Living With Ankylosing Spondylitis: My Journey & Learnings
In 2015, after 3 years of back pain and medical procedures, I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis. What a shock this was, and at the same time a relief, to finally be able to put a name to all those difficult times. Getting a diagnosis is hard, while it makes the pain real (to those that doubted it), it also felt like it put the label “permanent condition” on the rest of my life. I was anxious, scared and uncertain on what to do next. Both my mental and physical energy were drained by all the questions that were floating around in my head.
The first steps
My rheumatologist told me to take NSAIDs, which I did for a few months, and while it helped a bit with my back pain, I was then faced with digestive issues and thus decided to stop them. The other option provided, biologics, felt very scary to me, and I didn’t want to accept that this was the only solution for my pain relief. I am not against medication, it has its place and time on people’s journey with chronic conditions, I just didn’t feel like I was there yet. I wanted to find other ways to feel better, to feel normal again.
After countless hours researching AS, autoimmune conditions and inflammation, I learned about Functional Medicine to try to find the root causes of chronic conditions, and thus turned to doctors practicing in such ways. Over the years, I went through several alternative treatments and testing, looking at my gut health (70% of our immune system is in our gut!)1, imbalances in my blood markers, and other external areas of my life causing chronic stress.
The importance of a healthy lifestyle
I started with lifestyle changes and slowly worked on forming new healthy habits to reduce inflammation (via nutrition, movement, and mindfulness). It wasn't an easy road, full of setbacks and I had to stay patient, but in the end, it was just what I needed for my recovery. I am now mostly pain-free, with just a few mild flares here and there.
Looking back, I am grateful for this difficult journey. It allowed me to shift my perspective on health, taught me to listen to my needs, and really made me appreciate what it means to be healthy. I also understand the importance of making lifestyle changes to support my health. Every day we get to choose what we do, what we think, how we move, what we eat etc and this has such an impact on our physical and mental well-being.
A new purpose in life
Through this life experience and all the learnings, I decided to change careers and now support people on their own health journey. It is so powerful to see when people feel ready and confident to take control of their health again.
My key message: believe in yourself and the power of your lifestyle choices to manage your AS and support your health. It starts with small, daily healthy habits. One step at a time.
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