Young, Sick and Invisible

My illness has shaped me,
But it does not define me.

Guest Post: 'Christa's Story.'

Light pink roses

Hi! I’m Christa Fairbrother. Because of my health journey I’m a yoga teacher who specializes in working with people with chronic illness. I get to do that in FL with my husband and two kids and our assorted chickens and a cat. Hopefully we’ll be adding a house rabbit soon. I also live with Mixed Connective Tissue Disease (MCTD) and Sjogren’s Disease.

MCTD is a combination connective tissue disease exhibiting characteristics of rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma and myositis. A person may deal with any combination of these. One distinguishing feature of the disease compared to the individual component diseases is the presence of a high RNP blood titer which is a diagnostic criterium. For me, it exhibits mainly as arthritis and lupus. I have had one myositis flare up and thankfully have not had any issues with scleroderma. Each of these autoimmune diseases causes damage to specific areas of your body. RA attacks your joints, lupus can attack anything but especially your kidneys, scleroderma damages your skin, and myositis attacks your muscle tissue.

Sjogen’s is another autoimmune disease that can be primary (it’s the only autoimmune disease you have) or secondary (like mine) to another autoimmune disease. It causes damage to your lacrimal glands so you get dry eyes which hurts.

Christa with flowers

I was diagnosed with lupus after the birth of my second child when my health really crashed. However, I started showing symptoms or pediatric Raynaud’s when I was 12. It turns out that’s highly predictive for a MCTD diagnosis. Raynaud’s causes your extremities to turn blue or white due to blood constriction when you get cold. As a kid it was just a family joke that I was ‘allergic’ to the cold. I went on to get occasional minor joint swelling and blood work abnormalities that would always get explained away as other things by health care professionals. I worked as a farrier which is a really physically demanding job so you wouldn’t assume someone with that job was struggling with a chronic illness. I did continue to really struggle with the cold though. I lived on an island in Puget Sound so it was cold and windy a lot of the year and I was outside or in outdoor barns all year. The cold was really getting to me and I didn’t know why, but I did need to make a career change.

I moved to England for graduate school, got married, had two kids, all those adult things and then suddenly I started getting migraines, extremely sudden ocular migraines. I was scared to leave the house because they could happen while I was driving or running errands. Huge irregular spiraling alligator teeth would take over my left eye and sometimes the room would spin crazily and the nausea would start. Not a functional way to live with a newborn and a 3 year old. That started me on the round of doctors trying to figure out what was going on.

It took four years to get a solid diagnosis. When it was changed from lupus to MCTD a lot of joint imaging was done. I have joint erosions everywhere since I’ve had arthritis since I was a kid it turns out. I had a really hard time reconciling all that joint damage and what I’d been able to do with my relative lack of pain. I credited the yoga.

When I was 21 and a new farrier, I’d started doing yoga because I’d heard it was good for your back and obviously being a farrier is not. Twenty years later, I’d decided to go to yoga teacher training because yoga had been such a constant in my life. I wasn’t sure I’d actually end up teaching, but getting that news really solidified it as a calling for me. If it can help me stay out of pain that well, it can help others too. So that’s what I do now. Most of my teaching is yoga in the pool because it’s so kind to your joints. I can help people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to do yoga practice and reduce their pain, so it’s really gratifying.

Christa doing yoga in a pool for RA

It’s also kinder to me when I have a flare. Balancing my work with my own health and family commitments continues to be a daily struggle. The lupus continues to be the hardest for me manage the symptoms of. I have to be really careful to stay out of the sun and not get too fatigued. Medication has not really controlled my disease process. I’m still cycling through them to see if something will be effective.

Moving forward I hope to continue teaching yoga as long as I can. I of course worry how long I can do it, but the philosophical tools of yoga really keep me emotionally grounded. Yoga is not just a physical practice, it’s connecting your breath, body, and mind. It is just being with what is in this moment. This moment is pretty good and that’s really all I have, chronic diseases or not.

Christa Fairbrother, autoimmune aqua yoga warrior. Lover of tea and books. I reach out to the word at

- Medicines described in this blog are prescribed to this individual by their Doctor. Always consult your Doctor about what is best for your needs before taking any medication -

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