Monday, March 26, 2018

Rheumatoid Arthritis Win with DIY Project

My sweet Izzy took nap time
 downstairs to be close to me. 
In our current house, I've painted three bedrooms, two of them multiple times now and the kitchen. So, when I decided to paint our small downstairs bathroom, I thought it would be a breeze. Nope. The bright yellow walls we painted almost 16 years ago were stubborn about leaving. Then, the paint color I had so carefully considered looked awful on the walls and I had to prime again. Finally, we found a color everyone is happy with and the bathroom is complete.

From bright yellow to
Do-it-yourself projects tend to make me feel rather proud. Partly, I feel a sense of accomplishment that I was able to complete the project by myself but more than that, I feel a certain satisfaction in knowing that rheumatoid arthritis doesn't currently have control over my life. Sure, I know beforehand I will wake up with sore wrists and I did. My fingers were swollen throughout the process, but not unbearable. It was tough to squat down and paint behind the toilet, but I managed. Rheumatoid arthritis has a way of taking me down at times but when I accomplish something big like a DIY project, it is the best. Somehow, a win against RA even makes the room more beautiful. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Feeling Sexy When You're Hurting: Body Image and Chronic Illness

Let’s be honest, feeling sexy in the traditional sense of done-up hair, makeup, and sexy lingerie is most likely a low priority when your body is in pain. If you are anything like me, a shower and shaved legs might be as seductive you get. Is it even possible to feel sexy when you can barely walk, moan in pain, and feel you’ve aged a hundred years? Absolutely. However, it takes some work and reassessing what “sexy” means with a chronic illness. 

To read my very candid thoughts on how to bring your sexy back, check out this article and other work of mine at HealthCentral.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Vulnerability: It Makes Us Human

As an adult education instructor, I have the unique opportunity of learning the magic of vulnerability from the students I teach. With each and every class, the folks I meet begin expressing their fears on day one when we discuss our educational goals for the semester and beyond. In the 16 years I have been teaching adults, there has never been a class where a student hasn't apologized for their reading and writing skills. It is humbling to have these words shared with me when I am still a stranger to them. My heart aches for them but also grows with admiration as they open up a world to me that they have be trying to hide for so many years.

This semester, I have a woman in one of my classes who, in my opinion, seemed to have something to prove to the world. She tried finishing my lectures and jumped on answering questions before I had finished asking them. I felt angry that she was trying to high-jack my class. But then, she amazed me with her strength as a person. She stayed after class to talk. She shared that in her native country she had learned English and felt very confident coming to the US knowing all aspects of the English language. Then she arrived and realized she doesn't understand anyone speaking English except those who have the same accent as she does. She shared how frustrated she was with herself and asked for help. In that moment, she opened herself up to me as an entirely different person. By sharing her vulnerable side, I felt the tension I had towards her leave my body and all I wanted to do was help her.

When living with a chronic illness such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), vulnerability is tough. By admitting to others that we are in physical/emotional pain or that we can no longer perform activities we once did with ease, we feel defeated. And, with time, we often let these insecurities build up until it is almost impossible to let our guard down. Many times we are even afraid to be vulnerable with ourselves, to let ourselves cry and experience the pain we feel inside. Admitting our true feelings, even to ourselves, can sometimes be too painful. But please know that by sharing fears, frustrations, and insecurities with others is the core of who we are as humans. It is how we grow and how we learn about ourselves and others. RA has been a good vulnerability teacher for me. Sometimes I am a good student but other times I resist. However, when I do finally let my guard down and share with others, I feel liberated. By acknowledging my vulnerable side, I am able to move on. 

Brene Brown says, "What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful." I believe this. Each time a student or fellow RA community member shares their story, I feel energized that I am not on this journey of life alone. I feel a stronger bond with those who allow me to see what is inside them, to really know them, and I hope others feel the same way about me.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Why Don't They Understand What I Am Going Through?

Learning to live with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is no easy feat. It takes time and patience to comprehend what RA has in store for our bodies and how we will personally deal with it. To make matters worse as we grapple with this life changing event, we must educate our family, friends, and even our coworkers about RA when we have little energy to spare. We may come to realize that the people in our life don’t respond the way we had expected, leaving us to wonder: “Why don’t they understand what I am going through?”

To read my take on why others might not understand what you are going through, visit me at HealthCentral.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

My Maturing Relationship With RA

Have you ever been in a relationship you didn’t ask for and couldn’t get out of? That’s how I felt when I met rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in January of 2004. Our introduction was painful and those first years of getting to know each other were less than ideal. There was a lot of crying, yelling, and many misunderstandings on my part. Looking back, I was immature in what it meant to be connected to an autoimmune disease such as this and wasn’t ready for the demands it put on me. RA brought out a side of me that wasn’t pretty — lots of hyperventilating, tears, panic, and doubt in my future.

