Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

I was bedridden for nearly a year. Right after my 20th birthday, the pains started. I thought it was my lack of exercise at first so I started exercising vigorously and the pains only seemed to increase (nearly tenfold). I was gobbling pain killers like candy in the summer of 2016 and trying my best to ignore whatever was actually taking place inside of me.

Let’s be candid for a minute here, what 20-year-old gets even the slightest inclination that she could be seriously sick? None.

I attributed them to everything but anything serious.

I wanted the pain to go away but I also wanted to know why it was happening in the first place. We tried everything – yoga, cardio workouts, dance, etc. but the pains wouldn’t budge. I even got tested for rheumatoid arthritis and it came negative – thrice.

It all boiled down to two months later when my hypothyroid got diagnosed because my body (my joints, more specifically) were swollen to the point of no return and my levels were through the roof. I was immediately put on 100 mg of thyronorm and my levels started subsiding.

I figured the pains were also going away because of my thyroid coming under control but it were the strong anti-inflammatory medicines that I was popping at the time that kept my pains at bay.

Once the anti-inflammatories stopped, I started developing a rash and my hair fall started. People often said thyroid medicines caused skin and hair problems so we naturally consulted a dermatologist and he gave me steroids for my face and medicated shampoos for my hair.

I figured all would be fine now.

It obviously wasn’t because the skin problems kept on coming back, my hair kept falling, and my pains never stopped. From September’16 till March’17, I was getting bouts of viral again and again and twice in those months the infections weren’t merely viral infections – my fever would reach ungodly temperatures and stay there for days, no medicine worked.

The doctors were in shock and my parents didn’t know if their 20-year-old daughter would wake up to see the light of day.

In March’17 I was diagnosed with SLE – systemic lupus erythematosus. It’s an inflammatory autoimmune disease where all the tissues and organs swell up causing excessive pain, fever, and low immunity. It isn’t a terminal disease per say but every “flare up” (as is termed an extreme lupus episode) weakens the organs and system as a whole. So if it isn’t controlled in time, it can be lethal and decrease the overall lifespan of the person.

Lupus is a tricky little thing too – it imitates almost every disease that exists because it’s so symptomatic and has so many varied symptoms from person to person. So it’s very hard to pinpoint to lupus itself.

I was almost diagnosed with everything from lymphoma to what not in the period that I suffered and wasn’t diagnosed with SLE yet.

Finally, the diagnosis came and thankfully so too, but here’s the catch – I still didn’t recover. I was put on prednisone for a few months but whilst having it I had another flare up. Why? I was after all doing everything western medicine offered to me. The mouth ulcers came back, the pains, the rashes, the fever, the inability to drink a glass of water without throwing it up too.

It had been a year in June ’17 since I’d been sick. Since I hadn’t attended my final year of college properly. Since I hadn’t lived the way I should’ve. And I was still there – in bed, frozen, not knowing when the pain would go away and if it did, would I be getting out of bed for good or to get back to normalcy?

It was all a blur to me but somewhere along the line, my mother, who was barely holding it together as it is, found an article on how a young girl’s lupus had been cured with diet. My mother contacted the one person she knew when it came to holistic healing – Rachna Chhachhi.

I realised that everything was wrong with my diet. I still hadn’t been told that gluten is basically poison for my system with lupus by doctors. Nobody told me dairy products can cause inflammation inside my body. And most of all, nobody told me that red meat is as good as swallowing a gallon of poison in one sitting for my body with lupus.

And there’s that day and there’s today – I was a frail, almost dead 21-year-old lying in bed almost hopelessly, not knowing where my life was headed (if I even had one anymore) to the confident, independent 21-year-old I am today who is planning her further postgraduate studies after having completed the semester of college she had to drop, all on her own merit with a first division and planning her career prospects in full flow.

I’d be lying if I said this has been an easy journey – it’s been everything but easy. It’s been eight months since I started the diet and I still get annoyed and impatient about the fact that at the age of 21, I have so many restrictions on my food – when I should be living my life to the absolute fullest, I have to take extra care before I eat anything and everything and have such a limited palette.

But then reality hits me in the face and I realise that if it weren’t for these very food restrictions, exercises and pranayamas, I probably wouldn’t be standing here – I wouldn’t be standing at all. I’m here because God gave us a signal into the right direction and because I (literally) found enlightenment.

When I first got the chart, I was excited. It was a novelty of a kind and it meant potentially getting better. I was in a really bad shape then, it was my third flare up and I had every symptom possible – pains, fever, indigestion, mouth ulcers, skin lesions and rashes, swelling, etc.

I started the diet and I struggled.

Every inch of my body refused to take in this new diet that seemed to eliminate everything I’d loved prior to this – junk food had become a long lost dream now and despite knowing how bad it was for me, my body craved it like a lion hunting its prey.

It was kind of symbolic because back when I started my diet, I literally craved everything that wasn’t good for me. I wanted wheat based products, I wanted milk (having hated it all my life until it had become a restriction), I wanted to consume everything that I wasn’t supposed to.

I resisted the diet at first too. Where was my cheesy omelette and buttered bread slice? Why couldn’t I drink coffee with milk? I was pissed.

Nevertheless, I knew I had no choice. I wasn’t improving despite the various methods that we’d tried and this was the last resort. I knew I had to substantiate the huge amounts of potent medication that was being pumped into my system daily with something, and that something was a healthier, cleaner, nutritious diet. And so I conformed to it. I started following my diet religiously, I started having my 30+ supplements a day and I decided that I had to get better.

And so I did.

The plan got easier to handle as I got better. My system realised I wasn’t giving it any of the trash I was feeding into it earlier any longer. And it started thanking me. The rashes disappeared, and haven’t come back since. My hair’s been growing at a faster rate than ever before and I FEEL SO GOOD – which is the biggest cherry on the (dairy-free, gluten-free, sugarless) cake. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

Oh, and plot twist? I love my food now. I wouldn’t it any other way. My friends come over to my place and order in a pizza and I sit and eat my grilled fish in the same sitting without feeling an ounce of craving. I keep discovering places that serve food that adheres to all my restrictions (so that I can eat out too) and yes, and some restaurants are extremely helpful and make the food exactly as per my diet chart – it’s brilliant.

More than anything else, I have a normal life again. A year ago today I wasn’t sure I’d ever get better but guess what? I did. I’m here writing this and having a busy life ahead of me, and I couldn’t be more grateful for all of it. I’m active, I work out, take dance classes, work, study, and basically do everything I possibly can all whilst cooking my own food when my mom doesn’t feel up to it.

I love it. And I love my life.

Medicines can kickstart your treatment, yes, but holistic healing can give a permanent sense of relief to you because I’m damn sure that lupus isn’t coming back, ever. I kicked it in the butt and it’s going to stay far, far away from me – all whilst I munch on my homemade sweet potato fries.

Arushi Tandon