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Autoimmune Disease and Pole

By on August 14, 2017

Autoimmune disease. Chances are that there is someone in your life who has an autoimmune disease, even if you aren’t aware of it.

What is an autoimmune disease? An autoimmune disease develops when your immune system treats your healthy cells as foreign invaders and attacks them. With as many as 80 to 100 different types of autoimmune diseases, the symptoms can look very different from person to person, depending on the type of disease each person develops.

Examples of common autoimmune diseases include Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Hashimoto’s, Psoriasis, Psoriatic Arthritis, Addison’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and many more. A comprehensive list can be found on the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association website.

It is estimated that over 50 million people in the US alone are affected by some form of autoimmune disease, with up to 75% of sufferers being women. Due to the high numbers of women in the pole community, it stands to reason that many of us are in that 75%.

I am one of them.

I was diagnosed with my first auto-immune disease in my early 20s: Psoriasis. I’ve had what’s considered to be mild Psoriasis, and while it’s been annoying and embarrassing, it has never stopped me from living a normal life. My second diagnosis came earlier this year, in the form of Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA). While this is generally tied to Psoriasis, people who develop PsA don’t always show signs of external Psoriasis. PsA is similar to Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), in the sense that it is an autoimmune arthritis, but instead of affecting the joints, it also involves the connective tissues around the joints.

Mine presented itself as tendonitis, and for about 6 to 8 weeks, my Orthopedist – a specialist in hand and wrists – treated it as such, with oral anti-inflammatories and a (very painful) cortisone shot. Neither helped my symptoms. My pain and swelling got progressively worse, forcing me to give up teaching and poling, beyond limited floor-based movement. My doctor ordered a blood test, and I got my first possible diagnosis: autoimmune arthritis. A follow up with a Rheumatologist and an MRI confirmed that it was Psoriatic Arthritis, rather than RA.

Photo by Alloy Images

Photo by Alloy Images

Many people go years and years without a correct diagnosis; I was quite lucky, in this regard. I am working with my nutritionist, Ellen Lovelace of A Balanced Table, on an extensive diet and supplement regimen to help me reduce my flares and repair some of the damage that triggered the auto-immune disease to begin with.

One of the things that has been helpful during this time is the support of others with similar issues. It can be difficult for people without autoimmune disease to understand what life is like for those who have it. You cannot always control how you feel; your body betrays you. One day, you may feel fine; the next, you can barely get out of bed. Your pain level can vary wildly; sometimes, you are physically ill, or dizzy, or have brain fog. There are a host of issues, depending on your particular form of the disease, and oftentimes, they are not visible problems – they are things you feel acutely, but others cannot see, and therefore, have a hard time understanding. It’s difficult to feel the disappointment of others, on top of being disappointed with your own body.

Autoimmune disease can affect your pole practice in a number of ways. For me, the biggest issues are exhaustion and tendon/joint pain. There are days where I simply do not have the energy to do even basic tasks, let alone hold my own body weight in the air. I have struggled with moments of dizziness and confusion, rendering me unable to even walk steadily or think clearly, and when I can pole, my recovery time is longer. With the pain in my hand – which used to be my dominate pole hand (I’m right handed in real life, but do much of my power moves on my left in pole) – poling can be painful and a bit scary at times; I no longer fully trust my hand and arm to support me in the things I used to do. I have to take it easy and go slow, always testing, always monitoring, and I have had to learn to forgive myself quickly if I cannot do something I used to do with ease. As such, I’ve lost flexibility and strength, which brings its own level of frustration. And I know I am not alone.

Photo by Alloy Images

Photo by Alloy Images

Out of my fellow autoimmune impacted polers, I know people who have experienced the same type of exhaustion and pain, but their symptoms vary depending on their specific disease. For some, there is intense pain that comes from nowhere; crippling exhaustion; brain fog and unsteadiness; digestive issues that keep them tied close to a bathroom; insomnia; hair loss; weight gain or loss; the list goes on and on. All of these can clearly impact one’s ability to pole (and pole safely), and that is often devastating. And for many, it took years to get a diagnosis: years of pain, exhaustion, and illness, with no clear explanation. It can be a very lonely place to be.

In chatting with Ellen – herself a poler with autoimmune disease – we began to see that there was a growing, vocal network of polers talking about their autoimmune issues. When she suggested that we form an online support group, I thought it was an excellent idea.

If you are a poler who suffers from an autoimmune disease, and you’re looking to connect with other polers also facing these issues, please check out our Facebook group. 

This group is a positive, safe space. We are here to offer support for each other and ideas for coping with symptoms, caring for oneself, etc. You can contribute, or just listen. All autoimmune suffering polers are welcome, regardless of gender, size, race, location, etc. The group is private, but all you need do is ask to join, and an administrator will admit you.

If what I have described sounds like you, and you have not been diagnosed, reach out to your doctor to inquire about autoimmune tests. And, if you are an AI poler, join our group. You don’t have to deal with it alone.

Photo by Alloy Images

Photo by Alloy Images

Danielle C.

Danielle C.

Creative entity, cat mom, dog auntie, consumer of too much sugar. Pole and lyra enthusiast, amateur foodie, local explorer. One half of Poleitical Clothing. Read my musings at
Danielle C.

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