Tag Archives: Trying to be normal

Trying and failing to not to take things personally

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I limped in to Starbucks this morning to get my usual coffee and it was a bit more crowded than usual.  I was talking to my boss while I ordered and realized at some point after I told her to ‘hold on’ that I was getting some weird looks because I had my bluetooth in and my hair down.  So it totally looked like I was having a conversation with myself…and answering…and telling myself to wait so that I could order. 

What struck me as strange is that I couldn’t care less that it appeared to many people that I was chatting with the voices in my head. Nope, I was more concerned that they saw me limping.

Lately, I’ve been a little down and out on myself.  Having RA sucks and when you over-analyze things like I tend to do, you make life a whole heck of a lot harder for yourself than it should be.  

This past weekend, I went to my cousin’s wedding.  It took place in Virginia, on the banks of the Shenandoah, and she was beyond beautiful.  

Getting there was a challenge.  I’ve been traveling a TON lately and my RA is not as well controlled as I would like it to be.  I feel lousy. I tell you that because I’m hoping it’s because I’m burning the candle at both ends right now and that it will start behaving again. Like immediately.

Anyway, I only agreed to go to this wedding because I understood it to be a 4 hour drive.

It was a 7 hour drive.  One way.

You should probably also know that I refuse to watch wedding shows and romantic comedies.  Thank you recent heartbreaks.  And that I have avoided a lot of family events in recent years for other reasons.  And that I absolutely cannot stand the thought of anyone in my family noticing any sort of symptoms of RA in me or (gasp) commenting on them.  

So when I arrived at the hotel on Saturday, I sent my hot mess of a self to my room and took full advantage of the whirlpool tub.  It helped considerably both with making me more comfortable and calming me down.  

I arrived at the wedding site with my parents and brother.  Even though I was uncomfortable, I wore heels the whole time with no noticeable limping. 

And then the reception started.

There was really only one comment but it was enough to tick me off for the next three days. I expected a comment about marriage to which I had crafted a catch all response that was very truthful but didn’t give away much and would help me transition the conversation to ANYTHING else.  

But this is what I got:

“So, where’s your boyfriend?”  

“Oh, that was done awhile ago.”

“So where’s the new one?”

“There’s not one right now.  I’m just really focusing on getting myself together and that’ll come when it comes.”  Like it?  I thought it was good?

“You know, physiologically, the best age to have children is at age 19.”

“You know, I think they frown on that nowadays.”

“How old are you?”

“30.”

“Ohhhhhhhh…….”

My sweet grandmother jumped in and redirected the conversation right before I could respond with “so, how is your terminal cancer treating you?”

I stayed for probably another hour, fuming mad the whole time.  When I got back to the hotel, I took another bath and then dreamt about a boy I don’t need to be dreaming about.  And again last night.  And got emails referencing him yesterday and today.  WHAT IN THE WORLD.

He never actually said anything about my RA specifically.

And I have no way of knowing if said family member knows about my RA.  No idea.  He obviously didn’t know I was single.  Which leads me to believe that I’m not high on the family gossip hierarchy.  Which is awesome.  I also have no way of knowing if I would’ve been upset if he hadn’t said that in a way that I could easily link back to my health.  You can probably tell what I tacked on to the end of his sentence.

Thanks to the powers of my analytical skills, I felt like he threw it in my face which I am positive was not his intention.  He’s always been very blunt and not terribly PC but he’s never been malicious. 

I guess I need to get a better deflector statement and I need to have a serious talk with RA: it’s not all about you!

But it still hurts.

Joint Aspiration Follow-Up

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The joint aspiration of my left pointer finger occurred approximately a week and a half ago.  

Here are some pre and post pictures for you.

What my left pointer finger typically looks like:

What my left pointer finger looked like immediately post medical assault (note the red puncture marks on the left side, sexy RA nodule on the right):

What my left pointer finger looked like 5 days post medical assault:

Doesn’t it look so different from before?  Doesn’t it look so much better?

Yes, I don’t think so either.  Moving on…

And then, on Thurs (about 9 days after) something happened.

I was sitting at my computer typing when I realized that typing didn’t hurt me.  Not even a little bit!  I looked down…

Hello almost normal sized left pointer finger joint!  How are you?  I haven’t seen you in ages…like 4 years.  Have you lost weight?  Because I recall you looking like a sausage and now you’re rather hot dog like.  You look GREAT! I am ECSTATIC to see you!

