The New "Normal": Healing After an Illness when You Have RA

It’s hard to get over any illness when you have RA. Your body is under additional stress and pressure than normal, and it’s hard to get back to a place where you feel relatively okay.

This last illness that I had — complete with cough, swollen tonsils, postnasal drip, and fatigue — was one of the most difficult for me. While nothing terrible resulted from it (for instance, the flu, strep, or pneumonia), it was still difficult to function because all facets of my life were affected, in addition to the physical.

I’m not sure if it was the added stress that I’ve been experiencing lately or if it’s because of the RA and Humira — more realistically, a combination of the two — but this illness/allergy season has been rough for me. It’s caused me to consider a few things.

Changes in cold/flu recovery time

First, before having RA, I was very healthy and robust. I rarely got sick and, even when I did, I would bounce back quickly back to “normal,” back on my feet and ready to continue on with my life. Now with RA, that sense of resiliency and elasticity feels missing, for the process of getting “back to normal” is so much slower. Even a common cold can take ten days or more to even begin feeling relief.

With this in mind, at the end of this latest illness, I found myself asking: when will I start feeling “normal” again?

What is a "normal" recovery with RA?

That question of “normal” has perturbed me lately. I realize now that there is no normal when you have RA. Each new illness puts you in a different place than where you were before. A common cold can be debilitating, new allergies surface left and right, and, at least in the moment, it feels like all the progress you’ve made in getting better with RA has been erased.

How sickness impacts different aspects of RA

For instance, in my case, I basically had to lay in bed for a few days because my throat was so sore and red that I couldn’t swallow or eat normally. Even in just those few days, my routine was thrown off, and my body felt its toll: less physical movement and exercise meant more joint swelling; being sick meant not taking my Humira and more fatigue. And it took even longer to get back to the place before this where I was feeling relatively okay and in control of my body.

Change is always present

Most of this is coming from a place in me that recognizes you never return to where you were before the illness, because the life you had without RA is a distant memory. Getting sick easily, taking Humira, having to worry about other illnesses — this is the new “normal.” And it’s awful. There’s no getting around that. But it just is, and it takes creating a life where it can exist peacefully to find some inkling of comfort.

My recent experience with being ill really reminds me that change is ever-present. That I am constantly changing and evolving now, and that my RA will always be with me in that progression of change. That I am also not in as much control of myself as I thought I was.

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