How It All Began

10 years...10 long years of this rheumatoid arthritis. Part of me cannot believe that it has been so long. I never anticipated that I would survive a few years, let alone ten, with this autoimmune. But, I have, and I’m in a good place. 2020 has been hard, but there are some exciting changes on the horizon for me. I returned to school (safely from my home) and it got me thinking about where it all started.

The onset of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

Let’s backtrack 10 years to the 2009-2010 school year. I was a sophomore in college. I was a Zoology major, on the pre-vet career track. I was exactly where I wanted to be. I was at my first-choice university. I had great friends. Things were going well.

Fatigue and lethargy

But, then something changed. As time went on, I began to feel tired and lethargic. I found it more difficult to stay awake and alert. I was so fatigued I zonked out at night, but couldn’t wake up in the morning. I felt like I never got enough rest. If I wasn’t in class, I was asleep.

Sometimes, I was so tired I couldn’t even walk to class. I lived on the opposite corner of campus from all my classes and it was about a 15 minute walk; 13 minutes if I booked it. I could barely make it (even on days when I wasn’t carrying a boatload of textbooks).

Joint pain

Then, something strange happened. I began to experience pain in my joints. Honestly, I thought all those years of carrying my textbooks on my back had finally caught up to me. I lived on the third floor of my dorm and had such intense pain climbing the stairs that I had to take a break halfway through. As time went on, the pain got worse.

At the time I was failing Organic Chemistry. I had never failed anything, ever. I took it hard, especially since it was a requirement for my major and veterinary school. The stress exacerbated all my symptoms.

It was decided that I was depressed

It never once crossed my mind that I was sick. I had been a perfectly healthy human all my life. After talking to a therapist, we all decided I was depressed.

Someone told me it sounded like it was depression. I didn’t push the subject. I knew that if I were depressed, physical symptoms could manifest out of mental ones. I assumed the pain in my joints was a psychosomatic reaction to my mood. It sounded like depression, so I withdrew for a semester to get my head on straight. I returned home to work as a veterinary technician and remind myself that YES, in fact, I did want to be a vet.

It wasn't depression, but RA symptoms

Back home, I was less stressed. I was doing something I enjoyed. I didn’t feel “depressed” or anxious in any way. But, I wasn’t getting better; I was just getting worse.

It was that same year I was diagnosed with rheumatoid disease. Looking back on my sophomore year, I realize: I wasn’t depressed. I had already started exhibiting RA symptoms.

It appeared to be a depressive episode

Hindsight is very interesting. I have never had depression or anxiety in my entire life. I had never been sick. Given my stress levels and my symptoms, it appeared that I was going through a depressive episode. That’s what we all assumed. We had to give a name to it, so we did. It was the wrong name, but...what can I do?

I wonder what would have happened if I had seen a doctor who picked up on the symptoms right when they started? Would I have had to withdraw? Could I have finished my degree on time?

For better or for worse, my life ended up the way it was supposed to and I am so excited to be back at school this fall!

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