Autoimmune disease

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Autoimmune disease  – my story

I think I began to run out of ‘juice’ as I like to call it, over 20 years ago.  I was at the end of my academic university/college life and it felt as if I was crumbling into little pieces.  That was before my working life had even started!

Looking back, I can see that was the real start of my battle with autoimmune disease and in particular, thyroid problems.  The dark, negative thoughts that I awoke to every morning were part of the illness but at the time, I couldn’t understand what was happening to me.  I only got diagnosed in 2004 [nearly two decades later] so it took a long time for me to get an answer to what was causing the problem.

Autoimmune disease  – the symptoms

Women are more susceptible to thyroid disease and as symptoms creep up on you quite insidiously, it can be missed for several years.  This is the link to the NHS website that offers more guidance but in essence, these are some of the symptoms for an underactive thyroid: –

  • tiredness
  • being sensitive to cold
  • weight gain
  • constipation
  • depression
  • slow movements and thoughts
  • muscle aches and weakness
  • muscle cramps
  • dry and scaly skin
  • brittle hair and nails
  • pain, numbness and a tingling sensation in the hand and fingers (carpal tunnel syndrome)
  • irregular periods or heavy periods

When you look at the list, it can be easy to put the pieces of the jigsaw together and acknowledge you actually have a medical problem.  I can recall separate incidences when I couldn’t think straight and/or get the words out of my mouth, times when my skin was so dry I could literally see skin dust come away from me if I rubbed my arm and finally, I recall times when my hairdresser told me my hair was thinning a little at my temples.  All big clues but just not obvious at the time.

The real indicator for me was around 2002 when I started to suffer from overwhelming tiredness.  So much so, that I wanted to go to sleep at my desk whilst at work.  I didn’t but I desperately wanted to.  I knew something was wrong but convincing my doctor that I needed to have tests was a different ball game altogether.  He told me that if he had a ‘pound for every time a woman told him she was tired he would be a millionaire’.  However, I had the test and the rest is history …

Autoimmune disease  – working and living

You live with autoimmune disease, you’re not cured.  I’m grateful for the diagnosis and treatment but ultimately, you still have to live and work – nobody is going to pay my bills except me!  So what do you do?  Well, the doctor told me I should ‘take more holidays’.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have that option as I had to work full time and earn money to pay the mortgage, put food on the table etc.  I had to work out ways to live with what I had and still be able to work.

Most of us have to work to pay our bills but I have also been determined to work on ‘my terms’ which is why I have created different income streams [such as matched betting and private tuition] that allow me to work in the way I want to and indeed need to whilst living with autoimmune disease.

Autoimmune disease  – exercise

I used to be a competitive swimmer both speed and long distance.  I was once one of the fastest swimmers in the North West of England and I absolutely loved to swim.  However, my knee joints started to express their displeasure which was yet another lovely legacy of my thyroid issue.  The pain has worsened with the years and swimming is off the agenda completely which is a pity but not the end of the world.  I needed to find an alternative exercise route that didn’t involve my knees in any way shape or form.

Eventually, I stumbled across BodyBlade which has been brilliant for me.  It was originally designed for disabled athletes and works using resistance.  You do need to work at the technique [which is push and pull] but it ticked all the boxes insofar as it didn’t require much space and was light.  I’ve also taken it on holiday with me as it can be thrown in the back of the car without any fuss at all.  It gives you a complete aerobic workout plus it’s cheaper and more convenient than a gym membership!

Autoimmune disease – pain and painkillers

There has definitely been a massive increase in pain as the years have passed.  Headaches, in particular, seemed more frequent and then I experienced horrendous pain when my knees worsened.

Ultimately, I didn’t want to have to always rely on painkillers such as ibuprofen based products that deal with inflammation.  I was given Naproxen which is very powerful and whilst it worked amazingly well for my knee pain, it is definitely not something I want to take long term.  Again, I needed to find a more natural alternative.  I tried all the fish oils and it was to no avail.  I used to go to bed and find myself waking up in what I can only describe as agony so no, fish oil was not the answer.

However, after some research, I stumbled across marine collagen supplements and I was amazed to discover that the pain in my knees has reduced dramatically.  I still get twinges, I’d be lying if I said otherwise, but that ‘take your breath away’ pain that I was suffering from so regularly has gone so I am going to continue taking my collagen supplements without fail.

As far as headaches/migraines are concerned, I have found that an excellent alternative has been to use white Tiger Balm on my temples.  It creates a sort of menthol distraction that really does help to ease headaches without the need to resort to painkillers every 4 hours.


Red Tiger Balm is also excellent for aching necks and muscles.  Its smell is enormously comforting too and it feels as if you’re being given a warm hug as the heat eases your discomfort.  I wouldn’t be without Tiger Balm now and I truly love it.

Autoimmune disease – sleep and anxiety

I used to sleep really well but the onset of thyroid problems made me more anxious and definitely affected my sleep.

I have found that lavender oil is extremely comforting and whilst it doesn’t guarantee sleep it certainly aids relaxation.  I try to combine this with positive thoughts and mindfulness techniques i.e. concentrating on how I feel in that moment rather than worrying about the past or future over which we have no control.

The mind is a powerful thing and it can heal or harm us in equal measure.  Autoimmune disease can be both physically and mentally debilitating so we need to try and use our minds to aid our recovery from the worst of the symptoms and to deal with what cannot yet be cured.

These are some of my best ‘life hack’ tips when it comes to living and working with autoimmune illness.  I really hope they have been helpful and given you value.

Here’s to life on your terms,

Rachel a.k.a The Life Hack Tutor

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Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune Disease

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