Flaring Again: Dealing with Symptoms After a Long Quiet Period

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Unfortunately, an inevitable side effect of chronic illness can be denial.

I’ve experienced a lot of major life events over the last three years: getting my PhD, moving to New York, my grandfather dying six months later, my dad dying six months after that, graduating from a Master’s degree program, getting a job, losing a job, my boyfriend of three and a half years breaking up with me, moving back to Michigan, getting a job. Yet my health has been relatively stable considering all of that.

And when your diseases have been pretty stable, especially given all of the emotional upheaval, and then suddenly aren’t anymore, it comes as a literal shock to the system.

Even though the word “remission” has never been used about my RA, I guess I got caught up in the idea that maybe I was no longer sick, or at least not as sick as I used to be.

When I first got sick, the slightest emotional upheaval would send my body into a tailspin. So when I went through all of these very emotionally trying experiences and didn’t flare, I thought maybe I had left that broken body behind me.

But I put myself in several situations recently that finally caused the sleeping giant inside my body to wake up and come back in full force. I had to be on-call for work, which was not only stressful, but also caused me to get very little sleep. I also ended up traveling, getting stuck in an airport for a night, standing in a line for six hours, and not sleeping for 40 hours. Having these things happen in the span of a little over a week were just too much for my body to handle.

And just like that, I learned what it was like to be flaring again.

And I certainly hadn’t missed that feeling. I could barely get off the couch, I felt like I had the flu that just wouldn’t go away. My whole body hurt, from the top of my head to my tips of my toes, and it took all of my energy to pick my head up off the pillow. I had multiple, massively swollen joints. It was like my body decided to make up for lost time. It’s like three years of not flaring gave my body permission for every part of me to flare. I had to call in sick to work, for the first time in a long time, because I could barely walk and needed to rest.

Dealing with pain can be a profoundly emotional experience, especially when you had forgotten what that feels like. So the experience of flaring again after so long was not only physically draining, but also emotionally draining. It brought me back to a time in my life where my quality of life was very low, and I was barely functioning. It took me back to a place where I didn’t really want to be.

This episode happened to be a minor setback. It was set off by very specific events that were relentlessly hard on my body, as I treated myself in a way that I wouldn’t have if I had a choice in the matter.

And it reminded me that I sometimes have to take it easy. I need to listen to my body, and I need to know my body well enough and get in touch with it again, to learn what is going to be too much for me, so I can attempt to avoid those situations and don’t send myself into another flare.

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Leslie Rott authors the blog Getting Closer To Myself.  She is a professional patient advocate, and has been raising awareness about lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and issues involving chronically ill students in higher education since 2008.  Along with writing for HealthCentral, she writes for a variety of other health sites, as both a featured blogger and a guest contributor.

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