also impacted her outward appearance.

Samantha did say that leaning on her support system has helped her to get through negative feelings about her self-worth. She also says that realizing that everyone is worthy, regardless of their health status, has also helped. Furthermore, she says that while her disease caused her to lose certain hobbies, like competitive basketball, she was able to adopt new hobbies and learn new skills such as video blogging on her YouTube channel, which she started in order to raise awareness about lupus. Finally, she says that practicing gratitude for the things she can do and what she has is another way that has helped to overcome her low self-esteem.

Has having a chronic illness impacted your self-confidence, and if so, how have you handled it? Let us know in the comments below!

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Seeking treatment for chronic illness: when desperation takes over

Allyson Byers was desperate to find a treatment that worked for her painful chronic skin condition.

I recently read an article by Self magazine about a young woman named Allyson Byers who suffers from a chronic skin condition called Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS). According to the Hidradenitis Suppurativa Foundation, HS causes painful abscesses and boils to form in the folds of the skin, often around hair follicles, such as the underarms and groin. While the exact cause of HS in unknown, it is believed to be autoimmune in nature.

Although the condition isn’t actually rare, with about 1-4% of the general population affected, HS is often misdiagnosed as other conditions, like cystic acne. Patients also frequently don’t tell their physicians about their symptoms due to embarrassment, until they’ve reached stage 3 of the disease (at which point, surgery may be required).

Allyson was fortunate to have been diagnosed six months after the onset of the disease, as a result of a knowledgeable family physician who recognized the tell-tale symptoms. She then went on to see a dermatologist, who prescribed a variety of treatments, from antibiotics, to diabetes medication, hormone-suppressing drugs and even immunosuppressants. But nothing seemed to quell the prognosis of the disease, and eventually, Allyson found herself in so much pain, she couldn’t even raise her arms or even walk, due to the abscesses in her underarms and groin. It even affected her sleep.

Needless to say, she was desperate for a cure- or at least a treatment. Allyson said that in her desperation, she turned to alternative medicine to help. She tried everything from special diets, like the autoimmune protocol (AIP), to supplements and topical solutions (like turmeric, tea tree oil and special soaps). She even saw a chiropractor for a controversial diagnostic test called applied kinesiology, which involves exposing oneself to potential allergens and measuring changes in muscle strength. She spent thousands of dollars on unproven ‘treatments’ in her quest to reduce her painful symptoms.

I know all too well what it’s like to be Allyson—I have HS myself. Unlike her, however, it took six years for me to get a diagnosis (the doctors I had seen in Canada hadn’t even heard of the disease). Before I got diagnosed, I was so desperate for a cure that I purchased different creams, salves and ointments online, that had no medical proof, but that claimed to ‘cure’ my symptoms. One of the salves I bought caused a horrible burning sensation on my skin; another, an oil made out of emu fat (I’m not joking!), did absolutely nothing other than make my skin oily. Some of these so-called ‘treatments’ may have even made my condition worse.

Several members of my family, who are big proponents of alternative medicine, even brought me to a naturopath in the hopes of combating my Sjögren’s Syndrome symptons. I followed various different diets to no avail, took all types of unproven supplements, and even tried chelation therapy, which involves the intravenous administration of drugs to remove heavy metals from the body (this can even result in death). Although I am not against exploring alternative treatments and making lifestyle changes, none of these treatments improved my condition, and they cost even more than science-backed methods.

Like Allyson, I am tired of always trying to ‘chase’ a new treatment, scientific or not, in the hopes of finding a cure. Although I will never truly give up, I would urge others suffering from chronic illnesses not to get desperate; or at least to not allow your desperation to cloud your judgement. If you’re going to try an alternative therapy, at least run it by your physician first, so that you can ensure it’s safe before testing its effectiveness.

Have you had any success treating your condition with alternative medicine? Comment below!

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10 Facts About Sjögren’s Syndrome

According to the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF), Sjögren’s is a systemic autoimmune disease that impacts the entire body, including the eyes, mouth, joints, nerves and major organs. In honor of World Sjögren’s Day, read on to learn 10 facts about this chronic autoimmune condition.

