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Coping with Autoimmune diseases

Updated on March 16, 2010

My personal autoimmune diseases run in my family while some have not be diagnosed, My twin sister and I both have two different autoimmune diseases that attack the same gland. The diseases are both autoimmune because the same mutation causes the cells to attack themselves in different ways within the same gland. I have been diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis which is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the thyroid gland causing it to under-produce except during a thyroiditis flare up. These flare ups are few and far between but can reek havoc within a body and cause self esteem issues with those particularly uncomfortable with weight gain. Under-active thyroid can cause weight gain as well as hair loss and skin changes. I also have Grave's Disease which causes the thyroid gland to over react and the biggest symptom I noticed was extreme weight loss, vomiting, and tremors. I started off with just having Hashimoto's which caused me to gain over 70lbs when it was untreated. I had horrible self esteem because I was in the military at the time and I tried every diet that the nutritionist threw at me and the most I'd loose was 2lbs even when following the strictest diet. I slowly learned that it doesn't matter how much I weigh as long as I was trying to be the healthiest I could be even without proper treatment. I have joint problems too so what I started to do was walk 1 mile a day and slowly increased it to 1.5 miles and just that little bit made me feel like I was trying to improve my own condition instead of blaming whatever was convenient. I didn't know what my diseases were so I set out to learn everything I could on them so that I could assist with my medical care and feel like I was intelligently aiding my health instead of causing the problem. What I was able to do after researching was to suggest ways to help me instead of stand there and ask the doctor to do everything. This action made me feel more in control. I started keeping track of all my blood work to monitor when I felt ok and when the symptoms started coming back so my health care team would know when to adjust the medication. Now I wear my weight like a flag showing that despite my weight issues and medical problems that I have an ability to monitor if not naturally adjust my condition to my feelings instead of moping about the what might have happened had I not been diagnosed.

My father and his father both were diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in their 50s. My dad just turned 63 and he said his biggest coping mechanism with combating the disease is dieting with support. When we eat with him, everyone makes sure that the meal is a balanced nutrition and not overly sugar loaded. I suggested this to my step mother when he was diagnosed that if he couldn't have it in excess then let's not have it in the house in the extreme. I watched my grandfather growing up binge on cookies without ever checking his blood sugar levels. I know now from reviewing his actions later in life that he wasn't educated on how to control the disease and not let it take him over. He eventually died of a diabetes related heart problem that went undiagnosed because he didn't want to "control" a disease he felt he didn't have. I am proud of my father that he is not living in denial about how serious this condition is and that he is making life style changes that will improve his overall health and make him happy. My father told me once that just the support of his family has made the difference that my grandfather didn't have. I feel the biggest thing that will make or break the coping is having the support even through the hardest times from family and friends. If you do not have the support of those closest to you then their perceived attitudes can in turn make you feel like you are less of an individual due to a disease instead of unique.


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