Do Auto Immune Conditions Target the Go-Getters?

I’ve had a nagging thought, a theory really, that only becomes more persistent as I communicate with more and more people with autoimmune conditions. The thought is this: Are people with “go-getter” personalities more likely to develop autoimmune conditions?

Here’s my rationale for this recurring idea. I happen to know quite a few people with autoimmune conditions, and from my scientifically-insignificant sample of anecdotal evidence, I’ve noticed that they are all busy, ambitious, hard-working people. They are the rolling stones that gather no moss. Well, at least until their conditions flare.

My sister has both type I diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Although always a strong student, she missed so much school due to frequent hospitalizations that one of her high school teachers told our mom that she might not graduate. Not only did she graduate high school, she became a veterinarian and continues to practice in spite of reoccurring complications of her autoimmune diseases.

A good friend of mine has Crohn’s disease. He is a full-time fire fighter, has three kids with another on the way, and while working and caring for his kids he somehow carved out the time to build his family a beautiful house from the ground up. On top of all this, he also raises animals and vegetables on his land.

One of my closest friends has psoriatic arthritis, as well as other health problems. She had a dream to open her own bookshop, which was often pooh-poohed by people citing how hard it is to keep an independent bookstore open in this age of digital technology. Not only was she able to open the store, she has made it a thriving business that continues to grow each year. On top of this, she is a writer and an advocate (of both health-related issues and local bookstores).

When I worked at the University of Georgia’s Disability Resource Center, I met many students with autoimmune conditions who had accomplished an astonishing number of feats in their short lives. There were freshman that entered UGA with two years’ worth of Advanced Placement (AP) course credits under their belts. There were graduate students who made it through grueling programs in spite of time missed due to medical treatment or hospitalizations. While there were times when such students had to take a semester off, the majority of them not only completed their programs, but did so with impressive GPAs.

Then there’s me. I’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis for 15 years, and was seen by specialists throughout my childhood due to a number of medical issues. I struggle with pain, inflammation, and fatigue. Yet, I work full-time, I parent my two small children, I’m on the board of a non-profit organization, and I make time to write. In spite of these accomplishments, I still catch myself chastising myself for all the things that I haven’t completed, such as housework, errands, or special projects. One very frustrating aspect of RA is that it feels like my to-do list is always longer than it would be without the flares and everyday pain and fatigue the disease causes.

When I’ve previously written about this frustration of RA-decreased productivity levels, there are always people in our online community who echo their own frustration. Therefore, I’ve started to wonder, “Does RA ever affect lazy people?” There are people without health conditions that go through life doing the bare minimum, who watch hours of television on a daily basis, who shirk duties and happily pass them off to others. Yet, in my own circles of friends and acquaintances, it’s always the people who astound me with their enthusiasm and ambition who have autoimmune conditions.

I’ve searched for studies linking personality traits and autoimmune conditions. Not surprisingly, there is little research that has been done in this area, and I couldn’t find anything regarding a link between high levels of ambition and a strong work ethic with the prevalence of autoimmune disease. So this is just a little theory of mine that comes to mind each time I hear a friend, acquaintance, or online community member with an autoimmune condition lamenting how little s/he is able to get done. This is not a complaint made by lazy people, as only those who set high expectations for themselves mourn the inability to meet those expectations. RA causes many catch-22 circumstances. I can’t help but wonder if this disease does target the people who create the longest to-do lists, only to render us unable to cross off as many items from those lists as we otherwise would.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (20)
  • Achyinseattle
    1 year ago

    Interesting idea! I am basically a very lazy person but my life had forced me to be very busy!
    I am a mother of 7, homeschooled them all, went back to college at age 49, opened a candy store a year later with my adult daughter – worked full time there and and homeschooled the remaining 3 kids, then unfortunately we had to close the candy store due to recession, so I went to work as a bookkeeper while homeschooling my last (2019 will be his senior year)
    And during all this I managed our huge family home, cleaning, cooking, etc etc. I was diagnosed 3 yrs ago and it is so changed now. Now I still do everything……but then I do nothing for days. I’m getting used to it though, just hard sometimes to let go of things you used to do. It makes me feel naughty to sleep in to 10:30 am on my days off – but I refuse to feel guilty! I think I deserve some rest 🙂

