Friday, February 24, 2012

How Long Does It Take For RA Maturity?

Many times over the years we have been told by fellow border collie owners that this breed of dog doesn't hit maturity until around five years old.  By five they start to calm down. It is true. As Izzy hit the five year mark this year we have seen incredible changes in her maturity levels.  She is calmer, more patient. We no longer need to crate her off in a part of the house in fear of coming home to shoes chewed and items knocked off countertops.  We no longer have to give her an extra walk if we plan to be out for extra hours during the day in fear that she won't sleep through the night.  We no longer have to worry about her taking off with the kid's personal items as she now acknowledges that she is not allowed in their bedrooms and will stand at the doorway and wait for me when I go into their rooms. She will often walk past dogs on walks and almost shrug as if she has no interest in them where she once needed to lunge and bark at every one of them. It is almost like she has finally had the same experiences enough times that she no longer needs to react to each of them as passionately as she did as a pup.

Last week was a tough one for me as some rheumatoid arthritis pain returned to my body.  With the pain came extreme fatigue which always makes me want to hide in my bedroom alone. As usual with a flare, I panicked and felt some sadness.  I wondered to myself, "If it takes a border collie five years to mature and become calmer, how long does it take an adult human to reach maturity with rheumatoid arthritis?"  For me it has been eight years and I know that I have not yet reached maturity.  I have grown and show signs of working towards maturity, but I am not there yet.  I still throw little tantrums and still find it hard to share my feelings with my husband as a flare is in session, but I also no longer go on the internet and torture myself about what "might" happen to me in the future.  I no longer hide in my bedroom crying huge tears of fear.  I no longer feel the need to talk about my pain in long drawn out conversations or even "prove" to friends that this is a real disease.

 I have matured over these eight years.  These days when a flare hits I begin making plans to find open spots of time to relax and rest.  I shed a few gentle tears of acknowledgement that rheumatoid arthritis is a part of my life for keeps, even if I don't want it to be.  I remind myself over and over that the best thing about RA is that even though the the pain in certain joints feels like it will never leave my body, it always does.  My job is to take deep breaths and let the fear out.  I do still panic but with the panic I can now remind myself that I have had enough experience with flares to know my own strength.  I accept that I can handle whatever comes my way.  I am strong.

Slowly but surely I have matured over eight years.  Just as I see signs of Izzy maturing, I see signs of myself maturing.  Neither one of us is quite there completely and may possibly never be, but we are both definitely on the road to not being so reactive to situations that we have experienced over and over.  For now I am happy with the progress both of us have made.  I like that Izzy is still playful and keeps me on my toes. I am glad she hasn't matured to a point that she won't engage me in a game of "chase".  For me, I am glad that I still have feelings of fear because if I didn't......hmmmm......I don't know what that would mean but it doesn't seem good.  Rheumatoid arthritis is something to be feared.  Plus, the fear often challenges me to move forward and look for ways to change and grow.  Deepak Chopra says, "The best thing that can happen to me is happening right now."  I may not understand how or why this flare is happening right now but I do accept there is a reason for it.  My mantra is, "This flare is the best thing that can happen to me right now."  Saying it over and over makes me calm knowing that I am right where I need to be now so that I can be where I need to be later.  I am maturing with my rheumatoid arthritis and even though I don't have a complete maturity level yet, I am right where I need to be for now.

Have you matured with your rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory disease?  How long did it take?  How have you matured?  Where are you in the process?    

Monday, February 20, 2012

Each Day Brings Something New

Five years ago Izzy, our border collie, came into our life and became a member of our family.  As with all new family members, adjustments had to be made.  For me, it meant waking up every morning and walking with her.  This wasn’t a big deal as I had wanted to get out and walk for a long time.  Now I had a quiet partner to join me and motivate me to do it. 

