My Enemy Is Me
Having an autoimmune disease can be a mind-bending experience. The whole time you are fighting the disease, in a way you are fighting yourself.
Why is rheumatoid arthritis considered an autoimmune disease?
When I was little, the doctor explained that my immune soldiers were confused and attacked my joints because they thought my body was the enemy. I learned that my white blood cells not only fought bugs and infection, but attacked my bones. I wanted to send them clarifying instructions: “Keep off! Chill Out!”
It was hard to grasp sometimes that it was my own body attacking itself. We don’t know why it started or why it continues—how the wires got crossed. But as much as I am trying to quiet the disease, I am also trying to subdue my own body. It’s a fight with myself.
I am not this disease
On a day to day basis, I have to think of the disease as separate from me. I have to think about treatments that will stop or slow the process of rheumatoid arthritis. I have to consider the disease, and not “this is me that I am trying to trick.”
I have to separate the disease, even though I know it is a part of me.
"You are your own worst enemy"
Sometimes it feels like I’m in a bizarre futuristic sci-fi story. I am battling my enemy only to find out it is another version of me. Neither of us can win. Neither of us can lose. We have to fight to a standstill and hope that it allows us both to continue on.
Fighting rheumatoid arthritis
There are so many other ways that my body acts as my own enemy. For example, when I have fatigue that keeps me in bed. Or when I’m so achy that I can’t exercise. On the one hand, I can fight it, but on the other hand, sometimes it is better to give in to how I am feeling and get the rest that I may be needing. My body sends me false messages, tricks me into delaying the therapies that I need (like exercise) so that it can win the battle of the day. In this case, who is winning? Or am I just losing?
I sneak in exercise like going to the pool as a “reward” or as taking a break after work. My body sees through it and resists. I feel too tired to swim or my legs are too cold and can’t handle the cooler water temperatures. Sometimes I think it lies to me, whispering in my ear that I need to take a nap instead. I am sneaky and play dirty tricks.
What is an autoimmune disease?
What is an autoimmune disease but a self-betrayal? The immune system eats the body vigorously and ignores the signs that it is doing the wrong thing, hunting the wrong enemy. When I get sick, it gets it right and starts attacking the invading bug. But when it wins, it always returns home.
Sometimes I try to talk with it, reason with it. I tell it that it is causing my own pain. That munching on my bones must have only limited satisfaction. But it is determined and headstrong. There is no listening or understanding. It is like talking to someone who cannot be persuaded because they have already decided.
As much as I am my own enemy, I have to be kind to myself. It may be an internal process run amok, but it is also me. I cannot be harsh to my own body but must try to protect it and care for it as much as possible. My enemy is me, but my defender is me too.
On a scale of 1(low) to 5(high), how difficult is it for you to talk about having RA?