November Gratitude Challenge

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Life has been busy and a bit tough since my last post. It can be very tempting, having a blog, when you’re done dirty to use it as a platform to throw that mother effer under the bus. So when I feel that way, I try my hardest to step away. But OH the stories I could tell…and the karma I could bring…for myself and my friends. But seeing as I’m hesitant to write about my friends that I love by name, I’m sure as hell not giving someone/thing I despise a moment of my written time.

Someday I plan on starting a completely anonymous blog wherein I right some wrongs. Look for Karma Squad: We Make Things Happen. LOL.

So, my attitude is in serious need of adjustment. To that end, I am trying my hardest to complete the November Gratitude Challenge. I will be writing about things I’m grateful for, some RA related and some not.

I welcome you to join me! I will be typing it out here and sharing a corresponding picture on my Facebook page. So follow along, like me, and feel free to share what you’re thankful for too!

Here’s my calendar:

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First post will be up soon, and it’s a funny one!

408 months old, 84 months spent with RA

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So….a week ago, I turned 408 months old. Yes folks, I closed out the Jesus year. As always, I never miss an opportunity to mock the Mommy Bloggers. For some perspective, I have only spent 84 months of my life living with RA.  I kinda like that statistic; I’ve never believed that RA defines me and that number only adds fuel to my fire.

Milestones:
Height: 5’6…no changes here
Weight: -33 lbs with photographic proof. I’ve actually lost weight since this last photo was taken!

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Language development: Concerted efforts to curb four letter word usage have been minimally successful. Example: I stubbed my toe at the office and exclaimed “GEEZO PETE.” This was, however, at the office, a place where four letter word usage has never been an issue. But still…it’s my blog so I call progress.
Nervous system: still need a twelve step program for caffeine addicts. The flip side of this is that I would like to retain my friends. Without caffeine, I may lash out so there will be no twelve step caffeine program attendance.
Motor skills: Much improved. This time last year, my wrists were so stiff and swollen, they looked like cankles. (Crists?) This time last year, I had a chronic limp due to ankle issues. This time last year, I had to hold on to something in order to go from the floor to stand or vice versa. Right now, I can do the caterpillar breakdance, do a gigantic karate leap up to standing, jump back and forth from one foot to the other while bending and flexing my wrists. Or something like that.
Mental/Emotional: I’ll admit here that I’m not in the best place right now and it has nothing to do with RA. I’m learning how to ask for what I want and not dwell on things…but y’all…that is easier said than done.
Goals: I want to continue taking care of me. I feel like I got a good handle on the physical this year; now I need to find a way to be happy again.
Reflection on the past year: The Jesus year was a difficult one. Not gonna lie. I got to do some cool things: took back my health, lost the weight again, went to St Maarten, learned how to stand up paddle board, kicked my soda habit, learned how to cook healthfully…but I’m currently learning some very hard lessons on who my true friends really are and what I need for myself.
The Theme for my 34th year of life: No More Toxicity

Thank you, Healthline!

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Wow…thank you so much to Healthline for including me on this year’s list of The 20 Best Rheumatoid Arthritis Blogs of 2013.  It is weird for me to be included with a group of bloggers I look up to for information, strength and inspiration.

I started this blog years ago for myself.  I needed a way to express what I was feeling and everything that was happening to me, and I was desperately trying to find other patients that I could relate to.  I was newly diagnosed, very scared, and didn’t understand enough about this disease to know that I was the demographic.  Yep, I thought only grandmas got this disease.  I was embarrassed.

I had absolutely no idea that people would actually read this.  And comment!  And direct me to other blogs written by patients who I so completely identify with!  And allow me to develop both close online and in real life friendships with people who support me and who I try my best to be there for.  It was a shock and is still astonishing to me.

There are many important things that I have learned through this blog but the two takeaways I’d like to point out are:

-Healthline describes me as a Southern girl with spunk.  And they are correct.  I’ve always been that girl…except for when I was dealing with all of the emotions involved with wrapping my brain around a diagnosis.  Blogging and connecting with other patients helped me to regain my confidence in myself that I AM STILL and will ALWAYS be that girl…thank you.  Having two words permanently affixed to your medical record doesn’t change the core of your being.  In fact, I have learned that our struggles with humanity are what makes each of us human and interesting.  I *knew* that beforehand but didn’t truly feel it as a truth until I started connecting with others here…thank you.

