Facing Forward is a series that shares the lives of people living with arthritis and other invisible chronic illnesses. The goal of the series is to see how we are similar and how we are different - and to remind us to keep moving forward because we aren't alone!
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Diagnoses: Rheumatoid Arthritis
Age at Diagnoses: 18
How are you currently treating your conditions?
prednisone, methotrexate, plaquenil, Rituxan, hydrocodone (as needed for pain).
For about a year I’ve been trying hard to stick to a vegan and gluten-free diet, but it’s really hard. I have seen real, significant effects after eating a strictly vegan diet for at least a week: much less swelling in my feet and ankles (even my bad ankle). They look almost “normal” again! What are those strange bumps on the sides? Ankle bones! Because I’ve seen positive results, it is my goal to stick with a vegan diet consistently for a good length of time. It’s just really hard to give up a lot of your favorite foods and comfort foods when you’re hurting and already feel like you’re sacrificing a lot due to RA.
Other diet changes I’ve made include: no soda, no processed foods, no “fake” foods or foods with chemical ingredients, no refined sugar or carbs. When I’m able to be strict about eating only whole, clean foods, I feel a lot better overall and my RA symptoms also improve.
I’m currently doing physical therapy in a warm water pool and then plan to continue with pool therapy and exercises on my own once I’m finished with my sessions.
I also started seeing an integrative medicine doctor almost a year ago and she is continuing to help me try different alternative treatments along side my conventional or Western medications. She works on several different things with me: stress reduction, anxiety reduction, weight loss, breathing exercises, meditation, an exercise plan, and she recommends other forms of self-care, such as yoga. My ultimate goal is to use alternative treatments effectively and successfully so that I can get off some of the powerful RA drugs I’ve taken for years. Tapering off of prednisone is the first plan of action!
What are the biggest challenges you have faced since your diagnosis?
I was diagnosed at age 18, the summer after graduating from high school, so I began college life while trying to cope with the physical and emotional pain of RA. My RA has always been moderate to severe and I’ve never gone into remission, sadly. My RA flared up a lot and pretty badly during my college years, probably due to stress and not finding a treatment that worked well. It took me a bit longer to graduate from college (6 years), but I did finally do it! RA definitely played a factor in not being able to graduate in the expected four years. I often missed classes and had trouble getting work done because of the severe pain and swelling in my hands and feet. I also had to retake some classes because of this.
What are your favorite tips and tricks for managing everyday tasks?
Making sure to get enough sleep is an important thing to do and makes a huge difference with my RA. Lack of sleep definitely makes my RA flare up, as well as exacerbating other health problems (anxiety, depression, fatigue, GI problems).
Giving yourself enough time to get things done or to go somewhere is also important and helps a lot with managing the disease. If I’m rushed, then I get really stressed out, which then often causes flare-ups.
For me personally, my ankles are my main “problem joints” at the moment. Having ice packs handy, as much as possible, help a lot with soothing my ankle pain and swelling. Having a couple of Ace bandages in my purse whenever I go somewhere is also helpful if I find I need to do a lot of standing or walking.
How do you manage to keep facing forward every day?
Good question! It’s not easy. And some days are much harder than others. I think I manage to keep facing forward every day, even if I’m in the middle of an excruciating flare-up, by somehow telling myself this mantra: Hang in there, things are going to be okay. They will be okay! In the moment, this may sound and feel like the most ridiculous and ludicrous thought to have, but I hold onto it because I do trust that things will always be okay, somehow.
Having this disease for a long time has shown me, over and over again, what a rollercoaster of a ride RA is. There have been times when I couldn’t even walk and my entire body felt like it was being continuously beaten with a baseball bat. It’s difficult to hold onto hope or hear your tiny voice trying to tell you that things will be okay and you’ll get through it. I force myself to listen to that voice, though, and do whatever is in my power to get better. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and so far it’s working! Holding onto hope and trying hard to not beat myself up about things I can’t do the way I want is what keeps me going forward.
If you could go back to diagnosis day and tell your past self one thing, what would it be?
This isn’t a death sentence, Angela. You’re going to be okay. You can still live a happy and fulfilling life—never forget that! You’re stronger than this.
Do you have a blog you would like to share?
Blog: (Inflamed: Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis)
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