Trying to control my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with diet alone taught me valuable things about RA, and about myself. While I share the diagnosis of RA with many, my journey with this disease is uniquely mine. My approach to RA may be considered by some to be irresponsible at times, but it has allowed me to follow my heart so that I could make decisions about medications and the way I live my life without regret.
Going off my meds to control RA
Right off the bat, I chose an integrative approach of seeing a rheumatologist and a naturopath to treat RA. This worked for a while. However, I could not get comfortable with the potential side effects of my RA medications and the idea that I would be taking them for life. When it appeared that the medications weren’t working anymore, I felt it was time to test my belief that I could gain control over my RA without them.
Against the advice of my naturopath — who always reminded me that she complemented my rheumatologist and that drugs were a necessary part of my treatment — I went off all medications and stopped seeing both my rheumatologist and naturopath. I wanted to start fresh on this new journey without judgement.
Over the next two years, I showed extraordinary willpower. I followed an extreme anti-inflammatory diet, and my weight dropped down to 99 pounds. The more pain I experienced, the stronger my belief grew that it was a positive sign; the toxins were leaving my body and healing was around the corner. I tried every alternative method I could find and afford. I was convinced that, with persistence, I would find what was triggering my RA. A particular food, missing nutrients, unresolved and/or repressed memories — the list of potential triggers went on and on. In the meantime, my pain and inability to move intensified.
After two years without any medications and trying everything under the sun, I was worn down. The intensity of the pain was physically unbearable. I struggled to move and I could see my life slipping away. Mentally, I was exhausted. I had placed a huge responsibility on myself to figure out the reason for my RA, something scientists have yet to completely understand.
Finding the way back to my life
I needed support and decided to meet with my naturopath, who I hadn’t seen in a few years. She listened as I shared my tale, and then she asked a question that really made me think: “What are your goals in life?” Two immediate goals came to mind — to be active with my family again and to be able to hug them without pain. Knowing my goals, she then asked the most important question of my RA journey: “Can you accomplish these goals without medications?”
She went on to explain that while I was worried about the side effects of the medications, a huge side effect of not taking them was the inability to live the life I wanted. In that very instant, medications stopped feeling so scary and my heart felt calm for the first time in six years. It all made sense to me, finally.
Once again, I chose to start fresh and met with a new rheumatologist. Some damage to my knee and several toes had occurred and she wanted me on a biologic immediately. I was ready. When I picked up my first biologic from the pharmacist, I sat in the car and cried. It was tears of relief. I knew in my heart that it was going to work and my life was going to change for the better.
Many people have asked if I regret those two years without medications. I don’t. Personally, I needed those two years to learn the life skills that I still use today, seven years later. How to ask for help, how to set limits, how to make myself a priority, and how to listen to my body. I explored every possible avenue and when the decision to use a biologic clicked for me, it came without regrets or fear. Plus, never again do I have to question whether drugs are needed or not. They are.
After years of experimenting with diet, I don’t believe it will cure RA. However, I do believe implementing healthier food choices is always a good idea and gives us some control over our bodies when RA seems to want all the control. I also know that RA is not something that can be treated without help. My RA journey hasn’t been traditional, but it has been one that reflects who I am — someone who always questions the norm and, after some trial and error, usually finds a happy place somewhere between the mainstream and the alternative.
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Cathy Kramer shares her positive voice as an advocate in the rheumatoid arthritis, chronic illness, and self-care communities. Her ongoing journey with RA can be found on her blog The Life and Adventures of Cateepoo. She often hangs out @cateepoo88 on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Watch her story on HealthCentral.