Missing My Body’s Signals

or … Why Patient Awareness is Vital to Improving Autoimmune Arthritis Diagnosis

I thought I was a pretty aware patient. I’m a massage therapist, holistic health coach, and a yogi. I know bodies, and thought I especially knew my own pretty well. But looking back, I missed some signals.

It’s been 14 1/2 months since I was officially diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I’ve been thinking about that diagnosis process lately, because until about a month ago I thought I was one of the lucky ones. My diagnosis process wasn’t long. It wasn’t fraught with speculation about various diseases. None of my doctors ignored my requests or told me that my concerns were in my head. So I thought that I had been lucky enough to have been diagnosed in an early onset stage.

Now that all may in fact be true … but lately I’ve realized that my RA symptoms started long before I even noticed them. Why did I realize this? Because it was this fall (about a year after official diagnosis) that I really started to feel like “myself” again. I realize looking back that three changes happened in my body that I discounted.

1. My entire body temperature felt like it raised about 5 degrees. Instead of always being freezing, I began to be warm or even hot most of the time. I attributed it to many things, but never thought about it being a possible symptom of systemic inflammation.

2. My ring sizes increased half a size at a time when I had lost about 10 pounds. Again, this would have been a warning sign but I attributed it to things other than inflammation. There was also no obvious joint swelling at this time.

3. I began to struggle with constant low-level fatigue, sometimes increasing to temporary exhaustion. I guess my sense of logic kept me focused on the many possible reasons (I had a long list) why I might be over-tired. I never ever considered that I had a disease. The fatigue crept up on my slowly, and was building during a time when I was indeed burning the candle at every possible end. So if you were working full time, going to school part-time, starting a new business, leaving your full time job and dealing with the illness and death of a loved one … wouldn’t you just figure you were tired because of all that? I did.

All three of this things have resolved for me in the last two months. I believe this is due to medications, as well as lifestyle and nutrition changes. When do I last remember not having these symptoms? 2002. OMG – that’s almost ten years ago!

Does this mean I’ve had RA to some degree for this entire time? And what if I had gone to my physician with any or all of these symptoms and asked for help? Sad to say, but I’m pretty sure she would have patted me on my head and written me an anti-depressant prescription. My family even asked me to get some anti-anxiety or anti-depressant meds but I resisted. (Been there, done that. It was helpful believe me!) Somewhere deep inside I knew I wasn’t depressed … it was physical. But even so, I waited until my joints were visibly swollen to ask for help with medical diagnosis.

So here’s my new crusade … when people tell me they are tired all the time, I remind them that it’s not normal to be exhausted. Especially if it goes on for a long time and they are generally taking care of themselves. When people express their frustration at pain, I remind them that it’s not normal to be in chronic pain.

We can all do a lot of things to take care of ourselves – exercise, eat nutritiously, sleep well, hydrate, etc. But when all those things aren’t enough it’s up to us to ask for help! There’s no way to start working towards a diagnosis without first realizing we need to ask for help.

**This blog post is part of a larger Blog Carnival organized by Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior, Kelly Young. Please visit the other posts as well … this carnival’s topic is “How Can Diagnosis Be Improved?”**

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I bought turtlenecks today!

I bought three new turtlenecks today. Except for one purchased last year with outdoor activities in mind, these are the first turtlenecks I’ve wanted or been able to wear in 7 years.

So who cares and what does this have to do with RA? Well, about 7 years ago I noticed that entire body temperature had increased a few degrees. Not hot flash style increases – I’m too young still & this was 24/7/365 change. I was more likely to have a tank top on under a sweater than a turtleneck.

The change seemed permanent and I donated or pitched my turtleneck “collection” which had been extensive. But as fall and winter have approached this year, I am cold. Not just chilly on the edges, but cold cold cold.

My theory is that about 7 years ago RA started to generate subtle inflammatory changes. They were inflammatory enough to raise my body temperature. Now that I am taking the bundle of RA medicines and my disease has become better controlled, the inflammation has lowered. It just doesn’t seem to be heating me up any more.

I’ve been thinking that RA was busy building inside me much earlier than I realized and this is also a bit more confirmation.

So I’ll wear and enjoy these turtlenecks — at least until I start hot flashing in a few years!!

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Nearly a Year

It’s been nearly a year since my RA diagnosis, and that timeline has been on my mind so much lately. There have been many ups and downs, but generally my sense of the prognosis is a positive one.

I take many more medicines than this time last year. And yet they are making a tremendous difference in my life.

I take many fewer naps, and have been able to be more active in my life. While naps are kind of fun, it’s better when they are a choice and not a necessity.