Having an almost normal sized joint in that finger is both a blessing and a burden.  I’m very self conscious about how it looks when it’s so swollen so the blessing is to have it looking normalish right now.  It’s a burden because at normal size, I have more of an idea of what I’m dealing with in terms of loss of use and joint destruction.  

I still can’t bend it all the way.

Nor can I fully straighten it.

It just kinda hangs there, somewhat useless.

What usually feels so swollen now just feels weak.

The nodule looks like it’s gone but I can still see it when I bend the finger.

I’m not sure if it can be ‘rehabbed’ at all or not.  I may not be able to straighten it because I have absolutely no muscle tone left.  That I can fix.  I may not be able to straighten it because I have so much joint damage.  That I cannot.  I think that it’s most likely the second option but when I go back to the rheumatologist in a few weeks, I plan on asking.

I’ve had a few pity parties the past few days over the thought of having that much joint damage but I guess it just is what it is.  If I hadn’t had the aspiration, it would’ve continued to be swollen and it would’ve continued to erode the joint.  And when the joint was so swollen, it was basically useless to me anyway.  Which means I shouldn’t be upset about it but really doesn’t make it any easier to look down at it and seeing it looking almost normal yet not capable of doing what  I need it to do.

A Day in The Life

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6:45 AM:  Alarm starts buzzing and gets a swift (albeit soft due to RA fingers) whack to the snooze button.

6:55 AM:  Alarm buzzes again.  Swift soft whack repeated.

6:59AM:  Cat slinks into room, jumps on bed, and meows to say “for real, already, I NEED FOOD.”

7:05AM:   Combination of alarm and needy cat avert whack to snooze button and I groggily rise and assess cat bowl situation. I catch myself walking gingerly because I’m not sure how my feet feel yet to see that there is plenty but she demands a top off.  Occasionally, opening the lid of the container hurts. But what can I say…she’s a little diva.

7:10AM: Shower – problems opening shampoo and conditioner bottles which has influenced brands that I buy. Initial daily assessment of my aches and pains. 10 fingers, only 2 or 3 sore  = success. 10 fingers, 8-10 hurting = bad mood. Same with toes, knees, shoulders,wrists although I only have 2 of the last three mentioned.  Having 10 of the last three would not be bad mood but rather inevitable reality show stardom.

7:15AM: Hair drying, makeup application, clothing selection, longing glances back at the bed.  Minor difficulties with sharpening eyeliner with little pencil sharpener, sometimes picking a different pair of pants or shirt depending on condition of fingers and tightness of buttons.  Occasional difficulties on bad mood days with opening and squirting out toothpaste.  On really really bad days, it hurts running my fingers through wet tangled hair.  Thankfully, that hasn’t happened in quite awhile. Knock on wood.

7:30AM:  Breakfast time.  Usually soy yogurt.  No difficulties here unless you consider the lack of variety of soy yogurt available in the Charlotte metro area a difficulty.  (I would like flavors other than strawberry and blueberry and I hate fruit on the bottom.  But that’s all I can ever find.  In 3 different grocery stores.)

7:45AM: Time to head to work.  Minor difficulties in locking both front and back door.  When it’s cold, I can’t lock the deadbolt on the back so I lock the switch on the outer back door (which is actually more secure- found this out the day I locked myself out and a locksmith couldn’t get it open) and always difficult to turn the key in the deadbolt on the front.

7:55 8:05AM:  Arrive at work.  If I’m the first person there, opening this lock is always difficult.  Luckily, I’m never the first one there. 

8:00AM – 12:00PM: Meetings with clients, sales calls, admin work, conference calls.  Occasional problems on bad mood days with the following: typing, assembling presentation handouts, sending emails on Blackberry, fatigue, walking long distances on client site tours.  Minor difficulties every day with pulling and putting files up into tightly packed file cabinets, discomfort caused in knees by sitting in same position for too long, aching shoulders from sitting at desk.

12:00PM – 1PM: LUNCH.  No difficulties here.

1PM- 5PM:  Meetings with clients, sales calls, admin work, conference calls.  Occasional problems on bad mood days with the following: typing, assembling presentation handouts, sending emails on Blackberry, fatigue, walking long distances on client site tours.  Minor difficulties every day with pulling and putting files up into tightly packed file cabinets, discomfort caused in knees by sitting in same position for too long, aching shoulders from sitting at desk.

