Today is my 29th birthday. I’ll wait, you can go grab me some chocolate.
Actually, keep the chocolate for yourself, I won’t be partaking in any of that this year. For the last 29 years I’ve associated my birthday with treats, just like 98% of the American population. We turn another year older and we must celebrate with cake, and cookies, and coffee, OH MY. Truth be told, I’d love to celebrate with those goodies, but I won’t.
Life with an autoimmune disease means everything you ever knew about food must change. Unless of course you want to take the easy way out and stuff yourself with drugs to suppress your immune system, but I’d rather not do that. I’d be lying if I said it was easy avoiding these treats, but I’m getting to the point where the flare ups they cause are no longer worth it.
It’s been two years since I was officially diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and I admit it’s taken me that entire time to finally accept that this is my life now. I’ve spent this entire time trying to “fix” the problem, to do whatever I could to heal my body in order to go back to how things used to be before my cup runneth over, but that’s not how this works.
The way things used to be is part of how I got myself into this mess.
If I’ve learned anything from this need for control over my body it’s that trying to fix something you have very little control over is exhausting. Day in and day out the denial and desire to escape this disease that follows me everywhere I go has had me running a race that I will never win. Rather than try to escape this card I’ve been dealt, I’ve decided to take a different approach.
The other night I was lying in bed meditating, when a thought entered my mind I decided to focus on rather than trying to quiet. I thought about my autoimmune disease, and the idea of giving it a name. Like a friend. I wouldn’t try to run away from a friend, and I wouldn’t try to hurt my friend, and this shift in my mindset brought life to Alfred, my autoimmune disease.
Alfred will be with me for life, though when the stars are aligned he will go on vacations. Hopefully those vacation are long ones (remission) and I won’t see him for long chunks of my life, but when he does show up (like the last couple years) I will be kind to him, honoring his existence as a part of me instead of trying to pretend he’s not there.
Honoring Alfred means shifting my life completely, because growth comes from change, and change is almost always uncomfortable. Honoring Alfred means saying no to running, and going for a light walk instead. Honoring Alfred means minimizing my stress as much as possible, saying no when I want to say no, and removing people from my life that bring me down.
Honoring Alfred means saying no to the cake, and opting for the avocado instead.
I’m an emotional eater, and this was something that became very clear to me the last couple years. I never noticed it as a problem until my stress levels blew through the roof, and until I was told “you can’t” eat things if you want to feel better. It’s a painful pill to swallow when your life takes a turn out of your control, but it’s even more painful to have the flareups that accompany an autoimmune disease.
Living with an immune system that thinks its own tissues are foreign causes a whole heap of symptoms that can make or break your quality of life.
Food has a direct correlation to the quality of life for me. I am aware of what I should and should not eat in order to feel my best, and in order to keep my mind on board I’ve switched my verbiage from “I can’t eat that” to “I don’t eat that.” Sometimes even my “safe foods” cause a flare up, and in those times I do my best not to spiral. Everyday is a new day, and I’m getting better at handling the harder days.
There will be days I eat foods that do not support my body, but I’m hoping with this acceptance the need for those days become less and less. I also hope that when these days do happen, I give myself more grace and find my way back on the bus rather than continue to spiral because I “failed.” There is no failure, there is no black and white, there is only balance, and life, and forgiveness.
Giving in is not the same as giving up, I will never give up, but I’ve decided to give in. I give in to the lifestyle change that is necessary for me to thrive, I give in to turning down the cake today on my birthday in order to avoid the uncomfortable flareups, I give in to living a life with Alfred by my side, because in all reality his presence is helping me to live my best life. As long as I accept what he is trying to offer.
Diseases often occur in our lives to wake us up to a life we’re meant to live. All too often our society tries to quiet the messages our bodies are trying to tell us by taking drugs, but most ailments can be moderated with lifestyle changes. There are surely some ailments where drugs are the only option, I’m not discrediting that in the least, but most of them give us a choice on how we want to continue to live.
Acceptance didn’t come easy, I went through the stages of grief for over two years. There are few things that hold a flame to a steaming cup of coffee and a slice of chocolate cake, or even a long run, both of which my body no longer tolerates, but I find peace in honoring what my body is asking for. By honoring Alfred I’m given a sense of control again, because while I cannot control the fact that he lives with me, I can control whether or not I embrace his presence.
Viewing Alfred from a place of warmth and love brings a positive energy to my life. There are days when I’m not perfect, there are days I cave and eat the cake, there are days I want to crawl into a hole and never come out, but those days are getting fewer and I’m learning how to cope and how to bring joy to my life through things other than food. This warmth also helps me to be kind when I make choices that don’t honor Alfred, and remind me that growth is all about the journey.
Joy is a slow hike in the mountains (like the ones I took these photos on), joy is giving time to others, joy is the smile on a family members face, joy is the wind on my face, or the rain on my arm, joy is the vibration on my chest from the purr of my cat.
Life throws us curve balls when we least expect it. It’s normal to stomp our feet in defiance at first, but eventually we all have to get over ourselves if we want to live our lives to their full potential. I’ve decided the temper tantrum I’ve been throwing has gone on long enough, and I’ve accepted this new life of mine. I’ve made life much more difficult than it needed to be the last couple years, but it’s all apart of the process.
All this is to say it could always be worse, life is about what we make of it. I’m one year shy of being 30, and you can bet your britches I’m ready to kiss my 20’s goodbye. It’s true that our 20’s are years of discovery, and I’m ready to get the hell out of them. My final year of my 20’s will be spent polishing up the final touches before I head into a new decade.
I no longer want to people please, and I no longer want to be shy about my dietary restrictions when around other people, I no longer want to feel the need to be strong when my fatigue is overwhelming. I’m proud of who I am, I’m proud of my body and all it can handle, and I’m proud of my life with Alfred. Giving in is freeing, and I feel a weight lifted from my shoulders and a cloud lifted from my mind. Acceptance is choosing to thrive instead of just exist.
Q: Have you experienced any difficult lifestyle changes?