In a previous blog post, I spoke about the psoriasis part of my psoriatic arthritis, and now I’m going to focus on the arthritis part of it. The psoriasis was easy to diagnose because it’s a very visual disease, but arthritis is much more of an invisible disease. Well, invisible to others at times because others can’t always tell, but very visible to those of us who have it.
Let me get this out of the way first, yes, arthritis hurts. How it hurts and how long it hurts and how bad it hurts is different for everyone. I remember I felt it first in my hands. I would have to soak in the tub for about half an hour or so, along with taking four OTC pain pills. The tub was once a day, the OTC was three to four times a day. No, that is not recommended nor is it good to do.
All of that pain medication didn’t make me pain free, it made me functioning. In speaking with others with arthritis, I hear the same thing. They aren’t looking to be pain free, they looking to be able to function. We want to feel good enough to work, take care of family, run errands, and other normal everyday things. My life the past 20 years (the few years before diagnosis and all the years since) have been spent trying to manage my pain.
Step 1 in managing pain is to tell someone. The reasoning for this is twofold. 1) It makes it real. How many of us suffer in silence because we don’t want to be a bother? Own the fact that something is wrong. 2) You have someone to check in on you and see how you are doing. I was in my early to mid-20s when mine started, so of course I told my mother. Mamas being the way they are, both were fulfilled.
Step 2 also involves telling someone, but this time, a doctor or medical professional. I’ve been quite blessed and lucky in my life with my doctors believing me, diagnosing me, taking me seriously. Some of my arthritis friends have not been so lucky. I don’t like that. To me, we know our bodies better than anyone else. We know when we are in pain, how much pain, what type of pain. We must advocate for ourselves. Our medical teams need to get us on a plan to deal with pain. My doctors have thankfully taken my pain seriously and have given prescription anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, given me stretches/exercises, or suggested other therapies.
Speaking of other therapies, that is Step 3. A few blogs ago, I mentioned some of those complementary therapies I’ve used. When things get too bad, two of my best friends are my heating pad and my bathtub, not at the same time obviously. Heat is a great soother for me. Other great things are massage therapy, physical therapy, and braces/splints. I’ve recently found that compression gloves are a great help when my hands get swollen and sore. Most of my day involves working on a computer typing or moving around my mouse, so my hands are pretty important to me. I have had to make emergency stops at the pharmacy or grocery store to get braces. I remember a stop on the way to the beach to get a wrist brace so I could drive the rest of the way. I stopped on the way to an arthritis fundraising walk to get ankle and knee braces. That is some arthritic irony right there. I have also known people who use ice/cold therapy to alleviate pain and swelling.
Step 4 is keep it moving. This is one that I am woefully lacking in. Isn’t it funny how moving and exercise help you be able to move more. I know a number of my arthritis friends who participate in exercise classes, go hiking, walk their dogs, do yoga. They do have to make adaptations at times or go for less time than they would like, but they do keep moving. During the beginning of the pandemic, I would try to walk every morning around my apartment complex. I discovered that hills and inclines weren’t my friends, so I found a nearby flat parking lot that was much easier on my joints. As with any exercise program, please consult your doctor/medical professional first.
My final step -- Step 5 -- to deal with pain is plan ahead. This is one that is very undervalued. If you know an activity is going to cause you pain the next day, ask yourself if it’s worth it or if you have time to recover. The longer you (unfortunately) live with arthritis, the more you know how your body will react. If you know you will have a full and strenuous day, try to plan for a day or two of rest after, if you are able. A more controversial aspect of this step is saying “No” to things at times. I know we don’t want to disappoint others or feel like we are letting others down, but, we need to worry about not letting ourselves down. We have to take care of our physical and mental health. Sometimes that means saying no to things, to people, to events. Think of it as having a budget of what you are able to handle/do. The budget changes from week to week. When that physical currency is spent, so are we. Never feel guilty for prioritizing your health.
I got the title of this blog from that great song by the legendary band R.E.M., and the lyrics fit perfectly. They say don’t let yourself go because everybody cries, everybody hurts sometimes. They then go on to say the two words that we all need to hear -- hold on. It’s all we can do some days.
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Photo Credit: Anupong Thongchan / EyeEm via Getty Images
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