5PM- 6PM:  End of day meetings/conference calls/ occasional networking events/ drive home.  Occasional problems on bad mood days with peeling and sticking name tags on myself at networking events and also fatigue.  Minor difficulties every day with unlocking front door.

6PM- 10PM:  Dinner with friends, Happy Hour, dinner at home, gym, and other miscellaneous events.  A lot of times, the gym gets cut.  I’m most comfortable on the elliptical- good range of motion exercise for joints if you take it easy on resistance.  Difficulties with grasping free weights- I’m learning how to use the machines. Still afraid to try classes. Minor difficulties with cooking- it’s uncomfortable to grasp a knife to cut, inability to exert force to open jars, nervous to lift heavy baking dishes in and out of oven with hot pad due to not feeling like I’m able to grasp baking pan as well with hot pad. Fatigue is an occasional problem with all above except Happy Hour.  There is no fatigue in Happy Hour.  (Said with same intonation that Tom Hanks uses in A League of Their Own when he says ‘there’s no crying in baseball.”)

10:15PM: Wash face, take meds.  Minor difficulties opening pill bottles. 

10PM:  TV time in bed with feline.  Occasional problems getting comfortable with shoulders and wrists depending on if/where cat chooses to lay on me.  Occasionally discomfort caused by this makes sleeping impossible.  End of day assessment of aches and pains. 

Wash, rinse, repeat.

I’m a little sad that I can’t remember any other way now…

But I still feel very blessed.

Advocates for Arthritis

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Wow. Wow. WOW.

I don’t even know how to catch you all up on everything that’s going on.   I’m exhausted but in a good way. So bear with me if this seems a bit scattered…I have so much to talk about that there is no way I can do it justice.

I really truly feel that the only control I have over my RA is my reaction to it.  I can be negative about it and let it hold me back (and exascerbate my  symptoms) or I can try my hardest to keep my life as close as possible to how it was pre RA.  The second choice is clearly the one that works for me although sometimes I do still have a really hard time with it.  Every once in awhile, I’ll have these identity crises- I know who I was before RA and who I was on track to being without it….so what does this mean to who I am now? 

The easy answer is the same person.  The hard answer is the same person.

I continually search for outlets to mesh the “pre” and the “post” me and I just got back from one of the best RA specific experiences I’ve had to date.

This past Monday and Tuesday, I had the privilege of being a part of the American College of Rheumatology’s Advocates for Arthritis Capitol Hill Fly In.  For those of you who are not familiar with this, it is a non-partisan (ie the only way I was comfortable participating) yearly event where a group of rheumatologists and patient advocates from all over the country jet in to discuss legislative issues that affect rheumatology with their local members of Congress. 

The trip had been on the books for quite some time and it was an absolute circus to be doing this in the midst of “current legislative events.”  Literally, the phones in the offices didn’t stop ringing, people were running in the halls at times, media was everywhere, and it seems like every major health organization was represented up there that day.

Issues that we discussed:  (I’ve linked these to the issue briefs for those interested)

Prior to our meetings to prepare us for our Capitol Hill meetings, they had a patient advocate reception.  I wasn’t sure what to expect and was a little nervous at walking into a room full of other patients I didn’t know.  I’ve never been accused of being shy but still, it’s a little intimidating. Also, when I’m nervous I either a. turn in to Rain Man b. chatter and giggle incessantly or c. curse like a sailor.  Please God, do not let me do any of the above.

I did not.

What a diverse group of wonderful people all the patients advocates were!  It was amazing- all ages and many varying levels of disability were represented.  (Not that levels of disability matter at all but coming into this, I was worried that I’d have fatigue issues/feet issues but decided the proper response was to NOT verbalize this fear when I saw that several of the people who were so excited to walk all around the Capitol had walkers…THAT is impressive.)  I love that so many people affected by this are so involved!

By luck, I wound up sitting at a table with Melinda Winner, another RA patient whose website I love to stalk.  She is hysterical and truly inspiring- while dealing with multiple types of arthritis, she still manages to write and promote her cookbook, Cooking With Arthritis, and travel the world doing all sorts of fun things like appearing on the Food Network! 

The rest of the day was spent brainstorming with our teams (generally a patient and several rheumatologists), discussing the issues, and dinner.  I was 100% exhausted but excited for the day to come when I hit the sack at the ripe old hour of 9PM. I’m so young and fun.