-When I started blogging, I had a very hard time finding blogs that detailed what it’s like to live with RA as a twenty/thirty something.  The literature simply didn’t exist.  With each blogger on this list, with every blogger not on this list, and with each new blog started, we are ALL contributing to the body of work that shows it is possible to live a full life with this.  It is possible to be happy.  And every time we write about both our successes and our failures, we are helping each other and helping those just starting on this journey in desperate need of information…thank you.

So thank you Healthline but more importantly, thank YOU for reading.  You’re all aces in my book. :)

The Body Makeover Part Four

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So…I am way overdue on continuing my posts on getting back to the gym.  Where was I at…oh right, sticking to it and results.  Funny how I completely drop the ball right before I write about sticking to something, right? 

First, let’s talk about results.  Because let’s be honest, the results are a big part of sticking to it.

In my last post, I gave you my terrible, horrible, very fat stats. 

Starting BMI on March 24, 2013:  27 (SOB)

BMI in 2009: 21.2 (Skeletor…look at my About Me pic…I need a hamburger)

BMI Goal Range:  22.3-22.6

Current BMI on July 29, 2013: 24 

Let’s also look at some range of motion stats.

March 24, 2013:

Unable to balance on my left foot

Unable to jump

Unable to fully twist my wrists, restricted range of motion with flexion and extension

Unable to stand up from the ground without pulling up on something

July 24, 2013

Left foot can: balance for 10-20 seconds, complete a full zumba class, balance on a bosu ball, RUN (slow like a turtle)

Jumping: can do jumping jacks, can jump on both feet independently and together, can complete a full zumba class

Wrists: can lift 15 pounds with both wrists with overhanded and underhanded grips.  I estimate that I am at 95% of normal range of motion, still have some weakness on the outer sides of both wrists, no longer sleep with clenched fists, and have muscle tone surrounding wrists, thumbs, and hands.

Can stand from the ground with no assistance.

And finally, let’s look at some results from the doctor’s office.

March 24, 2013

Ultrasound of both wrists showed significant inflammation, with possible erosions on the outer sides of both wrists.

July 24, 2013

Ultrasound of both wrists shows NO INFLAMMATION although I still feel some tightness and occasionally see swelling on the outer sides.

Weight loss of 20+ pounds

As you can imagine, these results have been more than motivating.

So how does an RA patient who struggles with fatigue balance activities to produce these results?

With me, I have found that working out gives me much more energy.  Even when I don’t feel good.  When I don’t feel good, I push myself to do water aerobics or water zumba.  It’s cardio, yes, but it’s calming.  I have also found that my trainer is A-MAZ-ING at modifying our workouts to how I am feeling.  We usually start out our workout with a whole list of exercises to complete; if we come to one that bothers me or I am too tired, we simply move on to something else I can do.  As I have said before, a lot of my “hold backs” are mental.  If I have options that I feel in control of and can do at my own pace, it’s much less overwhelming.

Realistically, my workout week looks like this:

Monday- trainer session 6:30-7:30

Tuesday- Zumba 1 hr OR take a walk OR take the night off

Wednesday- 1 hr trainer session OR 1 hr water aerobics

Thursday- Zumba 1 hr

Friday- OFF

Saturday- spinning 1 hr OR yoga

Sunday- yoga class and guided meditation- 1 hr

Do I do all of these activities every week?  Oh heck no.  Some weeks, I’m lucky to get two days in.  And that’s ok!  We need to respect our bodies and do what we can.  I should note that I do have a standing “date” with yoga and meditation on Sundays.  It’s a restorative/deep stretch class which makes me feel awesome, and the guided meditation is my “church.”

Coming up next: trying new things- AJ tries hot yoga (again…more successfully) and stand up paddle boarding (twice)

 

The Body Makeover Part Three

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With the initial assessment complete, a workout plan in place, and cute new workout clothing purchased (of course!), it was time for me to get serious.

