It can hit you like a ton of bricks. I was 31 at the time and working full-time. But I knew something was wrong. I was having a hard time walking.
My ankles and feet would swell up so bad that it was getting harder and harder to get into my shoes. I had pain in my fingers and wrists as well. And I was so tired all the time.
When I went to the rheumatologist and finally was diagnosed, he never actually came out and said I had rheumatoid arthritis. His nurse just handed me a bunch of pamphlets and I walked out.
I was in shock. I thought, “My life’s over.”
One of my biggest challenges was finding the right medication for me. That took almost 10 years. Biologics were not out on the market when I was diagnosed in 1991. I finally was able to get on a biologic in 2001.
There have been plenty of other challenges, but my greatest accomplishment was when I truly became an advocate for RA awareness. I did a local TV and newspaper interview to commemorate my 11th anniversary of taking a biologic.
What I’ve learned is that people living with a chronic illness need to focus on the things they can do, not the things they can’t.
Remember to find humor in each day; give yourself a reason to smile. And when you help others, you are actually helping yourself to feel better about your situation.
I’ve also learned that it is okay to feel down, because rheumatoid arthritis can be a really nasty disease.
The key is to not stay in the valley too long.