Living with autoimmune disabilities

Jamin Kim-Sanders/File
Jamin Kim-Sanders/File

Being a student at UC Berkeley is hard. You have to juggle your classes, work, homework, midterms, papers, social life, blog-writing, etc. — the list is endless. The mental and physical stress this causes us is, as Donald Drumpf (#makeDonaldDrumpfagain) would say, yuuuuuuge. Surely you can imagine a time when you cried about something meaningless, such as there being no seats outside of Golden Bear Cafe at which to eat your chicken strips and chili cheese fries (RIP) because you had three midterms in two days and your soul was shriveling up.

Now try to imagine that while you’re attempting to deal with the already immense stress of university life, there’s a little gremlin climbing all over you, pulling your hair, pinching you and punching you with his tiny little gremlin fists. This is what it feels like to have an autoimmune disease. Your own body attacks itself, leaving you to not only pick up the pieces, but to continue forging on as if nothing’s wrong. It’s as if there’s a never-ending civil war waging in your joints, pancreas, kidneys, intestines or wherever your white blood cells wrongly perceive an enemy, and there’s little to nothing you can do to stop it. Popping poisonous pills or injecting yourself with mysterious liquids become routine activities. You might even have a fun little day-of-the-week pill case like a cool grandma in an old peoples’ home. You’ll not only succumb to, but revel in, the truly resplendent bags under your eyes from the chronic fatigue. You face diagnoses with scary names such as spondyloarthropathy, enteropathic arthritis or polymyalgia rheumatica. Most of all, you’ll face a diagnosis that isn’t really a diagnosis, but a life sentence because there’s no cure, because no one actually knows why you have an autoimmune disease, what caused it or how to get rid of it.

Teachers and peers might question your disability and the difficulties it creates for you because they can’t see its effects. You might not know whether you should ignore your personal privacy and tell your teachers your diagnosis so that missing class or getting an extension on an assignment seems more legit. And on top of all that, you have three midterms in two days and there’s nowhere to sit at GBC!

When you’re living with an autoimmune disease, you might experience the five stages of grief in less than a minute. Denial: your shoulder didn’t just hurt when you reached for your toothbrush — that would be ridiculous. Anger: Is this a joke? The simple back and forth motion of brushing your teeth is causing you pain? Bargaining: How about the arthritis transfers to the girl brushing her teeth next to you, but you have to take her midterm tomorrow? Depression: No, that’ll never work — you don’t know anything about organic chemistry. You can’t believe you’re stuck with this crappy-ass turncoat immune system forever. Acceptance: At least you get a really good TeleBears appointment #dsplife.

But mostly, you’re just a regular person. Your shoulder might hurt when you wash your hair, but you wash it like everyone else. It might take you a little longer to complete assignments, but complete them you do. Your crappy intestines might make it impossible to eat cake without hurling, but someone out there makes cake with almond meal or rice flour. And everyone knows that flourless chocolate cake is better anyway.


Contact Sasha Ashall at [email protected].a