Invisible Illness is the inspiring account of a mother and researcher’s journey with an autoimmune disease, weaving together personal stories and science to shed light on eliminating overwhelm and rediscovering health and happiness.
Today, over 24 million Americans (more than 7% of the population) suffer from the pain and discomfort of an autoimmune disease—and the prevalence is rising. Whether the illness is rheumatoid arthritis, Addison’s disease, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or ulcerative colitis; and whether the sufferer is a colleague, a friend, a family member, or you, these diseases have an impact on just about every one of us.
Heather Hausenblas’s son was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 16. Overwhelmed and all-consumed with grief at the thought of her son suffering with a chronic “incurable” disease this began her journey into understanding this disease, healing her son, and ultimately discovering what true health means. Integrating personal experiences and struggles with hundreds of research studies, Hausenblas reveals that we have the power to regain and maintain a vibrate, healthy, and happy life.
She offers hard-earned wisdom, science-backed solutions, and simple tips and recipes for health and happiness. This is her case study of an autoimmune disease, from unhealthy to healthy, and its reach into the often overlooked behavioral and environmental sides of wellness.
Targeted Age Group:: 18 to 60
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
As a researcher and as a mother with a severely sick son, I began a journey to understand autoimmune diseases. Why there're on the rise? What roles do our environment, our genes, and our health behaviors play? What’s the best treatment? Can I get my son—not just better—but “cured” from an incurable disease? What I found was disjointed information, lack of research on health behaviors, too many diets to humanly comprehend, heroic healthcare workers, narrow-minded healthcare workers, new friends, and, ultimately, peace with myself and my family and a new outlook on what it means to be healthy.
This book arises from the intensity of my experience. Everything you think you know about yourself as a parent changes when your child gets severely sick. As a mother, a researcher, and a health educator, I attempted to bring all these experiences together. While I’m not a medical doctor, I’m a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), and my expertise is health behaviors. This means I’m a researcher, thinker, and lifelong learner of health habits. I research how our exercise, sleep, diet, mood, and stress affect our health. I couldn’t help but wonder: if I was this overwhelmed, with the expertise in health I had (or at least I thought I had), how must other people feel?
I follow the path of inquiry. I’m a habitual skeptic. I’m obsessed with questioning, researching, and finding alternative answers. I don’t blindly accept the advice of others without proof. I enjoy reading research papers and nonfiction science-based books. Maybe that’s why I never last in book clubs.
My hope is that my obsessions will help others on their quest for health. This is my case study of an autoimmune disease, from unhealthy to healthy, and its reach into the often overlooked behavioral and environmental sides of health. I befriended wellness experts, read hundreds of research articles, battled the idea of what healthy means, and made health-based changes one challenge at a time. My kitchen served as my lab. My n of 1 experiment was one part science and one part gut-instinct. I conducted many informal experiments, and now I’m sharing my successes and my many failures in this book.
It’s also the story of my frustrations, confusions, and struggles with the medical model. As pervasive as medicine is, it’s an uncertain science at times. It’s not perfect. The alternative health and wellness approaches such as diet, exercise, sleep, and supplementation are also uncertain sciences at times. Still, we must move beyond the medical model to a holistic approach to wellbeing that includes not only healthcare but also health and wellness.
For this book, I have tried to simplify the science and provide resources and health tips. It’s an accumulation of everything I have learned. In other words, it’s everything I wish I had known when Tommy was first diagnosed. I hope that by condensing and simplifying what I’ve learned, I will help others to eliminate overwhelm. You have the power to reclaim and maintain your health or the health of someone you love. Whether you’re suffering from a serious health condition or want to have more energy during the day, this book will help you on your wellness journey.
“They think he has Crohn’s disease,” my husband whispered over the phone.
I quickly left my office, and while rushing to my car, I cancelled my meetings for the rest of the week. I’d hit my breaking point. Questions raced through my mind. “How did this happen? What’s the treatment? What’s the cure? What’s Crohn’s disease?” I had never felt so alone in my thoughts. My knowledge of this disease consisted of commercials I’d seen promoting medicines to alleviate symptoms. And these medicines had a long list of side effects. Are the side effects worse than the disease?
The gray and cloudy sky, unusual for the Sunshine State, matched my mood. When I got home, I went immediately to Tommy’s room. He was sleeping. His all-consuming fatigue had become a typical sight over the last few months; his pain was unbearable at times. In the past two months, Tommy had lost about twenty pounds and spent way too much time in his bed or in the bathroom. This wasn’t how he was supposed to spend his junior year of high school. I thought he had a bad infection and could take a quick-fix antibiotic, and then life would return to normal, whatever normal was. I was very wrong. The illusion of youthful invincibility was gone.
I was beyond emotion. I needed to clear my head and figure out what to do. So, I went to a yoga class. I often left yoga when it was time for Savasana, the last few minutes of class when you lie on your mat, focus on breathing, and relax. Why? Trying to lie still stressed me out because I would think about everything I had to do—the opposite of the Savasana goal. But this time, I stayed. I focused on breathing, relaxing, and clearing my mind. It worked. As I was rolling up my yoga mat after the class, I had clarity. Imagine that. And yes, the science supports the stress-reducing effects of yoga are greatest when breathing and meditation are included .
Walking home from the yoga class, I had a plan. My focus was getting Tommy healthy while keeping some level of normalcy for our other two boys. To focus, I had to get rid of stuff that consumed my time. That was easy. I took a medical leave from work. My work could wait. My family couldn’t wait.
We went back to the hospital later that afternoon to meet with nurses, his newly appointed pediatric gastroenterologist, a social worker, and a nutritionist. The social worker gave us a binder titled, “For Parents of Chronically Ill, Medically Complex Children.” That didn’t sound good.
A chronic illness is an illness that persists for longer than three months. And there’s no cure through vaccinations or medications. Diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, fibromyalgia, asthma, and, yes, Crohn’s disease are only a few examples of chronic illnesses. One in three people suffer from a chronic illness. That’s way too many.
I had a headache trying to process everything. Is Tommy really chronically ill? What does medically complex even mean? I was numb. I sat and listened, but I don’t remember much except the words chronic and incurable. Was this a life sentence? Would he never get better? Was this a forever sickness?
I do vividly remember one part of the conversation with the nutritionist. To say my understanding of Crohn’s disease was limited was an understatement. I was desperately eager to learn everything about it. Knowledge is power, right? I had to get Tommy better. The nutritionist sat in her office chair across from us. Through the rustle of shuffling feet and quick hellos, our conversation on nutrition began.
“Tommy can eat anything,” she said.
“Really?” I questioned. I knew nothing about this disease. But come on; if you’re spending a significant portion of your day on the toilet, food must play some role .
“Yes, white rice, white bread, white crackers are fine,” she said.
Tommy piped up, “Can I still eat Chick-fil-A?”
She quickly replied, “Yes.”
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