When I was 27 years old, I was diagnosed with Rheumetoid Arthritis (RA). Until that time I was very active in sports. I had played softball for over fifteen years and just happened to be in left field when the RA took it’s ultimate grip. A ball was hit my way, and when I attempted to go after it, my legs just would not cooperate, and I got a shooting pain and weakness in both. The pain was so bad I could not move. My coach had to literally carry me off the field.
I had been to the doctor several times and was always told the same thing, that it was tendinitis, and I was too young for it to be anything else. Did they not know that RA does not discriminate? My primary doc ran some more tests and my RA factor was very high. I was diagnosed in his office and have been fighting it ever since.
In the early years I was very stubborn. While many people may have gotten depressed, I did just the opposite, I tried to ignore it, thinking it would just go away. I put a bottle of Ibuprophen by my bedside every night and a bottle of water. I literally would wake up every morning, thirty minutes early, so I could take my Ibuprophen and wait twenty to thirty minutes before I could even move. Finally, my Mother talked me into seeing a Rheumetologist (which I should have done a lot sooner) and she put me on a very old medicine with a good reputation called Methotrexate. I could not afford the pills, so I had to get the liquid, draw it up in a syringe and squirt it in juice and drink it. It helped me a great deal, but then it started causing my liver enzymes to increase so I had to stop taking it. I winged it for a while on nothing but Ibuprophen because I refused to take narcotic pain pills.
My Rheumetologist insisted I get on a new type of medicine called a Biologic. It helps block the progression of the disease. While there is not cure for RA, these types of drugs can slow it down. I started the drugs, but as you can see from the picture, I should have been more aggressive in the beginning stages and not have been so hard headed. While having a positive attitude does help with the disease, denial does not. I thought I could fight it by myself. What I learned is that I needed help. My RA doc told me that I may be in a wheel chair by the time I was forty. I am 45, and still fighting with all I have. I am proud to say I am NOT in a wheel chair or even close. I walk, exercise, and even frequent my Total Gym about twice a week. I still swim, (not as much or as gracefully I might add) but I still enjoy life.
This disease has made me stronger and learn not to take things for granted. I may not “look” like I have this disease, but there is not a day that goes by that I am not in moderate pain, I have simply gotten used to it. I finally gave in to disability last year, and I still have mixed feelings about it. I have worked since I was 13 years old, and not working makes me feel useless, even though I know deep down that I am not.
The RA has caused so many changes in my life, physically and emotionally. People do not understand the severity of the disease and seem to go by appearance. If I do not “look” sick, then I must not be too bad off. If they only knew. However; I think I may prefer this attitude than one of pity. I do not want anyone’s pity, and I am still very stubborn when it comes to doing things I can no longer do. I will try to open a jar for twenty minutes before I ask for help. I think it helps me to deal with the reality of it, especially if I am able to open the jar!
To anyone that is diagnosed with RA, my advice is, be positive, but do not be stubborn. You cannot treat the disease on your own. Treat it aggressively. The quicker you start medication to slow the progression, the longer you may go without deformities. Exercise, eat right, and remain as socially active as possible, this helps keep you from getting depressed. Family and friends do not always understand what you are going through, and it is not their fault, this disease it hard for others to understand if they cannot feel it. Join a support group so you can communicate with others that share what you are going through. I may make the world of difference in how your RA effects you. Take care.