Healing Autoimmune Disease: A Practical and Spiritual Approach

Not here to claim any cures. I am here to share my story, what works for me, and how a holistic approach has proven more helpful than solely spiritual or solely allopathic approach.

We are more than just our bodies, and more than just our spirits. We are humans, and I personally believe that getting healthy requires a multi-pronged approach.

Gemini season continues… I’ve been looking through my list of tales to tell, and I see that I could easily spend a month just talking about my health: physical, mental, etc, etc. There is so much more to me than my diseases, and I’m a firm believer that what you focus on expands, so I choose to focus on my health, and to be grateful for my health. I am not “my” illness, and I firmly choose these days not to identify with Graves Disease or Celiac Disease anymore.

You see, there is a way of thinking, from a holistic perspective, that if an illness comes about during your life, it can also be reversed. If it’s something gradual and chronic, it will likely take a long time to heal, but, just like a cold that comes on quickly or relatively slowly, it too can go away. It just takes A LOT of patience, determination, and willingness to change… to change just about anything. I personally felt that by saying “I’m a Celiac” or “I have Graves’ Disease” or “I suffer from multiple autoimmune diseases,” I was giving power to that aspect of my health (or lack thereof). I was encouraging them, by pointing at them as my identity, as excuses for why I couldn’t do things like socialize like normal human beings and eat whatever I want.

Autoimmune disease is systemic, and results from the T-cells mistakenly identifying our own cells as invaders, and heroically attacking them. To elaborate, T-cells are a type of white blood cell, produced in our thymus gland, and are mostly produced in youth and adolescence. For some reason, we produce fewer of them as we age. T-cells get trained to attack invading pathogens… unfortunately, in the case of autoimmune disease, they get trained very, very poorly. Note, this is also why where there’s one autoimmune disease, there are usually more. It’s like playing whack-a-mole, in which the mole is autoimmune disease, and the holes it pops up from are the symptoms and the “singular” disease.

Here is where my theory and belief begins. I’m not sure how much, if any, of the following is backed by science. If they are produced, and trained, during times of extreme stress in our lives, the T-cells are more likely to learn incorrectly. It is my belief that, based on where we hold stress in our bodies (maybe your stomach is always in a knot, maybe you ball your hands up into fists or wring your fingers, maybe you “swallow your words” and don’t speak up for fear of conflict or bodily harm) the T-cells will misidentify those areas as problem areas, and learn, incorrectly, to target those areas.
<<end theory>>

So for example, I have been working on releasing anxiety and cultivating calm in my life. Reducing stress. When I got acupuncture for anxiety a few years ago, it felt like this tight ball unclenched in my stomach/ solar plexus region for the first time in who knows how long. Where is Celiac disease’s primary target site? The small intestine. This of course has a domino effect on the body, because if you’re not digesting your food properly, you’re not absorbing all the right nutrients, and basically can eat forever and still be malnourished. So my T-cells identified wheat as a trigger, in my small intestine, and BAM: wheat, stress, we got you boo! They are soooo trying to help, and they are just f-ing things up unimaginably. Silly, misguided T-cells.

Oh yeah, sending love to my misguided T-cells is part of my healing process. Sending love and forgiveness to my body, instead of sending more thoughts of hate and anger to it… and to myself.

Okay, so what about Graves’ Disease? Well, that’s the thyroid. My T-cells decide that, in times of stress, they will helpfully attack my thyroid, which stimulates it to produce massive amounts of thyroid hormone. Because it’s tossing this stuff around like confetti at New Year’s, my pituitary gland then shrugs, sits back, and has a gap year. Or two. Or… more. My pituitary gland completely forgot that IT was the one that was supposed to be bossing the thyroid around, instructing it on precisely how much thyroid hormone to produce. So even on anti-thyroid medicine, which suppresses thyroid hormone production, my pituitary gland was sending out sweet f*** all in the way of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. Because it hadn’t needed to for yeeeeears. It completely forgot that part of its job duties. Now, after searching Taipei far and wide for endocrinologists, I finally have one who understands thyroid function well, and patiently keeps me on a low dose until my antibodies simmer down, my TSH recuperates (you guys… it’s almost NORMAL!), and who doesn’t pressure me to get rid of King Thyroid altogether.

Hyperthyroidism, as illustrated by The Awkward Yeti

Back to a more esoteric view of health, what does the thyroid represent? And where is it located? It’s a butterfly-shaped gland (see above) at the front of our throat, at our throat chakra. It represents our voice, and feeling safe and confident to speak. It represents speaking our truth, speaking our truth with love, and knowing that it is safe to speak our truth.

Let me tell you, most of my life, I did not feel this way at all. So for me, saying affirmations such as “I speak my truth with love,” or “It is safe for me to speak my truth” not only felt uncomfortable at first, but were crucial in encouraging me to do just that.

Today, I mean, I can’t say I’m cured (yet). I don’t really want to try chowing down on a wheaty sandwich or a bowl of regular wheaty pasta to “test” myself, kind of like I don’t want to “test” whether or not I can drink like a non-alcoholic after over a decade of sobriety. But I can see that my thyroid health has improved dramatically, and hopefully, hopefully, I can stop taking medicine soon (I was diagnosed eight years ago, and have only been off the medicine for about six months during that time).

But do you see how I don’t lose hope? I don’t give in to these diseases and just let them take over my life. I did, for a while, certainly. But I got so fed up with that being my identity, because there is so much more to me than that!! So, being me, I combined the spiritual and the practical. After all, if someone just took away your chronic illness today, or tomorrow, what would you do? Who would you be? How would you live your life? What would you be thinking? If you’ve spent years stopping yourself and limiting yourself, it would be very hard to suddenly be “set free” overnight. That’s why, I believe, it does take a while to recover from chronic illness. Because it’s not just our physical body, but our beliefs about ourselves, and the way we perceive the world. And remember, we literally do have to re-train our T-cells so they attack pathogens, not our body.

I don’t know about you, but I only teach conversation class at a biotech firm, I don’t actually modify white blood cells in the lab! So for me, it boils down to this:

You can find me where the practical and the woo-woo meet.

Britt Lao


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Francis Larsen says:

    Island I was diagnosed with Hashimoto 6 years ago. I really enjoyed your article ! What do I have to do to re-train my T-cells so they attack pathogens, not my body? I would love to hear more from you on this matter:)


    1. Island Britt says:

      Hi Francis! Thanks for reading. Well, like I said, I’m no expert… I know researchers who are developing pharmaceuticals to treat autoimmune disease and cancers, but I’m not one of them! As our body gradually produces T-cells over time, we can do our best to reduce stressors, and eat foods or herbs that help support our body in having a healthy immune response. Immunomodulating herbs such as certain mushrooms, like Reishi, can help over time, in combination with lifestyle adjustments (and your doctor!). I wish you the best!


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