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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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Karen Randall
    2 days ago

    Thank you for sharing. I don’t feel so bad about the condition of my home now.

  • zanda1000
    3 weeks ago

    I really thought I was alone in this. It makes me feel so much better that I am not alone. I also felt guilty and ashamed for not having a clean house everyday, and not taking a shower everyday. Sometimes my hands hurt so bad I can barely wring out a wash cloth, so the baby wipes thing will come in handy. I thank you all for sharing

  • Paula Jayne White author
    3 weeks ago

    Zanda: Stick with us! You are definitely not alone! I’m glad I was able to share a tip or two that will help you!- Paula Jayne

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    3 weeks ago

    Zanda:

    I am glad you found comfort in this excellent article by Paula. Thankfully I have a wife who is compulsive about the house and who does not mind when I lay in bed all day or do not get a shower until late in the day.

    RA can rob us of so much, and anything we can do to keep going is a good idea.

  • Paula Jayne White author
    3 weeks ago

    Amen, Rick!

  • MrsT
    3 weeks ago

    I think a big majority of us do many of the same things to some degree or other. I’ve had RA for 47 years. I don’t shower but once a week. The other days I sit on the toity and do a serious cat bath. I rinse my dishes off and they sit there for 2 or 3 days before I wash them. I’ve had to start using DoorDash a few nights a week because I’m in too much pain and too tired to cook. Many times I don’t eat anything for supper. If I have a doc app, I go but then take a 3 hour nap when I get home. I can’t do grocery shopping anymore, so have the store deliver it. My house is a bit messy too. My older sister comes once a week to help. She is my angel.
    The RA has taken a huge toll on my body and my mind. My body is breaking down and I’m beyond exhausted just mentally dealing with the constant pain.
    So to all you other RA folks, it isn’t just you. We all struggle with these things.

  • Paula Jayne White author
    3 weeks ago

    MrsT: I am so sorry you are going through such a struggle. You have definitely figured out quite a few good workarounds. (I know that getting groceries delivered is a lifesaver for me!) So glad you have an angel on your side. And you are so right: we are NEVER alone. – Paula Jayne

  • Bets
    3 weeks ago

    That did give me peace of mind, THANK YOU SO MUCH 🙂
    I’m struggling to accept and adjust my life with RA….
    I don’t know what I would do without this forum.
    Blessings

  • Paula Jayne White author
    3 weeks ago

    I am so sorry you are struggling, Bets! I am humbled and thankful that sharing my story helped you find just a little peace of mind in your struggle. Stay with us. We are stronger together!– Paula Jayne

  • Angel of Love
    3 weeks ago

    Thank You!!!
    As someone diagnosed with seronegative RA and Fibromyalgia, I can really identify with your dirty little secrets! If my friends and family who “knew” me pre- diagnosis knew that at least three days a week I wash up at the sink instead of showering or bathing, they would pass out because they know how important hygiene is to me.

    Another part of my dirty little secret is that I have piles of clean clothes that need to be folded, hung up and put away and a couple of piles of dirty laundry that I don’t have the energy to wash and dry. The clean clothes are piled on the sofa or in large garbage bags waiting for the burst of energy that will allow me to put them away. Oops, don’t tell anyone that on most days my pain level is at about 5 – 8 which is why… the above is happening.

    On the days I have to leave the house to work, I usually want/need to lie down for a couple of hours to recover from getting ready; nevertheless, most of the time I’m getting out of the door so I won’t be late. My family has been eating delivered meals because I don’t have the energy to cook and neither does my husband (He also suffers with chronic illness.).

  • Paula Jayne White author
    3 weeks ago

    Angel- I am so sorry you are struggling like this! But you clearly know your own body and you know how to adapt. (I say this as I look at a pile of laundry on a chair that I should have folded weeks ago…) I hope your good days begin to outnumber your bad days. And never forget that doing what helps you get through the bad ones is never wrong. (PS- I eat the takeout on my good china. Presentation matters. 🙂 ) Take care! Paula Jayne

  • TwistedHeart
    3 weeks ago

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
    Noone wants to talk about hygiene, how HARD it is to take a shower, dry off, get dressed and try to appear human.

    I cant wear sports bear (they hurt!) So most of tge time I’m braless! If i have to go out, my husband or daughter help me dress.

    And for the love of all that’s holy…the infections are terrible. I get cysts that make me cry.

