"Your immune system is basically mistaking your joints as foreign and treating them as such. In a nutshell, your body is attacking itself."
That's what my doctor told me when I asked him what an autoimmune disease was. I had been in the hospital for a week and was finally getting discharged. The verdict? Rheumatoid Arthritis (along with iron deficiency anemia). It was severe and it had already done irreversible damage. I was 23.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Most people hear arthritis and think bones. And they're right, but there are many types of arthritis. With rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system mistakes the joints as a threat and attacks them. They become inflamed and swollen. RA can also effect other parts of your body like your lungs and even your heart. If left untreated, the damage can be permanent. There are different types of medicines that help lessen the pain and slow the progression. Unfortunately there is no cure.
My Life with RA
I got diagnosed with RA in 2011. I went to the hospital because I was having chest pain and once they took my blood the doctor came back and told me that they were keeping me. I ended up there for a week while they ran all kinds of tests. Turns out the chest pain was because the walls around my heart were inflamed. My blood had came back with enzymes in it that let the doctors know that something was wrong. The culprit? RA. When I first found our that I had RA, I didn't get it. This is an illness that people over 40 usually get. I was only 23. But I had it. And it was bad. It had already started to cause damage to my joints. As you can see in the picture, my right hand is messed up.
This year year will be 4 years that I've been living with it. To say that it's a challenge would be an understatement. I'm in pain pretty much every day. It's either manageable, where I can still function normally. Or unmanageable, where I everything is stiff and achy. I have trouble with buttons and snaps on my clothes. Even simple things like opening a bag of chips is a struggle. I was always able to use both hands, but I was dominantly right handed. Now I mostly use my left. I have to take a combination of medicines. That includes going for infusion treatment every 8 weeks which is basically me sitting in a room hooked up to a machine for 2 hrs while the meds are administered through an IV. Fun right?
Mentally, I've gotten better. I was really angry when I first learned of my condition. Mostly because there is no explanation for why I have this other than my body not being able to tell the difference between good and bad. And I'm so much younger than the normal age that people usually get diagnosed. When I go for treatment, I'm always the youngest patient there. Everyone there is 2 and 3 times older than me. But I realized that being angry does nothing. I'm still gonna have RA regardless. So why not come at it with a positive attitude? So that's what I'm doing.
We're all fighting a battle. Everybody has been dealt a hand. I personally plan to play like I'm holding a royal flush. How are you playing your hand? However it is, stay strong.
(March is Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month so that's why I decided to share.)