Happy(?) Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month!
March is autoimmune disease awareness month!
That really rolls off the tongue, right?
In talking to some friends and family recently, I’ve realized that not everyone is necessarily super clear on what autoimmune diseases are. Which totally makes sense! I don’t know what bitcoin is! I don’t understand how 3D printing works! I don’t get Periscope at all! And until one of those things directly affects my life or a kind soul explains it to me, I won’t ever know. That’s how it works.
So, if you’re interested, read on for my very non-medical, non-technical version of what autoimmune diseases are:
Basically, having an autoimmune disease means my body is a bit broken. Or more specifically, my immune system is busted. In a normally functioning immune system, your body works to fight off infections and viruses, which is a good thing that lets us live our lives and not get sick every time we encounter a germ. Unfortunately for me, my body sees itself as an infection or virus, and thus promptly attacks itself on a regular basis. It’s pretty rude and counterproductive.
It’s not clear how I got Crohn’s disease, and there’s no foreseeable cure. So the medical plan for my life is to try to stop my body from attacking itself as much as humanly possible. This involves trial and error on a lot of really amazing medicines that try to get my body to chill out and stop fighting itself.
The biggest thing to be aware of about autoimmune diseases, in my humble opinion, is that they make no damn sense. I think the hardest thing in explaining my disease to friends and family is that they always want a clear-cut explanation or way to solve it, and there isn’t one, which can be frustrating. A messed up immune system is just a wacky thing to deal with. I can’t make sense of it, but I can accept it. For me, accepting it means knowing my body’s limits and doing whatever I can to stave off the unfortunate symptoms that accompany life with an autoimmune disease. Accepting it means learning to puree vegetables and take a nap if my body is screaming at me to do so.
As far as symptoms go, those are equally confusing and weird. While an autoimmune disease can affect pretty much any part of the body specifically, they also come with a host of other, more general symptoms. Crohn’s disease mainly affects my GI tract–– but it dabbles in a little bit of everything else too, from joint pain to fatigue to eye problems and skin rashes.
A lot of people with autoimmune diseases are on special medications that suppress the immune system. In terms of my Crohn’s, these medicines do great work. It stops my body from fighting itself and making the Crohn’s worse. But it’s also literally suppressing my immune system, which makes it that much easier to get sick in basically every other way. So treating my Crohn’s can mean getting the cold, or the flu, or any other number of unfun things. It’s a trade-off.
So if you know someone with an autoimmune disease, use March as an excuse to send them a little extra love and understanding. And as always, I’m not a doctor (nor do I play one on TV), so if you want more ~scientific~ information on how the immune system works (or in these cases, doesn’t work), talk to your doctor! Or build a time machine so you can go back and pay better attention in 8th grade health class.