Singin' the Cellular Blues
Sometimes, coping with rheumatoid disease (arthritis) makes me feel like singin’ the blues. I’m always caught by surprise when it happens because I’m a born optimist. It’s hard to get me down.
But occasionally—usually after a painfully restless, sleep-deprived night—it’s hard to paste that ol’ smile on my face, even though I know that the physical act of smiling will cause a release of happy-making chemicals in my brain. The fact is, I’m in pain. The fact is, every movement I make throughout the day, from drinking from a coffee cup to rinsing a dish to gripping a steering wheel forces me, painfully, to remember that fact.
And even though I’m taking a whopping fistful of RD drugs twice a day, every day, along with injecting another drug once each week, my rheumatoid disease still isn’t going away. It’s been my near-constant companion for three decades now. I just have to hold on to the hope that the drugs I’m taking are keeping my ol’ rheuma-dragon relatively quiet and keeping to a minimum any ongoing damage the beast is doing to my joints. In the end, though, I know he’s out to disable me if he can. That’s a fact, too.
In this world, though, we’re not supposed to indulge in personal pity parties. We’re expected not to let anything get us down, to be strong and resilient, to keep going despite pain and adversity. It’s as if we’re all supposed to be superheroes, never letting on how much we hurt, never complaining, and never—gawdforbid—wallowing in self-pity. To do so is to admit weakness.
Well, I’m sorry gang, but I’m not a superhero. I’m just an average, every-day, middle-aged woman who’s been around the block a few times. I’m tough. I’m brave as all get-out. I fight this painful disease to a draw every. single. day. And yes, I do get a bit blue over it all now and then. My low moods don’t last long, usually. I don’t dwell; I do my best to pick myself up and move on. But getting overwhelmed occasionally isn’t a surprise for mere human beings like myself.
The Emotional is the Physical
I ran across an interesting little article on the Rheumatology Network website recently. It helped me understand that what I perceive as weakness—my occasional pity-parties—may really be yet another symptom of my rheumatoid disease.
A quick primer: RD is an autoimmune disease that affects the synovial lining of the joints and some organs, like the heart and the lungs. “Autoimmune” means that the body’s protective immune system mistakenly perceives its own healthy tissues as foreign invaders, like bacteria and viruses. It produces protein antibodies that have one mission: to destroy the “enemy.” Their constant attacks cause widespread inflammation throughout the body, which in turn causes the RD symptoms we’re all so familiar with: pain, swelling, fever, fatigue, malaise, and joint damage that ranges from mild to severe and disabling.
Scientists now say that interlueken-6, a cytokine (a type of protein antibody) produced by inflammation appears to have a significant effect on pain, fatigue, and even mood disorders in rheumatoid disease. (My emphasis.) And, after looking at several peer-reviewed, clinical studies, these researchers concluded that patients treated with biologic drugs that inhibit the production of interleukin-6 suffer less from pain, fatigue, and mood disorders.
There’s a lot more to the article than I can go into here, so if you’re interested, I suggest that you take a few minutes to read it over yourself.
I found it fascinating, but then, I’m a science nerd of the first water. And it makes me feel a bit better about my occasional bouts of the blues. It’s not my fault that I’m in a low mood, it’s my body’s—in all sorts of ways, including at the cellular level. If anything, I ought to be proud of myself that I don’t let mean ol’ interleukin-6, which is found in much higher amounts in RD patients than in the general population, get me down more often!
Do go read the article. It’ll give you a little optimism boost—and who doesn’t enjoy one of those now and then?
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