Posts Tagged Chronic
First off, my apologies for being off the radar for, well, months.
My work has been busy and I’ve been trying to finish up my second novel. (If anyone has any interest in checking out my first book, you can find it here.)
It’s left me with little motivation to write this blog after busy days that include a lot of time in front of the computer. In fact, I’ve spent many nights these past few months just being exhausted and having a great relationship with Netflix.
On to the good stuff.
I was recently at a dinner and found out through that a person close to me might have Lyme Disease. I was listening to her symptoms – sore joints, fatigue, depression – and told her I understand how a lot of these symptoms feel and that she should call me if I want to talk.
To which she responded, “But you’re better, right?”
She’s not the first person I’ve heard this from. I’ve heard it from friends and family, those who should really understand chronic disease better. And I get it. They see me and I look healthy — I go to work, get exercise, write, travel. I don’t complain like I used to before I had a diagnosis.
I’m better, right?
Well, not exactly. “Better” suggests “cured” and I think that’s how most people mean it. But in the world of chronic disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis, cured is not really part of our reality (Yet! So much exciting medical research is happening right now!).
So how can you balance educating people, but not causing those close to you worry -OR- come off as complaining?
Honestly, I’m not sure.
I responded by saying that my drug therapy allows me to manage my disease and I feel much, much better than I did before treatment. This is the truth. I balance pain, fatigue, new limits, and, yes, even depression from time to time. I tweak my drug regimen constantly to take the least amount of drugs possible while managing my pain. I take two heavy-duty drugs weekly just to keep a semi-normal life and I get blood panels regularly to make sure my liver’s keeping up.
I don’t feel cured, but I do feel better.
So, what about you? How do you handle the “Aren’t you better yet?” line?
I finally met someone who also has RA. She’s the new pharmacist at my pharmacy. She asked me how I like my methotrexate. I didn’t really know how to answer. “Like” seems like a strong, simple word when talking about any drug with side effects. I would like it more if it was obviously doing its job, but I think most my progress is from the Enbrel.
She told me how she’d had a terrible time on MTX. She had done monthly injections (infusions?) and had many of the side effects that are associated with chemo, including losing her hair. She’s now been switched to two other drugs and taken off the MTX and prednisone.
As nice as it was to meet someone with RA, the encounter left me a bit shaken. Her wrists and hands definitely show the signs of RA. And she hasn’t found a drug regimen that works for her yet, meaning it’s still getting worse.
It’s so important to remember that you are on your own journey. Her experience isn’t mine and doesn’t have to be. It’s so easy to get caught up in the horror stories. To see the disease path as inevitable. But it’s not. It’s really and truly not. If you’ve just been diagnosed, know that there are more drug options, more knowledge on the disease and more medical breakthroughs and research happening than ever before. We have a ways to go until we understand RA or have a cure, but it’s an exciting time in medicine.
Seriously, before you read another blog post or go to another support group, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you ARE a beautiful and unique snowflake (or at least your RA is ;).)
I have to admit, it’s been a rough couple weeks. Stress in my personal life and friends’ lives, as well as some important projects at work and working out a bit too hard, has taken its toll on my body.
Symptoms that I left behind months ago seem to be rearing their ugly heads. The bottom of my feet ache and swell to the point that no shoes make them happy. My feet hurt even doing small things, like pushing down the gas pedal. I feel very, very fortunate that this doesn’t prevent me from running and working out. For whatever reason, I lace on the tennis shoes and feel OK for that hour or so. It’s worth it physically and mentally, even if I might pay a little afterward.
My left wrist has visible nodules that seem to be getting worse, not better. Just the fact that I can see the effect on RA can send me into a mental tailspin. So I’ve been trying very hard to replace negative thoughts with positive, neutral or grateful ones.
Me: Oh my god, look at my wrist. Pretty soon RA will take over my body and I’ll be totally deformed.
My reply to myself (no, I’m not schizophrenic): Just because you have a couple Rheumatoid Nodules doesn’t mean your RA is worse. They’re not hurting you, they’re barely noticeable and they won’t be there forever.
Me: Shut up and let me wallow.
OK, so clearly I have a little work to do.
In my attempt to change my thought patterns and gain perspective, I’ve ordered two books off Amazon. I’ll post reviews here when I’m done.
- A Resilient Life: Learning to thrive, not just survive with rheumatoid arthritis by Kat Elton
Too often, people faced with a disease such as rheumatoid arthritis hear words like, “disabling,” “progressive,” or “tragic.” “Tragic” may be what people are saying but the real tragedy is that these often repeated words do nothing but harm to those who hear them. They completely ignore a very real truth: physical issues can absolutely lead to positive transformation, action, challenge, inner strength, deep courage, and compassion. This unique book is written by someone who knows her subject well. Kat Elton, an occupational therapist and woman who’s had rheumatoid arthritis since age two, knows that people with RA don’t need false hope or to be told what to do. What they do need is to be led toward believing in themselves and improving their reality no matter what it is. Part practical guide, part workbook, part memoir, this book demonstrates that although there is no magic bullet or cure for rheumatoid arthritis, there is a way to live well with this disease.
