Tag Archives: health

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.


What the Stomach Flu Taught Me About Autoimmune Diseases

In an unfortunate twist of fate, I succumbed to the stomach flu this past Sunday, the night before I was supposed to go back to work after spring break. I’ll spare you the grotesque details of my illness, but let’s just say that it’s the worst I’ve felt in a long time. Thursday was the first time I was able to eat more than 6 saltine crackers and a banana in a day, but even now I can’t manage my average food intake.

I’m not someone who can take a day off. I’ve gone into work with head colds, laryngitis, accident injuries, and terrible RA flares. A workaholic, if you will. But this time, I couldn’t manage much more than to lay on the couch all day and sleep for 16 hours at a time, despite how much I desperately wanted to get up and answer my work emails. I didn’t have the energy to open a laptop or read a book. For the first time in a very long time, I went two whole days doing absolutely nothing. I couldn’t even pull that off back in February after my accident.

Sometimes I think I need these kinds of things to remind myself how I need to slow down and become more aware. I feel great now in terms of my RA. But the 4 days spent in bed were driving me absolutely insane. If a stomach virus was slowly killing my soul, then clearly I’m out of touch with the reality of having an autoimmune disease. If anything, this is one more reminder to appreciate how much I’m capable of doing at this point in my life. I’m not confined to just merely existing like so many others battling health issues, and while vomit is one of my worst fears ever, I’ll count this experience as a humbling moment.

 


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.

 


Having a Conversation

I love my rheumatologist. I trust his advice and the decisions he makes regarding my treatment and often don’t question his reasoning behind those decisions.

But before finding him, I was subjected to the ignorance and stupidity of many doctors. I went through 5 general practitioners before I took it upon myself to do Internet research and make a first appointment with my rheumy. DrugFacts-MedicationProbThe scary common theme among those doctors was that they were willing to write out prescriptions for just about any reason. There were prescription fish oil tabs, NSAIDs, aspirin/codeine concoctions, antidepressants, and a slew of other drugs that, in hindsight, make my liver do flips just thinking about them. But ya know what? I never questioned them. I blindly trusted the “MD” after their names to mean that they were automatically right and that I shouldn’t ask questions.

January 26-February 1 is National Drug Fact Week, and I’m taking a moment to remind you that you should start a conversation with your doctor about your medications. Here are a few statistics:

  • 700,000 ER visits each year are from incorrect medication usage (Source: AmericanHealthCare.com). I don’t know the specifics of this fact and whether or not this includes people who take shared prescriptions, but it’s worth mentioning that you should never take any drug that hasn’t been prescribed to you. Shared prescriptions don’t take into account your weight, age, level of health, and drug interactions. Assuming that you’re taking your own prescription, ask your doctor questions. Ask him to repeat instructions (Do I take this daily? Twice daily? On an empty stomach? Should I not take it with orange juice? What are possible side effects?). Don’t rely on the label on the bottle to tell you what to do, and don’t feel ashamed or worried that you’re wasting your doc’s time.
  • 2/3 of all doctors’ visits end with a prescription being written (Source: TalkAboutRx.org). Clearly, I’m not telling you to develop a distrust for your doctor or that you should refuse to take your medication. But this is why a conversation is needed. Make sure the prescription that you’re being given is truly needed and not just his way of dismissing you from his office.
  • On average, at least one drug is recalled in the US each month (Source: Reuters.com). My mother was on an RA drug DrugFacts-Recalls2called Bextra for years before it was taken off the market in 2005. She claims it was the only drug that ever worked for her and controlled her pain, so of course she didn’t care about the possible side effects it could have. However, it doesn’t hurt to occasionally do some research on your medications, just to see if they’ve been under scrutiny lately. American Recall Center has a wealth of information about drug safety and current pharmaceutical lawsuits.

I’m not condemning all doctors or prescription drugs. I’m thankful for the quality of life that my doctor and medication have given back to me since my diagnosis. But I make sure to read up on every prescription I take, and I urge you to do the same.

 


Turtle in Peanut Butter

I hated running as a child. HATED it (and I was on the track team, go figure). I always finished last, was easily out of breath, and I knew I’d be limping for the rest of the day after a meet. In hindsight, running would probably have been less stressful if I had been aware of my RA.

Taken from Facebook

Taken from Facebook

Naturally, one would think that I would continue avoiding it at all costs. Except, after 10 years of a strict no-running policy and two years away from physical activity in general, I had something to prove to myself.  If the rest of my life is changing, why should my exercise routine stay the same?

So last week I decided it was now or never. I needed a way to de-stress fast. I called up my friend, downloaded the Couch 2 5K app, and headed to the park. The meme to the left is a wonderfully accurate representation of how that session went. And you know what? It doesn’t matter anymore.

I was out of breath. My sides were hurting and my muscles were on fire. I wasn’t sure I could run another step. I couldn’t keep up with my friend at all, and she kept doubling back to meet up with me so that we could at least do the walking portion of the program together. I could have made an excuse at any time, blamed my joints for being uncooperative. But I got up and did it.

In hindsight, it was never actually about running. My goal isn’t to run marathons or break records. The goal was to find a freedom that I thought was long gone. Two years ago, I could barely pull myself out of bed each day. Walking was difficult and stairs were impossible. Exercise? Ha…

I’ve come a long way. I accomplished a goal I never thought possible. The fact that I I’ve been accomplishing it without any sort of joint pain is just an added bonus. Every lap around the track is one more win against RA. This disease has taken so much away from me, but I’m drawing the line here.

Old me had to turn down plans with friends because it required walking more than a few blocks. New me is walking 4 miles a day and running for twenty minutes on top of that. That freaking rocks, and it’s better motivation than the 87492856875445211268089237 purple “Participant” ribbons I’ve collected. I’m getting my life back.

 


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