01 February 2011 ~ 14 Comments

Sassy Style Talk With AJ: Meet Anita – A Sassy Redheaded Energizer Bunny, Makeup Junkie and, Moreover, a Survivor, by Anita Roberts

My name is Anita and at a glance I don’t look sick.  Like many of you reading these words, I give the impression of a woman of a certain age with a bit of a weight issue and a fabulous sense of style and confidence, but nothing more dire would cross the readers’ minds.  I wish.  Fervently, I wish, and have wished this for many years now.

In 1998, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.  By this time, I was very sick, and beginning to show it.  Fortunately, I was diagnosed and started on the long journey to understand this disease, my body and how to treat and feed it.  I’m still learning, but have now gotten most of the thyroid symptoms under control.  In fact, I was doing so well, I was full of energy, happily and heartily lifted weights, exercised, got hair growing again, and looked 10 years younger than my age.  I was happy, lively and life was just fine.  Unfortunately, I am now being ravaged by a silent, progressive and highly aggressive inflammatory autoimmune illness of no name.  It started the week after I turned 42.  I won’t detail the month by month agony, my fear, my frustration with a medical community that all but told me to take a hike because I didn’t fit neatly into a “category.”  I became more crippled by the month, and nine months after I started, I began to think that I couldn’t live the rest of my life like that.  It had gotten to a point where I could barely function normally, could barely shower, brush my teeth, comb my hair, dress myself.  I. was. crippled.

Finally, I scraped together what money I had, as I had no insurance, and made arrangements to see a doctor known for her willingness to look into natural healing when conventional meds failed.  She said she thought it sounded like I had late stage Lyme disease that had gone wild.  I was desperate, she put me on antibiotics, and within one month I had regained much of my life.  Now, there is still argument between my doctors about the Lyme and whether I actually had it or not.  We’ve still never figured that out.  There WAS a tick, and soon after I got sick and had odd rashes.  So who knows?

I stayed on antibiotics for a year and a half.  I did a full Lyme treatment, and while I was by no means normal, I had regained much of what I had lost.  However, when I went off the antibiotics, my condition quickly worsened.  In fact, I found myself once again crippled.  Add in the fact that my husband and I lived in Macau, China at this time and medical treatment was hard to find.  I was very lucky to stumble onto Dr. Jason Brockwell, an orthopedic surgeon in Hong Kong.  A robust, energetic, highly likeable gent who took charge of my case and sent me on a round robin of doctors’ visits, blood tests and x-rays.  Within one month of meeting Dr. B, as I call him, I found myself checking into the hospital on the Peak in HK, and starting a year long journey of pain.  Character building pain.  But also, eventually, renewal.  I had four surgeries that year, and I came out better, stronger and much smarter about what worked and what fails to benefit my body.  I’m never going to be what I was, I’m always going to have mobility issues, but the surgeries made a huge difference and I’m more than grateful for that.

I think many people genuinely want to be well.  But if you find yourself on the autoimmune side of the street, you often have to live a fairly strict life in terms of habits, routine and deprivation.  I had to change everything I did on a daily basis, how I moved, how I exercised, how I ate, what supplements I took, etc.  It has taken me years to get to this point.  Most of us with inflammatory or autoimmune illness have food allergies and nutritional deficiencies.  I am allergic to gluten.  Sensitive to sugar.  I am anemic and require high doses of vitamins B and D.  I MUST move everyday.  I can no longer lift weights the normal way, but must exercise.  My knees don’t bend anything like a normal person, and I sometimes have to have help putting on socks or shoes.  I’ve had to have my pilates instructor put my socks on.  Now that’s a lesson in humility.  I have a terrible time with muscle wasting and fight it daily.  One week of slacking, and I am notably weaker.  My muscles waste that quickly.  For a woman who worked at looking like the “she hulk” for many years, THIS is one of my most frustrating problems.  I LOVED to work out. Before this illness struck me, I could go and go all day long.  I was the energizer bunny.  Among my friends and colleagues, I was legend.  Now, I’m the one who has to sit down for a few minutes every hour whenever we go out.  I hate this more than I can say.  But I don’t stop.  I never stop.  In fact, two months after the second surgery on my right knee, my husband and I hiked Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  One month after I removed the cast from my ankle surgery, we went scuba diving in Thailand.  I can’t lie, this illness affects my life in ways I lament.  But I won’t allow it to steal my life.  I occasionally cry, pout, rage, you name it.  And then I furrow my brow and push on.

Like any normal woman, I am concerned about my looks and maintaining my appeal to my wonderful, loving husband.  I must battle not only the usual concerns that an aging lady must deal with, but also the disease oriented ones as well.  The thyroid disease makes it difficult to lose the padding I’ve put on.  The fact that I’m partially handicapped only exacerbates that.  I do pilates and walk, but I am still overweight.  My husband is fine with that and asks only that I stay active and toned.  Sounds reasonable.   We’ve recently moved to Seattle, and I can see that the general attitude here will only help, as outdoor activity is high on everyone’s list.  The thyroid disease thinned my pretty red hair, which was less than thrilling. The Plaquenil I take for the RA type condition makes it really vacate my scalp.  Wow.  And there’s not a darned thing I can do about it.  It also causes acne.  Acne!  At 47, after a lifetime of perfect skin, even as a teenager – I have acne.  I’m actually using zit cream for the first time in my life.  That blows my mind.  And pisses me off.

Fatigue.  The word “crushing” often precedes the way I describe it.  There are days when my body simply shuts down.  I literally cannot function.  The pain ramps up and I am immobilized by it.  The mental fog is greatly improved on the Plaquenil, so that’s not nearly the complaint it used to be.  Swelling?  Oh yeah.  My eyes usually look like I’ve barely slept.  But I also have weeks where I look fine.

I pay a lot of attention to nutrition and eat as organic and healthy as I can.  I slip up.  Like recently.  Coming back home to live has exposed me to foods I’ve not even seen for years, and I’ve indulged a bit.  And that’s OK.  I’ve given myself permission to have done that and now am back on track.  Juicing, vitamins, no gluten, easy on the dairy, high on the healthy protein, low on the sugar, take that cat’s claw, easy on the NSAIDs, and heavy on the veggies.  Whew.  It’s a lot to keep straight, and being disciplined isn’t my strong suit.

So, that’s my introduction.  I plan on writing more about topics like nutrition, herbs and ideas for folks with multiple immune issues, as well as my infamous cosmetic product reviews.  I’m a notorious makeup and product junkie, and am thrilled to chat with others about finds and fabulousness.  Look, ladies and gents, I know we have mountains to climb.  That’s OK.  It’s about not giving up.  Not giving in.  It’s about us winning, not the disease.  And, it’s about us looking amazing while we do so.  After all, the one thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize!

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