My Journey Towards Managing Psoriatic Arthritis Sans Medication
At one point in my health journey, I was on 10 different pills and two different injections: Vicodin, Naproxen, Aspirin, Wellbutrin XL, Effexor, Ativan, Paxil, Prilosec, Neurontin, Methotrexate, Humira, Lovenox. I wasn’t well enough to leave the house often, so my mom would go and get my prescriptions. Everytime she would, she said the pharmacist would shake his head saying I was on way too many medications for my age.
I hated it. HATED IT. My pillbox was HUGE and it seemed to be never ending. I knew that I didn’t want to be on these medications forever, but I knew that at that time I needed them. I was in so much pain, so inflamed, so uncomfortable - there was no way I would've been able to make it through the day without them.
Even if those medications were necessary at that time, I also knew that I didn't want to "need" those medications for the rest of my life.
Taking a pill wasn’t just going to solve all my problems. In order to manage my conditions, I needed to address several areas in my life. So until I was able to address them fully, pills would only be acting as a band-aid.
So for the time, I took my medications. In the back of my mind, I began to motivate myself to start to address root problems in the hopes that at some point (whenever that was) the medication wouldn't be so necessary anymore.** Making the commitment to myself**
There isn't just one, quick fix, to any illness. It's something that we have to dedicate ourselves to, and truly commit to making a change. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew there would be times when I would want to give up. And I knew that the road was going to be rough. BUT, it’s a commitment that I made to myself. I vowed to leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of living the healthiest life I could.
I had an open dialogue with my physicians, who all were aware of my intentions with my medication, as well as wanting to promote the best healing environment in my body. For example, two medications were completely suppressing my immune system, the prilosec was messing with my stomach acids, the vicodin and neurontin were numbing my senses. Sure, they may have been helping some symptoms, but I always questioned what else they were doing as well.
“You are not my typical patient.” Was what my rheumatologist told me when I expressed the desire to eventually get off of all my medications. She said she did not have many patients that came into her examination room asking to get OFF of medications. Usually they were asking FOR medications.
Making my plan
In order to get off my medications, I knew I needed a plan. By going to my doctors for guidance, I started to look at what was causing inflammation in my body. I knew that everything I consumed or interacted with had the potential to invoke my immune system. So I started looking at what foods were triggers for me and what toxins I was exposing myself to (beauty products, soaps, perfumes, etc). Through this process I began identifying ways to reduce my stress so that I could balance my body out more, and I incorporated a lot of yoga into my daily routine. I truly started looking at anything and everything!
This task was something I knew I couldn't do alone, so in addition to my doctors, I sought advice from other practitioners, such as functional medicine and integrative medicine doctors. They helped me get the right tests to hone in on my root causes of illness. From there, and with my own expertise from being certified in holistic health coaching, I drastically switched up my supplementation plan and started truly targeting what I believe to be the root cause of my psoriatic arthritis.
Along the way, I began to drop medications. First, ativan, then prilosec, then the aspirin and naproxen. As my body started to be in a more alkaline, peaceful state, my conditions started to become easier to manage and getting off of the medications became a no brainer.As time progressed, I was able to taper all of my dosages, never stopping a prescription drug without weaning off of it first. I also never stopped a prescription medication without careful watch from my doctor. Some of the medications I was on truly affect your body and I had some serious withdrawal symptoms. It's imperative that you keep your entire healthcare team cognizant of what you are doing. Remember, you are a team. You have responsibilities, your health care practitioners have responsibilities, and you have to work together.
A turning point
The biggest change to my medication came in the winter of 2015 as I was preparing to have a stem cell procedure done for my avascular necrosis in my femur bone. Because of it, I could not be on Humira. I truly believe that had I had the procedure a year before, I wouldn’t have been able to transition off of Humira as well as I did. I had briefly gone off of Humira a few years prior, when I had to have surgery for melanoma, and my body couldn’t wait to get back on the biologic. It was clear that I needed it. But, when I stopped taking it in February 2015, I suffered a few withdrawal symptoms, and after a few days, my body seemed to manage better off of the drug.
The pain pills were the last medication I was able to get off of. My avascular necrosis truly caused me a great deal of pain and that’s why I relied on these pills for so long. But once I had my stem cell procedure in March 2015, I was able to stop taking the pills by mid summer.
I can't tell you how excited I was to stop taking my last pill! To go from such a long medication list, to none, was amazing.
