My Path to Living Well With an Autoimmune Disease Started in my Kitchen
by Natasha Sisodiya
Five years ago, my health took a nosedive. I started to get low-grade fevers, rashes, fatigue and joint pain. My doctors first diagnosed me with lupus, then rheumatoid arthritis. I was prescribed one harsh medication after another and none of them seemed to be helping. After about six months, I started to experience more intense joint pain, edema and skin tightening. My rheumatologist told me I had scleroderma. Sclero-effin-what?
Scleroderma, which means “hard skin,” is a rare autoimmune condition in which the body produces and accumulates excess collagen in and around the connective tissues. Awesome! I’ll never have to have a facelift or botox! I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to have tighter skin, especially at my age!
In all seriousness, the skin tightness wasn’t a good sign. It meant that there was the possibility of internal scarring. This scarring, also called fibrosis, can occur in the internal organs and have dire consequences.
For me, the scleroderma started in my skin and then slowly spread. The skin is so tight on my hands that I’m unable to make a fist and maintain a secure grip. At times, the skin can get so tight that it is difficult to move and my arms often feel like they’re getting a friction burn.
I also get gastrointestinal issues such as acid reflux, constipation, gastric antral vascular ectasia (watermelon stomach) and had my esophagus stretched due to scarring. I’ve also had chest tightness and shortness of breath, muscle weakness, chronic fatigue and joint pain. Another “perk” is Raynaud’s phenomenon, which reduces blood blow to my fingers and toes when they’re cold or I’m stressed, turning them a rainbow of white, purple and blue. They get so numb that I can’t even feel them.
For several years, I took a variety of immunosuppressants to relieve the symptoms and slow down disease progression. But I seemed to be getting worse. I had gotten to a point where I was confined to a couch and restroom. In November 2014, I had no choice but to go on disability from my already part-time accounting job.
My amazing parents and brother stepped in to take care of my family and me. I was so blessed and grateful, but I wanted to get back to my life. I missed going out with my two sons, doing pick-up and drop off, weekend date nights with my man, being social and working out. I decided that during this downtime I would focus on self-healing and making my health a top priority. My illness was not only affecting me, but those near and dear to me.
This was when my journey to heal my body naturally with food and lifestyle changes began. I met inspiring individuals that introduced me to naturopaths, Ayurvedic healers, healthy eating, gluten free living, the importance of going organic, and detoxification. I began to document all the valuable knowledge I gained and began to make changes in how I ate and lived.
I went on a strict auto-immune paleo regimen for three months and took supplements given by my holistic healers. I made the switch to organic, cut out processed foods, refined sugar, caffeine, dairy, eggs, alcohol and nuts. I completed a 10-day Ayurvedic Panchakarma detox that was a monumental, life-changing experience for me. I began yoga, meditation, deep breathing and journaling.
Somewhere in this entire magical cosmos, my inner chef awoke. I began cooking from my heart and not a recipe book. I had always had a passion for delicious food, but it usually came in the form of take-out since my cooking skills were blah.
These days, I’m not taking any allopathic medications. My skin feels less tight. I don’t have any breathing issues, chest tightness or reflux. My flares are few and far between. I’m not completely cured, but I am in a much better place.
For me, cooking is therapeutic. In the kitchen, I can unleash my creative side and have some fun. I love to dabble in all types of cuisines. All my recipes are gluten free.
I’m looking forward to sharing my adventures in the kitchen with you every two weeks on Wear Your Voice! If you’d like to see more of my cooking, check out my feed on Instagram.