Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis = Reality Adjustment
I remember the day I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, in May 2004, like it was yesterday. Memories of all the lab reports, research I had done, countless doctor visits, feelings of being alone, and trying to explain what RA was to family and friends which as many of you already know, is not an easy task.
I was in my twenties and thought I was invincible. I always had a very high energy level, very athletic, a dancer, just graduated from graduate school, and had just begun working as an Occupational Therapist. I remember thinking to myself, “How could I go to bed feeling perfectly fine and wake up with every single joint in my body swollen, red, hot to the touch, and unable to move?”
Reflecting on my RA diagnosis 16 years later
Here I am 16 years later, in May 2020, writing my debut article for RheumatoidArthritis.net. Reflecting back to the day I received my diagnosis, I felt like a part of me passed away. One of the many things I have learned about RA is that RA doesn’t discriminate. Anyone, any age is susceptible. It came into my life, uninvited, like a house guest that just won’t leave.
My life has changed in so many ways
My life has dramatically changed since 2004. The first 5 years of my diagnosis I spent in denial. I have endured severe hardships in every single area of my life these past 16 years. I am unable to work in a field that I love, suffer from chronic pain/fatigue, went through a divorce, I have had to live in poverty, reach out to social services for assistance, navigated the social security disability system, and recently faced homelessness for over a year.
A reality adjustment with rheumatoid arthritis
However, the focus of this article is not on what RA has taken away from my life. Instead, I choose to focus on how RA opened my eyes to make a reality adjustment in my life. Yes, my life was never the same since my diagnosis, and that is OK. I realize that, sometimes, a part of you must pass away to make room for new things.
Rheumatoid arthritis has afforded me the opportunity to put myself first in a way that I would have never done on my own. It has allowed me to explore my life and eliminate toxic relationships. When having a chronic disease in your life, it is important to be around people who understand. It was important for me to learn to embrace my new reality versus fighting against it.
Even on my worst days, I challenge myself to do one thing in someone else’s life that makes a difference. That could be something as simple as sending a funny text to someone I know needs cheering up, calling someone I’ve lost touch with, or baking brownies for someone. Even in my darkest hours, RA has adjusted my reality to realize that I am not the only person going through things.
6 lifestyles adjustments I've made to tackle RA
My reality adjustment also led to the realization of the importance of using a holistic approach, when tackling this monstrous disease.
I have had an opportunity to research and experiment in my own life with the positive effects proper nutrition has played in helping to combat symptoms of my rheumatoid arthritis. It is not perfect on its own, however, one of my many tools in my toolbox to help me combat RA.
I have learned the importance of assembling a team of medical professionals that will listen to you as a whole person. Never settle for a medical team that is second best. I am not going to lie: I have had a lot of bumps in the road with my medical care and medications. I have explored many disease-modifying drugs (DMARDs) throughout the years, and I credit them in helping to prevent an explosion of joint erosion that is typical with RA.
Eastern medicine/homeopathic remedies
I personally have begun to explore these areas more, as I have lived with RA for many years now. With RA often comes chronic pain. I have found that these practices can help alleviate some RA symptoms that Western medicine has not been able to help me achieve.
Exercise, movement, and adaptation to exercise
Exercise and movement are key components to anyone’s daily life. However, even more important to those with rheumatoid arthritis. Let’s face the truth: when you are in chronic pain, the last thing you want to do is exercise.
My training as an Occupational Therapist and my own personal journey with RA has led me to explore how to adapt exercise for how I feel. I am a dancer. I have found a way to adapt and tap dance, even on my worst days. Yes, a modified version of tap, but still tap. I look forward to exploring this area more in future articles and potential videos. Let’s make exercising fun again instead of a dreaded task of something you have to do.
Prayer/meditation is essential to me in my battle with RA. When I surrendered myself to God, my life changed in a positive way. I am not selling religion here. My point is whatever or whoever you surrender yourself to or don’t choose to is of importance to you. There have been scientific studies done of Buddhist monks where mediation was proven to lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety, decrease pain, and promote overall health in those who participated in meditating.
I feel very fortunate to be part of the RheumatoidArthritis.net family. I look forward to writing future articles. I encourage you to reach out and comment on this story and reach out to us on Rheumatoid Arthritis.net. I also challenge all of you to reach out to someone you know who might need you today. Keep it simple or make it as complex as you are able to. Above all, just keep swimming!
When was your last flare?