Warning: Wall Ahead

Exhaustion can hit anyone. I imagine that any person in a busy phase of life can feel worn out. However, living with rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease (RA/RD) often means that I experience these times more often than my healthier peers, and that exhaustion has additional physical ramifications.

For instance, when my husband is working long hours and not getting enough sleep, he is tired in the evenings and wants to go to bed earlier than usual. However, after a good night’s sleep, his energy is back to normal. When I feel spent of energy, I experience fatigue that goes beyond exhaustion. A good night’s sleep may be unattainable due to the achiness that often accompanies this fatigue, and even if I am able to get significant rest, it may not put a dent in my fatigue.

Battling exhaustion from RA

This experience is common for people with this disease. While pain and inflammation are the celebrity RA/RD symptoms, fatigue is a belligerent B-lister that can wreak havoc on people living with this condition. RA/RD fatigue can be as problematic as pain, making it difficult to make it through a day, a task, or even a full-fledged thought.

Consequences of pushing the limit with exhaustion

In addition to fatigue, if I overdo it I experience other physical consequences. As RA/RD is an autoimmune disease, my immune system doesn’t function optimally. Instead of solely fighting germs and viruses, my confused immune system is instead targeting my joints and tissue. Over the years I’ve realized that when I am run down, I am at a higher risk of having a flare or getting sick. I’ve also realized that there are some physical warning signs my body gives me that it is running on empty and headed toward illness or a flare.

Warning signs of RA exhaustion

Susceptibility to flares or infections

If I have one busy day or engage in a strenuous (or strenuous-for-me) activity, I’m prone to what I call an “activity hangover,” where I have mild fatigue and achiness that lasts a day or two. However, when I’m really run down, these symptoms last day after day. In addition, I experience recurrent low-level infections such as cold sores and yeast infections. I also begin to lose my voice, sounding raspy but without a sore throat.

These warning signs are like the gas light that comes on when a car’s fuel tank is near empty. However, unlike a car, if I fail to fill my tank with some much-needed rest, my body won’t slow to a stop. Rather, it will crash into the wall of a flare or a significant viral or bacterial infection.

Thankful for the warning signs

It’s really hard to take time to rest in the midst of a busy and/or stressful phase of life. However, if I ignore my voice that’s become husky, telltale cold sores, or fatigue, my body will become so sick or in so much pain that I have no choice but to rest.

RA/RD is extremely unpredictable and can flare up without any warning whatsoever. That being said, rarely does it work the other way around where my warning signals do not result in significant consequences should I fail to heed them. While I often feel frustrated that my energy level becomes depleted more quickly than my peers, I’m trying to realize that my pesky and unpleasant physical warning signs are actually a gift that can help me avoid some illnesses and flares if I take heed and give my body the rest it needs.

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