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“You Can Handle This. I Promise.” :: Why Adding Play, Risk Taking and Resilience Training Helps Your Autoimmune Life

Only folks who have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease understand what I am about to say:  Getting the diagnosis of both Celiac and Hashimoto’s resulted in tears of relief and a moderately enthusiastic happy dance (with jazz hands).

You’ve had it as well, maybe – the diagnosis that comes rolling out from a tinny voice on the other end of the phone.  Your immediate response is unexpected giddiness, rooted in validation for all the months – or years perhaps -you spent thinking you were either a complainer, a hypochondriac, or a body destined for demise.  And even though the diagnosis is daunting, you’re blind to that.  All you know is that all the doctors visits, the medical bills, and the crazy woo-woo fringe healers are now siphoned into one label, one direct line of attack.

You have a real actual disease, with real actual scientific backing. Deep breath.

Then, as is the case with any relationship, the honeymoon ends.  For some folks this happens moments after the first call, when the doctor says, hey, so, you may never have normal salivary function again.  Or, hey, you might someday need your intestines cut out bit by bit.  Or, hey, come into the office tomorrow so the nurse can teach you how to use insulin.  Or, hey, you’ll never touch a drop of delicious chewy gluten again.  Or, hey, we’ll have to watch your thyroid every three months in case it develops suspicious nodules.  Or, hey, we have no idea how to treat your disease or what will happen to you, but, yay, you’re not a loon!

Yeah.  Honeymoon over.

For me, the next phase was a heroic jump into an unsustainably perfect way of living with an autoimmune disease.  I bought an arsenal of health books, lost at least 8 of my 9 lives to Google (and self-diagnosed myself with 34.5 other diseases), interrogated numerous doctors, and went to weird support groups in dark church basements. In the case of the celiac diagnosis, I bought all new gluten-untouched pans, pots, and utensils.  I gathered cookbooks, all of which promised to be “easy” and “actually sort of good tasting.”  I fastidiously mourned the loss of eating out, as this was 11 years ago, aka when “gluten-free” was “gluten-what?”  I quit a really dumb job in a coffee shop because I became convinced that the daily chore of making kolaches was far “too risky.”

In the case of Hashimoto’s, I read every fringe book linked to all environmental toxins around me, I dealt with candida and thusly limited my diet to virtually nothing.  I removed all potential sources of leaching hormones in my food and plastic.  I attempted a 30-Day Meditation Challenge (oxymoron, no?) in order to calm my adrenal system back to pre-grown-up-life stress levels.  I experimented with compounded thyroid, dessicated pig thyroid, synthetic thyroid, iodine, etc etc etc in order to find just the right magic pill for my total regeneration.

And, then, finally, after my second child was born, I just got really tired of all of it.

While the diagnosis had liberated me and helped me begin to heal, the treatment had paralyzed and isolated me.  The fear of going back to the state of disrepair I had once been in, to experiencing the loss of precious energy and zest for life, and to digestive ailments that locked me into my house every morning had me convinced that I had to operate with perfection in regards to my health.  That fear was founded, but not necessary and certainly not essential to my well-being.  In fact, that fear was holding me back from a key part of healing …

Believing my body could handle it.  That I could handle it.  “It” being life.  “It” being the inevitability of toxins,of possibly contaminated food, of potentially stressful ventures, and of unnecessary risks that might slip me back into the yuck of autoimmune flare-up.

This is the slippery slope of autoimmune disease diagnosis.  We are at once so happy to have a way forward, but we are simultaneously aware that feeling good is ever-changing and often fleeting.  The response to that reality can be a level of control in terms of our “way forward” that is absolutely 100% based in fear.  And that fear, on a physiological level, tells our nervous system to brace and to be on alert.  And a nervous system on alert is a nervous system in a stress pattern.  And a body in a stress pattern cannot and will not heal fully.

Now, to conclude, this is where you will have to understand that I am NOT dismissing your treatment protocols, nor would I ever in a million years suggest that by being more psychologically positive will cure you, but I want to suggest something that I have researched (like a total nerd) that I believe to be a missing component of many – especially newly – diagnosed autoimmune patients.

Play.  Risk.  Resiliency training.

Your nervous system needs to know that despite your condition, you are a body that needs and deserves the full capacity of experience.  And beyond that, combined with impeccable self-care, your body can handle being a human being.  AKA, being imperfect.

The beauty of this component of your autoimmune treatment protocol is that it reduces stress.  When you can let go and let loose and send the message to yourself over and over that you can handle being human, then more breaths can enter, less vigilance is required, a reduced stimulation of your parasympathetic nervous system is possible. And now you ask, desperately: How do I do this, while also managing my precarious condition?

  1. Operate at a professional level in your self-care where and when you can.  DO NOT opt for ignorance about the non-negotiables of your particular autoimmune disease:  If you have to eat gluten free, do that with 100% care.  If you have to take your meds at a certain time every day, be a die-hard about that.  If you can’t smoke or drink, don’t.  If you need sleep, do that without compromise.  If you can’t eat certain foods, replace them with ones that you can and mourn their former presence in your life.  Get over it.  These are not limitations.  They are not restrictions.  These are realities of your beautiful existence, of the human body you’ve come into the world with (of which you have zero control).
  2. Operate at an amateur level with fear.  Laugh at it.  Call it names.  Deliberately push its buttons.  Test its limits.  Give it a hug and then walk away without a care.  Bounce on the trampoline anyway, even though your foot might fall through the net.
  3. Resiliency training.  Push yourself physically in safe and sustainable ways, relative to your condition, every single day.  There is no better way to gear your body up for healing than having it participate in consistent, intelligently designed, effective, and efficient exercise.  I personally do a system of “Daily 15” minute high intensity interval workouts, specifically designed to not overburden your adrenal system and to not cause injury to your joints, but to give you true strength that matters.  There has been no better way to get my body believing it can handle “it” then giving it the strength it needs to do “it.”

You can handle this.
I promise.

Oh, and if you’d like to try out my Daily 15 system, you’re in luck!  We’re excited to offer all readers of an opportunity to win one of ten free spots in our upcoming July 30-Day Strength Challenge.  All you have to do is follow this link, fill out the form, and then do a happy dance (with jazz hands).


About the Author
Courtney Wyckoff is the owner of, where we revolutionize how women choose to show up in the world through access to efficient and effective strength that matters.   She is a Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist, with 12 years experience in the field of fitness, nutrition, and injury prevention/treatment.

This blog post was originally published by, written by Courtney Wyckoff, and first published on Jun 20, 2014.

This post contains the opinions of the author. Autoimmune Association is not a medical practice and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is your responsibility to seek diagnosis, treatment, and advice from qualified providers based on your condition and particular circumstances. Autoimmune Association does not endorse nor recommend any products, practices, treatment methods, tests, physicians, service providers, procedures, clinical trials, opinions or information available on this website. Your use of the website is subject to our Privacy Policy.

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