- The First Year: Rheumatoid Arthritis: An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed by M.E.A. McNeil
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a disease characterized by inflammation of the joints, is one of the most disabling forms of arthritis and affects over two million people in the United States. Without proper treatment it can lead to long-term joint damage, chronic pain, loss of function, and disability. From the first moment of her diagnosis, author M.E.A. McNeil took charge and educated herself on every aspect of her condition. Now, as a “patient-expert,” she guides those newly diagnosed step-by-step through their first year with RA. McNeil provides crucial information about the nature of the disease, treatment options, diet, exercise, social concerns, emotional issues, networking with others, and much more. The First Year—Rheumatoid Arthritis is an essential resource for everyone who wants to be an informed, active participant in the management of their condition.
Jane McGonigal’s TED talk on how to use gaming strategies to get through illness and tough times and add years to your life.
There’s something about having a relatively unknown and widely misunderstood disease that is very lonely. It’s not that I don’t have supportive people in my life, I do. I count myself blessed to have caring friends and family, a talented team including my rheumatologist, naturopath and therapist, yoga instructors and personal trainers. I am a lucky girl.
But here’s what I don’t have: anyone in my life who has RA or truly understands what I’m going through.
In an effort to not feel quite so alone in this, I have a strong desire to connect with people like myself. People struggling with, living with, and surviving RA.
The strange thing is, I’ve reached out to people with RA in my city. A fellow patient of my rheumatologist who told the doc that she was willing and eager to talk to me (she has not returned my calls), a high school friend of one of my close girlfriends who’s had RA since she was in high school (despite accepting my friendship on Facebook, she’s not responded to any of my RA-related messages), and a woman my age who worked with my sister and was full of advice and thoughts and support (to my sister that is, she has not returned my emails). What is it about RA that makes people shut up and shut down?
I’ve been so befuddled by these ignored calls, messages and emails. Don’t other people with RA want to connect with other sufferers, share stories and support one another? Am I really the only one who yearns for this?
This is the void that blogging fills for me. Yes, I likely won’t meet any of you in person, but reading your blogs and shared stories and getting your comments is a true blessing. It assures me that I’m not alone in this.
So for that, whoever is reading this, thank you from a RAD blogger.
I was getting tips on how to prevent pain and stress in the wrists when doing yoga with RA, and my instructor said something so kind, so perfect, so wise, and so simple, I had to share.
“I respect your journey,” she said. “I know you may not see it that way now. You may see it as a pain in the ass and that is fine, but you are on a journey and I respect your path, strength and courage.”
Wow. Powerful words. In about ten seconds she had the reaction to the news of my RA that I realized I was seeking. Acknowledgment that it is a difficult card to have been dealt and it’s not my fault to have it. Permission to react any way I want. Support. Confidence that the circumstances I’m in now will ever evolve. And finally, encouragement of my power to deal with this.
The last couple days were rough. Once again, my feet were hurting and I was consumed by thoughts of “oh my God, the drugs aren’t working” and “it’s because I’m down to only four methotrexate per week (and Enbrel).” Or, maybe it was just the normal ebbs and flows of life with RA. But of course my mind doesn’t like that thought either. That thought means it might be like this forever.
So with my feet hurting, two days ago I thought wisely that I should not wear flipflops, which let my feet swell, but aren’t supportive for the painful pad of the foot. Of course heels were out of the question and tennis shoes would just throw my outfit too far off (I’ll sacrifice a little bit of style, but I just can’t go that far). I opted instead for my expensive, less-than-flattering, mary-jane-style shoes with nearly-orthopedic inserts, lots of support, and an adjustable velcro strap to counter swelling.
My feet walked me to work relatively happy. By lunchtime, they were so swollen, no amount of loosening that little velcro strap was going to help. I spent the next few hours barefoot (probably didn’t thrill my coworkers). I forced my feet into the shoes and found myself a ride home – no way was I gonna walk if I could help it.
I ended my night with my aching, painful, and now blistered feet in a cold foot bath. It helped a little.
Cue the next day. Guess what, I woke up with hurting feet. They were back to that point where rising up on my toes, even a little, is pretty excruciating. Flipflops were out, my expensive RAD shoes were out, tennis shoes were…out (sorry! I’m just not ready to bring tennis shoes into my work outfits yet!). I felt pretty good about another option: boots with no heel and inserts that would give my feet padding and allow them to swell. Yes, the weather was unseasonably hot for June, but I could sport boots with a dress and make the look work. The great style/pain compromise settled, I happily set out on my short walk to work.
Immediate pain, which of course pained me in another way: it was a painful reminder of how badly my feet hurt in these shoes in my pre-diagnosis days. Only a few hours later, I could feel my feet swell to the edges of the boots. That was another rest my feet kinda night.
And then there’s today. I wake up expecting pain, but I feel fine. Overjoyed, I lace up my tennies (to workout, not to go to work!) and go for a run. It’s a little shaky, but I’m feeling so much better, it’s powerful. My feet are feeling good, so I opt for my greek sandals with plenty of padding on the sole. Mostly pain free all day.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining since today is a great day for my feet, but the pain rollercoaster of RA is physically and mentally exhausting. There’s just no predicting when a flare will hit or how bad it will be. And there’s no science to why it gets better, at least no science that I’ve figured out.
As my rheumy says, you’ll drive yourself crazy wondering what causes what. I guess it’s best to just take care of myself as well as I can – plenty of sleep, minimize stress, keep at my high fruit, veggie and omega-3, no dairy and gluten diet, and appreciate the good days. At least, that’s what I’m doing today.