  • CaseyH moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi again, Achyinseattle! I just commented on one of your status updates, however, I saw this and HAD to jump in again! Wow! What an amazing life you have led thus far. I like that you say you’re a lazy person but life has forced you to be very busy. I think that’s a statement so many can relate to! It sounds like you are truly a rockstar mom. I so applaud you for accomplishing everything you have, and also going back to school and opening your own business. I’m sorry you had to close the shop, but I’m sure your friends and family were so proud of your efforts. I love your attitude and your knowledge on your body and what you can and can’t do. Yes, you’re so right, it is TOTALLY alright to do nothing for a while, especially when dealing with RA. You definitely deserve some rest my friend! Thinking of you and hope you’ll keep us updated! -Casey, RheumatoidArthritis.net Team

  • Heartsong
    1 year ago

    Whoa! “Does RA ever affect lazy people?” Careful that you don’t divide the RA population into “Lazy vs. Type I” or “No life expectations vs. high life expectations”. There’s plenty of room for the middle-grounders who may or may not fit into those extremes.

    Doing what you can with what you have and being satisfied is a blessing. It may not seem like much or enough for some, but many lives with or without RA are lived without miracles, awards, or outstanding accomplishments.

    It’s all good. There is room enough for all of us.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi Heartsong,

    Thank you so much for your comment, which is so diplomatically and kindly stated. This article was written and originally posted in 2015, and I have regretted my wording many times since then. Of course “lazy” has a very negative connotation, and I apologize for using that word, as I do not want to divide people or slight anyone.

    Several people have commented on the article that they think the link between being “type A” and being prone to disease is due to the stress that people who put a lot of pressure on themselves often experience. If I could go back in time and rewrite this article, I would have focused on the aspect of high stress and low stress versus using the “lazy” terminology.

    For the record, I have a lot to learn from non-type A people, and I do continue trying to do just that. Habits and inclinations are hard to overcome, especially in a society where being busy is viewed as a very positive thing (I wrote this article about that: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/unhealthy-standards/). Therefore, this is an ongoing process for me.

    Thank you again for your thoughtful comment, framed so kindly. I do appreciate it, and agree with you wholeheartedly.

    All the best,
    Tamara

  • tckrd
    1 year ago

    Its nice that you have this perspective unfortunately this disease affects those who are not Abe to achieve or maintain your level of activity. I injured my back requiring g multiple surgeries 7 years ago and then was strapped with this 2 years ago completely disabling me. So not everyone who gets ra is as astute in activity. Sorry to disapount.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi Tckrd,

    No disappointment here! I’m always curious about what makes one’s immune system turn on the body, injuring what it should be protecting, so over the years I’ve toyed with different theories. As researchers haven’t figured it out, I know that any musings I have are just that. Some readers have pointed out it’s probably more of a correlation between stress and the immune system versus between a personality trait and immune system, and that does make more sense.

    I’m so sorry that you’ve had the double whammy of RA on top of a back injury. That must be incredibly difficult. Please know we are always here any time you want to share your experience. I thank you for doing so on this thread.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Tamara

  • debdoy
    2 years ago

    I agree with Terri Pearce. I think there’s more of a stress correlation. My health issues began in early childhood, but so did the stress in my life. At 31, after years of one health issue after another, I was diagnosed with MCTD (Lupus, scleroderma, RA and fibromyalgia). I continued the go getter, in control, on top of everything thing for years at my own expense. I’m happy to say that now 26 years after diagnosis I’m on fewer medications than I’ve ever been, as healthy as one can be with all of these health problems. I’m a work in progress however. I have removed the stressors I could remove and realize I can’t save the world. I still feel like I get nothing done, but when I look around I realize I probably do. I’ve adjusted my priorities, stopped overdoing, don’t listen to people who profess to have the answers to a problems they don’t understand, and stopped caring about what others think. It’s taken a lot of pressure off me.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hey debdoy,

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience and perspective. It’s great to hear that you have achieved so much improvement (although I certainly relate to the “work in progress” feeling). Your perspective is very helpful, and I appreciate hearing what has worked for you.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Tamara

  • Kricket
    3 years ago

    Are you my twin? I have had the same question in the back of my mind for many years. Although I now have a multitude of physical maladies and literally cannot “run around,” or take much on, I continue to write, advocate and worry about my long lists. I have thought of the same things you mentioned above a lot, and I was a type A business owner, volunteered helping young women start businesses in the 1980s and was traveling at least 35 percent of the time. It’s all still in my head! If my body worked I wouldn’t have had time to comment on your nice article 🙂

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Kricket, Thanks for sharing! I’m glad you found the article relevant.

