It’s been happening for a week straight — maybe a month straight, maybe even longer. Each time it happens you are just as surprised as the last. And every night when you go to bed, you pray when you wake up it will be different. But it happens again.
It’s pain, stiffness, and tenderness in your wrist, your fingers, or your ankles. Lifting the blanket off your body hurts. You begin to dread getting dressed or tying your shoes, when for your whole life you’ve done these tasks without thinking twice.
You’ve gone to your doctor. They’re doing tests to see what’s happening to your body. Then, they ask you: What do you know about rheumatoid arthritis?
And your life is changed forever. Here are some tips on how to cope with the early symptoms and initial diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Don’t deny the symptoms I did. Having been an athlete my whole life, I told myself these were regular aches and pains — that this was something simply passing through my body. I’d had mysterious pains my whole baseball career, but they would eventually disappear. As a young man I felt I just needed to man up, which meant when my doctor asked: “On a scale of 1-10, 1 being no pain at all, and 10 being the worst pain imaginable, how do you feel?” I said 4, when I felt 8. I did this because I thought I could will it to be true. But RA does not work that way. Listen to your body and be honest with what it tells you. It’s better for you in the long run.
Work with your doctor If you are like I was, you might be hesitant to go along with your doctor because you are being told things you don’t want to believe. You are being told to take medications for a disease you don’t think you have. And your life is being forced in a new, frightening direction. But it is in your best interest to listen to your rheumatologist. Your doctor wants what you want — to help get your pain under control. While I recommend you work with rather than avoid your doctor, I do not believe that your doctor should be your only source of information and insight as you begin to navigate your disease.
Seek as much info as possible Medications can be scary with their potential side effects. Some people find symptomatic relief in diet, supplements, exercise and other alternative treatments. Do your research, be patient, and through dialog with your doctor seek what works for you!
Don’t blame yourself It can be difficult to rationalize a disease as irrational as RA. After all, we must get used to the idea that our body has turned on itself. This sounds crazy, but you may find yourself asking your body: “What did I do to offend you? Did I not pay enough attention to you? Did I feed you too much gluten?” These guessing games can get ridiculous and eventually toxic. No matter how many people ask you questions like: “What did you do?” Or, “How’d you wind up with RA?” remember, it’s not your fault. You don’t deserve RA. And you’re strong enough to get through it!
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Emil DeAndreis is a baseball coach, and an English professor at College of San Mateo. His memoir, Hard To Grip, chronicles his journey of losing a professional baseball career to rheumatoid arthritis. He lives in San Francisco with his wife. Follow along with Emil on Twitter.