In honor of World Sjogren’s Day, allow me to say: I’m really f***ing tired!

Today is World Sjogren’s Day. Set aside to honor the birthday of Dr. Henrik Sjogren, who discovered Sjogren’s Syndrome, it is also a day to recognize the millions of Sjogren’s patients worldwide and create awareness of the often misdiagnosed / under diagnosed autoimmune connective tissue disease.

The main triad of symptoms that plague those, including myself, with Sjogren’s are: dryness, joint / muscle pain, and fatigue. The fatigue of Sjogren’s has been studied and found to equal that of MS.

A few months ago I attended a session with a motivational speaker who is promoting a book she authored detailing her personal experiences with low self-esteem, self-shaming, body image insecurity, and infertility. If all that was not enough, she also has a rare autoimmune disease affecting her lungs which required hospitalization in the past. The young mother is a passionate, energetic firecracker devoted to spreading her message of self-love and acceptance to women everywhere. She wants women to “embrace their flaws, own their awesome, breathe fire, and be world changers”.

As I sat listening to her impassioned message I was in awe of her enthusiasm. She speaks her truth unapologetically. After we applauded her, she opened the floor to questions or comments. I told her I thought she was delivering a powerful, needed message but personally I was just “too tired to be a world-changer”.

Her response to me was surprising. “Are you are hiding behind the mask of fatigue?”

What I wanted to say in that moment was “No, I am just truly f***ing tired.”

I wanted to tell her that my fatigue was no more a mask than her infertility was. It is not a choice. It is not something I can turn on and off, I don’t use it as an excuse, rather it is a truth. I did not share those thoughts aloud. I was also having the overwhelming thought that perhaps expecting all women to be world-changers might leave some feeling yet again “not enough”.

I sat there as she continued answering audience questions, stewing over my own thoughts and insecurities. Why was I reacting so strongly to her question? Was it because I was hiding behind a mask of fatigue; did being exhausted gave me any sort of personal pay-off, gains of attention, anything positive in any way? I believe the answer was, and is, no.

(Well, okay, it does give me something to blog about, but that’s all.)

In April I had to have a “level one sleep study”, the kind you have as an inpatient spending the night in a sleep lab hooked up to wires, sensors, recorders, and so on. Literally the sleep technician covers you from head to foot with equipment monitoring your pulmonary, cardiac, and neurological functions as you sleep. Decked out in all the medical technology paraphernalia I wondered how I could possibly sleep.


(Partially rigged up for the sleep study, more stuff to to be added, including in nostrils!)

Adding to the ambience, the room was seemingly airless except for the fan whirring in the corner. The bed was a typical hospital bed complete with vinyl mattress cover and pancake flat plastic covered pillow. Adding to the whole experience is the reminder that upon entering your room you stripped all your clothes off, except your underwear, to be enclosed in Rubbermaid containers as there had been previous bedbug infestations in the lab. And, if all of the above was not enough reason to provoke sleeplessness, the ceiling mounted camera capturing your every moment throughout the night becomes activated, the red “on” light glowing intrusively. The technician shortly thereafter announcing over a speaker in your room: “the study has begun”.

I wondered how valid these sleep studies could be; was it possible people actual slept under these conditions? As always, I was tired. I closed my eyes and hoped for the best. I did not want to have to do this again, ever.

Last week, I finally had the appointment to review the sleep study results with the pulmonary specialist who ordered the test. Good news was I do not have sleep apnea, which had been his main concern, thinking perhaps it was provoking my random intermittent episodes of atrial fibrillation heart arrhythmia.

I asked if there were any other significant findings. He said it was all quite normal, or in medical terms “unremarkable” except for one thing -I had slept 94% of the time.
Highly unusual he explained, for anyone to sleep that percentage of the time during a sleep lab study.

“You must have been extremely sleep deprived before the study”, he pronounced. It was a statement, not a question.

I’ve been tired since 1990. I could sleep anywhere, anytime is what I always tell people. Now I have the study to prove it.

 

 

For those who would like to know more about Fatigue and Sjogren’s: http://info.sjogrens.org/conquering-sjogrens/bid/342548/13-types-of-sjogren-s-fatigue

 

My 3 all-time favourite memes re: fatigue (one of my least fave things) and sleep (one of my all-time fave things):

Sick of hearing about Sjogren’s?

Are you sick of hearing about Sjogren’s Syndrome?

The topic came up this week on Christine Molloy’s Facebook page “Thoughts and Ramblings on Life, Love and Health”. Christine has a blog: http://www.christinemolloy.com She celebrated her 6th anniversary of beginning the blog by posting the link to her very first blog post again this week. Over the years she has posted about Sjogren’s but her blog is not exclusively about the syndrome. At the outset she made a conscious decision for it not to be. She stated she was more than Sjogren’s, so she intended her blog to be more than just that too.

Likewise I made a similar decision about my blog when I began. That is why I have a topic bar underneath my blog title, so people can chose to read just the Sjogren’s posts or random topics, just memoir or poems, or whichever combo thereof.

It is a common concern of most Sjogren’s patients (as I am sure is the same with sufferers of any other chronic illness) to not to talk about their illness all of the time. We are quite aware other people will get sick of hearing about it, because guess what? So do we.

