(I’m in my 20s) What I’ve Learned About My Body After Almost 10 Years with Arthritis
I hope I can share with you lessons I’ve learned about my body with an autoimmune disease. There are some specific patterns that I have come across that keep coming up in my body, that can hopefully be of use to you. Granted, everyone is different every “body” is different, but if I can have an impact on your life, well, it’s worth it.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or medical professional. If you seek advice as such, please contact an expert who has studied, researched, and understands both your needs and their field.
Here’s a short back story: I was diagnosed at 19 with arthritis. Yes, the “disease” that is almost always associated with the elderly. I guess I had it coming. My grandmother had it severely and had multiple surgeries and medications. If you don’t know the damage it can do to your body, just do a search online and you will find out how severe this chronic disease can get. I also want to take a moment to truly highlight and emphasize how brave, strong, and courageous my grandmother was. Now that I know and understand the pain the body begins to endure (before it is visually recognizable by the public and morphed into what others recognize as the disease), I am amazed and inspired by my grandmother who woke up with a smile and always thought of others first, daily. Thank you grandma!
Here’s the thing: Arthritis really does feel like an invisible disease (like many others out there). You can be in a lot of pain and nobody can tell. Just because the visual signs aren’t apparent to the average person yet, there really is no calm before the storm. You might see the “storm” as the crooked and inflamed joints you recognize on television commercials or brochures and magazines at the doctor’s office. In order for it to get that way, some inflammation begins in the body. There is an internal storm before the “visual” storm. Just like Florida’s weather, there are some good days and bad days. Blood work and X-rays are the reminders of its presence. Plain and simple the body is attacking itself and there is no cure only “remedies.”
So, here’s the knowledge I hope to share or the insight I have learned about my body to hopefully help yours. It is important to note these impacts I have noticed after I was diagnosed. Before I was 19 years old, I didn’t experience arthritic pain, the insight from arthritis and its magnified view and experience of the body has become empowering and I hope it can maybe even be a tool in helping you and your body.
Sugar is the Treasured Enemy
If you ask anyone that knows me, I love sugar. I am always eating it in some form or another on a daily basis, and chocolate is my kryptonite. But I often pay the price. If I have had an “excess” of sugar beyond my normal daily intake (which is more than I would like to admit), I will feel it. When I say “feel it,” I mean I will physically ache and feel a pain in my joints almost always guaranteed the next day. More specifically if I have the sweets at night, I will feel it in the morning. This has been the case especially for wine as well. If sugar can have an almost immediate effect or delayed impact in regards to joint pain for some patients, what do you think it could be doing in your body that is going unnoticed (on your radar)? The result of too much sugar can cause inflammation and more.
Negative Stress is Bad for the Body
If I am stressed out, sad, angry, or experiencing any other multitude of negative emotions, I will also feel it in my joints the next day. If I have cried out in despair the evening prior, my joints will feel the subtle wrath. It is always a reminder of how an experience can have a lasting impact. The science behind what is released into the body, I will have to leave to the experts. But it is apparent that bad situations can have serious effects. Have you noticed any changes in your body after experiencing a powerful emotion?
What Happens at Night Has Consequences in the Morning
If you haven’t notice in the copy (wording) above, there is a pattern within the pattern. What happens before bed awakens the body in the morning. If it is stress or sugar, the timing of when these emotions and dietary influences happen is literally everything or so it seems. I would love for physical fitness trainers, biologists, doctors, health professional, nutritionists, and more to comment on this. It is a phenomenon I have become quite acquainted with but have yet to understand.
Stagnancy is Pain
The best description I can give to describe what it feels like to have arthritis is this; there is a scene of the tinman in the Wizard of Oz. When Dorothy first meets him, he is stuck until she puts oil on his joints. Arthritis feels like you are rusty and stuck and when you do move (or if you can) it is sometimes painful. On some days it feels like a dull pain, in all the joints in your body and on other days you have sharp pains that feel like a seven or nine out of ten. The pain is typically always there, it just fluctuates even on medication. It is ironic and counterintuitive in nature because most doctors always say you need to “move” when you have arthritis. They encourage you to stay active. They emphasize it is good for you to move, and yes, move those joints! It is good for the body but sometimes it is hard to remember that on bad flare up days. When I haven’t worked out in a while, I will start noticing my joints hurting. Sometimes just sitting for long periods of times have an impact on my joints too (like right now sitting in this chair typing, apparently my left knee needs some extra love today).
Your Body Could Be Giving You Signs
I was a healthy kid and teenager. I didn’t have any noticeable in-my-face symptoms that I had arthritis growing up. I knew what it looked like because of my grandmother’s condition. But now almost a decade later after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, one small sign sticks out… push-ups. When I was a teen, I always remembered push-ups hurting but not for the right reasons. I am sure muscles hurt the average person but for me, it was always my wrists. They always seemed to be in pain during planks and push-ups. Now as I get older and as the x-rays reflect, my wrists are narrowing, which means the pain could have indeed been a sign of what was to come only a few short years later. Again, I’m not a doctor, but this should serve as a reminder to listen to your body. Our bodies are magnificent, we should take a moment to take an inventory and reflect on its status. If something is different, wrong, or out-of-place, check in with a doctor or maybe consider it.
