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.

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