Lupus is an autoimmune disease that is deemed to be chronic due to its very nature. The disease attacks the healthy cells of the body as the immune system becomes hyperactive and begins attacking healthy tissue and organs. Symptoms of lupus include inflammation, swelling, damage to the joints, skin problems, kidney damage, blood problems, heart issues, and lung weakening over time. It is a deadly and potentially fatal disease if it is not administered and taken care of with the proper treatment and precautions.
May is Lupus Awareness Month, and I’m a lupus patient of four years now. I started having symptoms first in 2016, but my condition was not accurately diagnosed up until 2017, and my health had deteriorated quite a bit by then. Generally speaking, medical professionals say that no one cause can be identified for lupus (as is the case for most autoimmune conditions). Still, one basic cause that seems to be common in the case of most autoimmune patients is – stress. And it was so for me too.
I was under tremendous stress, and my mental health was at its worst in 2016 right before I starting fall ill, and my immune system slowly started giving up. I have suffered a lot at the hands of this disease, but as luck would have it, I have been privileged enough not to have had a major flare-up in nearly three years because I have been given the correct treatment and I have worked on my mental health in the same capacity. It still happens though, sometimes when I feel myself getting too stressed, either my skin develops a rash, or I start having joint aches, so that reminder is always there that I have this disease. I have no choice but to lead a new normal of my own.
In all my research about lupus as a disease and the causes behind it, I happened to find a pattern that stood out. This compelled me to look deeper into it and write about it. Lupus affects womxn more than men, and every nine out of ten lupus patients are womxn. That is a staggering number and a very riveting discovery for me.
One might say, “Arushi, don’t equate everything with misogyny and sexism, please.” But here’s the catch, it is about misogyny and sexism. The systematic oppression that womxn tend to face, something that is built into the very fabric of our societies, is what has caused this surge of womxn being affected by autoimmune disorders and fatal disease in general and lupus in specific.
I cannot speak on behalf of other disease-affected demographics, but as a womxn of color, I have experienced it first hand that stress can cause and worsen lupus. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise to me that the most affected demographic for this disease is womxn, especially womxn of color.
It is not all environmental, of course. Lupus also has a biological inkling that makes it more likely to be found in womxn which links directly to the estrogen found in our bodies naturally, and also the synthetic estrogen which womxn consume in birth control. This favors the development of a disease like lupus in the body, which also makes womxn more susceptible to it.
However, this by no means implies estrogen causes lupus directly. It can be one of the causes if you are already at the genetic risk of the disease. The genetic risk could have been caused by external stressors to the womxn in your family over generations. It’s all vicious and deeply entrenched, but it all boils down to the way our immune systems collapse when exposed to stressors time and time again.
Besides the fact that womxn are anyway at the risk of such diseases, there adds on another factor – womxn of color are at more of a risk of getting lupus than white womxn, and they often experience more side effects too.
Studies conducted have shown that Black womxn develop lupus at younger ages than their white counterparts and faced more complications due to the disease too. Similarly, lupus has been found to affect more Hispanic and Asian womxn than white womxn in the New York City borough of Manhattan, according to a study recently conducted.
There may not be a clear cut answer yet as to why this happens, but we are well aware of the strenuous conditions and family lives most womxn of color have to endure, either as immigrants or as citizens in third world countries. The socio-economic imbalance that womxn of color face adds on to environmental stressors along with the cultural impact of living in an inherently sexist and patriarchal society.
If you are a womxn of color and have experienced a lot of mental stress, which has caused certain physical ailments that you are not sure about, get yourself checked. A disease like lupus can manifest itself in different ways for everyone, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
It breaks my heart every day to hear about cases of lupus, arthritis, and cancer among other diseases increasingly in womxn and young girls, but it’s our fight, and we have not lost it as yet. As we strive to build a better, more inclusive society for womxn of all walks of life – let’s become more aware of the disease we are susceptible to and nip them in the bud before they threaten to ruin our lives.