The Surprising Gift That Ankylosing Spondylitis Has Given Me

Chronic illness taught this columnist how to live a healthy lifestyle

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by Jemma Newman |

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It’s the beginning of the long and hot summer holidays here in Western Australia, and groups of parents are standing around chatting outside the classrooms while swatting away the pesky flies.

“So what have you got planned for the holiday?” is the prevailing question. “Booked a nice trip anywhere? Planned a getaway with the kids?” Actually, I haven’t got a single thing planned for the summer, and I couldn’t be happier. 

There was a time in my life when I was all about goals. Travel. Planning the Next Fun Thing. Achievements in my career and ticking off bucket list experiences seemed important.

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When you have ankylosing spondylitis (AS), it’s hard to set goals or plan for the future, because you don’t know what your body and mental state will be capable of in a few days. When I’m having an AS flare, life as I knew it goes down the gurgler. Social events are missed, relationships with friends get neglected, exercise is abandoned, decent sleep is nonexistent, and working regular hours seems completely impossible.

Ankylosing spondylitis has changed the lives of my husband and me forever. But surprisingly, this disease has changed our lives in some positive ways as well. 

A healthy life, finally

Before I was diagnosed with AS in my mid-30s, I’d been living a carefree and energetic lifestyle. But as much fun as I was having, I wasn’t looking after my health. The ability to move my body, sleep without pain, and push myself to my physical limits was something that I (stupidly) took for granted. 

I’m so sorry for the abuse, body. Now I see you, and I appreciate everything that you can do. 

Since my hubby, Dave, and I were both diagnosed with AS, we’ve put time, effort, and energy into living healthy lives. In some ways, despite the challenges of sore joints and fatigue, I’ve never felt healthier. Because we want to reduce the symptoms and pain of AS as much as possible, we’ve taken control of our health from the inside out. 

When I peer into our bathroom mirror, I notice healthy, glowing skin, thanks to all the water I drink and the collagen I consume daily. As the Cleveland Clinic explains, “Collagen is the primary building block of your body’s skin, muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments, and other connective tissues.” To look after my joints and digestion, I have a big scoop of it in my blueberry smoothie every morning.

My bloated stomach is a thing of the past. The no-starch diet for ankylosing spondylitis has been instrumental in reducing my AS pain, but it seems that my body loves all the green veggies, fresh herbs, and high-quality protein. Because it’s an anti-inflammatory diet, our digestion is great, pimples are gone, and even Dave’s allergies and snoring seem to have improved.

I exercise regularly for my physical and mental health. I look at exercise differently now, not as a way to burn calories or try to achieve a certain physique, but to give my body the gift of movement. I feel grateful for every day that I can walk around the park, or for every bike ride that Dave returns from with a huge smile on his face. 

Appreciation of our health is the gift that ankylosing spondylitis has given us. I now have the confidence to know what will help my body and what will make me feel worse. These days, I don’t need a holiday or a big goal to feel excited about our lives. I’m delighted to enjoy the little things, like a family trip to the beach, and place our health — both physical and mental — at the tippy-top of the list of priorities.

Note: Ankylosing Spondylitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ankylosing Spondylitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ankylosing spondylitis.


Janneke Phung avatar

Janneke Phung

I can relate to this column so much, Jemma! Health is something I used to take for granted and I naively abused it. The dark days of AS have given me such an appreciation for the healthy and relatively pain-free lifestyle I am able to enjoy now. Wishing you cherished memories with friends and family this Christmas season!


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