In the past, canaries were a very important tool used in coal mines. The miners brought them down into the mines with them before sophisticated ventilation systems were commonplace. Canaries are much more sensitive to potentially deadly gasses such as methane and carbon monoxide. So as long as the canaries continued to sing, all was well in the mine. But when the canary died, it let the miners know that the air was getting dangerous.
The canary was a sentinel. It was self-sacrificing protection for those around it. It wasn’t there by choice, but there nonetheless. There was not much it could do to change its fate, but the silver lining was that it could warn and save others.
Autoimmune diseases are becoming an epidemic. This group of diseases is basically where your body starts attacking itself. It is where the one physical thing that you have in this world lets you down. It is where you get attacked from the inside out. There are hundreds of ways autoimmune diseases can manifest. Some common ones are, in simplified version:
- Hashimoto’s disease- your body attacks the thyroid
- Rhumatoid arthritis- your body attacks its own joints
- Type 1 diabetes- your body attacks the pancreas
- Celiac disease- your body attacks its stomach lining
- Psoriasis- your body attacks skin cell production
- Eczema, lupus, MS, Grave’s — the list of autoimmune diseases goes on and on.
I believe that those who develop autoimmune disorders are human canaries. The prevalence of autoimmune issues is growing at an exponential and alarming rate. There is something in our environment, in our “coal mine,” that is making us sick. We, the canaries, are the warning to everyone else.
We are all in this coal mine together. We can either keep ignoring all of the dying canaries around us, or decide to make a change. We can see those who are the canaries as weak and crazy for what they try in their pursuit of wellness. Or we can listen to their song. We can understand that they are here with us, as an early indicator of what might be coming our way.
Having autoimmune diseases is like playing football without pads. The hits of daily life leave a bigger impact. And many times the prescription medications for autoimmune diseases are a group of drugs that are, essentially, a poison. That’s right. A low dose of poison. Drugs that fall under the same umbrella as chemotherapy. Every day. Without end. These drugs combat the immune system, making someone with an autoimmune disease better, but leave a bigger swath of destruction. These drugs make us better; but they do not make us well. And the possible side effects are scary.
That is why some people turn to alternative options in pursuit of wellness. They are just looking for ways to feel better. “Normal” medicine might be keeping us alive, but some people want more. They want to feel healthy. I have dear friends struggling with this right now. They vomit and lose their hair from the drugs they have to take. They wash their hands like someone with OCD and avoid their sick children because a simple illness could send them to the hospital.
I am among them. I am a canary. I have 3 autoimmune diseases, and I am on those poisonous drugs, though, luckily, one of the milder ones. I had liver cirrhosis for over 20 years because of my body attacking itself. (Through my diligence, I have actually managed to help my liver start to heal itself a little. At my last check it looked like the cirrhosis was downgraded to fibrosis. That’s a big deal.) I have had times in my life when my song was fading, when doctors told my parents their doubts about my longevity, when I questioned whether or not I would see my children graduate high school. I am most definitely a canary.
While my very smart doctors and the very poisonous but effective drugs made me better and help keep me alive, they do not make me well. My doctors’ goal is for my blood work to come back “normal for me.” They do not search for the cause or ways to heal. That is something I had to fight for myself. I had to take my wellness beyond my blood work into my own hands. I had to make changes. Then I had to make more changes, and I continue to make them to be as well as I can.
These changes are not easy. They are not fun. They are often isolating. But they are necessary for me. So when you meet or hear of someone who has to be aware of everything they put in and on their body, don’t judge them for being THAT kind of person, THAT kind of mom. Chances are there is a story behind it. There is probably a scary conversation with a doctor behind all of the label reading. There might be some countless tears of frustration behind each lifestyle change. You may hear someone ask for a gluten free menu, but you don’t see the exasperation when doctors only treat each symptom and not the entire patient or the years of shrugged shoulders in search of what is wrong.
It is very deceiving because most people with an autoimmune disease look very healthy but struggle with overwhelming exhaustion or pain. Their symptoms are quiet and inconsistent.
I am not writing this to get any sympathy. I am actually healing. I am fighting to be better, and I am making progress. I will continue to try new things, even weird things. Nothing you say, do, or think will change anything going on in my body. Only what I say, do, and think can have any affect on me. I am writing, not for sympathy, but for awareness. And I am not writing for myself; I am comfortable with what I have to do for myself and my family.
I am writing for my friends. I am writing for those who struggle in silence and won’t tell anyone about their battle. I want you to understand that when you hear a friend or acquaintance or someone you love trying out different or alternative treatments, there may be a lot of pain behind that decision. I want you to know that if they are making changes, it is probably because they feel pretty lousy and have for a long time. I want you to understand that there might be some strange things that they will try in pursuit of just feeling like a normal person. Support them no matter how strange something might seem.
Hell, if I thought dancing in the rain wearing my son’s Iron Man mask with my clothes on backwards would heal my body, then you can bet I would give it a try, at least. Hmmmm…..maybe I will, just to see.
My point is, if some strange, obscure, alternative treatment gives hope or gives someone the feeling of even just a modicum of control or, *gasp* in all amazement, actually works, then more power to them—to us. It is our attempt to get out of the mine that is killing us and find some fresh air.
I am a canary. I do not wish this on anyone, but my fellow canaries are many. Very few people make changes to their lifestyle until something scary forces them to. But hopefully there might be someone out there who hears our song and heeds it.
And so I ask you to evaluate what you are putting in and on your body. Question how your food is made and where it comes from.
This is my canary song, and I wish you well.
An overview of autoimmune diseases:
Facebook Autoimmune disease support page:
A leader in autoimmune wellness: