Tag Archives: adjusting

RA and Grief

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.

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The Happiness List

chalkboard-801266_640I refuse to make another New Year’s resolution.

I fail at resolutions worse than I do at speaking Spanish. In my 24 years of life, I’ve never accomplished a single goal that was set on January 1st. The 50 extra pounds are still there. I still drink wine and complain about my job(s). And no, I still haven’t finished that novel.

New Year’s resolutions make me feel like a failure, which in my opinion defeats the point of having one in the first place. We go into each new year with unrealistic expectations as to how much we can accomplish in 365 days. When we inevitably fail, we assume that means the goal is forever unattainable.

When you add RA or any other debilitating disease to the mix, New Year’s resolutions make you feel even crappier. You begin thinking that if you didn’t have that one flare, or if it had rained less during the year, then you’d be living the dream life right now. Nothing made me feel more hopeless than the idea that my RA was going to prevent me from finding that “thing” that would make me happier.

It’s been a rough few months for me. I’ve been feeling directionless and unmotivated, physically healthier yet no more successful than I was when I was flaring every day. Then by some unplanned glitch in the universe, I stumbled upon the Passion Planner (which you need in your life, just sayin’). In the first part of the planner, you’re asked to use mind maps to jot down all of your goals and dreams. Then you take those smaller goals and build them into your daily schedule.

This was harder than I thought it would be, but the payoff was worth it. I have a better idea of where I want to go in life and how to get there. Instead of broad and generalized goals like “lose 50 pounds” or “become a better writer,” my goals are broken up into multiple moving parts. Each step will bring me closer to accomplishing the bigger goal. No more faulty or generalized New Year’s resolutions.

I didn’t stop with the mind mapping though. I took the maps and put them into list form, that way I’ll have the pleasure of crossing things off as I do them. I don’t want to call it a “bucket list” because I don’t think that’s an accurate name. It’s not a list of things I need to do before I die. Instead, my list contains a bunch of things I want to do that will bring me closer to living the happiest life possible. It’s going to let me explore the things I’m passionate about with greater depth. They are all small things that are leading to the fulfillment of a larger dream. Even if I don’t get through the whole list, I’ll know that I took the steps to being a happier person. That’s a lot less daunting.

RA taught me that sometimes we need to take baby steps. Maybe it should have helped me to realize that the rest of my life works in the same way.

No one expects us to get out of bed in the middle of a flareup and run a marathon, so why do we pressure ourselves into accomplishing a hefty goal in a single year? Slow down, enjoy the journey. Moving slowly towards happiness is better than not moving at all. No one will judge you if your New Year’s resolution is to stop making more resolutions.


The Other Side of the Arthritis Battle: Jessica’s Story

With Mother’s Day a few weeks behind us, I can’t help but think about all of the ways my mother has been a vital support system in my battle against RA. An RA sufferer herself, she’s been a constant source of information and understanding when no one else seems to “get it.” If I didn’t have my mother to help me navigate through the pain, fatigue, and frustration, I’m not so sure I would have gotten to the place I’m at in my life so smoothly.

While I admire moms in general for their dedication to their children, I have a special place in my heart for those who have the added challenge of helping a child cope with disease or illness. Jessica is one of those moms. Jessica’s son, Waylon, was diagnosed with Systemic Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (SJIA) when he was just two years old. “We were out eating one Saturday night and when we stopped to get ice cream, I jumped him out of the car,” she recalls, “and rather than stand, he fell to the gravel. He wouldn’t put any weight on his left leg.” Jessica sought out answers, but it was over a month before the diagnosis came back as SJIA. “Those five weeks were excruciating. Knowing something is wrong with your child, but not knowing what it is or how to treat it, is a terrible feeling.”

According to the Arthritis Foundation, SJIA affects approximately 10 percent of the 294,000 children in the

Jessica and her family

Jessica and her family

United States suffering from juvenile idiopathic arthritis or related conditions. Unfortunately, it is also the hardest type of juvenile arthritis to treat and often the most destructive, affecting vital internal organs like the heart, lungs, and lymph nodes.

Waylon’s initial treatment involved steroids and Naproxen, which helped him to begin feeling a little better. Jessica had never heard of SJIA before Waylon’s diagnosis, but she was fortunate enough to have a wealth of medical knowledge at her fingertips. “We had a fantastic team of professionals at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, as well as Dr. Bhargav Kanani, Waylon’s Pediatrician, and my co-workers at Perry County Memorial Hospital. We were surrounded with a very strong medical support system.” All medical diagnoses come with their share of emotional burdens, but since I don’t have children of my own, I personally couldn’t imagine how difficult having a child diagnosed with SJIA could be. “The biggest hurdle was watching Waylon in pain and knowing there was nothing I could do about it,” Jessica admitted. “We were already giving him Naproxen and Tylenol and using heating pads on him and he still hurt. We tried essential oils. I was willing to try anything to help him.”

Waylon’s daily routine began to resemble one that most RA sufferers know all too well. This routine involved taking medicines twice a day, eventually becoming a daily injection. Jessica and her family did whatever they could to keep him comfortable, but Waylon could never be more active than he needed to be in order to get through the day. He managed school and his scheduled activities, but didn’t move any more than he absolutely had to.

Fortunately, after some adjustments and a sampling of different medications, Waylon’s doctors finally found the right formula for him. Now his only medication is an Actemra infusion that he receives once every 8 weeks. After eight years of treatment, 10 year-old Waylon has a routine that looks similar to those of his classmates. He has been able to participate in a variety of extracurricular activities, including Tae Kwon Do, soccer, basketball, and running. And he’s been pretty much flare-free for seven years.

Those of us with autoimmune diseases often try to find hobbies that accommodate our limitations, but Jessica says that she’s never had to look for “SJIA- friendly” activities for her son. “Waylon knows that whether it be in a sport or PE in school, if an activity starts to hurt a joint to stop doing it. His teachers and coaches know this, too. He has not had to stop an activity yet!”

SJIA, like RA, is an invisible illness. People are often shocked when they discover that Waylon has arthritis. “They don’t realize that kids can get arthritis.” In a final interview question for Jessica, I asked her if she was doing anything specific to spread awareness for her son’s disease. “I don’t know that I would be so formal as to say that I am helping spread awareness for SJIA, but I am always willing to talk to people about our experience, to share what has worked for us, what we have tried, etc. I have become a part of Genentech’s InspiRAtional Moms. I have also given my business cards to Waylon’s rheumatologist and asked him to pass them on to parents of other kids who have SJIA.”

Jessica, like the countless other moms with children suffering from serious diseases, is an example of how a challenging moment can be turned into a source of inspiration and strength. Arthritis is not an easy thing to live with, both as the sufferer and as a close relative to someone who has it. I understand Waylon’s pain all too well, but I don’t doubt that he’ll look back on his experience with juvenile arthritis one day and realize how lucky he is to have a mom who’s willing to give him as much of a pain-free life as possible.

For more information and tips for supporting a child with SJIA, visit www.sjiainfo.com.


Yoga and My Injury

yoga-241614_1280I mentioned a few posts ago that I was in a car accident and was worried that my RA would jump out of remission. Since, then I’ve been working hard at physical therapy to try and feel “normal”again, or at least get back to the point I was prior to the accident.Up until last week or so the pain in my neck and lower back was still bad enough to ruin my mood regularly.

I’ve been commiserating with a friend over our various aches and pains: she broke her back years ago and has  foot problems, and I’m a health mess in general from my RA and now from my accident injuries. She convinced me to start taking yoga with her. There’s a new studio a 15 minute walk from my house and they were offering a new student special. She brought me the class schedule. “We’re doing this. We need to,” she said.

Given my track record with yoga, I didn’t think this plan was going to go very smoothly. Doing yoga in front of my TV was always torture enough. Was I really going to attempt Downward Dog with my old lady joints in front of other human beings? Could I keep up with the pace of the class in general?

We signed up for our first class, Yoga Basics, this past Saturday. Quite honestly, if my friend hadn’t pushed me to go and she hadn’t been sitting on the mat next to me, I probably would have never done it. But I’m glad I went.

I walked out of that first hour long session feeling euphoric. I considered the possibility that I was only feeling a placebo effect, but I’ve gone back three times since and I’m still floating on a cloud after every session. No one there is judging my old lady joints. I’m stretching out muscles I forgot I had. And even though it’s only been a few days, I’m already beginning to feel stronger. I managed to do a plank for 30 seconds Monday night without falling!

I’ve experienced other benefits from my short time as a yoga student, but that’s for another day. What matters most is that I’m able to function normally again. No stabbing pain in my neck as I lean over a child’s desk. No back pain when I need to stoop to pick something off of the floor. I’m feeling stronger than I have since I was 18 years old. Best of all is that my creaky joints aren’t bothering me much anymore, except on rainy days. I’m still not letting the RA win.

 


Crafting for Nimble Fingers

My jewelry crafting station. I like to hoard things.

My jewelry crafting station. I like to hoard things.

This post has been a long time in the making, but here we go. Since my business, Hybrid Rose Jewelry, is about to turn two years old, I thought it would be fitting to talk about the battle between RA and crafting.

Three years ago, I was sitting around having a nice little pity party for myself. RA seemed to be taking so much away from me. I’d always been the Martha Stewart type and the thought of not being able to spend my free time making stuff was horrifying. Out of this fear grew an impulse to learn every single crafty thing on the planet. Like, to the point of becoming OCD about it. If A.C. Moore and Michael’s had stocks, I could’ve been rich. Might as well use it before I lose it, right?

In some ways, I think crafting is what saved my not-so-flexible hands. Doctors often tell us RA patients to move around as much as possible to keep our joints from getting stiff. And while I love to dance around the house or go for walks when it’s possible, I hate doing hand exercises.

Baby blanket I made for new parents.

Baby blanket I made for new parents.

Alright, alright, I hear what you’re saying. Alyssa, you’re kidding me, right? My RA has progressed so much that I can’t even pick up a drinking glass or chop an onion, and you want me to work with tiny little beads and stuff?!

I totally get it. My first jewelry project was awkward. I couldn’t pick up the microscopic-sized seed beads. There was a mess on the floor from where I dropped most of them. It was horrific and hilarious at the same time. I kept trying new things until I found what worked for me.

So, these are some of the things I can still do despite having stiff old lady hands:

Knit/Crochet. My mother swears that knitting is easier on her arthritic hands than crocheting, so that’s

Hands down my favorite necklace.

Hands down my favorite necklace.

what she sticks with. I prefer crochet and have no problems whatsoever. I tried using the ergonomic-crochet-handle-attachment-thingies that they sell in craft stores to help people who have issues gripping the skinny hook, but I found that they put more pressure on my hands than just trying to grip the hook itself. Know your limits. If my hands begin to hurt after 30 minutes, I stop. Walk away, try again later.

Jewelry Making. I prefer working with chains, large beads, and large components, which are all easy to grip. I can still work with seed beads on occasion, so long as I use beading needles and a bead spinner to help me pick them up. Invest in a good set of tools. They make great pliers that help with grip.

Floral Arranging. Again, it’s all about the tools.

Scrap booking/Paper Arts. You may have a hard time using paper punches if you’re sitting down. Try bending over the puncher and pushing down with both hands to give you more leverage.

 

What crafty things do you still do, even with RA?

 

*All photos are my own.*

 


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