The third prompt for #RABlog Week is “Explain your RA”. Technically I do not have RA, I have another joint condition caused by my immune system attacking my joints that hasn’t yet been identified. I can’t explain what exactly is going on because I don’t know that myself but I can explain to you how my condition affects me, and how it makes me feel.
When I was diagnosed back in November I wasn’t ready for a diagnosis. I had gone for 7 and a half years with everyone telling me that they believed my pain but no one could tell me what was going on. I remember asking my Rheumatologist in despiration if she has ANY idea what was going on… her answer was “It might be autoimmune, it might not be. I do not know what is going on with you”. That was what I was told when I was 14. I wanted to cry, I was so frustrated at my body, at being sore all the time. I found it hard to explain what was going on to people because I didn’t have a diagnosis so I felt as if I was a fraud. Other people would go to the physiotherapist because of a sports injury and they knew how to treat it, I would go and they would say that they would try a treatment… but when it didn’t work I would get passed to a different physiotherapist. I saw 6 different physiotherapists in the space of 5 years. That is a lot of physiotherapy, and it is a lot of specialists who couldn’t help me, even though they truly believed I was telling the truth. They would all look at me with really sad eyes and tell me that they were sorry they couldn’t help, and that I should see my rheumatologist again. And every time that happened, any hope that I had built up was gone again and I felt really alone.
I felt that people would stop believing me because I didn’t have an answer for what was going on, and apparently no one else did either. So when my Rheumatologist turned around to me and said “I think you have an autoimmune condition, I want to start on you Hydroxychloroquine” I didn’t know whether to cry with happiness because I finally had an answer or to cry because I had found out that what I was hoping wasn’t true, was true.
As I said before, we haven’t quite narrowed down what condition I have. There is speculation that I could have Lupus or Mixed Connective Tissue Disease… or I could have Psoriatic Arthritis or Seronegative RA. We haven’t worked it out yet. I personally believe that I could have something similar to Psoriatic Arthritis or Seronegative RA due to my negative test results and the inflammation in my ligaments and tendons… and more recently, the whole finger that swelled up for 5/6 days for no reason [AKA dactylitis, although I need to get that confirmed by my rheumatologist]. I am lucky that I am studying physiotherapy so my lecturers understand what sort of problems I may have at uni but the problem with not having a name for my condition means that I can’t tell them straight out what I have and then have to explain the whole “I’ve been diagnosed but they haven’t said what it is yet… because I am a mystery to my rheumatologist”.
Of course all that emotional stuff stems from how my condition affects me physically, and also partly on how other people treat me because of my condition. If you look at me you cannot tell that I have a joint condition. If you had a line up and you had to choose someone who you thought was chronically ill, I very much doubt you would choose me. I look healthy… and to some extent I class myself as healthy but if you read my medical file you would probably picture someone who is unhealthy. I want to quote some things that my rheumatologist has written about our meeting and I want you to try to think about what a person with these ailments would look like.
“Lumbar sacral spine movements were grossly restricted”
“… restriction of plantar flexion subtalar movements and mid foot movements” [AKA restricted movements in my feet and ankles]
“Morning stiffness remains a significant problem and can last between 1 and 3 hours”
“…feels extremely tired”
“… grossly restricted movements in neck and back”
If I saw a description of this written down I would expect to see someone who probably wouldn’t be very active, and probably wouldn’t be able to move very well because of all the stiffness. However, that is not the case. I am active, I can run, I can jump… Some of the time that is. And this is the thing with chronic invisible illnesses of an autoimmune nature, sometimes you can feel really good and the next day, or even the next hour, you can feel absolutely horrendous.
There have been times that I have used a disabled toilet because of the fear that I wouldn’t be able to get up off of a normal toilet without handrails. There have been times where I have sat in the disabled seat on buses because my joints couldn’t cope with me standing any longer. There have been times where I have been physically sick from pain. There are days where I can’t write, or when I find it hard to type. What I want people to learn from this is that living with an illness is very unpredictable and you have little control over which days you feel great and which days you don’t. I deal with pain, swelling, stiffness and inflammation every single day and yet some days I can still be “normal” whatever normal is. The point is that you cannot see my suffering so just because I don’t tell you that I am sore doesn’t mean that I am pain-free. Please remember that your sister, brother, parent, friend, relative, colleague… who ever you know with RA/Autoimmine arthritis, will most likely be sore every day and have symptoms every day. Just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean that they aren’t having problems. If they are doing things slightly differently to normal then this is probably them compensating for said symptoms in a functional way… they might even ask you for help. Don’t make a big deal of it, just help them. Don’t treat them any different to normal, they are the same person they have always been. They do not need to feel more isolated by their illness because you feel the need to make a big song and dance about what they can/can’t do or what they may/may not need help with.