Chronic forgetting

I have heard many people say that after having a child, women will “forget” the intense pain of child birth. Maybe this is an evolutionary adaptation so that women will keep having children after experiencing that pain. I wonder if the same thing happens in people with chronic conditions. I wonder this because I “forget” the pain of my RA when not flaring.

I am lucky enough that my Rheumatoid Arthritis is pretty well controlled and I have adapted to the wonky joints that have had damage over the years. When I go for several weeks or months without a flare then one starts it is like it is happening for the first time again.

I starting having symptoms and was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia in March of 2004. It took 9 years to find the right combination of medication and lifestyle changes to get it all under control. I took prednisone for almost a decade. Thankfully, I am now able to live well without it. I do infusions of a biologic every six weeks, a weekly shot, and daily meds. I went through a period of five or six years where I was having joint injections at almost every doctor’s visit and outpatient hip injections every six to nine months.

Last week my right hand flared up, then my right ankle, then my right hip, then my left hand… It felt familiar but also oddly I was processing it all like it was new. I had the immediate denial, followed by frustration and stubbornness which led me to doing a yoga session in which I ignored my body and pushed too hard which meant I was in pain for four days as a result. Finally, after the yoga session, during the meditation/cool down I took an especially deep breath and on the exhale it all came to me:

“This is not new. This is what chronic means. It ebbs and flows. Listen to your body. Rest the affected joints for now. It doesn’t mean it will get really bad again. It doesn’t mean the meds aren’t working. It doesn’t mean you will have to take medical leave again. It is a flare. You can get through a flare.”

I was at my normal every three-month Rheumatologist appointment earlier this week and she had a student and two other docs with her. As she did my exam and we chatted about how things have been going, I listened to her explain various aspects of my RA to the group. She was talking about the ankle joint swelling that was obvious and about how you would do an injection, and then asked if I wanted/needed the injection or if I wanted to see if it would resolve. I opted out and realized that I haven’t had a joint injection in three years. The flare from last week was already being quelled by my meds, resting over the weekend, and use of heat. I felt so thankful for a thoughtful doctor, for the meds that help keep the disease from disrupting my daily life, and for the lack of needles going into my joints.

It is a few days later and I am feeling pretty good with the exception of my right ankle and now the right metatarsals. I am trying to rest, have been taking the elevator when possible, and will ice my ankle/foot when I get home from work. But when this resolves, and it will resolve, I think I will “forget” again, but I am going to work to hold onto the knowledge that came with that deep breath and exhale during my meditation session.

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