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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?

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


  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    2 years ago

    Wow I wish tocilizumab had helped in that way. In fact the more I took the less I felt good. We have such individualized disease. In fact I have decided to devote the next hour thinking of the universal RA treatment that works great for everyone.


    1 hour later

    Sorry Wren it did not work out. But maybe tomorrow. 🙂

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, Rick!
    Oh, wouldn’t it be fantastic if all we had to do was think about a universal cure for this disease?? I’m sorry it didn’t work when you tried it, but hey. Tomorrow might be the day! Thanks for commenting, my friend. 😀

  • KerryW
    2 years ago

    I just got out of bed and it’s 2:00pm. I didn’t sleep last night and yesterday I felt a little off, like my body was starting to crash. It did. I’m in the middle of a horrible flare and all I can do is rest and wait for my body to calm itself down. You’re right, we’re all expected not to let RD get us down, be strong and resilient. People just don’t understand this disease at all. I am also a middle-aged woman who struggles with RD every single day and today it has knocked me on my butt! I won’t dwell, I’ll just patiently wait until tomorrow and hope this body of mine will get itself under control. And right now, I’m feeling the blues.

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Oh, KerryW.
    This disease is so hard! ILike Rick, above, I wish we could just think ourselves a cure, but since we can’t, I guess we’ll just have to keep hoping and trying new treatments. Staying strong isn’t easy. All we can do, really, is be patient. And I find that it’s good to know that there are others “out there” who understand how having RD feels, both physically and emotionally.
    I hope this finds you feeling much better. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Sending a hug and wishing you well. 🙂

  • Erin Rush moderator
    2 years ago

    I’m sorry you’re feeling those blues, today, KerryW. I think it’s perfectly fine to have those days where you just let your body relax and recover. Thank you for sharing and I hope tomorrow is a better day for you. Best, Erin, Team Member.

  • KerryW
    2 years ago

    Hi Erin,
    Thank you for your kind words. The flare has eased up and I’m back to my normal old RD self again. Unfortunately when you have this disease and your body decides to flare up, you have no choice but to stop, relax and let it recover. Thanks again for the kind words. It’s nice to have a place where you can find support when needed.

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