3 Things I’ve Learned From Living With An Autoimmune Disease
I have Ulcerative Colitis, a gastrointestinal autoimmune disease that causes inflammation, bleeding, and damage to the large intestine.
In January of 2017 I had a UC flare-up that made me lose 30 lbs in a month, kept me weak and in bed for several weeks at a time, and almost caused me to have my colon surgically removed. I had no choice but to take a medical leave from Nima. But, within two and a half months I came back feeling more healed and optimistic about the future.
Then in November of this year, I was forced to take medical leave again (this time indefinitely). My co-founder Shireen, our investors, and our incredible team have been great in supporting me and encouraging me to take the time to get my body back to health.
Here are 3 big things I’ve learned in my journey with living with an autoimmune disease:
Figure out what works for you.
Part of living with an autoimmune disease is careful trial and error of the treatments and lifestyle that best work for you.
For me, a healthy diet is key to controlling my disease, and to overall health in general. I keep strictly gluten-free, eat only organic whenever possible (side note: I’m very excited for a possible future Nima sensor for pesticide/herbicide detection!), try to cook most of my own meals, and have adopted a plant based diet. Keeping my diet clean and my microbiome healthy with lots of plants and fiber has been a major boost to my health. And while having a “restricted” diet can be more challenging at times, I’ve learned to love the forced creativity that comes with it and the increased variety and excitement at mealtime!
In addition to my diet, I’ve also been meditating for at least 20 minutes every day and exercising approximately 5 days a week.
The road to recovery isn’t a straight path.
When I went on medical leave again last November, I was confronted with the fact that healing isn’t linear. You might get better, you might relapse. Or, you might get better, and then relapse, and then get better, and then relapse, and then get better…
The first emotion I felt when I relapsed was denial. Denial that this was happening again, and denial that I needed to take severe intervention to get myself back on track. I remember talking on the phone to Shireen, my co-founder, about how I’d be back in the office in a week or two. At the time, I was lying in bed because I was too weak to get up.
I’ve realized now that perhaps some of the traits that have made me a good founder (determination, drive, and endurance in the hardest of conditions), have also helped me delude myself about the real condition of my health. Which leads me to my next point…
Take care of yourself, know when to take a step back.
Struggling with UC, with the associated ups and downs, food intolerances, and personal experience of how important a healthy diet is for controlling my disease was one of the primary motivators for why I started Nima. And while I’ve been hard at work for the past 5 years getting Nima out into the world to help provide a solution for people with issues like mine, I unfortunately wasn’t always able to keep my own disease in check.
As always, from any experience, there are positive lessons one can learn. I learned that I HAVE to listen to my body. My body was clearly telling me that I was pushing myself too far, and I chose to ignore those warnings. I also learned that I need to maintain strictness with the routines that I know work.
And one of the biggest things I’ve learned from my experiences so far?
There is no silver bullet.
Healing takes time.
For now, I’m focusing my energy on healing, spending time with family, getting out in nature whenever the chance allows, and enjoying the shifted perspective of cheering on the Nima team from the sidelines. I have a lot of hope that this will be a healthy year!
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Scott Sundvor is the cofounder of Nima. He founded Nima when he was 22, motivated by his own experience with ulcerative colitis and food intolerances.