I have always had a gusto for life. Big dreams. Grand ideas. Strong and independent with a will to fight for what I want. And while I’ve had my share of trials and tribulations and fought like a champion through life, nothing could have prepared me for a primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) diagnosis just a month before my 44th birthday. After all, I didn’t feel sick or look sick and had no warning signs or symptoms, but a routine blood test showed extremely high alkaline phosphatase liver enzymes, and here begins my story.
Once the shock and anxiety subsided and I began to wrap my head around my diagnosis, I knew I could do one of two things: give up and feel sorry for myself, or choose to fight this disease with all the strength and courage I had inside me. So I armed myself with an arsenal of data, facts, and research and straightened my tiara to begin the fight of my life. Based on everything I learned from my doctor and the data that was available, I determined there were three tactics that I could put into practice that would see me through this battle with PBC; a positive attitude, daily exercise, and healthy nutrition.
I’m an eternal optimist, always have been. I see the good in everyone and everything. I believe that even our biggest setbacks and darkest days make us stronger, better.
An attitude as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website, “is a mental position with regard to a fact or state: as feeling or emotion toward a fact or a state.” The dictionary goes on to state the “positive” can be seen as “having a good effect; favorable; marked by optimism.”
A positive attitude is beneficial in envisioning success and achieving goals. Research shows there are correlations between a positive attitude and the body’s immune system. Optimism can play a part in helping the body fight off illness and disease. I attribute my ability to live life to the fullest, keep PBC symptoms in check, and rebound more quickly from setbacks to having a positive attitude. Some of the tools I use to help me stay positive are: reading affirmations, meditating, journaling, conversations with supportive family and friends, and checking in with my therapist. Once you find the tools that work for you, be consistent.
Keep moving! I led a pretty sedentary lifestyle for most of my young adult life. But then I began working in a healthcare setting and after seeing so many non-ambulatory patients who, over time, had lost the ability to maintain balance or walk short distances, it clicked for me. If I was going to hold on to my independent nature long term, I needed to keep the blood flowing and my body in motion.
So, I made the choice to get moving and began walking a few minutes, three times a week. Those short walks turned into longer walks every day. Having built up my stamina, I added in weight training to build and maintain muscle tone. Now I work out five days a week and do a combination of high intensity interval training and weight training. Research shows that walking for as few as 30 minutes a day can eliminate the risks associated with many diseases.
Exercise is my escape. It’s what keeps me going. I’ve found that if I can just move a few minutes a day, stretch, walk, and get my heart rate up I have more energy, feel better and sleep better. I get it– PBC sometimes makes everything ache and it can make you feel like a walking zombie. But I encourage you to find an exercise program that works for you and keep moving.
This is the most powerful weapon in my arsenal. What we eat can make the difference between swollen joints and exhaustion or fluid movement and energy. I eat a balanced diet of protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and leafy green vegetables. There is new research on varieties of plants called “nightshades” and inflammation. Bell pepper, eggplant, potato, and tomato are all considered nightshades. While I haven’t eliminated all of these from my diet, I eat them with less frequency.
I have eliminated dairy, most processed foods, and processed sugar. By eliminating these items and minimizing sodium, you can reduce risk of inflammation that can lead to achy and swollen joints. In addition to inflammation, processed foods and sugars are also linked to anxiety and depression. Let’s face it, the daily challenges and symptoms of PBC are probably already causing some level of anxiety and depression. Eliminating these foods from our diets just makes sense.
Modifying a diet of simple carbohydrates, fatty foods, and processed sugars can seem like a daunting task, but by making small changes each day you will begin to see results. And if you want that cupcake at Aunt Sally’s party, by all means have it. Enjoy your life within the nutritional boundaries you set for yourself.
You Can Be A Warrior Princess Too
In summary, fighting PBC makes it imperative that you become friends with your body, mind, and spirit. Each of us is different. It’s important to note that we all have different symptoms at different times and to varying degrees. Equally important is that we each respond differently to exercise and nutrition. And let’s face it, even the bravest warrior gets knocked down and loses the momentum to keep fighting sometimes. True warriors acknowledge limitations and create a strategy for victory around them. They also surround themselves with a support system of like-minded warriors.