Actually, the exact quote was, “Congratulations, your mom gave you RA.” Dr. M. wasn’t saying it to be mean or anything. Mom started crying, and while I probably should have been upset about getting a diagnosis like that, I actually felt a wave of relief. It had taken so long to get a diagnosis, and now I finally knew what I was battling.
And now, a brief history. I’ve always had problems with my joints. I had to stop running track when I was ten because my knees hurt too much. My parents took me to different doctors, but they couldn’t find anything wrong. “It’s just tendonitis,” they would say. They sent me for physical therapy, but it didn’t do much good. I tried to keep running, but the pain became too much. I decided to quit track, as much as I hate to quit anything. My knee pain went away after that. I figured I just wasn’t meant to run. I had been doing karate since the age of 4, and I continued to practice and teach it even after I quit track. Then I realized that every once in awhile, my hands would lock up. It wasn’t too painful, but it sure was uncomfortable. I would try to shake them out and just keep going.
Fast forward to age 16, the year 2008. I lost my dad to a heart attack that April.The following May, I would have these episodes where I was in a ton of pain, unable to walk or even move. I was falling asleep in class, and would come home and fall asleep without doing my homework. My GPA went from a 3.8 to a 3.0. Concerned, my mom brought me to a GP that my aunt recommended. She tested me for Lupus, but the results came back negative. “You recently lost your dad. Sometimes depression debilitates people. Do you want to try antidepressants?” I nodded. I was depressed, so I figured anything was worth a shot.
That following Summer, I was sleeping close to 18 hours every day. Mom would scream at me to stop being lazy. I wasn’t being lazy though; I just didn’t have the energy. I stopped going out with friends or attending family functions. I just didn’t want to deal with people or pretend to be cheerful. This pattern continued on and off for the next three years.
In December 2010, I got together with my boyfriend, Avi. I was (and still am) happier than I’ve ever been in my life. My condition seemed to be improving. We’ve been an active couple from the start, going on road trips and exploring stuff. Avi is an avid hiker, and wanted to share that experience with me. I bought my hiking boots and was ready to go. Imagine how frustrating it was when I’d make it halfway up a mountain and then feel like collapsing because I was so weak. All I wanted to do was sleep. It was no longer an on-and-off pattern like it had been; now I was tired 24/7. My joints hurt like hell. I couldn’t type anymore, I couldn’t lift my arms, and walking was unbearable. I couldn’t pursue my fiction writing anymore, and I started calling out of work more frequently. I was getting C’s in almost all of my college classes, dropping my GPA down to a 2.7. I was angry, sad, and most importantly, my quality of life was suffering. Avi felt helpless too. He tried to do whatever he could to make me comfortable.
I started getting sick more often too. I had 4 various infections within 2 months time. I was nauseous all the time. I was having problems with my eye sight. The list goes on. I cried every night, telling Avi he should just break up with me so he didn’t have to worry about taking care of me. “No. I’m not leaving you because you’re sick.”
More doctors. No diagnosis. By November 2011, we were desperate and I was at my breaking point. Mom made an appointment with Dr. M, a Rheumatologist. He felt my joints and said they looked inflamed. He had 4 vials of blood and a stack of x-rays taken. I told myself that if he told me there was nothing wrong with me, I was going to have a fit in his office. Two weeks later, I went for my follow-up visit. That’s when I found out I had Rheumatoid Arthritis, just like my mom. She blamed herself. I told her I didn’t blame her, so she shouldn’t feel guilty. As long as I wasn’t fighting a battle against an invisible enemy, I’d be okay.