Unfortunately it is not an easy ailment for patients to ignore since symptoms frequently affect a person from head to toe, literally.  It is chronic and without cure. There is no treatment specific to Sjogren’s; what treatments are available are often hit and miss.Relentlessly day after day, Sjogren’s is exhausting.

Even the minority of Sjogren’s patients who are not affected initially by overwhelming fatigue become tired because of the illness being so invasive of time, energy and finances. Fatigue is not just a physical symptom of the disease itself and the chronic flu-like pain so many suffer with, but also becomes a side effect of what it takes to manage the disease. A few years ago a chronic disease lifestyle study was done which showed that Sjogren’s was on par with Multiple Sclerosis as far as the patients’ day to day quality of life.

While admittedly we get tired of not just hearing about Sjogren’s but also living with it, many of us do feel it is critical to raise awareness of the disease, as well as reach out to support others, especially those who may be new to the diagnosis, or perhaps still seeking one. So for that reason I will continue to post about Sjogren’s from time to time, not just during awareness month but whenever the mood strikes me.

Am I doing it for attention, pity, sympathy, or to play the “my disease / symptoms are worse than yours” game? Absolutely not.

I do it to educate, so perhaps others who may be struggling with symptoms may have a shorter road to diagnosis and treatment than I had. I also do it in hope of creating better understanding not just of the medical aspects of Sjogren’s, but for the challenges that come along with living with the myriad of symptoms. I do it not just for the Sjogren’s patients but also for their loved ones, so that they too may have a better understanding of the syndrome, thus in turn the potential for greater patience and compassion. I do it because telling my story makes me feel better, and maybe just maybe, my story might do the same for you.

vanzant quote re story sharing

http://www.sjogrens.org
http://www.sjogrenscanada.org

Sjogren’s Awareness: So, how did I get it?

This week a friend asked me how people get Sjogren’s Syndrome. Where Sjogren’s comes from is a good question. My first thought in response to the question would be: from Hell! I suspect other Sjogren’s patients, especially those who suffer with systemic symptoms and organ involvement would agree.

Personally I have no idea how I got Sjogren’s; medical scientists are still searching for the definitive answer to that question themselves. My friend asked if it was genetic, bacterial or viral. As far as researchers have been able to discover so far it appears it may be a combination of those factors that cause the illness to manifest itself.

Current thinking is perhaps more than one gene may be involved, but scientists are not certain exactly which ones are linked to the disease, because different genes seem to play a role in varying patient populations. Simply having one of the suspect genes will not cause a person to develop the disease; it appears some sort of trigger must activate the immune system. Scientists think that the trigger may be a viral (something like Epstein-Barr perhaps) or a bacterial infection. Some medical researchers are investigating whether maybe the endocrine and nervous systems play a role in developing Sjogren’s as well.

This is how researchers think it may work: A person who has a Sjogren’s-associated gene gets a viral or bacterial infection. The virus or bacteria stimulates the immune system to act, but the suspect gene(s) alters the attack, sending the fighter cells (lymphocytes) to the moisture producing glands initially, usually eyes and mouth. Once there, the lymphocytes attack healthy cells, causing the inflammation which damages the glands and keeps them from working properly. But Sjogren’s autoimmune reaction doesn’t always stop at the eyes and mouth; it can affect all moisture producing glands in the body, as well as other parts of the body including connective tissues, and organs such as the lungs and liver.

Basically how I usually describe it to people is that my body’s immune system started fighting something (virus / bacteria) in my body which means it was doing the job it was supposed to do, BUT then something happened to make it start attacking the healthy tissue instead, causing the autoimmune disease to manifest.

Because medical scientists still have no sure knowledge of the cause, it is no surprise that there is not yet a cure. No specific targeted Sjogren’s treatments are currently available either; there is no “go to drug” specifically for Sjogren’s. The best help patients currently have available are drugs to alleviate symptoms, to attempt to arrest the inflammatory process, and the immune-response.

You might think Sjogren’s is rare, yet it is not. Estimates are 1 in 70 people in USA / Canada have Sjogren’s. What is rare is getting a diagnosis because its symptoms vary from person to person, are often initially subtle and possibly even intermittent. It is estimated that most people wait an average of 5-7 years to get a diagnosis, but many more wait ten or more years and see multiple doctors in the process as they search for an explanation for the myriad of diverse symptoms Sjogren’s can cause, including excessive dryness of eyes, mouth, skin, digestive tract, etc., life-changing fatigue, chronic muscle and joint pain, organ involvement, neuropathies, and even increased lymphomas.

For more information on Sjogren’s I recommend:

“The Sjogren’s Book” (4th edition) edited by Daniel J. Wallace for detailed medical information on all manifestations of Sjogren’s and the science of autoimmunity in relation to it. It reads like a medical textbook, so best for those with medical knowledge or patients who have significant background regarding Sjogren’s.

If you prefer a less scientific read, I suggest “the New Sjogren’s Syndrome Handbook” (revised and expanded 3rd edition) by David J. Wallace which is exceptionally patient friendly.

For first-hand patient stories of getting diagnosed and living with Sjogren’s, Christine Molloy’s “Tales from the Dry Side: The Personal Stories Behind the Autoimmune Illness Sjogren’s Syndrome” is the best I have read.

All of the above are available via Amazon if you are unable to locate elsewhere, including your public library via inter-library loan.

http://www.sjogrens.org
http://www.sjogrenscanada.org

Tales From The Dry Side photo