Some things cannot be changed

It was after chatting to an understanding fellow gym-goer about my RA and how I get upset at some people’s perceptions that there can’t be much wrong with me as I can still go to the gym, that I started to accept that no matter how hard I try I won’t be able change what those people think about me and the problems RA causes. I described it as a lack of their understanding; he described it as their ignorance. And yes, I think he is probably right. I know that it is even more important for me to keep fit and healthy now and going to the gym and weight training keeps me fit and keeps my bones and joints strong.

I have never been the most patient of people anyway, so when the pain first started in my hands and wrists in April this year and was limiting my training it was very frustrating. Almost everyone around me seemed to share the opinion that I had been overdoing it in the gym and I should give it a miss for a while. Their comments annoyed me and made me more determined to continue doing the thing I enjoyed the most. Admittedly I had to limit my resistance training, but I could still do the cardio. I was taking over-the-counter painkillers but the pain seemed to get worse by the day.

It was after resting totally for four days at the end of May that I knew I had to see the doctor. I hadn’t been to the gym and had a long weekend off work over the bank holiday, so the pain should have improved with rest, but the reality was the opposite. I woke up on the fifth day in the worst pain I have ever experienced, my hands and wrists were very painful and had stiffened up. I struggled to get out of bed, I couldn’t lift the kettle, and struggled to get dressed. I suspected it was arthritis and at 41 it was upsetting just to think about it, I was keeping myself fit and healthy and it shouldn’t be happening to me.

I was started on prescription painkillers and the blood tests confirmed arthritis, the GP referred me to the hospital. However the painkillers took quite some time to begin to work, so I was still in a lot of pain. I was feeling really upset and generally down at this point and comments from others such as ‘it could be worse’, ‘we have to just get on with these things’ and ‘we all have arthritis’ upset me even more. We have all experienced headache or toothache so we know how it feels. However we haven’t all experienced in the pain of RA, and how the pain gets you down and how you seize up overnight and take an hour or two to get going in the mornings. Despite the fact I had been complaining at work about the pain I was in, a work colleague thought it was acceptable to be rude and inconsiderate when I couldn’t take my turn to make drinks for everyone because I knew that I couldn’t lift a full kettle or carry a tray of drinks downstairs. Some co-workers laughed at her comments. It upset me at the time, but now I just get on with my work and don't mention when I am in pain and discomfort. I think the problem is that there is nothing really to see, I have swollen joints on my fingers but because I can still work and go the gym regularly the perception of those colleagues is that everything is fine, and nothing I say or do will change that.

After about two weeks or so the painkillers helped with the pain, but didn’t stop it. I had a steroid injection at the hospital which has been a huge help, and although I still suffer with the morning stiffness, the pain eases much quicker. I am due to start on Methotrexate very soon, and although I don’t normally like taking medication, in this instance I am keen to do so. I just want to get the RA under control as soon as possible. I am now realising that I need to ignore the comments of the some people around me, because I cannot change their perceptions.

I am fortunate however to have a few people around me who understand entirely and who are very supportive. The continued support of my best friend has been amazing and a fantastic help to me. Admittedly, I had a short period of time where I was feeling down, comfort eating and was generally feeling sorry for myself, but I have now got my head around having RA, I know there is no point getting upset about something that I cannot change. I am now determined to continue doing everything I enjoy doing, keep myself fit and healthy, take my medication as advised and be in control of my RA.

Di, 23rd July 2015

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