Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month

This isn’t the typical post for me. But March is National Autoimmune Diseases Awareness Month, and it is definitely a topic that needs awareness.  I knew almost nothing before being diagnosed myself. With over 50 million people affected by this disease, and millions more likely undiagnosed, autoimmune disease is becoming a health crisis. Early diagnosis can make a significant difference in one’s ability to fight the disease with minimal damage to the body.

The problem with bringing awareness is that, although there are over 100 autoimmune diseases, they are most often looked at as individual diseases, including Hashimoto’s, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac, and Crohn’s. But these diseases all have a common factor: the immune system is attacking a part of the body. The name of the disease depends on what part of the body is being attacked. For example, Hashimoto’s and Grave’s disease attack the thyroid, rheumatoid arthritis attacks joints, lupus attacks organ systems, Crohn’s attacks the digestive tract.

Autoimmune diseases target women 75% more often than men, and combined, autoimmune diseases are one of the top ten killers of women under the age of 65. According to American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), autoimmune diseases are on the rise. The reasons for that are not known, but as people become more aware of their own risk factors, they can seek a diagnosis and begin a treatment regimen as soon as symptoms occur. 

Some symptoms of autoimmune disease include joint pain, fatigue, rash, stomach issues, and a general feeling of unwellness. These conditions are present in other diseases as well, making it hard to diagnose autoimmunity, especially if it is one of the rarer forms. It is also likely a genetic factor exists, so if there is a family member who has had an autoimmune disease that is good to know and mention to a doctor.

Inflammation is at the root of all these diseases, so asking your doctor to run blood tests that check for signs of inflammation might be helpful. Since these diseases most often affect women, and it is easy to attribute fatigue to working and raising children, women are sent home with the “understanding” that their fatigue is normal. The kind of fatigue associated with autoimmune disease is anything but normal.

It is estimated that people with autoimmune disease will see up to four doctors before a diagnosis. It is important that people are aware so they can be their own advocate and understand risk factors and treatment options. These diseases can be game changers in a person’s life. There is often much pain and an inability to do business as usual. A diagnosis helps that person come to terms with what is going on in the body and get treatment.

Autoimmune disease has definitely affected my life, and I have more to say about that, but for right now awareness is key. Disability and organ damage are often a part of the disease, so early diagnosis and treatment can help people live longer and more normal lives. It is possible to be stronger than autoimmune disease…the first step is knowing what we are fighting!

Stay Active, Stay Curious: How Walking and Podcasting Can Help Us Do Both

I have always been an avid reader. Books opened up a whole new world for me, and I devoured them growing up. Today, I still love reading. And while a good “beach read” is a fun escape, I don’t so much want to be entertained as I want to be provoked. I want to be challenged in the way I think, or understand something more fully.

As we get older it is so important that we stay curious, that we allow our worlds to expand. It is also important that we stay active. I have discovered a way to do both.

When I was diagnosed with RA a number of years ago, it was challenging to stay active. I loved to run, hike, and weight train. But for a while, I couldn’t even walk. Just getting to the mailbox was a stretch. But as my body began to heal, I was able to go farther. Sometimes I wanted a distraction from some discomfort I still had.

Enter the podcast. I love the long format style of discussion, and after this year’s election cycle, I can’t handle other news sources. Sound bites never tell the whole story and often suggest something that is far from truth. Context is king, and sound bites offer none of it.

At first, I just listened to episodes that were inspirational. I needed encouragement, motivation, and hope poured into my soul. I almost always came back better than when I left. Because I believe that truth is truth, it didn’t matter if someone’s belief system was different than mine.  I learned to look past some of the things I might not agree with and grab the good.

Honestly, anything that sounds interesting usually proves to have some element of inspiration in it. Interesting people inspire me. Below are some of my favorite podcasts, along with a few specific episodes that I really liked. 

Super Soul Conversations Oprah Winfrey

  • Lady Gaga: “Heal through Kindness”
  • Bryan Stevenson: “The Power of Mercy and Forgiveness”
  • Michael Singer: “Free Yourself from Negative Thoughts”
  • Paul Coelho: “What if the Universe Conspired in Your Favor”

Tim Ferris

  • Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks: “Powerful Books, Mystics, and the Dangers of Safe Spaces”
  • Lori Gottlieb: “The Power of Getting to Unknot Yourself”
  • Jocko Willink: “On Quitting, Relationships, Financial Discipline and more”
  • Jim Collins: “The Value of Small Gestures, Unseen sources of Power and more”
  • Jerry Seinfeld: “A Comedy Legend’s Systems, Routines, and Methods for Success”
  • Harley Finkelstein: “Tactics and Strategies form Shopify, the Future of Retail and more”

Joe Rogan (on Spotify)

  • Edward Snowden
  • James Nestor
  • Brett Weinstein 
  • Neil de Grasse Tyson
  • Elon Musk
  • Tulsi Gabbard

These are just some that I have enjoyed. The podcast world has exploded over the past few years and there are so many out there. Get good walking shoes, grab earbuds, and head out the door.  You just might come back better than when you left!