An autoimmune disease that is.
Did you know one in five Americans have an autoimmune disease?
And that approximately 75% of those are women.
In my eyes that makes me and the other one in five “canaries.” Early indicator of potential danger. ---maybe late by now---
I wonder why 75% of us our women?
I wonder if we are the canary of canaries? That the added stress of being a women in this culture, plus the genetic factors, the compromised lining of the intestines, other pathogens, and stress that lead us down this road.
Autoimmune disease is more common in western cultures.
When you have an autoimmune disease your immune system attacks some part of your human body.
For instance my immune system thinks my thyroid is a foreign invader and it needs to be killed.
There are over 100 different autoimmune diseases that wreak havoc with the body.
Some people with autoimmune disease have a very mild case. They take a medication, or do nothing, and feel okay.
Others, like me, have ongoing swings in our health.
An added bonus--Once you’ve been diagnosed you are three times more likely to get another autoimmune disease.
I’m sharing my story for two reasons:
One: One out of five people means you know someone but maybe don’t know their story. In general we aren’t a culture that embraces our weaknesses and disease can be seen as such.---even if only in our subconscious.
Two: My health is linked to yours. My story is a slice of the pie.
Here it is-------
Looking back over the expanse of my life, from my late twenties on, there was something off about my body. I was consciously, and unconsciously working hard to “fix it” without knowing what “it” was.
I think the first inkling of Hashimoto’s, laying its foundation in my body, was when I had returned from a trip to Asia, got married, and moved to Bend, Oregon.
I recall one night, lying there on our king size futon, in a strange room, in a small town, in the middle of the high desert, lonely and feeling super uncomfortable in my body. Some big sense of offness. I was scared, wiggly, tingly, achy, and not comfortable reaching out and waking my newly minted husband to express that.
I fell into a deep denial that night, a betrayal of self, and body.
I thought the keys for better health were eating well and exercise. Organic, clean, and whatever the latest science said. Eat butter, no butter, eggs, no eggs, meat, no meat etc.
But always “eat your veggies”.
My sweet children can attest to all the changes. It was like riding a roller-coaster.
And autoimmune disease can be slow, and insidious.
Over my child bearing years, eight in all, I had symptoms of deep fatigue, hair falling out, weight loss, chronic sinus infections, two miscarriages (which are often a sign of thyroid problems). And two beautiful babes.
But through it all, I kept my chin up.
I went to Physicians and had labs drawn that said I was just fine.
I tried Naturopaths and Acupuncturists who helped with symptoms and kept my energy up enough to feel “normal”.
My children are the lights of my life, and their energy and enthusiasm, plus the privilege of being in the natural world, were banes to my body slowly going offline.
It was easy to dismiss when nothing showed up in labs.
I was fine.
It was all in my head.
I stopped talking about it.
Even when clumps of hair were coming off in my hairdressers hands when she washed it.
Even when a daily afternoon nap became the norm, my brain so foggy-- sleep was my one and only.
Even when the body aches I refused to consider being a problem didn’t get resolved with an ibuprofen.
In my early forties, a few friends of mine and I dubbed ourselves; “the feel like shit club”.
I looked good.
I exercised daily.
I ate well.
I smile, laughed, and kept up with my active children, and my adventure seeking husband.
I remember the straw that broke the camel's back.
21 years after those first signs. Funny that it came back to food.
Everything started tasting salty. I would complain at meals about it and my family looked back at me like I was nuts. Anything savory I placed on my tongue was like a salt lick.
I stopped wanting to eat.
That was a problem for the foodie in me.
All the other physical symptoms were there as well.
At that point it felt like there was a caged animal in my chest.
Something both racing and pressing down.
Frantic to get out.
Or blow up.
My body was trying desperately to get my attention.
I had labs drawn again. A couple nights later, standing at the island in our kitchen, chopping vegetables with my former husband, and a friend, my physician called.
He said; “You were right, your labs are off. Your TSH is off the charts. I’m going to have them look at a couple other values, but I am pretty sure you have Hashimotos.”
I am a nurse, I knew what that was but I had no idea what it really meant. Could taking a pill make all this go away? Well, for some yes.
For me, the answer was a resounding No.
It didn’t help that I went 21 years undiagnosed. That’s not uncommon.
I am seven years out from my diagnosis and and while I’ve had times when I am in “remission” (lab values in the normal range), how I feel daily - even moment to moment - has all sorts of “not normals”.
My life has taken a slow steady turn towards something my heart knew but my body needed to experience to truly embody. We live in a toxic world. And we are all interconnected. My health is related to yours, to how we live, and to the natural world. Of that I am convinced.
As Mary Oliver says so beautifully here:
“I would say there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one. The farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family; and there is no decency or sense in honoring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list. The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves---we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny.”
One out of five people are diagnosed. Your friends, co-workers, the girl next door.
Autoimmune disease is just one of the many canaries let loose to remind us it's time.
You may not be genetically wired for autoimmune disease. But you are linked to my destiny. As I am yours. You are linked to the one in five. You are linked to the 75% being women.
Here is what I know in my body:
How we live is killing us.
Our corporate food system and food products don’t serve humans or the more than human world.
Domination and oppression are connected to disease.
We need to question “all” the cultural norms and habits that may be causing disease and dis-ease.
We need to consider how our actions impact the more than human world and our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and ourselves.
We need to stop using pesticides, herbicides, chemicals, dryer sheets, toxic household and industrial cleaners, round-up.
We can read things like When the Body Says No by Gabor Mate so we understand the toll stress and repression takes.
Freeing ourselves up to express, release, and allow emotions to move through us is super important.
Exposing and acknowledging white supremacy and doing the work to heal racism is essential. And sexism.
Connecting, community, depth, belonging, inclusion, being heard, and power-with all matter for health.
We need to question what we’ve seen as “its just the way it is” so we can dream up and live into fresh possibilities.
We need to question what we consider “progress”.
We need to lean into “not knowing”. Be an imagineer and a wonderer instead.
Stop talking and listen, to your body, to your neighbors, to the little ones, and the old ones, to the tree’s, lakes, rivers, mountains.
We need to question our “overly independent” story and how it separates us.
Question all of it. How we live, eat, build, take care of forests, water, how we breathe.
Make contemplation and reflection a priority.
Move out of the dominant left brain and live and explore your heart/mind.
The greatest gift you can give to creating a world that works for all is to “wake up” from being lulled to sleep by a culture that has taken so much and continues to do so.
We are the culture.
We are the change we are waiting for...
Do it for your future.
If not yours, that tree outside your window.
Or the clouds. The bees.
For the next seven generations.
For one out of five.
We are our destiny.
That’s a “we”.