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Even specialists often struggle to make sense of the puzzling symptoms that come with these slow-moving disorders

A close up of a woman’s arms and hands with vitiligo.
A close up of a woman’s arms and hands with vitiligo.
Photo: MarijaRadovic/E+/Getty

The patient came to her doctor with a low-grade fever, some achiness and fatigue, and a touch of diarrhea. The doctor told her it was probably a mild case of the flu. But weeks later the symptoms hadn’t gone away. The doctor ran some lab tests, but the results didn’t clearly indicate any problems, and he insisted there didn’t seem to be anything physically wrong with her. Still feeling off, she eventually saw other doctors. Yet over years of continuing and even slowly worsening symptoms, none of these doctors were able to tell her what was wrong. …

“I came to discover that when you want an answer and you can’t get one, you can bury yourself in the delusion that one exists.”

Illustration: Lucy Sherston

“If you’re going to continue eating gluten, I cannot continue working with you.” The face staring back at me from FaceTime was smooth and dewy, but her eyes were cold. It belonged to a wellness coach I’d paid $300 for a phone session to change my life. She promised me that together we could break my bad habits around food and heal the damage I’d been doing to my gut for years — damage that, according to her, was exacerbating my autoimmune conditions.

I hadn’t told anyone about the phone sessions because I was embarrassed I was paying such an…

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