  • judewatts
    3 years ago

    Greetings
    i have just been diagnosed with RA and start meds next week
    i went from walking 5 miles a day to barely able sometimes to walk to back of store for a gallon of milk but even during my episodes i have to keep moving and doing so i too wonder if it attacks go getters, just to get us to slow down lol not happening if possible

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks so much for sharing! I hope the meds work well for you and get you closer to your accustomed activity levels. I hope this site will be a source of information and support for you, so please continue to reach out any time you have questions or comments.

  • Terri Pearce
    3 years ago

    From many years of misdiagnoses and frustration, finally in 2013 I was diagnosed with Crohn’s and prior years RA, through many years and visits to multiple specialized clinics, nationally recognized hospitals and holistic doctors. I read this article with intrigue, hoping for a different answer or solution to my many challenges. Coping with both Autoimmune conditions has challenged myself and those around me, as I am determined to win.

    So I thought sharing with you some major facts of “go getters” may be the correlation to the disease and individuals. Those who demand a great deal from themselves, push when there’s nothing left to give, often put themselves in stressful situations. The stress builds the inflammation and the inflammation over and over leads to one of the major contributors of Autoimmune Diseases. In addition, pushing the envelope also causes an individual to burn out and become more susceptible to infections, viruses, etc., and also bring down their immune system, hence opening up the likelihood of getting an autoimmune disease.

    So we definitely put ourselves into a position of being susceptible to autoimmune diseases because of our type of personality that “go getters” seam to be, if we didn’t give of ourselves 150%, we would be beating ourselves up for not doing so.

    With all of that being said, I believe it is something each individual needs to recognize on their own and realize that it’s ok to say no, it’s ok to take a rest. In other words, give yourself a break, at least once in a while.

    Even yesterday, my husband said you do too much, you push too hard, and I said and who am I suppose to say no to? Believe be its not easy but after years of fighting pain, fatigue, nausea, surgeries, hospitalizations, you learn to juggle.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your insights and perspective, Terri!

  • thephotogirl
    3 years ago

    I have wondered this myself. I complain about not getting enough done all the time and blame RA. My husband always points out that while I might not feel like I’m getting enough done that I am generally more productive than him even when I’m flaring. It could be we have longer lists, more stress, that it all combines to worsen our conditions. I have been working on relaxing more and trying to let things go. It’s so hard.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing! Yes, I agree that stress and overly-high expectations are not good combinations with RA. Learning to relax is a huge work in progress for myself. I wish you all the best in your efforts to let it go!

  • tulugaq
    3 years ago

    Once again, I am so relieved to find out that this phenomenon, which affects me, seems to be relaively common.

    When I was diagnosed in 2007, I was director of the state’s business organization for the solar industry — a high-energy, high-stress job. I lost that job — which I loved — because of the way pain and fatigue affected my life. Since then, I have run for political office twice, losing (I think) because I do not have the energy to walk the district knocking on doors.

    Are we “go-getters” affected more strongly than others because we become depressed as out lives constrict? I know that is true for me….

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your experiences, Lynn! A couple of readers commented on our Facebook page that perhaps we might be affected more because of the stress we pile on ourselves. The depression aspect you bring up is another component that could be at play. Interesting food for thought!

  • jan curtice
    3 years ago

    You present an interesting perspective. Are auto-immune conditions linked to “go-getters” personalities? I think that depends on what the person was like before the auto-immune disease set in and how successful treatment is. I personally am not a couch potato and try to find ways to help myself and others. Right now, I’m working on a bird and pollinator (butterflies/honey bees) sanctuary. I also know others who have auto-immune diseases who don’t leave the house and are very negative. They are “afflicted” with “everything” in Pandora’s box of diseases and generously share the details. I think there is a part of us that wants to be a hero, the underdog that overcomes all obstacles and wins. When we strike back at our diseases/limitations by choosing an active life, we win and become that hero … even if it is just a walk to the end of the block during a flare. I tell others, there are diseases in my body but I am not diseased … I am a healthy person, even if my body is not. It’s a matter of choice.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks so much for this wonderful perspective, Jan!

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