If you don’t have auto-immune disease, you’ll still find this interesting.
In my opinion, auto-immune sufferers are the proverbial canaries down the mineshaft. Our symptoms are signals of what our lifestyles are doing to all of us, a reflection of the over-toxic, hyper-adrenal, sugary, sleep-deprived, anxious lives we’re living. Again, IMO, Auto-immune disease types have particularly sensitive systems – for a whole range of reasons (hereditary, trauma-related) – and so we tip over the edge more easily. The rest of the world should see us as nifty warning beacons and heed our lifestyle tips!
The below is advice I’d give to myself, if I could go back two years, to avoid the very bumpy journey I’ve had to ride toward a better understanding of the disease. I’m not giving advice to anyone else. Really, I aim only to inspire you to ask questions and find what works for you. And that’s the thing – there is no one cause or fix.
Also – and this is the blessing – in the searching for your own answers, you come to learn a lot of really important stuff about yourself…that you’ve wanted to find out for a long time. Which is why you got sick…. More on this below. Finally, I refer directly to Hashimoto’s, but much of the thinking applies equally to other AI diseases.
What’s this autoimmune caper about?
Autoimmune disease is a condition that sees the body attack its own cells, resulting in a colourful array of diseases, including Crohns and rheumatoid arthritis. It’s said to be among the top ten causes of death for women under 65. This ‘about thyroid‘ site gives more detail.
I first got the condition at 21 in the form of Graves disease (a hyperactive thyroid). Thirteen years later (at the end of 2007) it switched to Hashimotos (an underactive thyroid). It often goes this way. A bit like a star that burns too brightly and eventually implodes.
I put on 12kg in a matter of months. Which was hard, given not long after I was plonked on a national TV show with 4.5 million Australians watching. Thankfully it was a show about food. And my co-hosts were chubby!
To be sure, Hashimotos is not a kind disease to the female ego. Other charming symptoms: my hair thinned, my nails flaked off to the nail pit, and I got to a point where I couldn’t walk. I’d stand and fall over. Oh, yes, and I got depressed. And inflamed. I HATE the inflammation. On “thyroidy” days, my right side swells up and tingles. My lips feel like they’re burning. I still get this when I overdo things (don’t sleep enough, do a little too much exercise or eat certain foods); it’s like a little red flag that tells me be to back off and look after myself. I also still get very tired some days and find it hard to move about. Again. Helpful red flag.
I also lost all my female hormones and my periods stopped for about a year, which caused a bunch of other issues (brittle bones and, oooooh, mood fluctuations), and got me real worried I’d never be able to have kids.
The weirdest symptoms
I lost the outer third of my eyebrows (weird, but quite common). I now have to pencil them in.
Research and ask questions.
Fact is, no one really knows what causes AI and how to fix it. So you have to develop a wellness plan for yourself. That is, develop a robust interest in managing your health, and all the practitioners you encounter, by reading, asking questions and trying out different approaches. I love GPs and I love herbalists… and the rest. But, boy, they’re a recalcitrant bunch; they rarely agree. Take it as given that it’s your job to coordinate them and their conflicting wisdoms, to develop a routine best for you. Annoying. But true. I’d really recommend taking notes and keeping a wellness diary. I didn’t, but wish I had.
What does my wellness plan look like?
Um, soup. Or maybe an onion. Or a matted ball of string that I’m gradually unknotting by gently loosening it around the edges, bit by bit. No one thing on it’s own works. It’s been more of a shifting of all my lifestyle habits. But here’s one tip to take on: Don’t do dramatic shifts – they don’t suit our constitutions and make AI worse. Keep it soft, kind, gradual. Which brings me to another really vital point: If I could send a note to myself two years ago, it would say:
Dearest Sarah, Please, please be kind to yourself. It’s your abrupt, impatient, push-yourself-to-limits approach that landed you here in the first place. Healing will come when – and as – you learn to be kinder and gentler to yourself. This is good news. It’s time to treat yourself well. From Me. X
OK, so why did I get AI?
I’ve arrived at a point where I know with all my heart I got AI because I needed to. Yes! I was burnt out and over myself. But I couldn’t stop (drinking coffee, knocking back half a bottle of wine each night, working 15-hour days, enduring the nastiest breakup in Christendom, not sleeping, striving and climbing higher because I didn’t think I was enough on my own…). It was a habit I was scared to break. I really wanted to live a different way. But I was worried that if I slowed down, everything would unravel.
So I was forced to.
My body ground to a halt so I couldn’t go any further until I’d woken up. It collapsed in a heap, effectively saying to me, “Well, if you won’t stop, I will. And I’ll collapse right here, in the middle of everything and prevent you from going any further down this path until you get a grip of yourself”.
The lifestyle changes I’ve had to make have changed my life. I’m happy these days. And clear. And for this I’m glad.
So I’m grateful? Hell, yes.
How do I eat now?
Alkalize my system
The first approach to work for me was alkalizing my system. The western lifestyle has too much acid propping it up; too much sugar, alcohol, coffee, red meat and stress. Now consider this: cancer and autoimmune disease can’t survive in a system that’s been de-acidified, or alkalized. So it’s simple: cut out as much acid as is doable – wheat, dairy, potatoes, tomatoes, booze, too much tofu etc and eat lots of green veggies.
Coffee & Alcohol
I no longer drink coffee and I’ve cut my red wine consumption down to two glasses a week or so (in keeping with my belief about not doing anything harsh or abrupt… moderation is key)
That said, eliminating refined sugar altogether really works. I’m not very good at it. One technique that helps is opting for products with coconut water. Ask in health food stores.
I eat gluten-free. It’s easy.
I eat organic produce where possible. I find eating organic also makes me a more mindful eater.
But the best techniques ever?
As one instructor said to me, just meditate. Don’t ask what comes next. Just meditate. I kid you not, since meditating for the past six months, twice a day for 20 minutes, my hormones levels (previously depleted to zip) have returned to normal. I now meditate, effortlessly, daily.
Next, I learnt to exercise less. Yes, less! Or at least less forcibly. Over-exercising causes a lot of “rusting” of our bodies. We don’t get told this. More exertion = more oxygen = more “rust”. I used to run a lot. Now I walk and do yoga and swim.
Oh, gosh, you should. I did a sleep retreat at Gwinganna in Queensland and learnt how cell damage is repaired during sleep, but only once our bodies have attended to detoxing the crap we’ve put in it during the day. Ergo, put less crap in, and get at least 7-8 hours sleep so that the cell repair cycle has time to do it’s thing. When I don’t sleep, the next day my body is so inflamed.
What about gut stuff?
Many practitioners agree that autoimmune problems stem from – or at least can be healed from – the intestinal tract. My gut tends to agree with this. An alkalizing diet helps; so do psyllium husks, slippery elm powder and probiotics; so does eating my dinner slowly and mindfully so I don’t overtax my stomach.
Am I now fixed?
Well, what do you mean by fixed? I’m further along in my Great Undoing Of My Old Ways. Some days I feel great. The next I’m flaccid as a soggy lettuce leaf. It’s a constant journey, that’s frustrating but rewarding at the same time.
By way of a final word of advice: don’t take my word for it. Take your own and take control. Oh, and be kind to yourself. Always be kind.
For full article see Sarah’s website