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I have three autoimmune diseases. There’s a classification for people like me. What we have is called MAS, Multiple Autoimmune Syndrome. It’s when a person has three or more diagnosed autoimmune diseases. Having one autoimmune disease makes one susceptible to developing others, especially if diagnosis and proper treatment are delayed. Of my three, only one was diagnosed within months of symptom onset, the other two each took well over a decade (common story in autoimmune circles). MAS is like dominos and it should mean that I’m hopelessly sick and getting sicker. It should be a giant weakness.
I’m not sick though and I’m not getting sicker and I don’t live in fear of the next domino falling. My diseases are actually in many ways a source of strength for me. Let me explain . . .
I’ve recognized for a while now that many of the most difficult things I’d ever gone through often turned out to have given me a special edge in some way. I totally could not see it in the moment and certainly never consciously thought, “This [expletive] sucky experience is going to give me an edge somehow.” However, if I could manage to find the positive in a hardship, it would often turn out to be a really valuable strength in facing a current challenge.
When the author Malcolm Gladwell came out with his fifth New York Times Bestseller, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and The Art of Battling Giants, I was very interested in scooping it up. It is a book all about this very thing I was noticing, how and why disadvantages can actually be enormous advantages. In it he names that thing I’d been noticing, the “desirable difficulty,” which was a concept created by psychologists Robert and Elizabeth Bjork. I finally read the book recently and Gladwell perfectly articulated this concept, with amazing stories and research.
My diseases are in many ways an advantage and I’d argue that yours are too. If we are able to make the leap and view our supposedly unfavorable situations through another lens, there may be many ways in which they turn out to be favorable. I want to convince you that making a paradigm shift; some necessary changes in your assumptions, is very empowering and could be a huge key to healing. Here are three new ways to view your autoimmune disease:
- Unexpected freedom comes with having nothing to lose. In Gladwell’s book, he talks about the advantage we have when we have nothing left to lose. Distinctly, I felt the power of this advantage when I adopted the Autoimmune Protocol as my principal method for managing my diseases. I was desperate. I was in the ER regularly with increasingly severe medical problems and my mental health was collapsing. Giving AIP a shot was a no-brainer to me at that moment. Giving up all my favorite foods, choosing what seemed to be a very restrictive diet, and eating in a way that was polar opposite of our culture seemed like a comparatively small risk. Having nothing left to lose made it easy for me to become an early adopter of what is now increasingly being recognized as a powerful way for those with autoimmune disease to heal. Maybe you can see the power in having “nothing to lose” and want to become part of the next wave of early adopters who heal themselves?
- Terrible and traumatic can equal courage. Gladwell tells the story in David and Goliath of the British response to the horrific bombings they endured during World War II at the hands of the Nazis. Even though London was practically destroyed and many thousands were killed, injured, or lost their homes, numerous citizens came through the trauma better off. Day after day, as the bombing continued, these people survived “remote misses,” moments where their lives could have ended. Facing the worst-case scenario and surviving relieved their fear and built an indomitable confidence. While I’ve never had to face the bombing of my city, I’ve had plenty of big and small worst-case scenario moments in my live, not least of which came at the hands of my diseases, and I’ll bet you have faced some too. I’ve survived every single one of them and my confidence in my ability to handle whatever comes next is rock solid. While you are evaluating your remote misses, don’t forget to tap the new reserve of courage that came with each one.
- Easy doesn’t make for powerful. Over and over in David and Goliath, Gladwell shares stories of people whose lives were severely handicapped in one way or the other, some of them beginning in childhood. Orphaned, learning disabilities, poverty . . . and yet these people went on to be extremely successful, some of them changing history. An easy life, where all the advantages come to one easily, might not actually be an advantage at all. Learning to cope with setbacks, developing skills out of necessity, having to face our deep fears, might set the stage for far greater things. For instance, I am a much more empathetic person after the experience of almost being swallowed up by an unidentified disease. Completely losing my health helped me, arguably the hard way, develop a very positive trait. What skills have you learned or in what ways have you changed for the better due to your autoimmune experience? Don’t discount the powerful gifts that came from your struggle.
Another author, Stella Payton, said, “Then like dominoes . . . it feels like the world is collapsing around me. But when I yield, when I surrender to the necessary change, I can stand back and look at the beautiful picture created by what seemed to be my world falling apart.” First I had one autoimmune disease, and then I had two, and now I have three, but MAS is not my world falling apart. I made some adjustments in how I view things, surrendered to some necessary changes, and now what I see, instead of weakness, are some very desirable difficulties.