  • Paula Jayne White author
    3 weeks ago

    Hi, Twisted! The more of us who talk about these things, the better it is for all of us. We are not alone!!! As for the bra, have you tried this tip? Cut off a cotton t-shirt or tank top, then wrap the ends under your breasts and tie them as loosely or tightly as is comfortable for you. (Something I learned from a doc when I was getting radiation for breast cancer.) It might help you feel you have more support than going braless. Good luck and keep fighting– even if you have to fight dirty! Paula Jayne

  • JanetEJ
    3 weeks ago

    Paula,
    Thank you so much for the article and confirming the real struggle it is just to do the little things of life! We have much in common!! I am blessed to still be able to cook, which is one of my loves. And, God makes sure I can lead my weekly small group meetings at my house. My hero of a husband helps me get the house ready and helps me cook.
    One thing that really helps me is when I’m having a bad day, I stay down. I REST! A lot. All day. Then I’m usually able to do more the next day. I also plan for my “down days” when I have a busy week–I will make sure I have a rest day after 2 busy days. When I do that, it keeps me from getting too sore/fatigued/stiff.
    God Bless!!

  • Paula Jayne White author
    3 weeks ago

    Thank you, Janet! It’s great to see that you are making adjustments that allow you to live the life you want. Keep finding your joy! Even if that means you need to nap before and after. I love the idea of planning for down days. I need to try that out! Stay rested and carry on! – Paula Jayne

  • trishak913
    3 weeks ago

    Thank you, Paula, for bravely sharing OUR dirty little secrets! From showering daily & a lil type A towards cleaning, I’ve finally accepted my life with RD on most days. It helped that the dermatologist advised me to shower every other day due to my RD-related rash, my Rheumatologist advised complete rest during flares, & my hairdresser advised me not wash my hair daily! No guilt now about partially cleaning my house as I clean only now when I’m expecting guests, except the toilet & sinks, of course. Unexpected guests & my Grandchildren don’t care … Also, I’m so fortunate & grateful that I’m retired from teaching … Thanks again, Paula, for having the courage to be honest & the courage to share our many mutual experiences!!!

  • Paula Jayne White author
    3 weeks ago

    Thank YOU, Trisha for being brave and sharing your secrets!! One of my best days ever was when my hairdresser told me not to wash my hair so much. Woo hoo! Keep living guilt free, and keep loving on those grandbabies! Paula Jayne

  • homeschoolMomOf20yrs
    3 weeks ago

    Omg! I could have written this same article about myself! Although it would not have been so eloquently done. But seriously everything you wrote I said “Me too!” (Except for the foot fungus-but I tend to get another gross one-UTI.)
    I almost want to have my husband read your article and say “see I’m not the only one who experiences this, and I’m not just lazy! I think he realizes this by now, but I can relate with feeling guilty for not living up to even my own standards, much less someone else’s. I have learned to not worry about what others think of me and that’s a blessing! Another thing I have learned is to ask others for help and to share with my friends and family about my pain and struggles and not feel guilty for talking about it! That too is a blessing. That’s so much for sharing.

  • Paula Jayne White author
    3 weeks ago

    Thank you for sharing YOUR story, Home School Mom! You are definitely NOT lazy, and I am happy to tell your husband that! 🙂 You have learned some valuable lessons. So kind of you to share them with us. We do NOT have to feel guilty and we are NOT alone!! Good luck with the new school year. Paula Jayne

  • David Advent moderator
    3 weeks ago

    Hi @homeschoolmomof20yrs, I’m glad you enjoyed Paula Jayne’s article! You’re absolutely right, learning to ask for help and to talk about your condition with people who love and support you is so important. Thank you for being a member of this community!

    Wishing you the best,

    David (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team Member)