What I didn’t imagine when we started walking together was how much I would need to walk.  For me, walking has become a way to get my joints moving in the morning on both good and bad days.  Walking has become my way of meeting and talking with neighbors I generally wouldn’t know.  Walking has become a way to let my mind and all of its thoughts find peace and understanding.  Walking has become a way to connect with nature and all of its beauty.  I don’t think that five years ago I would have imagined that a suburban neighborhood had so much nature to share, but it does.  Some days Izzy and I stop and watch squirrels chase each other up and down trees, we run as fast as we can and scare away the geese that are littering our paths, we experience the elements, we watch the leaves change from fall to winter and back to spring, and most mornings we feel and see the sun. 

Last week was all about the sun for me.  The sun is now rising as I take my walk in the morning and it has grabbed hold of me and as nature tends to do has asked me to stop and reflect.  Each new sunrise last week was a different experience.  The photos I took show how different each day started even though it was the same sun.  It reminded me of my own life.  Each day starts with me, but each day brings something new.  It is up to me to stop, look, and find the differences of one day to the next. 

Last week brought some pain in my left knee that I haven’t experienced in a while.  It also brought fear and panic.  Every task I was met with last week seemed overwhelming and draining.  But each day that I walked and was met by the sunrise of the day, I was reminded that this day doesn’t have to be the same as the day before.  New possibilities are always in our horizon.  Remembering that a day, a week, or even a month of pain/hurting doesn’t mean that the next day will bring the same.   The only constant is me.  I can always count on that.  Everything else is a mystery waiting to be experienced and lived.   The sun and all that nature provides for me on my daily walks reminds me to look for the beauty in myself despite the pain or frustration I may be feeling.  

My sweet Izzy always finds something new with each day.  It may be a new smell, a new friend, a new enemy or a treat.  Last week she discovered a Dairy Queen sundae bowl on our path.  She picked it up and started carrying it home.  She kept hold of it for about 1/2 mile before she finally let it go.  The next day it was in the same spot as she had left it the day before.  She carried it again but this time when she dropped it she licked the inside as quickly as she could before I could pull her away.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Show Us Your Hands! Launches Photo Book Project to Help Raise Awareness of Inflammatory Arthritis

(February 14, 2012) - Show Us Your Hands! is pleased to announce its Photo Book Project, the latest in a series of successful initiatives aimed at uniting the community of individuals who are living with inflammatory arthritis, and increasing the public’s awareness of this group of diseases. This photo book will showcase both the hands and the stories of people from around the world who are proud of the fact that no matter how much pain and damage their hands have incurred, their hands still work, and their hands still do.

Starting today, Show Us Your Hands! invites individuals who wish to be included in this photo book to submit a brief explanation of what their hands do, and why their hands are special. A Call For Submissions form is available online at The deadline for entries is March 2, 2012. Individuals who are selected for inclusion in this photo book will be notified in mid-March.

The Show Us Your Hands! Photo Book Project will be released as part of Arthritis Awareness Month this coming May. The photo books will be bookstore quality, with top-notch binding, gorgeous paper, and professional printing. They will be available for purchase in more than 70 countries, and all of the net proceeds from the sale of these items will go towards the costs and expenses associated with current and future community projects by Show Us Your Hands! “By showing the world what our hands can do, these books will become portable ambassadors for increased awareness. We look forward to meeting the people behind the photos,” says founding member Lene Andersen.

Autoimmune diseases occur when a body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. In the case of inflammatory arthritis a person’s joints are frequently attacked, resulting in chronic pain and debilitating inflammation. The most common inflammatory arthritis diseases are Ankylosing Spondylitis, Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, Psoriatic Arthritis, Reactive Arthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Scleroderma, Sjogren's Syndrome, Still's Disease, and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.
Show Us Your Hands! is an international awareness movement which serves to unite and inspire the inflammatory arthritis community. For more information, please visit Show Us Your Hands! can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sex and Rheumatoid Arthritis: Don't Give It Up

Below is my recent post on Health Central.  I hope your Valentine's Day is full of love and more!

