This week Tina Buddha published an article I wrote about grief. I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of complete strangers who have reached out to me to share their stories. There was one message in particular that stuck with me though, from a woman who mentioned that her entire body started shutting down after the death of her mother.
This blog was started so many years ago, yet I don’t think I ever really talked about how grief is what set me on this particular journey with RA.
A few months after my father died, something felt “off.” I was slowing down, sleeping more and moving sluggishly through my days. I figured the issue was more mental than physical, considering the emotional trauma I’d just endured. Doctors diagnosed me with depression, handed me a prescription for Prozac, and called it a day.
Stranger things began happening. The first time I realized there was a bigger issue was when I was sitting in 3rd period history class taking a written exam. My hand locked up completely. My fingers wouldn’t move on their own at all, and there was a searing pain that traveled from my wrist to my fingertips. I was terrified. Depression didn’t do things like this.
Some weeks after, I woke up and couldn’t pull myself out of bed. I limped around like an old woman for the next few days, couldn’t get comfortable while sitting or lying down, and every joint of in my body felt like it was on fire. Yet, according to doctors, it was still only depression. I still didn’t believe them. I couldn’t believe that depression alone could take an active, healthy teenager and age her this much over night (that’s not to say I don’t think depression is a crippling illness. I just knew this was different).
It was almost 4 years after my father’s death before I was officially diagnosed with RA. In truth, I think the only reason I got diagnosed was because I kept arguing with doctors to test me for things, but that’s a blog post for a later time.
When my rheumatologist began questioning me about my childhood, we realized that I had RA for pretty much my entire life. I had just been symptom-free, aside from some obvious signs of the illness. So why did the death of a loved one give me a full-blown, active autoimmune disease?
I did some research after my diagnosis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are some people who are born with gene markers that make them more susceptible to developing Rheumatoid Arthritis. Different things can trigger these markers- bacteria, viruses, hormones…and stress from trauma.
I realize that the death of a loved one isn’t always traumatic. In my case, my entire world came crumbling down. My father was everything to me, which I think is pretty clear in that article I wrote.
Having to deal with both grief and an autoimmune disease together sucked. In a way though, I’m glad they happened at the same time. I think I got through the first few years of my illness because I knew I was strong enough to fight. Battling grief taught me how much I was capable of enduring.
If you have an autoimmune disease that was triggered by grief, I’d like to hear from you. Let’s build a community of understanding.