Our meetings on Tuesday with members of Congress were eye-opening. There were so many things I hadn’t realized about how our country works.  First, we were prepared ahead of time that most of the staff in these offices would be young, REALLY young.  Knowing that, I still wondered if the gentleman who greeted us in the first office was old enough to drive. (No, I didn’t ask.)  In spite of being so young, they are remarkably well informed and well spoken.  Everyone listened attentively, asked a few questions, and agreed to review the issues we spoke of. 

We were also prepared ahead of time to realize that we weren’t going to change the world in a day.  Meaning that getting them to review the issues or, on a more basic level, understand what rheumatology is, is still a success.  Given that criteria, I feel like our team did a very good job.

Highlights of the day?  Hmmmmmm…..three highlights. 

  • First, the made to order pasta bar in the dining room.  FANTASTIC although I did have to tell them to take it easy on the garlic. That could potentially be bad for business!  
  • Second, one of our meetings was with the legislative aide for one of our NC Representatives…who just happens to be a childhood friend of mine.  Who I also was on dance team with for years- so someone who knows what I used to be capable of and may understand just a little bit more of what this diagnosis means to me and to other people diagnosed.  I hope I didn’t scare her….
  • And third, meeting yet another Representative who has Rheumatoid Arthritis.  I feel good that RA (and other types of arthritis) are beginning to have a “face” where it matters.

So.  What now?

I realize now more than ever how important it is for us to have an accurate image out there- in the media, in magazines, in society, and in government- regardless of what side of the fence that you sit.  I’m still floored and greatly inspired by the number of patients I met who are doing just this.

I plan on keeping in touch with the people I met up there as well as attending next year (if they’ll have me!)  I plan on continuing to volunteer and finding other ways to get involved.

I’m enjoying feeling like the same old me.  Albeit me who is still exhausted and whose feet still really hurt.

I needed to see someone who looked like me.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

“Your x-rays still show no new bone growth on either foot so we can rule out a stress fracture.  Your bloodwork, however, was much more revealing.  Your rheumatoid factor is a 68; it should be less than 20. Your CRP and ESR are also elevated.  These results, in conjunction with symmetrical joint swelling in your feet and hands all point strongly to rheumatoid arthritis.”

Blink.

“I’m going to start you on several medications today.  Celebrex for pain. Prednisone is a steroid that we’re going to start you on a high level and taper you down.  This will reduce the inflammation while the other medications start to work.  Methotrexate is a chemotherapy drug.  It can have some pretty nasty side effects so we’re going to start you low and build you up to 8 a week.  I’m also giving you a combination folic acid and vitamin B to help combat the side effects.”

Blink.  Chemo???

“We’re going to do this for two months and then re-evaluate to see if you need a biologic.  How do you feel about giving yourself shots?”

Blink.  Giving myself shots?  For what?  I don’t even know what it is that I have. Please just let me get out of here.   

I’d never even heard of rheumatoid arthritis.  When I thought about any sort of arthritis, all I could picture were the elderly folks my church youth group would visit with at the holidays and my great grandmother.  I mean, think about it: that’s generally what’s shown in advertising. At the time, I had no clue that there were many types and that they could affect people my age.  

To make matters worse, after getting home from the doctor that day, I decided to “educate” myself on rheumatoid arthritis.  How, you ask?  By using the END ALL BE ALL most reliable and authentic source of all information in the entire universe: ye merry olde interwebs.  Needless to say, I was much better off “uneducated.” I had no idea at the time that there was such a general misconception of what RA is.  To this day, I see pharmaceutical ads on TV and in magazines that are just wrong.  Hello Enbrel ad from 2009- I shall never forget you. But at the time, I took them as fact.

So I cried for hours and then took my raccoon eyed self to the mall where I dropped $200 on the cutest pair of incredibly fugly orthopedic dress shoes.  I remember thinking ‘so, I guess this is life now. So long running.’ Then I decided my best course of action was to hide this from everyone and would continue to do this for over 2 years.

Let’s just say this was the worst decision I could’ve ever made a decision that made everything harder and based on my own uninformed ideas and leave it at that, ok?  

So, what does Rheumatoid Arthritis look like?

Specifically, Rheumatoid Arthritis was 26 on that day.  A friend, a daughter, a sister, a coworker.  Loves running, kickboxing, reading, dancing. Very reluctant to let go of any of these things. Very sensitive and self conscious when she received  a diagnosis that she didn’t think she was representative of thanks to horrible misconceptions.

Except that she was.  Right on the money actually.

