RA and Self Esteem

Cathee McKeown Health Guide
  • Before I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I was happy, healthy and skinny! I never really had to worry about my weight or my looks in general. I was raised to be confident and secure in myself. Despite being raised with a high level of self-esteem, I was hardly prepared for the physical and emotional changes that I would face living with RA.

    My condition progressed so quickly that I was put on a very high dose of prednisone for a long time. As many of you know, prednisone causes weight gain and “moon face,” which is swelling of the face. Within a matter of weeks I could hardly recognize myself. My face had swollen to the point where my skin was hard and shiny. Not a very good look for a 27 year-old. In addition to the swelling, I gained about 30 pounds in 6 months. My skin had become so thin that I developed stretch marks all over my body. I was devastated by these severe changes. Prednisone can also affect your mood and appetite. I always felt hungry no matter what, and I had mood swings that I couldn’t control. The medication that was keeping me up and able to walk was also keeping me a prisoner of my constant self-loathing.
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    This was all new to me and I didn’t know how to handle it. Of course my friends and family tried to reassure me that I looked fine, but I could see the look of shock on their faces if they hadn’t seen me for a while. The changes in my appearance were that drastic. My husband (bless his heart) was as supportive as he could be but was frustrated to see me so down on myself. I didn’t feel sexy anymore, probably due more to the fact of my looks and not the pain of my arthritis. It took about two years before I realized that I was becoming depressed, withdrawn and unmotivated. After a lot of crying and soul searching, I finally talked to my doctor about my feelings. I discovered that depression was very common in people dealing with a chronic illness, and that medication along with some therapy would be helpful.

    So began my journey of “finding” myself again. I must admit that the antidepressants helped take the edge off and I worked on my emotional self as well. The more I tried to accept my situation as it was, the better I felt. I started to exercise and meditate. I decided to go out more with my friends and not worry about my looks. When I started considering how I was lucky to even be up and walking around, the vanity issues seemed to subside. I basically gave myself a break and stopped looking for my old self in the mirror. The person that I began to see now was someone who was brave, compassionate and strong. I realized that I had to make a choice to see the good things and not to focus so much on the bad. What a change!

    I still have my days where I look at myself after living with RA for 10 years, seeing the crooked fingers and swollen joints and feel sad. I think about what I will look like 10-20 years from now and worry. I know that everyone feels like this from time to time. I just hope that when you look in the mirror you see someone who, despite living with RA, is a strong, capable and beautiful person! For ideas on how to deal with depression visit www.arthritis.org or visit your local Arthritis Foundation for support groups. It can be really helpful to share your feelings with others who face the same challenges as you do.
Published On: March 05, 2007