  • homeschoolMomOf20yrs
    3 weeks ago

    Should say, “Thanks so much for sharing! “

  • Elizabeth Riggs
    3 weeks ago

    I had to quit cooking several years ago, too. It worked for us until he developed symptomatic heart problems. We started back to me cooking breakfasts on weekdays, and suppers once or twice a week. We called in a lot of pizzas and Chinese – expensive. Since his quadruple cardiac bypass, it has gradually gone back to me doing breakfasts about 3 days a week (sometimes 5) and him doing suppers about 4-5 times a week.
    Since I started using CBD oil I’ve generally felt better and I’ve slept deeper. I’m getting up more easily (but still noticing weather changes), and I’m able to do more about the kitchen.
    One secret for both of us is the Instant Pot we got 2 years ago. It even will cook a chicken dish from frozen to the table in about 1 hour, and I’m only working about 15 minutes of that. I also use the slow cooker a lot. I make larger meals, and freeze 2-4 servings for use later – AND I can warm them up in about 25 minutes in the Instant Pot.
    Try looking up Once a Month Cooking. We don’t do this once a month, but we use the recipes to make about 4-6 meals one day and freezing the leftovers in divided portions. If we do that 3-5 times a month, that is 6-10 (or more!) meals we don’t have to cook – just reheat.
    There’s hope for those of us with disabilities. Even for “double disabled” families.

  • Paula Jayne White author
    3 weeks ago

    These are great tips, Elizabeth! I am so sorry that both of you are struggling, but so awed and amazed by your courage and strength to keep on and try new solutions. Keep up the hope. It’s our best weapon! Paula Jayne

  • BeckyKay
    3 weeks ago

    I’ll admit I quit cooking over 10 years ago – if my husband is hungry he knows how to cook. He even cooks for me.

    He also cleans up the kitchen. So if guests arrive, we sit in the kitchen to visit.

  • Paula Jayne White author
    3 weeks ago

    Your husband sounds like a keeper, Becky! 🙂 So glad you have a partner to help you through. Paula Jayne

  • Merry
    3 weeks ago

    The flare that I’m currently having (I”m waiting to see if the insurance co. agrees that I need a new knee), has had me quoting my Mom who once told my children to “feel free” to sign their names in the dust….Just don’t date it!

  • Paula Jayne White author
    3 weeks ago

    I LOVE your sense of humor, Merry! If we don’t laugh, we cry, right? Good luck with your new knee. My fingers are crossed for you! Paula Jayne

  • Mary Sophia Hawks moderator
    3 weeks ago

    Thank you Paula!! I am not alone! What a great article! I have to admit that I have gone more than 2 days without a shower. Some days are washcloth days. Ugh. I have adopted a saying about friends coming over: If you’re coming to see me, drop right in. If you’re coming to see the house, make an appointment! It’s all about adapting to this thing called RD.
    Blessings,
    Mary Sophia

  • homeschoolMomOf20yrs
    3 weeks ago

    Oh I love that saying about “if you’re coming to see me…”!! Thanks I’m gonna use that!

  • Elizabeth Riggs
    3 weeks ago

    Hi, Mary Sofia! I have similar problems. On the days I manage a shower – about once a week – it takes over an hour from stepping into the shower to getting into the living room or kitchen, and I feel as though I have just run a marathon! (After stepping out of the shower and drying off, I use a moisturizing lotion all over my body and my night moisturizer on my face [even if it is morning]. At this point, I’m pretty worthless for the rest of the day. On the interim days, my hygiene looks like this: use flushable wipes on the “intimate places” (I use them each time I use the toilet anyway) adding a few sprays of “waterless” body wash. Use deodorant when my underarms are dry. Brush teeth. Wash face at the sink. Apply moisturizer. Dress. Done. I’m less “worthless” on these days.
    Himself puts all the dirty dishes into the dishwasher almost every evening. Thank goodness for technology!
    Gee, we have adapted fairly well to our disabilities, including both of us with reduced energy. Maybe I should submit a post about all these and the many other things we do.

  • christine.laaksonen moderator
    3 weeks ago

    Oh my goodness, Mary Sophia Hawks, I just LOVE that. “If you’re coming to see me, drop right in. If you’re coming to see the house, make an appointment.” I’m saving that one for sure. Thanks for sharing. — Christine (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team Member)

  • Mary Sophia Hawks moderator
    3 weeks ago

    Christine,
    You’re welcome! It’s one of my favorites!
    Mary Sophia

  • Paula Jayne White author
    3 weeks ago

    Great attitude, Mary Sophia! I ALWAYS worry that the clutter in my kitchen or the piles of random stuff lying around would bother my friends when they visit. They never notice. Especially if I distract them with something tasty to eat. (That’s for another article, of course.) Stay well and remember: low lighting make us look young and makes the dust disappear! – Paula Jayne

  • Mary Sophia Hawks moderator
    3 weeks ago

    Paula,
    I love the low light idea!!! Especially that it makes the dust disappear. Now excuse me while I go clean the dollar tree out of candles!!
    Mary Sophia

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