1. It is more common than you think

The SSF estimates that there are as many as 4 million Americans living with the disease, and it’s the second most common autoimmune condition. The exact prevalence of the condition is difficult to determine, however, since the symptoms tend to mimic those of other conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. It can even be confused with menopause, allergies, and drug side effects.

2. It mostly affects women

The SSF states that nine out of 10 Sjögren’s patients are women, and the average age of diagnosis is the late 40s. However, the disease can impact anyone of any age, including men and children as well.

3. It causes extensive dryness

Sjögren’s Syndrome develops as a result of the body’s immune system attacking and destroying the body’s exocrine, or moisture-producing, glands. As a consequence, patients experience widespread dryness throughout their body, but especially impacting their eyes, nose, mouth, skin, vagina and joints.

4. It affects the eyes

The disease is often first detected as a result of eye-related symptoms. This includes dry, gritty eyes that feel like sandpaper when blinking and swollen tear glands. Dry eyes can in turn lead to blurred vision, infections, corneal ulcerations and blepharitis. Several of the eye tests that can be used to help diagnose the condition include a Schirmer test, to measure tear production, and a Rose Bengal and Lissamine Green test, to examine dry spots on the eye’s surface.

5. It affects the mouth, throat and nose

Sjögren’s also affects one’s mouth, throat and nasal cavity; the main symptom being dryness. This, in turn, leads to a whole host of other symptoms, such as mouth sores, dental decay, oral thrush (a yeast infection of the mouth), recurrent sinusitis, nose bleeds, heartburn, reflux esophagitis, and difficulty speaking and swallowing. Some physicians administer a lip gland biopsy as a part of the diagnosis process.

6. It impacts one’s joints too

As the immune system destroys the body’s moisture-producing glands, this results in a decrease in synovial fluid, which helps to keep the joints lubricated. This causes inflammatory joint pain and musculoskeletal pain, and can even lead to the development of rheumatoid arthritis, as shown through a positive Rheumatoid Factor (RF) reading in the blood. In fact, the main physicians who treat Sjögren’s are rheumatologists.

7. Neurological problems are also common

Sjögren’s causes a variety of nervous system symptoms, including nerve pain and peripheral neuropathy (a numbness and tingling in the extremities). Other neurological problems include difficulty concentrating and memory loss, often referred to as “brain fog”.

8. The prognosis of the disease varies

Patients may find that their symptoms plateau, worsen, or, uncommonly, go into remission. A French research study published in Rheumatology also found that early onset primary Sjögren’s Syndrome carried a worse prognosis over the course of the disease (‘early onset’ is defined as a diagnosis before age 35). While some Sjögren’s patients experience mild discomfort, others suffer debilitating symptoms that greatly impair their quality of life.

9. It can increase one’s risk of cancer

A German study found that Sjögren’s Syndrome moderately increases one’s risk of developing Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL). NHL is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which includes the lymph nodes, spleen, and other tissues. The lifetime risk of developing NHL by age 80 is 8% among men and 5.4% among women with Sjögren’s. This is compared to a risk of 1.6% of men and 1.1% of women in the general population.

10. There is hope

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Sjögren’s, check out the SSF’s video series, Conquering Sjögren’s, and their patient-published Self-Help Booklet. The foundation’s website, www.sjogrens.org, also contains a wealth of resources on the disease, including information about treatment options, survival tips, fact sheets, and even template letters for your health insurance company. You can also check out their extensive network of support groups.

Thank you for stopping by Autoimmune Warrior. If this article was informative to you, please like, share, and comment below!

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My favorite Autoimmune Disease YouTubers

Zach uses his platform on YouTube to share his story about ankylosing spondylitis

Zach from The Try Guys

Zach is best known for his work as a videographer for media giant BuzzFeed. During his time at Buzzfeed, Zach created a video about his struggle with an autoimmune disease called ankylosing spondylitis which received over 5 million views. In addition to having difficulty getting a diagnosis for his condition, Zach continued to struggle due to incessant back pain even after being diagnosed. He stresses the importance of being proactive with your treatment plan, no matter the severity of your symptoms. Check out his video below!

Zach’s video: I have an Autoimmune Disease

Live | Hope | Lupus

Samantha has been creating advocacy videos on chronic illness for the past 10 years. She created the YouTube channel Live Hope Lupus to create a space where those with chronic illnesses could get information and support. Samantha herself lives with the autoimmune conditions lupus, Sjogren’s Syndrome and autoimmune hemolytic anemia, as well as other related conditions, such as TMJ, costochondritis and Raynaud’s Phenomenon. She encourages others to subscribe to her channel to follow along with her journey. Check out her video below!