"Throughout February, writers from many of HealthCentral's communities are writing about sex, romance and the other relationships in your lives and how they interact with your condition. Check out our special Valentine's Day area  - new posts will be added every week!"
Sex.  It is the topic rarely discussed in the rheumatoid arthritis community but something I feel is crucial to continuing a good relationship with your spouse and for your own well being.

I have been married to the same person for almost 24 years.  The relationship we enjoy today has been built on a genuine like for each other, an understanding of each other’s unique personalities, compromise, laughter, children, and sex.  In our 24 years together sex has always been an important contributor to our marriage as it draws us closer together in good times and bad.  Plus, it is just plain fun!

Now, you may be thinking, “Okay, Cathy, explain to me how I can incorporate sex into my relationship when I can barely get out of bed alone and/or need my partner to pull me out of the bathtub?”  I know, sex seems like the last thing you want to do.  You already feel unattractive and may even wonder how your partner can look at you with any sexual interest.  How we feel and look while living with an autoimmune illness may encourage us to back away from our partner and put sex on the back burner, but I plead with you to not let this happen.   Keep sex alive in your relationship.  Our disease and its many issues often keep us from having the relationship we once had with our partner, but like everything else about living with an illness, we can adapt and create a new path for ourselves that still includes love making.  The important thing to remember is that what we once had may not be the same, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t still exist in some form to keep the intimacy in our relationships alive and thriving.

I think as with anything RA related, we have to figure out what will work for us in our current situation.  Sometimes we can do a lot and sometimes we can do very little.  Pick and choose from some of the items below or be creative and add your own.  You know your body best

 1.  Hold hands – Hand holding is a very simple yet gratifying experience that I see many relationships, with and without an illness to consider, abandon after courtship.  When dealing with a chronic disease, I find this simple act of love to be HUGE!  Although you may feel as if being touched is the last thing you want to do, please remember that your partner may still desperately crave your touch.  Many times hand holding for us has meant my husband gently grabbing hold of a few of my fingers while walking through the mall or when that is too painful, laying his hands gently on mine or mine on his as we watch a movie together.  Sometimes this simple act of touch rejuvenates me more than any amount of Advil could ever do.   

2.  Kissing – RA often brings pain to almost every joint in our bodies.  Luckily, there are no joints in our lips.  I recommend taking time to kiss your partner good bye in the morning and good night before heading to bed and of course at any other time of the day or night that it is appropriate.  And, if your neck and shoulders aren’t in too much pain, let the kissing go further.  This may not seem like much of a sex life, but we have to do what we can do.  Besides, I think kissing alone can add a little romance to the relationship.  Plus, just like any amount of movement is good for our body, any amount of physical touch with our partner is good.  I guarantee that if you can handle a passionate kiss good-bye in the morning, both of you will experience a "high" all day long.

3.  Body massage – There are of course many days that actually participating in sex is not doable.  A body massage from your partner is a simple alternative and a great way for the two of you to still connect.  Warning:  Remember to tell your partner ahead of time that you can only handle a massage!  

4.  Shower together – When I am experiencing a flare, the idea of undressing, lifting my legs over the tub, and then actually cleaning myself seems like such a chore.  However, when you have someone like a partner to help you with these chores, it is no longer a chore.    (Hey, we have to take any and all help we can get when experiencing pain/stiffness, so why not incorporate help with a little fun?)

5.  Be vocal – Let your partner know where you hurt and what you are capable of doing.  He/she wants to make this a pleasurable experience for you, but if you don’t share with him/her what is okay and not okay, how can he/she know?

6.  Be submissive – Let your partner take control.  If you are in pain or have a lot of stiff joints, let your partner do all the work.  Just sit back and enjoy.   

7.  Have fun!  Be spontaneous.  Let this be your chance to laugh with your partner, to feel passion with your partner, and to feel vulnerable with your partner. 

8.  Remember that you are more than RA.  You are an attractive, loving person with a lot to give your partner even while living with an illness.  Don’t hold onto what was in the past.  Live in the present and make this moment a moment to remember and hold onto.

Benefits of sex with RA:

1.  Asking for help dressing or undressing can be downright humiliating.  However, help undressing during sex it is a totally different story. 

