The Upsides of Having an Autoimmune Disease
Let’s knock out the specifics real quick: I’ve had psoriatic arthritis since I was 26. As far as autoimmune diseases go, it’s really not all that bad, since I’m fortunate enough to have drugs made specifically to target my particular disorder. To sum up what psoriatic arthritis (hereafter called PA cause that’s a lot to keep typing) means: I have stiff, painful joints in my shoulders, hips, and hands, along with the added perk of randomly red or scaly patches of skin, but my drugs keep pretty much all of those symptoms under control.
I’ve tried writing about my PA before, but every time I do one of those posts it always sort of comes out as a bummer, and that’s not what this blog is here for. At the same time, I really do want to make a point of talking about it, on the off change that anyone out there is being as impossibly stupid as I was and ignoring their symptoms, rationalizing that they’re too young to come down with anything serious. Thus, today I decided to talk about the perks of having an autoimmune disease in your twenties. It’s not free concert tickets and whiskey parties, but when you’re going years working through pain and getting doctors shrugging with no idea what’s wrong, you have to learn to look on the bright side of things. Which I guess is a perk in itself, but we’ll still open with a stronger one.
You Have a Great Excuse At All Times
Guess who never, ever, has to be guilted into helping people move for the rest of his life? This guy! While drugs keep my PA under control, and moderate exercise helps keep flare-ups in check (now you all know the real reason I start every day with the gym) prolonged activity like moving a house can cause my joints to get extra painful. And that’s not really the sort of excuse anyone can argue with when you throw it on the table. It works for lots of other things too. Friends want to go hiking, but you hate the outdoors? Boom, toss out the PA, and the discussion is over. People wanting to wait all night in line for some dumb new electronic or concert tickets? Nah, sounds like just a little too much strain.
The real upside here is that you always have the option of pushing yourself and doing those activities, when you want to. You just have to make sure and not plan anything too strenuous for the next day or so to let your body heal. It gets you out of unfun stuff, but still leaves you the freedom to participate when you think an activity will be worthwhile. Sure, you’ll have to deal with the pain afterwards, but we’re looking at silver linings, which means there has to be a cloud or two to start with.
You Make Peace With The Eventual Need For Assistance, and Jumpstart the Paperwork
This one miiiiight be a bit specific to me, but it’s broad enough that others might find the same benefit, so I’m counting it. Here’s the thing about being my height and build: sooner or later, no matter how much care I take of myself, my knees are going to be largely just for show. That has nothing to do with the PA, just the toll I get handed for getting to see over everyone’s head and being able to lift kegs without help.
Now, as someone who has PA, I technically already qualify for things like handicapped parking, because as I mentioned the drugs control most symptoms, not nullify them, and not everyone responds to it as well as I do. However, seeing as I can still walk normally and wasn’t raised by assholes, I obviously have never taken the DMV up on that option. But one day, when the knees give out and I’m stuck trudging along on replacements, I might really need to limit my walks, and having one foot already in the process will make for smooth sailing. And in one way or another, that’s true for all of us. It might not be your knees, maybe it will be back issues for you, or hips, or whatever.
We all decay, and sooner or later we’ll all need a little extra help making it through our daily lives. When that day comes, it’s nice to know that instead of having to convince a doctor that yes, we do need help even if they can’t see our pain, we can point the auto-immune diagnosis on a chart and be like “Booyah, been broken for decades, sucka. Someone get me one of them fancy flying hover chairs. (I’m assuming this will be a ways off in the future).
You Have Better Perspective
Devout blog followers will remember that I’ve talked before about getting pretty darn fat when I was unemployed around 24, and then slowly working my way back down. So, I was already in a somewhat health conscious state of mind before I got PA, but it all very obligatory. I knew I had to work out and eat right because that would keep me from gaining weight again, which I didn’t want. It was pure necessity, like paying taxes.
Let me tell you though, there is nothing to make you want to actually use your body like suddenly not being able to. I went from being healthy, young, and strong, to wincing every time I got out of a chair, almost overnight, and things only got worse from there. I glazed over it before, but it took nearly three years for a doctor to actually figure out what I had (my symptoms were atypical, in that I had almost no skin presentation) and so during that time I was either unmedicated or on drugs that only sort of worked, at best. This is where I would have expected myself to puff back up again, as movement became too painful to even contemplate working out.
But one of my biggest personality flaws is that I am stubborn and contrarian. As soon I wasn’t supposed to be able to work out, I doubled down on it. The idea of anyone, even my own body, telling me what I could or couldn’t do pissed me off, so I grit my teeth and had some of my life’s most painful workout years. Even now that I’m on good drugs though, I still feel that motivation. Losing the ability to move easily made me appreciate it, and since autoimmunes often get worse as people age, I am trying to squeeze all the use out this damn flesh puppet that I can.
Even more than the physical though, my autoimmune experience gave the perspective of realizing just how mortal I am. Pretty much everyone in their early twenties thinks they’re invincible, and that’s why it took me three months of suffering before I even went to the first doctor. It’s a hard hill to get past, understanding that you, yes you, can get sick at any moment without warning, but I think people are better once they cross it. I definitely don’t put off seeing a physician when I discover new illnesses anymore.
And that’s really the main point of this blog, aside from the sweet illness perks: don’t be an idiot like me. If something goes wrong with your body, don’t try to rationalize it away when deep down you know it’s more than that. Be braver than I was, be smarter than I was, and just go see medical professional. I really hope this is advice most you never need, or at least not for a long while, but on the off chance any of you do, don’t be a dipshit.
Get checked, diagnosed, and on the right meds. Only then can you actually see the silver linings.