Well here we are, a new year in the making. Again, I’ve been tardy in my blogging responsibilities. Not for any particularly good reason. Life has been interesting as always and I’ve been taking time for myself for other priorities. Health, holidays, and just some general downtime. I have so many things I want to post here on the blog I can’t decide where I should just do it all in one fell swoop or in pieces. Let’s just see how it goes.
It’s been a family-filled few months. With Thanksgiving, the passing of Chris’s great aunt, visits from my brother and sister-in-law and my niece and nephew to the city, the celebration of my grandmother’s 80th birthday in November, and then the holidays, not to mention the wedding earlier in September. I feel blessed and loved, and very lucky.
Earlier in November I finally learned that I have been suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, an immune disorder that can suddenly start up any time between the age of 20 and 50, and in a nutshell, involves your immune system attacking your joints. Since August, I’ve been dealing with inexplicable joint pain and swelling all over my body — my feet, my hands, my shoulders and my wrists being the worst of it, and each day it could easily alternate from one area to another without any apparent reason. I started to think I was losing my mind — that it was all in my head, because it defied explanation. On my wedding day, Chris couldn’t get my wedding band over my knuckle on my ring finger, even though when I had ordered the ring a few months earlier, it fit just fine.
The causes of the disease are not entirely understood but there is general consensus that individuals may be genetically predisposed to it, and it can be brought on by some other kind of immune stress (colds, flu or even just plain old stress, which I believe was the situation for me). When I finally got in to see a rheumatologist I was not expecting this diagnosis, as blood tests earlier in the fall seemed to rule it out, but I learned that 30% of people don’t show anything on the blood test anyway. I didn’t even really understand what rheumatoid arthritis was until my doctor told me, and in my speaking to others, it’s clear most people don’t know what it is, although it is incredibly common, with about 1 in 100 Canadians suffering from it. When I tell people I have RA, they think I mean osteoarthritis, the degenerative joint deterioration that comes with age. This is not the case. In RA, the joint deterioration is caused by an immune system gone haywire. And it has to be gotten under control, or it can permanently damage the soft tissues around the joint, or worse, the bones themselves.
Thankfully, there seem to be very effective treatments out there. I’ve started a complex regimen of medications; ones that manage pain, and ones that manage the disease. The downside of the disease managing medication however is that a.) I can’t drink any alcohol due to the strain it puts on my liver, and b.) any family planning has to wait until the disease is well managed. The drug takes about 3 months to kick in, and 3 months to get off of it, but it has a good track record for getting the disease under control, and I have been lucky enough to suffer only the most minimal of it’s side effects (a little dizziness here and there, strong and sometimes very sudden fatigue, and an insatiable thirst). Many people experience a lot of nausea and a lot of fatigue, mouth sores, and so on. The drug acts to lower my immune system, in effect telling it to take a hike and chill out, so I am more susceptible to infection, and I’ve had to, by necessity, become a bit of a germophobe, which is so not my style.
However, the upshot of all this is that — wait for it — I feel better!! Much better! In fact I felt much better almost immediately after I received the diagnosis (if you don’t count the multiple colds I’ve managed to catch since then). I feel that the disease managing drug is likely working although it’s a bit too early to tell still, but I attribute my improvement mainly to much better pain management, and simply no longer being stressed out wondering what the hell is wrong with me anymore. I have to go for blood work monthly now, so that is really how they will be able to read my improvement (ie. that my levels of inflammation are down and that I’m not just feeling good because of the pain drugs). So I’ve been able to do my favourite things again, like knitting! And walking! And sleeping! And, perhaps most rewarding of them all — I started back to yoga this week, which had become nearly impossible, mostly due to the pain in my toes and metatarsal-phalangeal joints.
When I first learned of the diagnosis, I was in a bit of shock — it is after all a life-long condition that I now have to grapple with. It can be controlled, and in best case scenarios, even go into remission, however, there is always the potential for flare ups. Pregnancy and family planning has become more complicated, which is upsetting. I have no idea how the condition will affect my body over the long term, and so I wonder how I’ll feel as I get older. But due to the relief I’ve had from the condition, almost immediately after finally seeing the specialist, I am hopeful that the disease won’t be a huge burden — at least not all of the time. I’ve missed drinking, especially over the holidays, but it hasn’t been too bad. The hardest thing is going out with friends to a bar. There are only so many glasses of cranberry soda, virgin caesars, or coffee and tea I can drink in a sitting.
After an exhausting summer/fall at work and a great deal of overtime being banked, I opted to take some extra time over the holidays, despite Chris not being able to join me for the break. I thoroughly enjoyed being at home, with my dog, baking, cooking, knitting and sewing. I did some cleaning and organizing that I’d been wanting to do, and took care of some errands that are nearly impossible to do unless you’re not working. I also took an afternoon to go to the Body Blitz spa with my pal Adria, and soak in the pools. In part I wanted to give myself a big breather to have some time on my own, to take care of myself.
So the new year begins, and the restfulness may not continue but I hope to take the results of my break as far into the near year as I can. And I hope to be back to my ‘old self’ — productive and creative — as much as possible now that I’m feeling, for the most part, healed. Here’s to 2012!