March is Autoimmune Disease Awareness month. Do we need an entire month to be aware? You bet we do!
With autoimmune diseases affecting about 50 million of us, there’s a lot of information to share. Over 100 types have been identified, with the most frequent being Lupus, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Celiac Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
As devastating as a diagnosis of cancer would be, consider receiving a diagnosis of something equally devastating, but no one that you talk with recognizes it as a life sentence. Your autoimmune disease may receive no media attention, but your life has been altered just the same.
Some people will view you as a hypochondriac. Others will be totally misinformed and offer you advice about how to cure you illness. To them I say that Celiac Disease is not a wheat allergy and Rheumatoid Arthritis is not just another form of osteoarthritis. Muscle weakness, joints on fire, extreme and chronic exhaustion, severe abdominal pain and inflammation, uncontrollable diarrhea. These are just a few symptoms of some type of autoimmune disease.
Many people with autoimmune disease don’t show the outward signs of what they are carrying with them every day. Never, never assume to know anyone else’s burden. “How are you feeling today?” is acceptable conversation if you detect that something is wrong. Unless you carry your own autoimmune disease with you, “I know how you feel. I had the flu last week and I couldn’t do a thing all week.” is not acceptable. Sympathy is not required nor desired. A little understanding is much appreciated. Ask questions without making judgements.
Each of the 100 plus autoimmune diseases will change lives. Forever. There is no cure. Only attempts to control symptoms and return to some quality of life. To explain it in military terms, an autoimmune disease is friendly fire. There is nothing friendly about being fired on by your own side of the battle. The body’s cells are being attack by your own immune system because something has gone berserk and those cells are viewed as the enemy. So the immune system attacks. And the results are devastating.
There is so much more to say about autoimmune diseases and I’m thankful to have an entire month to do just that.