I first started having RA symptoms when my husband and I were in the midst of what should be a magical time in anyone's life. We had a baby boy at home, just a few months old, and I starting having soreness in my shoulders. At first I figured that my body just wasn't used to all the holding, cuddling, and feeding that comes with having a baby, but the pain spread to my wrists and hands, and then to my feet. I often had to literally crawl on the floor in order to get around the house in the mornings, because putting weight on my feet was agony.
And then, of course, I began to feel like a failure as a mom, because I couldn't even hold my own child. So on top of this severe pain, which seemed to have come out of nowhere, I also had feelings of inadequacy as a parent and a wife. It was awful, and it was scary.
The idea that I might have rheumatoid arthritis never crossed my mind. I mean, that was for old people, right? My mom has arthritis in her hip, and that was my perception of it. But I was still in my 20s then, and I really didn't understand what RA is, or how early it can strike. When I was diagnosed with RA, not only was I afraid that I'd be in pain for the rest of my life, but it turned out that my initial rheumatologist definitely wasn't right for me. At all. I sat there crying in her office, and she offered me no hope. I didn't want false hope, but she offered no hope. No insight. She didn't tell me anything that could help me understand what I was facing down the road. She didn't lay out a medication plan. It was terrible, and I just kept imagining that I would never be able to hug or play with my child without pain. At that time, I couldn't even hold him, because the pain was so bad. I was afraid I would drop him. I couldn't take care of him at night. I was a wreck. I cried almost non-stop for a couple of weeks, until I finally snapped out of it. Thankfully, my OBGYN had a good friend practicing rheumatology a little over an hour from where I live, and after one visit I knew that no matter how far away she was, nothing would keep me from continuing to see her. She was direct, sincere, and more aggressive in her approach to my RA than my first rheumatologist had been. She gave me hope that, at some point, I'd be able to live as full a life as someone with RA possibly can. Nine months later, the stiffness and inflammation was way down. I could hold my baby without pain. Six years later, I still see her four times a year. Her care, and the support of my husband, saved me. No question about it.
I'm in my ninth year teaching juniors and seniors in high school, and I've learned to be honest with my students about my RA. I wasn't very up-front with them when I was first diagnosed, but the last two or three years have been pretty tough in terms of pain and fatigue, and so I've chosen to be blunt with them. I tell them when I'm exhausted or in pain, and I've found that they're incredibly sympathetic and compassionate. Just the other day one of my students told me, "Mrs. McGuire, you need to sit down and rest. Come on, get off your feet."
Ironically, maybe, I was never a very active person before my diagnosis. Exercise wasn't my thing. But when my rheumatologist told me that exercising is one of the best things I could do, I started walking. Then I started running, and I kept on running. I get up at 4:30 in the morning most days to go running with a big group of friends. It's my girl time. We're all teachers, so we talk about life and vent about teaching and school. There are definitely some mornings when I'm simply too wiped out, and I turn the alarm off and go back to sleep. But exercise with my friends is excellent therapy.
And then there's CrossFit Ruston, where I work out. That place has made me physically stronger, while the community I found there is so positive and encouraging that I feel much more in control of my RA than I did before. But the best therapy -- and this might sound obvious -- is to have the right doctor. A doctor you trust. If you can't stand your doctor, keep looking until you find one who is right for you Listen to your instincts, and listen to your body. In my experience, your gut is usually right.