To read about how my relationship has matured, visit me at HealthCentral 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Sex and RA: How to Talk to Your Spouse

It’s the end of the night. I crawl into bed, get in as comfortable a position as I know I will find, and then feel my husband’s hand on me. “No!” I know that touch and what comes with it. What do I do?
Talking to a spouse about sexual needs and wants is not the easiest of conversations, even without a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, sex continues to be a major part of many relationships with RA and to keep it alive, we must be open to uncomfortable conversations.

To read my tips on talking to your spouse, visit me at here at HealthCentral.  

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Supporting Baby Steps: Being Gentle with RA Newbies

My right hand no longer makes a fist. Despite physical therapy and regular use of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) medications for seven years now, my fingers lost full ability during my years without conventional treatment. Now that medications have controlled my RA, I’m often asked if I regret the two-year drug gap I took. My answer is always: “No!” It was a process I personally needed to go through before I could comfortably accept medications into my life.
Since medications have stabilized my RA, it is easy to want others to skip the difficult years and get right on a medication plan. In fact, a month or so ago, my brother sent me a message asking for my personal blog. His neighbor was newly diagnosed and plans to give holistic treatment a try. I was happy to share my story with natural medicine, but almost heard the words: “Please, get informed about medications also,” come out of my mouth.
I stopped before saying those words because I know that during a time in my RA history, they wouldn’t have benefitted me. For some of us, starting out strong with medications from the very beginning makes sense. Others need time to absorb all that is happening to their bodies and require a slower introduction to medications, and another group is not open to medications at all. They need to try a variety of non-conventional remedies.

So, how do we go about supporting newbies, especially when their path differs from our own? Go to HealthCentral and read this article.   

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Getting Started on Social Media with Rheumatoid Arthritis

If you are anything like me during my early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) days, you probably have lots of questions — ones that keep popping up at the craziest times of the day. You decide to turn to social media to get some answers. But wait! Let me share a few tips that I have picked up over the years, as well as advice from those in our community.

To read my tips, please visit me at HealthCentral. I'd love to hear your tips also in the comments.  

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Rheumatoid Arthritis: My Tag Along Friend

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and I have been in a relationship for a little over 14 years now. For years, we were in a constant battle. While I would never claim RA to be my BFF, we have somehow, someway, become better friends over the years. One of the main reasons is my RA is better controlled these days. But most importantly, after so many years together, I have finally accepted that RA will always be a part of my life and I can either hate it or find something good that comes from our experiences together. 

What RA has given me is a tag along friend who through subtle reminders throughout the day, reminds me to always treat myself with love and respect. Like a friend who might text me during the day, a sore hand or stiff knee are now reminders to stop and be present, to check in with myself on how I am managing my day. 

Here is what I hear when RA messages me: 

Are you taking care of yourself? Years ago, when I came to terms with RA being a part of my life forever, I decided to include self-care into every single day. When I feel my toes starting to ache or my shoulder stiffening up, it is often a reminder that I included too much in my day and I need to reevaluate the rest of the day.

Are you practicing gratitude throughout the day? At a time when I could barely move, I started to look for the smallest of things in my life that brought me joy. It might be the sun on my face, the sound of my wind-chimes, or the thrill of my border collie when I came home. Despite how awful my health seemed at the time, RA helped me to see that life is never as awful as it appears when I really look around and see all the beauty surrounding me.  

Are you adding quiet to your day? As an introvert often masquerading as extrovert, I absolutely need quiet in my day. It might only be 10-15 minutes, but it is a requirement for me. When there is constant noise throughout my day, my body starts shutting down.

Are you moving? With RA, exercise is a double edged sword. If we don't move, we stiffen up even more. A chiropractor used to remind me, "Use it or lose it." However, exercise with RA often causes additional pain. For me, it is in my hips. RA reminds me that I need to move because it keeps me strong and helps with my balance, something RA likes to play around with.   

You are an optimist - This is the most important message I receive from RA. During my worst RA years, I could almost always see myself well again and when I couldn't, I surrounded myself with people in my life who could take over for me. RA is my constant reminder that no matter what life throws at me, I have the ability to turn it into a positive. I really like that part of myself and I am glad RA reminds me of it often. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A Letter to My Sister: Gratitude for Girl Talk with Chronic Illness

Dear Stacey (AKA My Everyday Positive),

While you and I are never shy about our feelings for each other, I want to make 100 percent sure you understand your impact on the success of my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) journey. Your daily dose of positivity brings healing to me in ways no medication can ever compete with. You are a gift like no other.

In 2004, when my RA diagnosis came, I spent a lot of time standing in the shower hyperventilating. My fears were huge. Boosting the panic was a rheumatologist who wasn’t a good match for my needs and I often fought back. I constantly read about alternative cures to heal/cure my RA and you always listened with interest. You didn’t tell me my ideas were wacky. In fact, you asked questions that made me think and dig deeper. You did some of your own research and even tried some of the ideas I shared with you. By supporting me, you gave me the time and confidence to figure out a plan that felt authentic to who I am as an individual in the world of RA.

To read the rest of my letter to Stacey, please visit here. Also, I'd be honored if you checked out my other contributions at HealthCentral