2.  For me, the greatest benefit of having sex when RA is ruling my life is that it makes me feel beautiful.  Yes, there are times that I feel humiliated by what my body can’t do, but when my husband makes advances towards me, it reminds me that despite all that RA tries to take from my life, he still finds me not only sexually attractive, but beautiful.  I wouldn’t give up that feeling for anything.
3.  According to WEBMD, “Having sex once or twice a week has been linked with higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A or IgA, which can protect you from getting colds and other infections.”  It seems like fighting infections is a topic I hear over and over in the RA community.  Sex sounds like more fun than constantly using antibacterial soaps or avoiding time with friends in fear they might be sick. 

4.  WebMD also says that sex reduces pain. “As the hormone oxytocin surges, endorphins increase, and pain declines. So if your headache, arthritis pain, or PMS symptoms seem to improve after sex, you can thank those higher oxytocin levels.”  Next time you reach for that bottle of Advil, consider wooing your partner into a little sex and see if that takes care of the pain.  The Advil will always be there waiting for you.

5.  And as all of us with rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune illness know, we need more sleep.  Sex does that too.  In this same article by WebMD, “The oxytocin released during orgasm also promotes sleep.” 

Wow, how can you not consider adding sex into your RA mix of healing therapies?  It’s full of so many benefits that I am wondering why my rheumatologist isn’t writing a prescription for it every time I see her.

Why I Walk Everyday

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Other People's Feelings Are Not Mine

When Izzy and I go for our morning walk we are often met by dogs that are off leash. Their human is always close behind and starts yelling for their dog to return to them.  Sometimes the dog returns, but generally it doesn't.  I always warn them that Izzy is very particular about who she comes in contact with and there may be a problem, especially since she is very protective of me.

This morning we ran into a human who had once again allowed his dog to walk off leash.  The last time we ran into this human and dog, Izzy became very upset.  This time, she instantly became upset and then quickly calmed herself down and waited patiently as the human tried to retrieve his dog.  The dog kept barking at Izzy but the calmer Izzy became the less the dog seemed to be bothered.

As I watched the quick transformation in my border collie, I knew she had once again taught me an important lesson.  This dog came towards her with frustration and needed to "talk".  Izzy had her initial response of anger at this attack and then quickly let it go.  She seemed to realize that this wasn't her issue.  She had nothing to prove as she could have easily taken this little dog out.

Over the years I have been taking steps to let other people's feelings not become my own.  Today I saw that we always have an initial reaction to other's feelings, but what we do with that reaction is up to us.  I hope that the next time I am in a situation of someone trying to place their feelings of anger, fear, or frustration onto me that I can do as Izzy did today and let it go.  I hope that my calm will let the other person know that their feelings aren't for me to feel and experience.  I am so proud of Izzy.  Like me, it has taken her a long time to get to this point.  We are definitely learning together.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Rheumatoid Arthritis Fears

My relationship with rheumatoid arthritis has been extremely good this last year.  I have a few reminders here and there that it is still a part of my life, but for the most part it isn't a daily concern.  I haven't experienced a flare in a really long time and I no longer wake up stiff and sore. In fact, I can't think of any physical restrictions I have these days due to rheumatoid arthritis.

Due to this good relationship with rheumatoid arthritis, I have been working out regularly for the last year.  It feels good to have weights in my hands again and it feels awesome to feel muscles returning to my body.  Some mornings I wake up and think, "Maybe I will skip my workout today and sleep in instead."  This is when my mind remembers the relationship I have had with rheumatoid arthritis and the fears resurface.  My  brain sharply tells me, "Cathy, you have limited time before RA comes back and snatches you away.  You need to get strong NOW."

It is true, rheumatoid arthritis may come back to get me at any time.  I do acknowledge that and honestly, it scares the pants off me. Sometimes I need to cry, as I did this morning, and let those feelings of fear exist.  Other mornings I am able to push the fears aside and visualize myself healthy forever.  I like those days better.