My Autoimmune Illness Journey
I'm going to do my best to keep this story of my journey as light-hearted and brief as possible, but before I begin I want to say that I have had no formal medical or scientific training. Anything I have done to heal the symptoms of my diseases has been based on personal research or recommended to me by someone in the medical field :)
This journey starts before I can even remember when I met my lifelong companion: STRESS. I don't know exactly when stress started affecting me so much, but it was probably around my junior year of high school.
Fall 2009 - Shingles
In the fall of 2009, during my junior year of high school, I came down with a case of shingles. A strain of the chicken pox virus that usually only affects the elderly or those under extreme stress. I wouldn't call my life stressful by any means, but I put an intense amount of pressure on myself to constantly be the perfect daughter, sister, friend, student, athlete etc. I know now from my research that an autoimmune disease like psoriasis lays dormant in your immune system and can be triggered by a traumatic event that effects the immune system like having a case of shingles.
Fall 2009 - Spring 2010
The theme of perfectionism continued throughout the rest of my junior year. I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Spain. I had a great group of friends and was, by all accounts, a great student. Still, I was ultimately stressing myself out about the SATs and college applications to the point of making myself sick. I struggled with disordered eating at this time in my life and despite how happy I look below and how happy I know I should have been, I was pretty miserable.
Summer 2010 - Psoriasis Diagnosis
I first noticed the psoriasis forming the summer after my junior year of high school. It first affected my scalp and fingernails and then spread to my skin. I tried to play it off like a bad case of dandruff, but the dents and holes in my nails became painful and I turned to my trusty WEB MD :) Never the best place to get medical information, but it did lead me to learn about psoriasis and prompted me to make an appointment with my dermatologist.
The dermatologist took one look at my splotchy skin and pitted nails and said, "Yes, it's psoriasis." She then proceeded to inject me with something to take care of the spots I had and then about 30 needle pricks later I left with a bag of topical treatment samples and a list of prescriptions (all topical also).
Fall 2011 - Spring 2015 - College
During my first year at school, I didn't worry about my condition too much. I was eating well due to the close proximity to the freshman campus cafeteria which had shockingly healthy options and had a normal workout routine. I didn't yet HATE my engineering classes and was pretty focused on making friends and getting into a sorority.
When I returned for my sophomore year I had a solid crew of friends and had secured that spot in a sorority. Because of this I was drinking on average 4 nights a week and eating something Vandy called "fourth meal" each time I drank. You can probably guess where this is going... I gained a quick 15 pounds and although I was bothered by the weight gain, it was my psoriasis that felt the effects. I was itchy and inflamed but ignored it for the majority of the year.
Over the summer of 2013, I started researching how food can affect my health. I taught myself how to cook healthy food and Mad About Food was born on my college campus! My weight and my psoriasis continued to fluctuate over the next few years, but I was starting to learn how to heal myself through food and lifestyle.
Summer 2015 - I join the real world
Summer 2015 I moved to Atlanta, GA to start my first job. I moved in with a wonderful roommate and the pup you see above! I loved working out and cooking with my roommate Niki. For a while, it was easy to just live my life and keep my psoriasis symptoms under control, but that didn't last long.
I was working at a high-pressure job as a software consultant and traveling weekly to the northeast to live in a hotel so I could be with my client daily. On top of that, I was dealing with coming out of the closet and navigating a brand new dating scene. I was lucky to have a wonderful coming out process, but keeping any kind of secret is stressful for me.
Summer 2016 - Psoriatic Arthritis diagnosis
It was evident that the stress of my new job and my life, in general, was starting to get to me when I visited my family in Florida for Easter. I went to work out in the gym and noticed a large bump, or what I thought was a bump, on my fingertip. I remember mentioning to my mom that I thought I had hit myself with a weight. After a few weeks, the bump did not go away, I had another on a different finger and they became increasingly painful. That is when I returned to my trusty companion WEB MD and diagnosed myself with psoriatic arthritis.
I scheduled an appointment with a rheumatologist and was told of my 3 month waiting period. Feeling discouraged I let the pain get worse and worse until it was painful just to get out of bed in the morning and straighten my arms.
Summer 2016 to Spring 2017 - Veganism
About a month before my appointment with a rheumatologist I decided to take my health into my own hands. I scoured the internet for information about people in their 20s with arthritis and came up with very little until I found Dr. McDougall's starch solution. I read the book cover to cover in a few days and began an oil-free vegan diet. I saw relief in my psoriasis and arthritis symptoms almost immediately. By the time I made it to the rheumatologist's office I couldn't wait to share the success I was having by just changing my diet! She told me that there was no research to support my claims and that I would be foolish not to go on the medication.
I decided to remain foolish and stay on the path of dietary changes and no medication for about 9 months. At that point, I was so sick of rice and beans and lentils and potatoes that I just wanted an egg. I ate an egg and slowly introduced fish, then chicken, then other meats back into my diet.
Summer 2017 - Work on a balanced diet with a registered dietitian
I knew I didn't want to be a vegan forever, but I also knew I couldn't eat the standard American diet for the rest of my life. I worked with an RD on a diet that would allow me to eat the foods I love and still reduce my inflammation. She had me avoid grains, soft cows milk dairy, corn, soy, legumes, and nightshade vegetables.
Fall 2017 to present day
The protocol that I set up with my RD is pretty perfect for my body and my life. I get to eat a lot of the foods I love and find interesting alternatives for the ones that are not advised. I do not follow this protocol all the time, but when I do, I feel my best.
Throughout this journey, I have learned that it doesn't matter at all what I am putting in my body if I have not first managed my stress. This is a daily practice for me. I am prone to stress. Things easily upset and agitate me. I dwell on problems hours and days longer than I need to. To combat my natural inclination to stress I try to meditate, do yoga, exercise daily, spend time with family and friends and if all else fails a long walk usually helps. Like the title says, this is a journey. Thanks for being on it with me and reading along if you got this far :)