Thursday, 16 October 2014

Illness inspires the spirit to change

I have two autoimmune diseases. Rheumatoid Arthritis and Hashimoto's Thyroiditis.  Autoimmune diseases often come in packs, so it's quite common to have more than one.  Autoimmune basically means that the body attacks itself in various ways.  Each type creates it's own delightful symptoms to manage, most of them have chronic fatigue as a symptom.  I've been trying really hard since I was diagnosed three years ago to manage the diseases with a strong lifestyle support process.  Well, actually food management.  I eliminated Gluten from my diet exclusively and also try to avoid sugar and dairy and all processed foods.

Adjusting one's diet to that extent constitutes a huge change in one's life.  After 40 years of habitual reaching for the bread as a snack, or popping into the gas station for a little something, it takes a lot to reorientate oneself to a new way.  I've thought that I was doing really well.  Actually I WAS doing really well.  I dropped about 17kg and got back so much energy I was starting to feel almost normal again.  I started a rehabilitation programme at the local Bio Kineticist which got my joints moving again and helped me to start building up the fitness and muscle strength to help me manage my RA.

So I was thinner (back to 23 year-old weight) and fitter and stronger.  I had more energy and my brain was firing more neurons than normal.  I had taken my Thyroid factor down to pre-diagnosis levels just by diet management and so take absolutely no medication to manage my thyroid - it is effectively in remission.  And hopefully it won't retrigger itself as long as I don't expose my body to any gluten.

The RA is a tougher little bastard to manage, though.  It's not actually typical 'arthritis' as people understand it.  It's actually a disease that can attack many organs in the body and cause chaos.  Most typically it affects the synovial fluid in the joints in hands and feet, and then hips and shoulders and knees.  It causes inflammation in those joints which reduces mobility and causes nasty pain.  After a while, the chronic inflammation starts causing cracks in the bones and arthritis sets in, causing permanent damage to the bones and joints.  Once it has progressed far enough, sufferers will experience crippling pain and severe distortion of their limbs.  Hip and knee replacements and foot and hand reconstruction can help but it can really be a horrible and debilitating disease.

So you can imagine that I was not pleased to find that I have this particular disease!  I knew from my copious internet research last year that, once I visited my Rheumatologist for the first time, she would probably propose a very aggressive treatment plan.  If you are lucky enough to be diagnosed early enough in your disease, and you receive aggressive medical treatment, you may be one of the lucky ones that is able to stop progression in its tracks.  I had my hand up for that even though I have always been that girl who avoids any chemical medication like the plague.

My doctor prescribed the full monty!  Daily doses of strong anti inflammatories and a weekly dose of Chemotherapy (a drug called 'Methotrexate).  Chemo for something other than Cancer seems like a weird thing, but it has been known for years to have a disease altering effect on many RA sufferers, although nobody really knows why.  If I was lucky, it would help me stop this thing.  So I went for it.  I had no idea whether the Chemo was going to make me feel horrible or not touch sides, and I was naturally terrified of it all.  The weekend before I started taking it, I went away for my last 'chemo-free' blast with my lover: a romantic getaway was planned, and then he was going to be that guy who holds my hand through my chemo Fridays and loves me better.  If we're talking here about spiritual transformation, then I suppose it would be the Universe's little joke that this would be the weekend I discovered that he was cheating on me and had the most horrific and abusive fight with him.  There would be no chemo hand-holding. I was destined to walk this very frightening and painful road completely alone.

So the quote at the beginning of this story, which was sent to me on FaceBook today by a fellow sufferer, suddenly begins to make sense.  Just as I consciously embark on this tough medical road to heal myself, the really tough soul messages begin to land in waves.  My lover cheats and breaks my heart, which is still bleeding 6 months later.  My business begins to fail just as the chemo fog sets in and starts to impair my business thinking and logical judgement.  My husband starts falling in love with his girlfriend.  My son breaks his leg. My Lover-MD pisses off some of my senior staff and they leave. I discover he has being overpaying himself for years. My family has to move out of the house we sold and camp at my dad's place because the house we were moving to had delays in the renovation project.  I'm faced with bankruptcy as my company continues to dive. We're trying everything to find an emergency rescuer.

And then I start a medical slide downhill.  The chemo suppresses my immune system, which obviously opens me up to infection.  My bladder infections (also RA related) start coming thick and fast until they become kidney infection and then I'm suddenly in hospital, unable to breathe and with a heart that's out of control.

Universe?  Knock much?

I am systematically stripped of every chance I have of responding proactively to the emergency which has become my life.  I am taken completely out of the driving seat and lose all control.  Rock bottom. Ground Zero.  I am reduced to that part where I am just naked. With nothing and nobody to stand with me. I am alone.  Afraid and incapable.

It is from this moment that I begin to realise that real change and growth is needed in me.  My illness had finally got me to the moment where it was inspiring my spirit to embrace the change that I so desperately need.

And then a new path begins to gently unfold in front of me.  Wonderful buyers arrive to buy my company, just 2 weeks before the bank would have closed me down.  I begin a slow and soulful walk along a road to recovery.  I'm prescribed anxiety medicine to create some gentleness around me.  I have so much to learn. So much to change.  And writing through it all is my way of making sure I get it all. That I learn the lessons and retain them. They are being forged in pain and despair.  I don't want to waste them.

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