While I've talked openly about my rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis in 2018, what I haven't talked about so openly is the fact that I spent six years ignoring my 'invisible' illness. In 2012, I had just reenlisted in the United States Marine Corps and was preparing to start my first embassy duty assignment in Lagos, Nigeria. The only thing I was waiting on was my medical clearance examination, and I would be on my way to the continent.
At least that is what I thought as I sat in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center waiting for my doctor to come into the examination room.
- He greeted me with a smile, but I knew something was off and I would soon learn why.
- My doctor informed me that I had an autoimmune disorder, but they didn't know yet what that disorder would become.
- What they did know was that I wouldn't be hopping on a plane to leave the United States anytime soon. My heart sank.
They say to never kick a person when they're down, but apparently, my commanding officer didn't get the memo. Even though he was extremely empathetic about my situation when I told him the news the words that left his lips left me shookith:
- Not only would I not be going on embassy duty, but now they were talking about a medical separation.
- All I could think about was how all my hopes, and dreams, and desires had literally gone up in flames.
- To say that I was upset about this situation would be an understatement.
I was pissed as I spent the next three months in limbo in Quantico, Virginia not knowing if I would be medically separated or not. Needless to say, it was an emotional rollercoaster until I was finally cleared to go on my first embassy duty assignment in Frankfurt, Germany. I spent the next three years on embassy duty pretending my autoimmune disorder didn't exist until my "invisible illness" starting becoming visible:
- It started with not being able to tolerate dairy, and then slowly progressed to becoming intolerant to everything from bananas to alcohol.
- It also manifested in the form of unexplained weight gain that no amount of calorie counting or restrictive dieting could help.
- It wasn't until I slowly started to lose my vision that I began to realize that I could no longer ignore my autoimmune disorder.
At the end of 2018, I was officially diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and Sjogren's syndrome. I could finally put a name to the invisible diseases that I had been suffering from for years. More importantly, I was now motivated to do something about it.
Whether you've been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition or maybe you're unsure of the cause behind the symptoms you're struggling with, I hope you don't make the mistake I did by ignoring your condition or your symptoms.
I learned some hard lessons by doing that, which is why I want to share with you four reasons not to ignore an invisible illness.
4 Reasons Not to Ignore an Invisible Illness
1. Early Intervention is Essential
I really wish I had known the importance of early intervention when it comes to an autoimmune condition. There is so much I would have done differently if I had realized that disease wasn't inevitable. I had assumed that there was nothing that I could do about my condition, so I ignored it. Now as a nutrition coach with two autoimmune diseases, I know now that there is so much that I could have done to prevent my condition from worsening.
That's why I'm so passionate about helping people with autoimmune conditions as well as those with symptoms because disease does not have to be your destiny. If I had known that sooner, I would have made different decisions.
2. It Doesn't Just Affect Your Health, But Your Life
Having an autoimmune diagnosis is life-changing and I didn't fully grasp the impact that this was going to have on my life. Being that my father also has RA, I falsely assumed that because he was seemingly able to manage his RA that I would be able to do the same. What I've learned on this journey is that autoimmune conditions can affect people very differently.
This is something that I really help my clients understand because we cannot continue to operate as if we don't have an autoimmune condition. It is a real thing that affects our bodies and our lives, so there are some key adjustments that need to be made.
3. There Are No Quick Fixes, But Healthy Habits Make a Difference
Even though there isn't a cure, there are certain things I can do to manage my autoimmune condition. In addition to medication prescribed by my doctor, I have made been diet and lifestyle changes that have positively impacted my overall health. From removing inflammatory foods with the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet to gaining more quality sleep by committing to a consistent bedtime, I've been working closely with my care team to make the right changes to optimize my health.
As a result, I've been able to share what works for me with my clients as well as the larger autoimmune community. Essentially, I'm creating what I wish someone had shared with me so that I could have avoided all the mistakes I made along my autoimmune wellness journey.
4. Have the Information You Need to Make Well-Informed Decisions
If I had known then what I know now, I would have done things a lot differently. Not fully grasping the gravity of my autoimmune condition I made many misinformed decisions. I didn't realize that the food sensitivity, weight gain, and vision loss were not separate issues, but symptoms of a much deeper issue.
This is why I focus on working with my clients to address the root cause behind their symptoms. It's also why I'm a huge stickler about ensuring my clients have the information they need to make well-informed decisions when it comes to their health and wellness. When you know better you do better.
While I learned some hard lessons by ignoring my autoimmune conditions, if sharing my story helps you avoid making the same mistake, I have to say that the lesson was worth learning once. But, let's not learn it twice!
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