First things first, I needed to establish some personal goals and get my nutrition in order.

Again, while I won’t put actual weights online, here’s what I put down on paper.

BMI in 2009: 21.2 (admission: too thin, I looked like Skeletor)
BMI on March 24, 2013: 27
BMI goal: 22.3 – 22.6

Nutrition has always been a hard thing for me. I have tried every crash diet, detox, and even pills. They all have one thing in common: I feel miserable and am hateful to be around on them. At the advice of a coworker, I downloaded the mobile MyPlate app from Livestrong. It was $2 and basically works the same as Weight Watchers. I can eat whatever I want as long as it falls into the calorie range I am given based on my weight and activity level; I can earn extra calories by logging workouts.

I also started eating very clean. Loading up as many vegetables in every meal as possible, making sure I ate good carbs (quinoa is my new BFF), and lowfat complete proteins (black beans and rice, black bean burgers, lentil anything) alone made me feel great. Within a few days, I felt ‘even’ as in I didn’t spend most of my day on a sugar crash. Oh yeah, and I haven’t had a Coke since March. Unsweetened tea and flavored seltzer water is the new norm.

So…back to the physical activity!

The first class I attempted was spinning. I chose this class for several reasons. It was a seated class so if I needed to rest, it wouldn’t be obvious. Bonus: the class is conducted in a dark studio. I felt comfortable pushing myself in a situation where I was seated and relatively hidden for confidence purposes.

I was able to do the whole class although for a lot of it, I just sat and pedaled to the beat of my own drummer. A very very slow drummer. I was able to do some of the up and down; I was pleasantly surprised to find myself sitting these out not because of joint issues but because I was simply winded.

Then came my first real workout with C.

I can’t remember exactly what we did but I do remember very clearly that:

- Par for the course thus far, I refused to do anything with my wrists. I did try but would immediately hand the weights back to her. Same thing with pulling anything heavy. No go. We finally compromised and for exercises that required my wrists to do the bulk of activity, I would allow her to hand me three pound weights.

-Even with only one spinning class and a couple go’s on the elliptical, my ankle already felt stronger. I balanced on a bosu ball and killed some squats.

What really stands out from that first day is that she totally snuck one over on me. She told me that she wanted to assess my wrists by us throwing and catching a basketball. We did this 15 times: once facing each other, and then standing side to side so that I twisted and threw it back. It was actually FUN and I didn’t think twice about it because I was enjoying it.

When we finished, she let me know that my wrists had been throwing and catching a 10 lb medicine ball. Those same wrists that she had to beg me to even try a 3 lb free weight for.

Wow.

I started to open my eyes to the fact that my fear was holding me back more than my body.

That workout was intense. But it was manageable. It was hard rather than hurt. And the next day, it was *almost* delightful to wake up to aches and pains from actual physical exertion rather than aches and pains from a flare.

Up next: sticking to it and OH MY GOODNESS the results.

The Body Makeover Part Two

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The initial assessment: ugh!

To prep for my first real workout in 7 years, I ate a healthy lunch of movie theater popcorn and Coke. That’s right- I was a full ten minutes late because I went to a movie with friends before.

She forgave me for that and we immediately began the dreaded weighing and measuring. While I am not confidant enough to post that number online for all to see, I will tell you that my reaction to hearing my BMI was 27. Overweight starts at 25…I wanted to cry and immediately regretted stuffing my face with salt and sugar less than an hour beforehand.

Then began the real work: performing a variety of tests to see exactly what I was capable of doing.

- Balancing in both feet on a bosu ball and doing squats and then bicep curls and rows with free weights. I barely completed these as I was so concerned about my ankle. I kept stepping off because I was scared. I flat out refused to lift a free weight heavier than 3 pounds because I was scared of hurting my wrists.

-Lunges every way they can possibly be done, as fast as I can. I had a hard time balancing because of my left ankle. Legitimate hard time here, not a refusal to try because of fear.

-Catching, bouncing, and throwing a weighted medicine ball. LOL. That is all that can be said except for maybe an apology to the guy I almost hit. Note that this was a 5 lb medicine ball.

