One of my biggest fears is having an autoimmune disease flare. Some people are afraid of public speaking, some people dread visits from their mother-in-law, others panic at the thought of using a public restroom. We all have our own unique fears, but when you suffer from a chronic illness being afraid of its return is a huge one.
I have been able to maintain my Crohn’s disease mostly in remission for the past year, but this doesn’t mean that I no longer have it…. nor that I am totally free of the fears that one of my “bad tummy days” might turn into a “bad tummy month/year” as it has in the past. Food is an amazing medicine. I am 100% sure that I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t changed my diet and made changes in my lifestyle using the autoimmune protocol. But this doesn’t mean that I am “cured” or immune to slip ups and health problems. It does however mean that when I have a recurrence of symptoms I have the tools and the knowledge to take care of myself and avoid letting my illness spiral out of control.
There are many things, both within and beyond our power to control, that can cause our autoimmune symptoms to reappear even after we have almost forgotten that they exist. For me common ones are: dietary slip-ups (accidentally eating something that causes me to get sick like dairy or gluten); an illness or infection not related to my AI condition (this can be as simple as a common cold or something more serious like a stubborn UTI that requires antibiotics; lack of sleep; or last but definitely not least…. STRESS!
Stress is definitely one of the things that can sneak up on me and get out of control really quickly. It is easy to blame myself and think that I should “just relax” but that stresses me out EVEN MORE! Stress can be the mild stress of an upcoming deadline, or the more acute stress of an accident or argument involving friends or family. Regardless of what is causing the stress it is one of my number one autoimmune triggers. So much so that even something as silly as an important phone call can send me running to the bathroom.
Knowing my triggers has helped me a lot during my recovery, but there are still some things that can quickly undermine ALL of my best efforts to avoid/resolve a flare. The funny part? They are mostly in my own head.
Here is my own personal “reminder list” that I go through when I start to feel not so hot… physically or emotionally.
1) CALL THE DOCTOR
When I first got sick, I would avoid calling the doctor until I could barely get out of bed. One thing that I have learned over the years is that getting a flare under control before it gets out of control is much easier. I think of it this way, while we might not need a fire extinguisher to put out a match, it is much better to have one on hand (whether or not we need to use it) than to wait and try to put out a forest fire with a bucket of water. I often will see my doctor, but also give myself a chance to implement my other anti-flare tactics before using any extreme measures. With autoimmune disease it is important to be armed with all of the knowledge and tools available to combat our illnesses. You can read more about my thoughts on medication and the AIP, as well as how I “deal with doctors” by clicking on the links.
2) FORGIVENESS / TRUST THAT IT WILL WORK
As soon as I start to feel sick a million evil little voices in my head start to rear up and try and undermine all of the hard work I have done to heal over the years. Common thoughts (to myself):
- “If this stupid diet works so well, why are you feeling sick?!!”
- “If you’re going to be sick anyway…. you might as well eat a pizza.”
- “You are a failure.”
- “Your genes are doomed and you need a body transplant.”
- “Here we go…. sick again.”
- “This is never going to end.”
- “I don’t even know why your husband is still here you are always sick and no fun. He should be with someone who can go out to dinner without playing 20 questions with the waiter and double checking with the chef about ALL of the ingredients in his special seasoning mix.”
- “Normal people can go out past 9:00 PM.”
- “Stop being so negative and emotional you are going to make yourself even sicker.”
While my real brain knows that all of these things are ridiculous, stupid and counterproductive, my getting sick brain is often hard to control. Making time to think (or write down) positive things about my body and myself as well as focus on trusting that I can and will heal can make a big difference as I struggle with these negative voices. Walking on the beach (or even just sitting and looking at the water) helps me calm down and see a bigger picture. This has been especially important with my pregnancy as my worries and self doubt have been compounded by the fact that my health is no longer “just mine” and is also intricately entwined with that of the little person I am growing.