The Environment Plays a Role in Your Body
I am sure scientists are split on what I am about to say, however, I want to still air my concerns. It is well-known that everything is influenced by both your genetics and your environment. However, arthritis didn’t fully express itself for me, in which I truly noticed pain, until almost 20 years of living on this earth. What did change was my environment. At 18 I moved into a different home (where my grandmother lived). It was an older home and about a quarter mile away from a major freeway. Researchers, I urge you to look into both of those factors I just mentioned. Here is why, because someone else in that home who was not genetically related to me also experienced arthritic symptoms. It is important to note this did not happen to everyone who lived there. In fact, most didn’t experience anything at all. The person I mentioned never checked to see if they had the disease because later the symptoms disappeared. But it is very strange to note that similar symptoms started occurring. Environment plays a role in not only expressing a disease but influencing it in my opinion. We should maybe take an inventory of the environments around people the moment they were diagnosed, or where they are or something.
The Weather Has an Influence on Our Body
After my diagnosis, I had periods of severe flare ups. Some days were great, some were painful. The three factors I have noticed that impact my arthritic body, I would argue have some effects on everyone. The body is so magnificent that even minor changes in our environment can be experienced by the body, in arthritis it just becomes more apparent and in your face.
It’s not uncommon to walk into an office on a cold rainy day and for the rheumatologist to ask, how are your joints feeling today or this week? They know there is a correlation. Those three factors I mentioned that I have noticed that impact me are temperature, humidity, and pressure systems. Sometimes those three can combine in varying forms to make a throbbing concoction for the unsuspecting and unwilling victim.
Medication Can Make You Feel a Certain Way
The doctors know how serious a disease that unbridles the body’s senses and allows itself to attack itself can be. Almost immediately they want you on some sort of medication. They want to help slow down the progression of the battles and deterioration of your joints. But some choices they make about what medications you should take, can be heartbreaking to your mind and body. I have examples that I could bring up, for the purposes of this article, just know that everyone has their own journey and medications can take a toll on your emotional state and the physical state of each organ in your body. You have to weigh the pros and cons for what is important in your life once all the resources are presented to you. I don’t want to argue medication is bad, in many cases it has been extremely helpful. Just make choices you are okay with and if you feel uncomfortable about it, get a second or third medical opinion.
There’s More to the Pain Then You Think
On the surface, arthritis and other diseases may be harmful to the obvious areas of concern like joints. But did you know it can have an effect on eyes and lungs too? When diagnosed with anything and/or if you have been hurt or injured, try to understand how this impacts your overall health and areas of concern you haven’t even considered. The body has individual parts, but it is a whole system.
Appreciate Your Body and Love the Parts You’ve Taken For Granted
The interesting thing about arthritis is that it teaches you gratitude. You hurt in places you never really paid attention to. For example, how is your forefinger’s second joint feel right now? Have you ever really thought out it? If it doesn’t hurt, consider that a blessing, a really important blessing. When my joints hurt, I am reminded that these are areas in my body that I haven’t really appreciated for their day to day efforts to keep me moving. What part of your body should you show love to? The body you are in is keeping you alive, isn’t it? Be grateful for that. If you have parts that aren’t in pain, be grateful for that too.
Stretching and Yoga Do the Body Good (and Swimming Too)
I may be biased here because I love yoga and swimming, but there is a reason why. My love for swimming came early (pre-arthritis diagnosis), and I fell in love with it. But even to this day left and right there are articles, after articles, about why swimming is great for the body. When you can relieve the body of some pressure because of the unique qualities of weightlessness in water, it is a great feeling. I have been the youngest person in all the water aerobics classes I’ve taken (by almost three or four decades) but that hasn’t stopped me. The later generations have figured out something I have learned to appreciate now. Treat your body good and keep it moving.
Yoga has been a much-welcomed friend in time of pain or even to prevent pain. I tell you something, in college I went with a friend to a yoga class and there is nothing quite like a one-hour session to do the body good. A stretch, strength, and joint-friendly yoga workout has benefits that are tangible when I walk out the door. If it assists even in minute ways in my body with arthritis, imagine the benefits it could have on your body that you may or may have not discovered yet.
There’s Some Truth Behind All This Anti-Inflammatory Foods
I’ve been on the search for foods to provide relief. It only makes sense that the type of gas (food) you put in your car (body) will influence how it runs (how you live and your health). I’ve been both on and off medications with and without pain. There are many foods that can have anti-inflammatory benefits for you rather you have the disease or not. I will say in my experience turmeric and cherry juice rise above the rest for now. If I put turmeric in my tea or drink cherry juice at night or after a workout, the next day I can feel the pain-relieving benefits (it is not a cure-all, but has given me some relief). This is in my particular case, even if they are only just barely noticeable results some days, even some pain relief is better than none. Please share below what foods have worked for your body and its needs. It is important to note we are not all cookie-cutter examples in regards to what our body’s need. Your body might need a little more of something else.
If you’ve read through to this far, thank you. I hope this piece gives you peace. I hope you find the secrets of your body that make you feel great and make you persevere. I hope you share your own personal body experience below if you feel it could help others. Thank you for your time.