I am proud to be participating in the 5th annual RA blog week. Day two’s topic:
Adjust – How do you adjust to the affects of RD on your career, dreams, goals?
I started with symptoms of RA at the age of 14. I was told I had tendonitis. At 19, the pain and swelling was so bad that my orthopedic doctor recommended surgery. They got in there and the tear they were sure they were going to find, was non-existent. I had issues for years with swollen knees, limping, and crutches. Every time it happened and I sought out the help of a doctor, and I was made to feel like I was a hypochondriac. At age 22, my doctor called my house and left a message with my mother. I had been running fevers and unable to use my arms and hands. The message my mother gave me, “The doctor says you are as healthy as a horse!” Uh, what?? I know the message was lost in translation. My mom was relieved I was not “sick”. I was afraid I was going crazy. I got no answers. After that flare up, I adjusted how I managed it. I stopped going to a doctor when my knees flared. I dealt with it, until I could no longer deal with it.
At age 30, I started back to graduate school for my second masters degree. I was working full-time and even held a part-time job, while simultaneously going to graduate school three nights a week. When I started feeling the pain in my arms and hands this time, I didn’t go to the doctor. It wasn’t until I was barely able to walk that I gave in and sought help. It was almost 9 months before I got any answers. I met a few rheumatologists along the way that also made me feel a hypochondriac. One told me, “It took a long time for your to “make yourself this sick”. So it will take you a long time to get better.” Yep. That is what she said to me. The pain was that overwhelming. Then to be told it was all my fault?? That was the day I thought about ending it all. Thankfully a friend reached out to me that night and I woke me up to the fact that I needed help.
Not only did I have to adjust to my new body, but I had to adjust what I expected from my doctors. I would not allow someone to blame me for my illness. Was I working crazy hours? Yes. But a lot of people worked crazy hours and never had joint pain. I knew there had to be something wrong with me. I couldn’t fake swollen and red joints. I wasn’t a hypochondriac. Once I found a doctor who actually heard me and began treating my symptoms, I was able to get my life back. I went from a woman who had both wrists wrapped in braces, ankles wrapped, knees braced to be able hobble down school hallways….to a woman who could walk without those aides (most of the time).
I had planned to pursue my doctorate degree, but with my disease, I had to adjust my priorities. I loved working with young children, but their contagiousness during cold/flu season caused me to adjust again. I now work with older kids and adults. Work is still difficult for me. My body does best when I work shorter hours, but at this point, I have no choice. My goal is to retire early at age 56 then work part-time. This was never my goal before RA. I had always planned to work full-time until age 65, but I know in my heart, I just can’t make it that long. So again, I need to adjust my plans.
I always say that living with autoimmune arthritis isn’t the life that I wanted. Don’t get me wrong, I have a good life, but I did have to make a lot of adjustments over the years that were not easy for me. Years of therapy helped me learn to not focus on what the disease has taken from me, but helps me see all it has brought into my life. It is sometimes hard to see the good, but I know it is there and it gets me through the tough days.