I hope that (for now) I’ve learned a lot more about where my limits are. I work less, I rest actively more. I have enjoyed and treasured slowing down because that’s brought me time spent with family.

I spend some time on Twitter with a terrific group of folks – most of whom are also living with RA or another chronic / autoimmune illness. This makes me feel empowered and part of a tribe that genuinely cares about each other.

I’ve learned that asking for help is good. And that toughing it out can lead to some serious downsides – typically not worth refusing to ask for help.

Despite healthcare reform, I am more concerned about my husband’s ability to retire since it is his job that provides my health insurance. It makes me want to find time to be politically active … although we’ll see how that fits in my life’s priorities.

I am so grateful for the good things in life – both those I can do easily, and those which take more effort. It’s all luscious!

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Choosing both medical and integrative approaches

As a holistic health coach, I am blessed to be part of a large and vibrant community of progressive-thinking folks. I have learned a tremendous amount about nutrition and ultimately about wellness from my training and experience. In fact, it’s this kind of naturally-based healing/health that I have focused on my whole life.

Many years ago I was a leader for Weight Watchers … my first experience with “diet” and nutrition programs. I’ve done yoga for years, and spent a lot of time at gyms working out before that. I’ve had acupuncture. I’ve trained in Reiki and receive it regularly. I’ve received other types of energy healing regularly for years. I’m a massage therapist who depends mightily on a weekly massage (and have for 6+ years). I love having green smoothies and shopping at my local farmers’ markets. I believe in the power of prayer. And for the most part, I’ve always tried a lot of natural healing methods before turning to medical care.

And despite all this stuff … the RA symptoms started. Reiki and massage didn’t help (although they certainly didn’t make anything worse). I tried to keep eating healthy, but my ability to exercise became severely limited. I had to cut my work schedule back by 20% to keep the incredible pain in my hands at bay. Symptoms didn’t get better when I wasn’t working either. Weight gain ensued … and it was all depressing. I hung in there with the natural healing methods as best I could, but I knew it wasn’t going to be enough. I’d reached a fork in the road.

Choose left or right?

It was time to pursue medical diagnosis and treatment. You’ve read about that process here on the blog, so I won’t repeat it. But let me summarize the results: I feel a thousand percent better! Practically my old self. I continue to pursue all my natural health and wellness methods, which support the medical process that keeps me going.

What I discovered is that it isn’t a fork in the road, but a new path. I don’t have to give up the things that have always helped me. I don’t have to feel guilty about getting the medical treatment I need to be well. In fact, my rheumatologist has been pretty darn impressed with my incredibly low inflammation levels. The other RA indicators are still positive, but my liver is processing the meds in the healthy way and my overall symptoms feel mostly under control.

So for those who might judge because I’ve chosen to integrate these (sometimes opposing) paths … take a walk in my shoes before you tell me I’ve done myself wrong. And remember, I wear mostly “sensible” shoes now … not the beautiful higher heels of my youth. So it may not be as easy or much fun to be in my shoes … but I’m happy here. Isn’t that what life is all about?

**This blog post is part of a larger Blog Carnival organized by Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior, Kelly Young. Please visit the other posts as well … this carnival’s topic is “Resistance to Rheumatology Treatment”**

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Who stole my body?

When I turned 40 my aunt told me that my body would never be the same again. That it would change unexpectedly and often. That everything I thought I had figured out would become wrong. That these adjustments would keep happening every year or so for the rest of my life. None of that information was easy to absorb or adjust to! And that was before the RA symptoms started!

Here’s an example of my “new body.” This morning my pain alarm woke me up. Truthfully, it woke me twice (at least) last night and then once after it was light outside. I’d just like to know who installed this alarm. How do I control it and could I even disable it? It’s bad enough to use an alarm clock to wake up every day, but having one inside my body stinks!

Another example is that lately my relationship to food has changed. I love delicious food. But I’ve been wondering why I find most food a lot less interesting. Maybe it comes from meds or maybe just from dealing with so many annoying issues related to RA all day. Sometimes I just don’t have the energy left to get excited about meals. Except possibly ice cream … LOL.

I have always been a bit ADD, hyper and not very good at sitting still. Now I treasure those days when I can fit a nap in during the day. I know that I have to take a break to sit down or lie down during many of my former “normal” tasks. I am grateful that I can still accomplish a lot, since I know a lot of RA patients aren’t able to do their everyday stuff. But it all just takes so much longer now.

Does anyone know where my body went … because I’d really like to trade this one for the other one. Okay? Thanks. Bye.

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