Sick When Sick
By Angela Lundberg—July 7, 2014

My head was throbbing from the moment I awoke each morning until falling asleep at night–as though it were smashed in between a giant vise grip. Pain radiated from my lower jaw, making it tender to touch (thanks to my bad teeth-clenching habit). Sweating episodes (no fever), shaky hands, extreme jitters, and strange dizziness made me suspect that anxiety attacks were going on for some reason. And, alternating between nausea and having to run to the bathroom, my stomach was a mess. What’s wrong with me? Sickness. And most likely not RA sickness, either. Living with the daily pain, fatigue, medication side effects, and general malaise associated with RA is bad enough, but getting sick on top of it all makes dealing with RA even more miserable and frustrating.

For the last three to four weeks I’ve been dealing with debilitating tension headaches, jaw pain, a sinus infection, anxiety attacks, clammy sweating, shaky hands, light-headedness/dizziness, and gastrointestinal troubles–in addition to a bad RA flare-up in my ankles and right foot that’s been raging since the end of April. Not fun! Thankfully just this past week I’ve started to finally feel better and like I’m on the mend, except for the ankle/foot pain and swelling. This is a huge relief, because I was getting to the point where I often thought, I don’t know if I can take this anymore. What’s the best way to deal with your physical and emotional health when additional illnesses strike?

Having a compromised immune system from RA and taking immunosuppressive medications makes RA patients more susceptible to getting sick with other illnesses and makes getting better a lot slower and more difficult. Being a bit of a self-diagnosed (ha!) hypochondriac, my usual mode of action is to call my doctors and make appointments whenever some new health problem pops up and doesn’t seem to be going away quickly. Typically my sicknesses don’t last that long and are fairly easy to diagnose and treat, such as repeat sinus infections, or standard viruses. But it’s the weird, chronic, unpredictable maladies like RA that are hard to deal with and drive me crazy.

Speaking of hypochondria, I do realize that my usual first reaction to any new or unusual health problem is feeling panicky, despite telling myself to stay calm and reasonable. But I can’t help it! Do I have another disease now? Is this a new auto-immune illness that I’ll be saddled with for the rest of my life? I know it’s not uncommon for people with RA to develop other auto-immune conditions. I actually think I might have Sjögren’s Syndrome, but that’s debatable since I could never get a firm diagnosis when my eyes mysteriously flared up badly for one year about 10 years ago. I prefer to just tell myself I don’t have it. But other than that, I’ve been lucky to not develop any other diseases, and I desperately hope it stays that way.

Not freaking out is a much better option than panicking and thinking you’re dying from 50 types of cancer. And most of the time it’s also a bad idea to look up medical questions on the Internet, which I am guilty of doing. Once again the temptation proved to be too great and I got sucked into anxiously googling my symptoms online. According to WebMD, I had either Parkinson’s, MS, CANCER, a few different mental illnesses, thyroid disease, Crohn’s, and a heart condition, among other things. After looking through that list, I thought, Oh my God, I HAVE ALL OF THEM!

Get a grip, Angela. No you don’t.

Luckily lab tests and an in-depth chat with my internist assured me that I don’t have any of that stuff. Antibiotics are working to cure my sinus infection, and the anxiety has almost completely gone away (my doctor and I think it’s probably from being on a high dose of prednisone for months, which I’m now tapering off of), the sweating and dizziness are basically gone, and really, everything is just a lot better. Whew. I hope this trend continues! However, I realize that I will come down with many more illnesses in my life and I need to improve my emotional coping techniques for when that happens. Unnecessary worrying and stress doesn’t help anything and in fact makes me feel worse and inhibits healing. So what are some good tips, other than hiding your computer and phone or knocking yourself unconscious?

Profile photo of Angela Lundberg

About Angela Lundberg

Angela is a writer, photographer, and health advocate and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 18. Living with the disease for over a decade has made her passionate about patient advocacy, and determined to not let RA stop her from doing what she loves in life.

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