Monday, December 1, 2008

More on Adoption and Chronic Illness

I got really sick right before I turned twenty. I felt very weak, had no appetite, and ached all over. I went to the doctor and told him I felt like I had been hit by a Mack Truck. He said I probably had the flu. But it didn't go away, so after a few blood tests, we learned that I had inflammation in my blood (before which time I didn't know one's blood could be inflamed), indicating some kind of inflammatory arthritis. I had to go on massive doses of cortisone to calm the inflammation, and it helped, but they couldn't give me a specific diagnosis. My new rheumatologist said what I had was sort of like rheumatoid arthritis, although my blood wasn't testing positive for that disease. So it was a mystery.

I decided it would be a good idea to find out about my medical history, something that I had never thought about before, so I wrote to the adoption agency that handled my adoption, and received my "non-identifying" information--information about my birthparents and their families that is vague enough that I wouldn't be able to track them down. There was nothing about arthritis in it. But I did learn that my birth mom liked to swim, and my birthdad liked to sing. (More on that later.)

Eventually, after 8 years of being sick and going on and off various medications, I had accumulated enough damage in my joints from inflammation to indicate that I have a kind of inflammatory arthritis called spondylitis. It is chronic, uncurable, very painful, and in some cases, very debilitating. I am lucky to have a somewhat mild form of it, but I would be lying if I said it hadn't completely changed, and sometimes ruled, my life. I have had it for 22 years now, and I'm very tired of it, but I'm also very accustomed to it. I can also say that it is the reason I became a ranger, a wilderness guide, a search and rescue worker, a mountain biker, a backpacker and a climber.

During the initial months and years of being sick, when I didn't know what it was and I was very scared, I decided to try to exercise/exorcise it out of my body. I bought a mountain bike and started riding it up the humongous hill to my college campus at UC Santa Cruz every day. At first, I sweated and pedaled as hard as I could, while going so slow that flies actually landed on me and other people, who were riding Schwinn 3-speeds, passed me handily. Eventually, though, I worked myself into shape, and gained some confidence, and in turn felt I had some power, some control over the then-mysterious disease that was kicking my butt on a 24/7 basis. My goal was to kick its butt in return, which didn't really happen, since the disease never left my body, but I became very strong and began to identify myself as a rugged, outdoor gal. Which was sort of cool.

What, you might ask, does this have to do with being adopted? Well, I think that adopted people are probably more prone to chronic illness than other people. Why? Because we feel vulnerable and susceptible. It has been proven that adoptees have more psychological disease than the average person, so it makes sense to me that our sensitivity would cross over to the physical realm as well.

I have two brothers; one is adopted and the other is not. My adopted brother has a chronic illness, too. He's diabetic. My other brother is as healthy as a horse.

Now, I know a sample group of three people does not a scientific study make, but I am very curious about this.

Any thoughts?

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