Only about 14 months. I developed symptoms in January 2011, and was formally diagnosed in August 2011.
What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed with RA?
Stay positive! Explore all your options and keep an open mind. Living with arthritis and chronic pain is tough, but allow yourself days to feel sad. Don’t let your medical team call all the shots – it’s your body and you definitely know it best. A good relationship with your doctor is key, so exercise your right to “shop” around for doctors, and find someone who really fits for you! Make sure you’re heard when you need to be; it’s okay to speak up! Don’t let your arthritis define who you are – work with your physical limitations, but don’t let them keep you from doing what you love.
Do you use any mobility aids?
I rely on my cane to help me walk, especially on the stairs, and I will sometimes wrap my swollen wrist in an Ace bandage to support it when I need to get some computer work done.
How has living with RA helped to improve your life?
Before my diagnosis, I struggled a lot with staying positive about my life. Now, I am incredibly positive most of the time! Life with arthritis can be pretty sad without constant positivity and a great attitude. I’m also learning a lot about how my body works and how I can work with it. I have a bunch of free time since I took a semester off of school, so I have used that time to learn a lot about autoimmune diseases and the best ways to take care of myself. After years of school and loads of stress, I’m finally learning to relax and do what’s best for me. I sleep in, take long naps, and read as many books as I’d like. I work from home, and develop to do lists that allow me some flexibility and time to relax. In middle and high school, I was a pretty decent artist, but dropped art in order to focus on my college studies. Now that I have time off, I’m getting back into my art and really loving it! I’ve also started collecting and planning some vegetarian and gluten free recipes; I hope to start my gluten free lifestyle soon!
My RA diagnosis has also made me a more compassionate person. I sympathize with other chronic pain sufferers, and am becoming active in a number of chronic pain circles.
Do you have any visible signs of RA?
I have rheumatoid nodules on my thumbs, a great deal of swelling in and around my right wrist and ankle, and swelling in my knees. My fingers are also frequently swollen. My gait is very visibly affected, as I rely heavily on my cane and tend to walk at a slow pace with stiff knees.
Can you please describe some of your favorite coping strategies for living with RA?
I have a wonderful support system in my family, friends, and especially my boyfriend DJ, who is my constant caretaker. I enjoy fresh flowers and try to have them in my home as often as possible, where they brighten up my day. I rely on my loved ones to help me through my rough days, but I’m not afraid to cry, rage, or just have a mopey day every once in awhile. Since my diagnosis, I have also started blogging as a way to express myself, release some stress, and cope with the day to day struggles I experience. I love reaching out to other RA and chronic pain sufferers and have made some great new friends through blogging (My blog is here.) When my wrists feel okay, I like to open the windows and sit in the sunlight to work with my sketchbook. As often as I can, I go out to visit my horse, Uno. I rescued him as an 8 month old, and he’s been mine ever since! He is such a sweetheart, and gives me extra cuddles when I’m feeling down.
Can you please describe your current medical (traditional and alternative) treatments?
I’m currently on a weekly injection of methotrexate as well as a weekly injection of Humira. I take Plaquenil twice daily and a folic acid supplement every day. My boyfriend and I make it a habit to go for short walks as often as possible, and I stretch and do a little yoga daily. I’ve recently started drinking a glass of 1/2 water and 1/2 organic tart cherry juice daily.
Is there anything else about yourself that you would like to share?
I hope to get back to school in the fall, and will complete my undergrad degree in Environmental Studies by next year. I’d like to get my masters degree in Environmental Public Policy. My ultimate goal is law school!