A vintage pristine homemaker is pictured trying to close a door on her RA secrets, including dirty laundry and piling dishes.

I'll Show You My Dirty RA Secrets

I have a few dirty secrets to confess, one from just this morning. An overnight power outage meant my alarm never went off, so I didn’t emerge from sleep until about 30 minutes before my first appointment of the day. And as anyone with RA knows, that means extra panic. Why? Because it isn’t possible to spring instantly from bed, jump in the shower, brush teeth, and be dressed and ready in mere minutes. (How do people in film comedies always seem to manage this feat?)

So what to do? There was only one choice. I brushed my teeth, used a baby wipe to swipe at critical areas, and threw on a sports bra and dress. (It's always easier to choose clothing I can simply pull over my head rather than fumbling with more anything more complicated.) I wish I could say it doesn’t happen very often, but…

RA, self-care & hygiene

Whenever someone is diagnosed with RA, we discover a veritable mountain of information to help navigate through decreased mobility, fatigue, idiopathic fevers and other flu-like symptoms, etc. But much like the many new moms who are amply prepared for childbirth but SHOCKED at what happens in the hours and days after, RA caught me completely off-guard. I felt dirty. (And not in the fun way.) Here are my secrets.

I don’t always shower as often as I (think I) should

We all know about bad days when our pain is high and our energy so limited that the slightest activity is a herculean effort. On those days, the mere effort of getting up, showering, grooming, and dressing myself can exhaust me. And that's before I have poured a cup of coffee, done a minute’s work, or completed an errand!

Prioritizing comfort and sleep

I’d like to say I make the effort anyway, because who doesn’t feel just a bit better after a hot shower and some clean clothes? But most times, I skip it, throwing an oversized sweatshirt over some leggings and praying no one stops by unexpectedly. (Thank God I work from home, so I can reasonably control having to impose this unkempt vision on others.) Even when I am not having a bad day per se, the lure of sleep entices. When I can, I will gladly trade off a shower for an extra 30 minutes of hard-earned rest. But that’s not all…

House chores and responsibilities

I once dreamed of being Martha Stewart, with an impeccable home and fresh baked goods on hand at all times, welcoming guests to stop by any time. In a reality colored by RA, I frequently have more in common with the “before” photos on Niecy Nash’s old home makeover show, Clean House. Picture me: surrounded by clutter, stacks of mail, and last night’s dishes I didn’t have the energy to wash. (On social media, I refer to my home as The House of the Rising Squalor. ‘Nuff said.)

The dirty dishes in my sink

Yes, everyone told me this illness would zap the life out of me. And still, I lived in secret shame for a long time before I could accept that being sick makes the Martha Stewart house a pipe dream. (And let’s face it, she has staff to keep that place sparkling!) Come over anyway. We can wash the dishes together, and then I can make you a meal that will beat takeout any time. But before you do, there is one more secret I need to get off my chest…

Inclined to numerous infections

Both RA and the DMARDs we use to treat it depress our immune systems. And that leaves us vulnerable to every infection we never wanted to know about. Some are dangerous, but others are merely uncomfortable or annoying. And some? Well, they are just gross.

Prone to some yucky illnesses

For example, I develop athlete’s foot by walking barefoot in a room so clean it sparkles and reeks of bleach. And thrush, that painful mouth fungus, frequently appears as the unwelcome coda to a round of antibiotics. It’s the scourge of anyone who is immune-compromised, and yet it made me feel both dirty and depressed until I realized that I wasn’t alone.

So is this TMI?

Absolutely not! As modern-day humans, we don't talk about our dirty little secrets. Frankly, most of us are squeamish about the merest whiff of uncleanliness. But it’s also why I spent years depressed about my inability to live my ideal of cleanliness. I thought I was the only person who couldn’t make myself and my house sparkle at all times. I know better now, and I am content to strive for reasonable instead.

So I shower at least every two days and whenever I am leaving the house, for example. I never leave dishes in the sink for more than one night. And I keep treatment on hand to battle back infections. Maybe Martha Stewart wouldn’t approve, but it works for me, and maybe, it might give you some peace of mind too.

Do you have a dirty RA secret? If you are open to it, please share it here.

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