Tag Archives: stress

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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RA After Bodily Trauma

To sum up a long and complicated story, I was in a car accident at 3am on Monday. My airbags deployed. My car was totaled. A trip to urgent care on Tuesday ruled out spinal damage, but I did get a diagnosis for bad whiplash. I’m taking muscle relaxers that make me feel groggy and bleh (which is the most accurate description I can muster at this point) so I don’t feel like writing much this week.

Since the accident, I’ve noticed two things. One being that I could potentially have Raynaud’s disease. It was -12 degrees with the wind chill factor the night of my accident. By the time the car was towed away and I was done talking to the cops, my feet were in so much pain that I couldn’t walk. The defrosting period was even more painful. It felt like someone was stabbing my feet repeatedly with a knife, and no amount of moving or sitting or rubbing my feet helped.

My second observation is that after Monday morning, my joints started feeling hot and swollen. I’m pretty sure I’ll be having a full blown flare soon. I’m wondering if the crash pulled me out of remission, since people often say that they were diagnosed with RA after a traumatic injury.

I made an appointment with my rheumy, so we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, I’ll be parking myself on the couch for the weekend.


Exam Panic

Long time no see! I recently began my last year of college (yikes!) and my professors have been keeping me pretty busy. I’m using this semester to focus on my writing, so one of the classes I’m taking is called “Writing & the Blogosphere.” I’m learning more about blogging than I ever thought there was to know. We’re required to keep a blog for the class, but sadly I can’t use any of the ones I already have. I had to create a new one, but I’m still focusing on the topic of RA. Unlike this blog, however, I’m trying to reach out to those who don’t have the disease in an attempt to spread awareness (if you’re interested in reading it, click here). Last Thursday one of my posts was workshopped in class. I received some wonderful comments and a lot of support from my classmates, and I’m truly touched that they care so much. Below is the entry that I wrote. If you want to read the responses from my classmates, click the link above. Let me know what you think!

 

Exams are a necessary evil for students. We all need to take them, and we know to expect them. How we handle them varies from person to person. Some will choose not to study and won’t sweat the material. Others will study vigorously until they feel confident in the material. Then there’s a select few that fall into the “let’s panic about everything” category. I include myself in the panic category, but for different reasons than most people think. For me it has become so much more than just studying and passing a test.

The panic starts the second an exam is announced, with my inner monologue sounding something like this:

Is it going to be multiple choice? I hope it is. Please tell me it is. Oh God, what if we have to write an essay? Shit, what if the entire exam is an essay? Or multiple essays? Oh no, the Blue Books! She said Blue Books! I’m screwed. What if the weather is bad that day and I wind up flaring? Maybe I’ll get lucky and it’ll snow ten feet and Rutgers will deem it necessary to close the campus…

Since being diagnosed, exams have become more of an endurance test for me than anything else. First, there’s the studying part. Chronic pain lessens my ability to focus. I once forgot how to spell my name during an exam, which was a pretty low moment for me. Even while studying, there are moments when my mind wanders to the sharp pain in my wrist, or my stiff neck, or the fact that I can’t breathe because my immune system decided to attack my lungs right at that moment.

Then there’s the night before the test, and try as I might to be asleep by 11pm, my immune system says, “Nope, time to toss and turn and be uncomfortable until 2 am.” So then I start cursing at it, and shift around so much that the dog gets annoyed with me and goes in search of a more peaceful bed.

On the day of the test I’m cranky and exhausted. But the bigger problem is the fact that it’s raining outside and my fingers keep locking up as a result. I can’t give you a scientific reason as to why this happens (people tell me it’s about barometric pressure) but rain heightens the pain. So now I need to start praying that my special pen designed for clumsy arthritic hands won’t run out of ink because I’d never be able to write with a regular pen on a rainy day. Some days I get lucky and I can use a regular pen, but only for a short while.

And finally, I get to the test. It’s a test that requires three hours of constant writing. So I’m hunched over the paper, kink in my neck, hips locking up because I don’t have the opportunity to get up and move around. More wandering thoughts.

I do feel sorry for myself sometimes. It happens to all of us. Then I realize that it could be a lot worse, that I should suck it up and be grateful that I’m in school in the first place. Besides, it’s a much more rewarding feeling when that exam comes back with a good grade, because I know how much blood, sweat and tears literally went into it.


Exams and Vacation

Okay, so this post is really late. You can thank my computer’s run-in with soy sauce for that (I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true!). Now that my computer is working again, here you go.

One of the perks to being a college student is that you’re finished with school in early May. The downside of that is that everything stressful is thrown at you at once. What could possibly make writing 25 pages of final essays and an exam worse? The fact that everything needs to be done a week earlier because you’re going on vacation the week everything is due, that’s what. You thought I was going to say having RA makes it worse, right? Well, that played a roll too, but that comes later.

I thought I handled the stress of my crazy, self-inflicted deadlines pretty well. I was going on a road trip with my friends for a week, and I didn’t want to have to work while on vacation. So, even though I had deadlines that extended into the second week of May, I had everything done by April 30th. While I felt mentally accomplished, my body was pretty run down from the stress. So this is where the RA comes in.

We left New Jersey on Saturday for an 8 day trip through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Our road trip required a lot of walking and many hours of sitting in a car with few breaks. Between the fatigue the stress caused, mixed with the fatigue and pain of being on the trip, I was pretty miserable. I enjoyed all of the sites we saw and the laughs we had, but by day 6, I was in agony. I couldn’t find a comfortable position to sit in during our 6 hour drive from Nashville to Knoxville. The bottoms of my feet were on fire and I was walking with a limp from the knee inflammation. And then of course, I was wearing my beloved sunglasses at night and gasping for breath because my lungs were inflamed. Of course, my friends did whatever they could to make me comfortable. One thankfully was willing to open my prescription bottles for me twice a day (stupid childproof lids that require a twisting motion). Even now, after being home for a week, I’m still feeling the effects of my flare.

The lesson here: reduce the stress as much as possible, and rest as often as you can. I was probably an idiot for leaving so close to the end of school, but at the same time I realize that I can’t let RA or the possibility of working really hard for a week put my life on hold. And while you may need to do a lot of walking on vacation, it’s also okay to say no every once in awhile and sit on a bench while the others climb a tower or go shopping for souvenirs. You just need to know when to stop yourself and not overdo it to the point where you can’t enjoy yourself anymore. Going on vacation helps me feel young and normal, and even with a flare, I want to do my best to keep up with the people around me. I know I can’t do the same things they do, but it doesn’t mean I can’t be a part of their fun either. Just make sure you travel with people who understand your needs and won’t get mad at you if you can’t keep their pace or need to go to bed early.


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