This is Part 1 of My Big Fat Autoimmune Mess! series. The other posts in this series include:
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. The information in this post cannot be used to treat or diagnose any disease.
“Okay, let’s see here… You have Hashimoto’s Disease, Raynaud’s Syndrome, so now we are just waiting for one more thing to pop up.”
She paused, and with her head tilted, peered at me and said “You do know that the likelihood of you developing 3 autoimmune issues is high, right? We are just waiting for that third… I see signs of Diabetes (Type 1), or perhaps Lupus…”
This was back in 2011, a year after my official diagnosis of Hashimoto’s Disease. I was a mess, on the verge of tears every time I met with my doctor because she always gave me news like that. And, it seemed, she always hinted at Lupus.
The threat of Lupus lingered over me for years. Every time I cheated on my gluten-free diet, I would hear her voice in the back of my head, quiet whispers of “Lupus… Lupus… Lupus… You’re going to get Lupus…”
Why she picked Lupus, I’m not sure. Aside from Raynaud’s (which is often associated with thyroid deficiency, and eventually went away), I literally had NO symptoms or testing to indicate a future development of the disease.
Four years later, I switched to a new functional medicine doctor and left the haunting thought of Lupus behind. My progress with Hashimoto’s was going so well, that I thought I was on my path to reversing any and all autoimmune issues – both known and unknown.
But in June of 2018, three months after giving birth to my second child, my blood test results indicated something different. I tested positive for antinuclear antibodies (ANA), which meant my blood was then tested for an entire cascade of other antibodies…
And whatdyaknow! There were some Lupus antibodies staring me in the face.
Funny. This was the same moment I also lowered my Hashimoto’s thyroid antibodies to almost zero – the lowest they have EVER been.
It’s like I traded my Hashimoto’s Disease for Lupus… or something like it.
But, how? Why? How did my last doctor KNOW?! So many questions.
While I wasn’t quite expecting another autoimmune disease, I was expecting something.
In March of 2018, about 15 minutes after I delivered my second baby, my blood pressure tanked and I hemorrhaged, losing a liter of blood.
After what felt like 10 IVs in my arms, loads of drugs to keep my heart rate up and stable, 2 blood transfusions, and the very best sandwich Frank has ever made me, I was recovering well… But I knew that there would be a toll on my autoimmune-prone body from such a traumatic event.
Knowing this, and that my immune system can do some wonky things post-partum, I called my doctor and asked him to order the blood tests he thought were necessary after a blood transfusion. That testing caught the Lupus-specific antibodies, particularly Anti-dsDNA.
I finally had at least a partial answer as to why I was experiencing a bunch of strange, new symptoms.
My doctor didn’t seem too concerned, but I was of a different opinion. Due to my desire for a fresh set of eyes, I met with a new functional medicine doctor.
I filled her in and she said “Well, have you ever heard of the AVISE CTD test? It’s advanced testing for Lupus, so we will know for sure what we are dealing with.”
(This is why I see multiple doctors… they all have their own tools and tricks.)
After a couple of weeks, she called me up and said…
“So, these are the weirdest test results I’ve ever seen. You could probably go see a rheumatologist if you’re looking for a definite diagnosis, but I’ll be honest… I don’t know if he’s going to be able to tell you anything.”
My testing included high antibody levels for:
And of course, my thyroid antibodies, which were still the lowest they have ever been.
But what’s funny is that I also tested negative for multiple antibodies associated with each of these diseases. So, while I probably tested the most positive for systemic scleroderma, there wasn’t really any definitive, clear diagnosis.
At that point, I officially decided – I am a Big Fat Autoimmune Mess, with some sort of mixed connective tissue disease and concerning levels of antibodies towards my kidneys (anti-dsDNA), lungs (anti-Scl-70), and joints (Anti-MCV).
I feel like I’m in the big leagues now.
Hashimoto’s is no doubt debilitating. But this whole situation carries a bunch of new risks that I’ve never had before.
My internal organs are subject to a continuous and degrading autoimmune attack. Google Systemic Scleroderma, or Lupus, and you’ll definitely see the word “death” more times than you would if you looked up Hashimoto’s.
But let me tell you something…
I’m NOT scared. Nor sad or disappointed.
Do you know why?
First, I have God. And this is a great reminder that HE is the one that is ultimately in control.
I’m not sure why He allowed me to spiral into this deep abyss of autoimmune-ness but I can tell you that the day I saw those test results, I noticed a feeling deep down in the pit of my stomach… a feeling of… what was that? Excitement?
I chuckled. Indeed, it is only God that could possibly give me passion and excitement for learning how to overcome my chronic widespread pain, debilitating brain fog, and itchy, scaly skin rashes. It is through that very feeling, that I know this is God’s will for me.
Though I don’t understand it now, there is something He will achieve through me and this situation, as long as I continually surrender to Him.
“We need to suffer patiently not only the burden of being ill, but being ill with a particular illness that God wants for us, among the people that He wants us to be with, and the discomforts that He permits us to experience.” – St. Francis de Sales
Second, while symptoms and types are extremely diverse, I’ve learned that almost every autoimmune disease can improve drastically through the use of functional medicine and lifestyle interventions.
To me, this is nothing new, just something different.
Through years of searching and searching for pieces to my Hashimoto’s puzzle, I am already armed with the knowledge (and healthcare team) I need to overcome this chronic illness.
(This is one of the #1 reasons I am such a promoter for becoming your own medical advocate. When you’re educated and equipped with the right resources, situations like this do not instill fear, but confidence.)
And finally, I know I’m not alone. Decades ago, Lupus, Scleroderma, RA, Hashimoto’s, Celiac – they were all so uncommon. The day-to-day journey was lonely and empty. But these days, it’s different.
Sadly (but to my benefit), there are MANY people in this autoimmune boat with me, both doctors and patients… even my own husband. And so many of us have discovered that it is possible to manage and live well with autoimmune disease.
We are all fighting the good fight together, learning more about what it takes every day. There is SO much good that can come from this. Hopefully, our experiences educate others and put an end to the autoimmune epidemic once and for all.
If you’re interested in reading a more detailed description of my symptoms and test results, click below to read part 2 of this series:
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Hi! I’m Anna, co-founder of Healthy Habits Reset. After managing my own autoimmune diseases using lifestyle, habit, and mindset changes, I now work to teach others how to navigate the treacherous and confusing journey of chronic illness living. I firmly believe YOU hold the power to question, think critically, and become your own rock-solid advocate in a world full of unhealthy habits. Consider me, and my husband, Frank, your autoimmune disease health coaches. Are you ready?!