Demographically, RA is 20 – 40 at onset and two to three times more likely female than male.  Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks joints.  It is chronic yet also very treatable through combinations of very strong medications with many patients (yours truly included) able to eventually return to almost normal.

Yet the arthritis the public generally attributes to ALL autoimmune arthritis conditions is osteoarthritis- the condition caused by wear and tear  from aging or overuse and the ONLY one where “just go take a Tylenol” may yield positive results. 

That’s frightening.

“Buckle Me Up!” International Autoimmune Arthritis Movement is an up and coming non-profit dedicated to helping those suffering from autoimmune arthritis conditions by increasing understanding and awareness through education, partnerships, and support.  We are trying to raise money to finance legal fees and startup costs associated with filing 501(c)(3) paperwork.  

I can’t imagine how much this would’ve helped me when I was newly diagnosed.  Having information and support and people to talk to would’ve made everything so much easier and less scary.  And believe you me, it was a very scary and lonely time.  

It would mean the world to me if you would visit www.bucklemeupmovement.com/donate to read more about this and to donate $1.

Christmas Recap and RA Gifts!

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“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

Still my favorite quote that directly relates to Christmas.  

On Christmas morning, I woke up to a bunch of text messages from friends and family. I love that about the holidays- I’m not being sarcastic yet, I really do get a kick out of who I hear from on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and my birthday. Sometimes it’s a very pleasant surprise! As Hugh Grant so eloquently states in Love Actually, phone calls made from the planes on 9/11 were not calls made out of hate but out of love.  (I realize if you haven’t seen that movie, you wouldn’t relate that quote to Christmas.  So go see- it’s one of my favorites!)

 Enter sarcasm. You may have noticed that I do not post about specific guys and myself.  That is purposeful.  But you may remember a gentleman I described a few weeks ago. The one who called me a “spoiled little girl who uses men to feed an ego and fill a void?” The one who has sent me 200 (seriously) text messages over the past few weeks, none of which were returned? Yes, that one. I’d like to thank him for the Merry Christmas text that included an up close picture of “himself.” Yes, you read that correctly. I thought it oh so appropriate how he thought sending that would help me more fully celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. How…classy.

Hey, if you’re going to send something like that, be prepared to be called on it.  Be grateful that the picture is not posted- I promise you that NOBODY wants to see. For the record, I have never seen you unclothed and you have earned a spot in my history as the most bizarre thing a guy has ever sent me, hence it is mention-worthy. 

Ok, sarcasm complete. Back on track.

I am pleased to announce that I am new owner to two RA friendly gadgets. Ok, gifted with one and went out and found the other.  But still, I love that my family is getting into finding me cool ways to modify things I struggle with.

- Automatic wine bottle opener from Brookstone. It is glorious! You pop the plastic off the top of the wine bottle, set the bottle opener on it, press the button and it’s off! Fantabulous! The downside- I’m feeling the need to “practice” too much.

- Jar opener. My mom is having problems with osteoarthritis in her thumbs so my dad got her this nifty little gadget that helps you open jars. You fit it firmly around the jar top, secure it, and open the jar with the handle.  I went out and gifted myself with this yesterday- this isn’t the exact one I have but very similar.  

After gifts, we enjoyed all the Christmas trappings. My family has a tradition every holiday that we cook London broil. We’ve done this for years- probably stemming from the Easter where my dad managed to drop the whole hot turkey from the oven onto the kitchen floor directly into the cat food when he went to check on it. So London broil, sweet potatoes, cranberries…OH MY! Good times were had by all.

I sincerely hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday (whatever you choose to celebrate) and are gearing up to start off 2010 with a bang.

And hopefully no obscene text messages.

The answer is YES.

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Normally, I get a huge kick out of reading the search terms that bring people to my blog.  Some of them are absolutely hilarious and  strangely inappropriate.  But today, I wish I had contact info for the one I just saw.

“Does RA ever get better?”

Yes, my friend, it does.  

It is such a shock to get a diagnosis like that.  I could expound on that forever but you all know exactly what I’m talking about.  

My first reaction to it was deny, deny, deny.  And then take a long boat ride down my favorite river in Egypt.  And then more denying!  

But eventually, once the shock wears off and the treatments kick in, you get some relief.  And once you start to get the physical relief, you can begin to search out the emotional relief.  

It is entirely possible to live a very fun and full life with rheumatoid arthritis.

So yes, it does get better.  Virtual hug!