In January 2012, I woke up one morning, stepped out of bed, and could not put weight on my foot; it felt broken. I could walk but I was in serious pain. When it went away the next day, I shrugged it off as a shoe issue.
I used to love cute heels and didn’t mind sacrificing function for fashion. But when the pain kept moving through my body, alternating sides and locations, I knew it wasn’t my shoes. I set up an appointment with my prime care physician not knowing my world was about to change.
After discussing my symptoms and a thorough examination, he said, “This could be as simple as a vitamin B12 deficiency, or as complicated as rheumatoid arthritis.” After many vials of blood, which revealed a very high positive RH factor and off the charts anti-CCP levels, and a series of X-rays that revealed the joint damage had already begun, I received a life-changing diagnosis: rheumatoid arthritis. I was 40 years old and my daughter, an only child, was only four.
My RA is considered severe and aggressive so thankfully, my rheumatologist took an aggressive approach as well and went straight to biologics. We discovered that I am allergic to two of the most commonly prescribed biologics, so it took time to find the best fit, but once we did I started feeling better relatively quickly, and I wanted to do as much as possible to stay well and active.
I did my research and realized I could help make living well with this disease possible by making several lifestyle changes: adapting a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet, limiting my exposure to environmental toxins by swapping out cleaning products and personal care items with non-toxic versions, prioritizing sleep, and minimizing stress as much as possible.
While I was very angry and bitter when first diagnosed, I am grateful for the healthy changes it prompted in our lives. We are all benefiting, and I feel a little more in control of what can be such an unpredictable disease. It is pretty well-managed most of the time, as long as I can keep my stress in check.
This past year challenged my ability to do this and I left my full-time teaching job because the stress was provoking too many flares and my quality of life was suffering. It was so hard to do but I was so tired and sick all the time that it seemed every part of my life was focused on just surviving. I had nothing left for my family at the end of the day. I do have another income stream and am able to work my business from home, so I am very grateful I started it two years ago. It is allowing me to thrive again and I feel like I have a much better work life balance and am more present for my family.
My family is my “why” for everything and the reason I want to stay healthy and thrive. My daughter says I am her hero. I know she looks to me as a model for how to navigate life; challenges and all, so I take care of myself, set boundaries, and stay as positive as possible, but I do not hide my disease.
And this is the advice I would share to my fellow warriors. Help people understand rather than hide your pain. Advocate for yourself and do not feel guilty when you need to take time for yourself or need help. Take care of yourself by eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, and moving as much as you are able. If you do, it is possible to only survive, but thrive.