Dealing with flare ups
I've come along way and have made a lot of changes in my life which, not only helped me through my journey, but help me maintain my condition today. I currently maintain a very strict diet, I take a ton of supplements (which are directed at my root cause of illness), I abstain from exposing myself to as many toxins as I can, I work on my mental health everyday and make sure to get my yoga on! Some say they couldn’t live as strict of a life as I do, but because I maintain this strict life, I can live without medications.
But, in the back of my mind, the fear of going backwards always lingers.
After the changes, I was feeling better and better every month, my body was thriving! Until I hit the spring of 2016 and I started to flare up.
My first reaction was anger. I was mad because I felt like I had inflicted this flare up on myself. If collecting data on myself has taught me anything, it's that there is always a cause-and-effect. So I knew that there had to be some reason why I was flaring.
After a lot of analysis, what seemed like the most probable cause was the stress of returning back to work after being on disability for almost 4 years. I was engaging in repetitive hand motions from being on my computer 8 hours a day, and in an odd way I believe carrots had a part to play as well.
When I called my rheumatologist to let her know of my flare, of course she asked me if I wanted to start back on Humira. I had been doing so well without medication and all of my blood tests had indicated that my disease activity was so low. This was the perfect moment to dig into the toolbox I had been curating over the past few years, to pull out my big guns and work on combatting this flare without resorting back to medication.
I respectfully declined the medication, but acknowledged that if I continue to have problems, I can and would turn back to the medication which had helped me previously.
Combating flares without medication
So what have I done to help manage my flare up without medication? Here are a few of my top tools that I rely on:
1. Juicing every morning. This allows me to start my day totally alkalizing my body. Whenever our body is fighting disease or illness, it can be because of an acidic environment. I make sure that I am getting a lot of greens, vegetables, and anti-inflammatory foods in my diet to help support a healing, alkaline environment. Using my food as medicine, there is great power in choosing the right foods to consume during a flare.
2. Supplements. I increase my Tumeric supplements dosage and take it three times a day. It's great to help fight inflammation, but it also really helps with pain management. I also increase my N-Acetyl Cysteine dose because it also is a great supplement which helps with pain management.
3. Heating pad. When I wake up in the morning, if my hands are really bothering me, I will put my heating pad on for about 10 minutes. It helps get the blood circulating and moving. This seems to help get me going in the morning!
4. Ice. At the end of the day, when my hands may be a little swollen, I will put some ice on them to help tone down the inflammation. It also helps with the pain!
5. Alternative therapies. I make going to my chiropractor, massage therapist, and acupuncturist a regular occurrence. I am always on a maintenance plan with them, but I find it especially helpful during a flare up as they can help manage my symptoms.
6. Make modifications. To help cut down on the use of my hands, I bought the Dragon from Nuance software for my computer. This allows me to talk to text a lot of my work. I also take frequent breaks during the day to stretch out my hands and my arms to keep my blood and inflammation moving. Movement helps psoriatic arthritis so much! Stepping away from my social media channels a bit, I allowed my fingers and hands to take a break from always using my computer and electronic devices. And if I need to text? Siri is a big help in that department!
7. DÅTERRA Deep Blue. This is my favorite lotion. I love to use it on my sore joints - especially my hands and knees. It helps support my body's ability to combat inflammation and pain.
8. Positive outlook. In the grand scheme of the many flares I've had in the past, I always remember that things could be SO much worse. If my track record has shown me anything, it's that I can always survive the hardest days of my life. Keeping a positive outlook is a major key in helping get through any flare up (or challenge you face in life!)
As of today, I currently am not on medication. That being said, if I ever feel that I need it again, I’d go back on it. Medication can help us in so many ways and I truly credit it to being a tool to help manage my conditions. Without it, I would have never been able to focus on making all the changes I did in my life. But, because the medications I was on were not targeting my root causes, I knew I needed to find the best way for me!
We all have the ability to chose what is the best option for us in our lives. This is the route I’ve chosen and I can say that I’m very happy that I did!
Julie Cerrone is a Psoriasis HealthCentral Social Ambassador, certified holistic health coach, ePatient advocate, yoga instructor, autoimmune warrior and the blogger behind It's Just A Bad Day, NOT A Bad Life. Helping chronically fabulous patients realize they can live their best life possible, Julie stresses the importance of finding your own personalized treatment plan. Check out her Elimination Diet 101 eCoursewhich will help jump start creating your own plan.