Just over six months ago I turned 40. I was temporarily unemployed, buried in coursework and trying to secure an internship but feeling mostly optimistic about life. My parents had surprised me with a long weekend visit and treated us to meals and snacks and great company. I had no major life complaints. I mean, I couldn’t open the resealable Sargento cheese packaging without a struggle and I suddenly needed Steve to open what seemed like every jar or can, but mostly happy and complaint free.
Sometime around Halloween I experienced some aching in my wrist and hands that I attributed to more frequent driving since I had started driving for Lyft shortly before that. I used ice packs, heating pads, super duper extra strength tylenol, advil that’s generally off limits as per weight loss surgery and I got a little crabby about it. The pains and cramps came and went, sometimes I would wake up with them and they’d go away by lunch, sometimes they would linger all day, and invite my elbow or shoulder to join.
In November I clearly remember being bummed about how I felt and trying everything I could think of , including sleeping on my back so I didn’t crush my arms, or sleeping with my arms out straight when I slept on my side. Some nights Steve moved to the couch and so some mornings I felt even worse. I had definitely begun experiencing depression, which is not wholly unfamiliar to me, so one morning I got myself up and dressed and went to a nearby park. I walked about two miles around, up and down steps, listened to music, laid in a pile of leaves and confessed my depression to Instagram and felt like I was gonnna be just fine…. until 2 am when I was in excruciating pain now in my hips, legs, ankles, feet and I was home alone laying in bed crying and asking out loud what the fuck was going on and ice packing, heating padding and adviling myself back to sleep.
Before I knew it, it was December and now my feet hurt frequently, a lot like my hands. Both feet, in the heel and the ball and the arch, I was trying to figure out how to walk without putting pressure on any of those points. Well, I thought, you’re out of shape and maybe those sneakers aren’t a great fit. I tabled exercise and slowly anything that required me to exert much effort. I felt exhausted and sad and heavy and uncomfortable in my body. I started wearing the same pair of flats, to my internship interview, to Christmas with Steve’s family, to the grocery store all hoping nobody would notice how I was walking and that another advil might keep me looking normal. I’m not a hypochondriac, I truly believed whatever was going on was my doing, so I wanted to take all the steps to remedy it before I went to my doctor because there had to be something I was missing.
I put a lot of time into trying to determine what I might have done or what I was doing that was causing my body to ache and rebel in such a frustrating manner. I did a lot of reading, a lot of trying supplements and diet modifications; I gave up keeping protein bars in my bag or buying them at all, I considered going dairy-free, gluten-free, seeing how many things I could hide turmeric root in, I started drinking tart cherry juice, I read about inflammation, bought plantar fasciitis braces from an Internet ad, cried myself to sleep, took stairs one at a time at the pace of a sloth and finally, at the end of January, when I took my flats off and my ankles were swollen, and there were visible deep lines areound my foot from my shoes and my my feet were swollen and misshapen looking I called my doctor the next morning.
The appointment was three days later and I was so hopeful that he would have an answer, because after all my trying and suffering I didn’t. And I didn’t know how to explain what I felt to anyone, it was a burning, aching, sometimes restless, sometimes felt like what I imagine a broken bone felt like pain that produced anxiety in the simplest tasks – getting out of bed, getting into and out of the car, any number of steps with out without a handrail. I didn’t tell anyone really, unless they saw me and I (felt I) had to explain myself. Coworkers at my internship who would end up in the back stairwell I was trying to hide in while doing my toddler steps up or down – and hold the door for me (so nice!) but also watch me and make me more aware that this wasn’t normal.
The upshot of the whole doctor appointment, if you read the last post was he ordered some blood and xrays and said come back in a week. They did images to check for arthritis and he said everything looked normal and he wanted to move on. I pushed for a referral; a podiatrist, a neurologist, a rheumatologist, anyone who might have a different view or specialized eye. He gave me the name and number of a rheumatologist and had me come back in 2 weeks. I made the appointment that day but they didn’t have an opening for almost 2 months, “ Have your doctor call us and we can connect him to Dr.’s secretary and maybe they can get you in sooner” so I tell my doctor this at our next meeting, and he says “You should be fine” and let me tell you, I wasn’t.
It was such a dark time in my heart and my mind and I couldn’t even talk about it. I started to question how much pain I was in, and others didn’t see it or know it because I still worked and interned and cooked and grocery shopped and wrote papers and did all the things I had to do. As my appointment got closer I started to feel hopeful and then anxious, what if he couldn’t help me, what if this wasn’t something anyone could identify? I got sad, rather than happy thinking about the summer; I can’t walk a mile on a rocky dirt road to go to the car rally we go to, I can’t sit on a plane for 5 hours to fly to Colorado, or a few hours to visit my family. I would think about going to the gym, even for the treadmill when I would feel less pained in the evening, but in the morning when I had to hoist myself out of bed with the help of my dresser and penguin walk to the bathroom, I gave up the dream on Zumba.
This is long and if you’re still reading, let me tell you, I’m okay. The rheumatologist was the right referral; it’s nothing I did or could have prevented, it’s an auto-immune disease. He said it was a great catch by my pcp and juvenile as it may be, I had to take that credit for myself.
Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis, what a strange thing to feel relieved by; an incurable, degenerative auto-immune disease – but after six months, having my pain validated and labeled, and told there was treatment was the first time I felt hopeful in months. I got three prescriptions and he told me in a a few days I would start feeling better, and that a year from now I probably wouldn’t even remember the pain from this time. I asked if he thought I would have be able to Zumba again and he said “Totally” I called bullshit in my head but was grateful, and optimistic that, if he sees Latin-inspired dance routines in my future I can definitely live a normal life.
It’s been five days and I can’t believe the relief I have already started to feel, the way my mood has elevated, the way I just feel like myself again. I didn’t care that I chipped a nail on a can of seltzer, because I opened it myself, or that the first night I experienced a little insomnia because in my awakened stated I walked to the bathroom less like a drunk penguin. Maybe I’ll give that treadmill a try soon after all.