By the time you hit 50, I can guarantee one thing. You’ve got something. Or possibly several somethings. 🙂 You’ve got something you deal with every day. It’s become a part of you. But it’s something you have. It doesn’t have you.
Your something reminds you that you’re human; that you’re fragile; that you need help from others. It keeps you humble. But it doesn’t own you.
What’s your something? Today I’m sharing mine, telling you how I manage it, and why I’m actually thankful for it.
What I Have
I have lupus (aka systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE). It’s a systemic auto-immune disease. An auto-immune disease is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells (inflammation), and systemic disease affects the entire body. There are over 100 auto-immune diseases! Other common ones include rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, Sjögren’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, Raynaud’s syndrome, type 1 diabetes, and alopecia. (Click here for a full list.)
Although no one in my family of origin has lupus (or any other diagnosed auto-immune disease), it has genetic components. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 44 years old, but I exhibited symptoms throughout my younger years. Those symptoms included sun sensitivity (a prickly rash with exposure), fatigue and headaches. When I was 44, I developed swelling in both hands and wrists at the same time, which initially led me to the doctor. Since many of the symptoms of lupus can easily be explained away or point to other issues, the average person visits five doctors before being diagnosed! (I went to four.) Although there are markers in the blood that can point to lupus, there isn’t a single blood test that specifically diagnoses it.
If you know anything about auto-immune diseases, you know that they tend to run in packs! Since I was diagnosed with lupus seven years ago, I’ve also been diagnosed with celiac disease, and I show symptoms of Raynaud’s disease and Sjögren’s syndrome. Except for celiac disease (which is an all-or-nothing thing), I’m thankful that each of my diseases/syndromes are on the milder ends of the spectrum.
Lupus is the auto-immune disease that I deal with the most (along with celiac, of course, which affects everything I eat or don’t eat, as the case may be!). Although it’s somewhat unpredictable, it does have three specific triggers that can cause it to flare: sun, sleep, and stress.
What it Means
Just like everyone who has something, I mostly deal with it privately. Here’s what life with my something looks like on a day-to-day basis:
- Sunscreen – I wear sunscreen every single day on all exposed skin. Last year, Consumer Reports Institute declared La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk the number one most effective sunscreen in their testing, so that’s what I use. I use it even if I’m going to be home the entire day because even the indirect sun exposure I get through our windows can affect my lupus.
- Sleep – Getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night is critical to my health, so I prioritize it. I take a 30-minute nap every day sometime between 1-2 p.m., which helps me manage my fatigue and have the energy I need for the latter part of the day.
- Stress – I haven’t written specifically on stress management (Note to self: need to do that!), but I find that exercise, eating right, taking time to do the things I love with the people I love, and having a job that I adore all help me manage my stress.
- Wellness – Since auto-immune diseases attack the body’s healthy cells, just like most people with them, I take immune-lowering medication. That means my natural immunity (which is over-active because of my disease) are being artificially lowered, leaving me more vulnerable than the average person to everything from colds to cancer. So it’s important for me to stay well and not get sick, as the risk of secondary infection is much higher.
Now you know the full story. As I’ve shared before, it’s taken me 3½ years to get to the point where I’m comfortable telling you all about my something. No one wants to have a disease with a name and its own non-profit (!), mostly because when people find out about it, you somehow become synonymous with your disease in their minds. Oh, they can’t help it, and I don’t blame them! It’s unconscious, and I get it. I unconsciously do it to other people too!
I have lupus, but lupus doesn’t have me. It’s something that I have, but it’s not who I am. It is not my identity. But it is my something, and I own it.
Oddly, I’m thankful for my something. Why? It’s made me more empathetic toward others. It’s made me more patient. It’s made me realize how much I need my faith.
My something has made me so thankful for the things I do have.
I may have lupus, but I also have:
- A happy marriage.
- A great relationship with my adult kids.
- A daughter-in-law that I adore.
- A beautiful home.
- The ability to travel.
- A job I love.
- And so much more…
But life is not a ledger.
You don’t line up your something(s) on one side of the page and your non-somethings on the other side and see how you feel.
But you can make the decision not to let your something become your identity.
You can choose to live with gratitude, joy, and love. You can choose to focus on the blessings in your life.
What’s Your Something?
I know you have something. It’s okay. You don’t have to share it. I didn’t share my something with you for a really long time. Just know that I know you have one—or maybe more than one. Know that I know that it’s not who you are. It’s not your identity.
Some of us need to seek medical or emotional support or help to deal with our something. That’s cool. (I have a whole fleet of MDs!) Some of us like to keep our something private and just share it with a few people in our lives. I get that too. Some of us deal with our something by going public in a big way—volunteering for a non-profit or working to educate others about our something. If that’s your deal, then go for it!
Everybody Has Something
Just because you can’t see other people’s something doesn’t mean they don’t have one. People are often surprised when I tell them that I have lupus because they think I’m super healthy and I have a lot of energy! I think they feel like a something like mine should be visible in some way! The fact of the matter is: I have energy because I manage my something.
The truth is: some people have a visible something, but lots of people don’t.
That’s why it’s so important to show kindness and compassion to others and give them the benefit of the doubt.
Because everybody has something.
I hope this post was an encouragement to you. xoxo