3) EAT “SQUEAKY CLEAN”
One thing that helps me feel better both physically and emotionally when I am less than 100% is to go back to elimination AIP eating. Read more about what that means here. It is VERY important to remember that AIP is not just about what you don’t eat, but also about what you DO eat. Fitting in bone broth, organ meat, and lots of greens so that you have a strong arsenal of nutrients available is just as important as avoiding “off limits foods.” For my particular health problems, I find that sticking to bone broth based veggie soup for a few days can go a long ways towards controlling a flare. After an “AIP reset” you might not need to do reintroductions all over again, especially if you already are pretty clear about what your body tolerates well, but it can also be a great chance to identify foods that you might not be tolerating as well as you thought.
4) FIND SUPPORT FROM LIKE MINDED PEOPLE
I try and avoid going on and on about my illness or diet to everyone I meet…. and especially not to my family and friends who are already tired of hearing about it (see number 7 on this post), but luckily there is a WHOLE WORLD of people on instagram, facebook, and social media who are just as excited about healing with food and lifestyle as I am. I can post photos of my favorite liver patê and geek out about L. Glutamine supplementation ALL I WANT and no one gets annoyed. I find this community especially helpful when I am going through a rough patch with my illness because they really understand where I am coming from and what I am going through. Last week I was having a rough day and posted this picture on my instagram. I was blown away and comforted by the kind and heartfelt responses I received. If you are feeling alone or isolated on your journey reach out…. I guarantee that you will find more love and support than you ever imagined possible.
5) BUMP UP YOUR SUPPLEMENTS
So speaking of L. Glutamine….
Often when I am feeling really great I get lazy about taking supplements. I think this is normal, when we feel good we often feel like we don’t even need all this extra stuff. I am not a doctor and I firmly believe that a supplement that works great for me, might not be the best choice for everyone. That said there are certain supplements that I know have helped me out when I am less than 100%. One of them is L. Glutamine (Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, of thepaleomom.com talks about it here), another is Prescript Assist ((Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, of thepaleomom.com talks about it here). These supplements, in addition to adding gelatin to my tea and smoothies seem to help me support my body when I am experiencing a flare. If you have supplements that help you, making sure to take them regularly can definitely help you “put out the match before it turns into a forest fire!”
6) SLEEP EVEN MORE
I don’t care who’s birthday it is, or what deadline you have to make…. GO TO BED! Your body is working overtime when you are flaring (both to attack itself and to heal the damage… talk about double duty)… don’t make it do this with low batteries! Not sleeping enough is one of my number one triggers… a close second to emotional stress. Just one night of inadequate sleep is enough to raise inflammation markers. Can’t sleep at night? Sleep at your desk, sleep on the couch, just close your eyes and lie there! The Paleo Mom has a great program to help with improving sleep which I highly recommend… learn more about it here! Just in case you want to read more about sleep click here, here and here.
7) LAUGH WITH FRIENDS
It is really easy to start over-analyzing symptoms and freaking out about an oncoming flare. Believe me I do it all the time… one bad day and I am already imagining myself in a hospital bed on IV nutrition. Sometimes the best thing to do is just not think about it so much. Hang out with your friends, laugh, think about ANYTHING other than being sick, and just have fun (as long as it doesn’t keep you out past your bedtime).
Want some help laughing right now???? Head over here…. I bet you will be laughing in no time!
8) FIND JOY IN SMALL VICTORIES
It is often helpful for me to remember that it took my body a long time to get sick… and for this very reason it is unrealistic to expect that it will heal instantly no matter how great my intentions and dedication to healing. I try and take joy in the fact that I can often sleep through night without a bathroom break and go on long walks without getting too tired. I also no longer have to plan my day around the location of the nearest bathroom. Everyone’s victories are different, but acknowledging them gives us strength. These victories can be extra helpful to remember as we work to combat the negative self talk I mentioned in number 2.
9) KNOW THAT THIS TOO WILL PASS
You have been through this before, and made it out the other side. You will do it again. You are a strong, determined person and recovery is possible (yes, I am saying this just as much to myself as I am to my readers, maybe it would be worth writing down and taping to the mirror or the refrigerator whichever you look at more ;). It is immensely frustrating to realize that in spite of all of the hard work we have done, our bodies are still susceptible to illness and autoimmune disease flares….but every time we conquer a flare we learn more about ourselves and our bodies. We show ourselves, yet again, our own strength and perseverance. Giving up is not an option.
WE CAN DO THIS!!!!!