Samantha’s video: Lupus 101

Adamimmune

Adam started his YouTube channel two years ago after being inspired to share his story of healing. He has an autoimmune condition called Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS), which affects hair follicles in the skin. After reaching stage 3 of the disease and experiencing significant pain, Adam implemented the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet and found that his HS symptoms went into remission after three months. He is a big advocate for lifestyle changes in the treatment of autoimmune disease and shares his AIP recipes and grocery hauls on his channel. Check out his video below!

Adam’s video: Hidradenitis Suppurativa: Life Before Remission (My HS Story)

Surviving as Mom

Meredith, who goes by Meri, vlogs about her experience with an autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s Syndrome, which she says makes each day a little more challenging. She is an active stay at home mom with four sons, one of whom has various special needs. Meri’s channel contains many videos about her life as a stay at home mother, in addition to a Sjogren’s Syndrome video series. Check out her video below!

Meri’s video: Day in the Life with Sjogren’s Syndrome

Kalie Mae

Kalie recently started her YouTube channel in the hopes of being able to connect with other chronic illness sufferers. She discusses various autoimmune diseases and related conditions on her channel, including Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Sjogren’s Syndrome, Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome, Chron’s Disease and more. She is very candid in talking about chronic illness, including discussing the impact of her conditions on her mental health, career and relationships. Check out her video below!

Kalie’s video: Anxiety and Depression Chronic Illness Awareness

Did you enjoy this post? If so, please like, comment below and share!

Top News in Autoimmunity – Week of May 1, 2019

Carrie Ann Inaba Opens Up About Struggling with Fibromyalgia and Other Autoimmune Conditions

Carrie Ann Inaba shares emotional Instagram post about her struggles as an #AutoimmuneWarrior

Carrie Ann Inaba, world-famous dancer and judge on the reality TV show Dancing with the Stars, opened up to fans about her struggle living with multiple autoimmune and chronic health conditions, including fibromyalgia, Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal stenosis and antiphospholipid syndrome (APL).

Carrie Ann shared that she has come to feel ashamed about her health issues, stating “I feel so much shame when I go through these things, because I want to be what people see. And people see a healthy person, from the outside.” On the positive side, Carrie Ann says that confronting her health issues has helped her to learn about who she is, besides being a “sexy dancer chick”. 

Carrie Ann says that despite the pain and other symptoms that she battles on a daily basis, she credits her improved health to staying active through practicing yoga and pilates, as well as seeking altnerative treatments like Craniosacral therapy, acupuncture and Reiki.

To learn more about her inspiring story, click here.

The Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF) launches a new Exploring Sjogren’s video series

Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation Launches YouTube Video Series

The Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF) launched an informative new video series called Exploring Sjogren’s. The videos aim to discuss the complexities of living with the disease and the issues involved with conquering it.

The foundation says that the a new episode will premiere every Monday on their YouTube channel. To learn more about the video series, visit the SSF website by clicking here.

To view the first episode in the series, check out the Exploring Sjogren’s YouTube channel here.

Immune scavenger cells called histiocytes (in green) crowd around muscle fibres (in red), damaging them and causing muscle pain and weakness

Researchers Discover New Autoimmune Disease Causing Muscle Pain and Weakness

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri have identified a new autoimmune disease that causes muscle pain and weakness.

Dr. Alan Pestronk, who leads the university’s Neuromuscular Disease Clinic and works as a professor of neurology, immunology and pathology, says that they have only observed four cases of the disease over the past 22 years.

Dr. Pestronk first observed the disease in 1996, when looking at microscope slides of muscle from a patient experiencing muscle pain and weakness. He noticed that immune scavenger cells called histiocytes that normally feed on dead material were crowded around injured muscle fibers.

He and his colleagues then encountered three more similar cases over more than two decades, each time analyzing detailed biopsies of the patients’ muscle tissue. The four cases discovered were enough to name a new autoimmune disease, large-histiocyte-related immune myopathy.

To learn more about the discovery of this autoimmune disease, click here.