-How many sit-ups I ca do in a minute/how many push-ups can I do in a minute. I did a respectable 30 sit-ups. Proud of that stat. But y’all. I did a half ass ONE girl push-up and then used the rest of the minute to bitch about how I hate push-ups.

You get the drift.

When we finished, she made a couple of recommendations.

First, she recommended I try spinning classes as it wouldn’t stress my ankle or my wrists and if I got tired, I could just sit down.

Second, she recommended I try to do at least 15 minutes 3 times a week on the elliptical as it would take my ankle through all of the proper ranges of motion while offering support.

Third, she recommended the aquatics classes.

Then she brought over the calendar for spin and aquatics and made me commit to which classes I was going to show up for. I picked a couple and she mentioned that she could log in and see if I actually showed up. Accountability is a big motivator for me! She also said that it was ok if I didn’t finish the whole class; just to try and do what I felt I could do. Looking back, giving me this out really made me attempt a lot more than I thought I would.

And finally, she looked at me and said ‘I know you’re scared to get hurt and I know you’re very protective of your body BUT remember back to when you worked out before and know that there’s a big difference between something feeling hard and something feeling painful. I will never ask you to do anything painful but if something’s hard, I only ask that you give it a fair try.’

She was 200% correct. There’s a huge difference between hard and painful, and I had forgotten that.

Coming up next: the actual work begins, and relearning to love what’s hard

The Body Makeover Part 1

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I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been working out with a trainer and have seen some pretty significant results in a short period of time. As several people have requested to hear about this, this is the first of several posts.

Pre RA, I was incredibly active. I grew up dancing and then got into running, step classes, kick boxing and boot camp classes. When I started having problems, I was literally in the best shape of my life. I was working out with a trainer several times a week: she kicked my butt!

After my diagnosis, I tried to get my activity level up. I even ran three 5K’s with my trainer but it was really pushing it for me. I wasn’t stable on my meds so my symptoms made it hard for me to be consistent so I just stopped.

Stopping turned into fear of activity after an unrelated ankle sprain. Well, three ankle sprains actually. Same ankle. And then I started having some disease activity at the site of the injury, something that I have since learned is quite common.

I started Orencia a year and a half ago and have done well on it. I stopped feeling symptoms in many places, ankle included, but what I then felt was a very weak ankle that wouldn’t let me walk far, had balance issues, and couldn’t even jump.

I should also mention that both wrists were a mess. Same story: my March ultrasound finally showed no signs of inflammation and no permanent damage but I now had these wrists with no flexibility and no strength.

By feeling the Orencia working and hearing from the doctor that I had no inflammation, I decided it was time to get this body back together.

I wanted to have fun on vacation, and I realized how important it was to take this window of opportunity to make my body stronger.

My gym is one of those chain gyms. Truthfully, I joined it because it has a pool and a steam room as those are two things that make me feel better when I flare. So I was a little unsure of what to expect when I went to talk to them about personal training.

All of their trainers are certified and do continuing education on a quarterly basis. They asked me a lot of questions as to what I hoped to accomplish from training and what I wanted in a trainer. My answers? I want to work on ankle strength and stability, wrist strength and flexibility, and overall stamina. I also didn’t care if my trainer was male or female but it was a requirement to me that they at least know what rheumatoid arthritis is.

I paused when I said that, looked at the Director of Training and asked him to tell me what it is. He knew the differentiation between OA and RA and while he didn’t know many specifics, I was fine with that. That part I can educate him on.

A day later, I got a phone call from the trainer he assigned to me. Let’s call her C.

She was very friendly and ran through my goals on the phone. As we set up our first appointment, I started to mention my RA when she surprised me and brought it up first.

‘He mentioned to me that you have RA and it was important to you for me to understand what that is. In addition to my personal training certifications, I have a BS in Exercise Science and am getting ready to start on my Masters. I think this is going to be good for both of us.’

You’re hired.

Why yes, C, I think this will work out just fine!

Next: my first appointment and assessment aka OMG how did I let myself get so out of shape that jumping jacks make me want to vomit!!!