I got all A’s: allergies, anxiety, and autoimmune disease. Realizing this gave me a deeper perspective as well as more compassion and humility. These A’s are not the marks of excellence I received in grade school and college. Instead, they signify my body is not performing correctly.
The challenges of living with 3 chronic illnesses have changed me. At one time, I was a determined valedictorian, honors college graduate, and career-minded young lady. But I no longer depend on my knowledge and abilities to accomplish my plans. I now fulfill my purpose in life by abiding in Christ.
My biggest life-changing A—autoimmune disease—came about after many years of steady progression. With autoimmunity, the immune system does not function as it should. My natural defense system has been mistakenly attacking my own body.1
The first signs of autoimmune disease emerged in my last year of college. My fingers would become ice-cold and white. Sometimes my fingers, toes, and even my ears and nose would become hot and red. A doctor identified these reactions as part of Raynaud’s phenomenon, which can occur by itself or with other autoimmune diseases.2
More odd symptoms appeared and disappeared in my 20’s. Then in May 2007, severe pain, fatigue, and muscle weakness came on suddenly. These symptoms persisted and soon altered life as I knew it.
After 5 months of appointments with multiple doctors, I received a diagnosis of another autoimmune disease. I have an undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD). This type of autoimmune disease can affect many parts of the body such as joints, muscles, skin, and tissues.3
Four months after getting the autoimmune disease diagnosis, another doctor informed me of test results that showed I have food allergies and sensitivities. These may have developed along with the autoimmune disease. Or, as indicated by my history of digestive issues, they could have existed even before then.
Food allergies also changed a significant part of my life. As a little girl, I learned to bake and cook from my mom and grandma. I waitressed in a café as soon as I could work, and I even considered a career in restaurant management during college. But I can no longer eat what I once made from our family’s favorite recipes. In fact, preparing my own meals each day still challenges me.
I also discovered I have environmental and seasonal allergies, which started bothering me around 2004. Over time, I saw a link between my symptoms and triggers like dust, mold, and tree pollen. Sinus pain and pressure worsen during the spring and when I am exposed to more allergens while outdoors and traveling.
The official diagnosis of another A—anxiety—came in 2008. But I can assuredly tell you I suffered from anxiety long before then. Feelings of intense fear and worry had plagued me since childhood. But a lot less about mental health conditions was known and discussed 30 to 40 years ago.
I had read GAD in my medical report. So of course, I looked up the meaning: generalized anxiety disorder. Fearing the worst, getting startled easily, having trouble sleeping, and overthinking matters were common for me.4
When I experienced severe heart palpitations for an extended time as an adult, I saw a heart doctor. Thorough testing ruled out any cardiac issues. This symptom also stemmed from anxiety.
I had allergies, anxiety, and autoimmune disease for some time before they were identified. But naming these A’s and facing my reality brought me to an important place. There I asked the Lord for help with something I could not master on my own.
Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13). I needed this Alpha with each diagnosis and for every day since then. Jesus is also called “The Word” (John 1:1). He surpasses all the letters and words written in books and medical reports.
What’s amazing is that Jesus has been with me all along. He didn’t snub me for getting all A’s. He didn’t reject me for not being perfect. He accepted me in my condition, and He continues to assist me to this day.
An Advocate, Artist, and Author
Have you received a diagnosis? Whether it starts with A, B, C, D, or even F, you are in good company. We have a God who is with us as we journey through life with chronic illnesses (Matthew 1:23). He knows the start of every symptom and has a good end in mind for all our stories.
If you would like to read more about my health journey and how I became an advocate, artist, and author along the way, please subscribe to my Abiding Communications newsletter. I aim to comfort, encourage, and support others who may have health conditions like mine. I pray that conveying my personal experience in the light of God’s Word will bring help and hope to you and many others.
1. What is autoimmunity? Autoimmune Association. Available at https://autoimmune.org/resource-center/about-autoimmunity/. Accessed 06/15/2023.
2. What is Raynaud’s phenomenon? Autoimmune Association. Available at https://autoimmune.org/disease-information/raynauds-phenomenon/. Accessed 06/15/2023.
3.What is undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD)? Autoimmune Association. Available at https://autoimmune.org/disease-information/undifferentiated-connective-tissue-disease-uctd/. Accessed 06/15/2023.
4. Generalized anxiety disorder. Mayo Clinic. Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20360803. Accessed 06/15/2023.
Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™