Never stop laughing.
In the beginning of my Rheumatoid Arthritis experience, I had plenty of reason not to laugh. RA is simply not funny. I had just moved from Boston, after graduating art school and majoring in animation when suddenly, my entire body began to ache.
At the time, I was working at a company that created the prototype for toy packages. Everything from Power Rangers to Poke Mon, I was cutting fine cardboard, using an exacto knife. It was not unusual to cut intricate cardboard pieces or large boards, one after another. A typical day lasted 10 hours.
Many of the workers also complained about their tired hands. So when my fingers began to swell, I chalked it off as being part of the job. Little did I know that I was sent into a world I had never known before.
As the weeks passed and I consumed more and more painkillers…. I continued to get worse. I didn’t have insurance and I felt very helpless. This was a time when I was suppose to be excited about my future as an artist. But when my fingers became increasingly more disabled and painful, my art career looked as if it was gone forever.
RA had hit me like a bull dozer. It was just a matter of weeks before RA had affected every part of my body. Brushing my teeth, washing my hair, sitting up from the couch, eating my dinner, had all become so painful and tasking that I was losing hope in myself that I would ever get better. Life at this point can become very dark. The amount of pain experienced is said to be worse than childbirth. The constant pain, the kind of pain felt when your finger throbs after being slammed in a door was everywhere and it was making me crazy. And that wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was feeling like you could no longer take care of yourself. You start to avoid things. You lose all hope. You stop eating because it’s too painful and too much work. You avoid the bathroom in fear that if you sit down you may not get up. You never have a break, not even in your sleep because every movement wakes you up. Even my breathing had become impaired due to pleurisy (when the lining of your lungs becomes inflamed). As I lost my ability to do things like turn my head when I got on the freeway, and the only clothes I could successfully put on had elastic waistbands, I began to worry that perhaps I was dying.
Of course, I immediately started looking up what I might have on the internet. I soon determined that it was most likely RA or Lupus. After a couple of weekends of experimenting with laying out in the sun to see if I got worse, I was determined it had to be RA. The aloneness one feels when experiencing something like this is unbelievable. No one “gets” what you’re going through, how can they? People think you’re exaggerating, when you’re really putting all of your effort into just getting out of bed for the day. My husband didn’t want me jumping to conclusions that I had RA or Lupus, but the reality was that they were far less scary to me than something like cancer. So in a sense, I was hoping that I had something treatable.
I had gone to a walk in clinic doctor who agreed that it was probably RA. She immediately put me on NSAIDS, but when they did nothing to help except further demonstrate that whatever I had, that it was becoming more and more severe, I went back to her asking what to do next. That evening she gave me Prednisone and I went home and read as much as I could about its side effects.
After reading every horror story possible, I looked in the mirror and gave myself a long hard look. I knew taking Prednisone could leave me addicted, overweight and possibly with even more health problems in the future. But I was desperate. I said goodbye to my chin and hoped for the best…….
The next morning I was doing better. It was no miracle but I was able to brush my teeth with more ability, meaning I could open my jaw again. My jaw had been closing in so tightly it was becoming more and more difficult to get my toothbrush in my mouth. I continued to take the Prednisone, with a new found hope that somehow I would get better again. I watched what I ate closely, fearing that I would gain a lot of weight if I didn’t. I cut my calories in half and still gained. I felt famished 24-7.
Many months later, my husband got a job with health insurance and I finally booked an appointment with a Rheumatologist. He confirmed that it was RA. It had been some time since I had read about RA. I guess at this point, I was a little in denial. I had hoped the Prednisone would continue to make me feel better, but instead, as time went on, it seemed to lose it’s effectiveness. I went home after my apt. and read the pamphlet my doctor had given me about RA and Methotrexate and cried. I was scared and very depressed. This prognosis meant I would soon go on chemotherapy drugs, possibly lose my hair and deal with a progressive, painful disease for the rest of my life. It was at this time that I decided there has to be a better way, and until I found it, I would keep on searching.
As months passed and many drug failures later, I began the alternative challenge. And here I am….feeling better, living life, having many pain-free days and feeling hopeful that my future doesn’t need to be similar to anyone else’s. There are no statistics for my journey. I can’t know for sure what my future beholds but I feel like I’m living my life in the best way that I possibly can. I am armed with knowledge and as we all know, knowledge is power. I will never stop reading, stop learning, or stop hoping that I can and will reverse this auto-immune condition eventually.
And through my journey, I hope that I can find and share ways for ALL of us with health conditions to live a better, healthier, happier life, whether that is through alternative therapy, traditional therapy, or if nothing more, with many gentle hugs. Many gentle hugs to you all….. and thank you so much for being my support.