One fall morning, I woke up with stiff and swollen joints and a slight fever. I brushed it off as the beginning of a cold, or perhaps the flu. The same symptoms continued for six weeks, neither wavering nor getting worse, but making me feel like I was in the body of Mr. Potato Head.
I made an appointment with my family doctor; he examined my swollen hands with a slight crinkle in his forehead. He made small talk, asking me what kind of work I was doing – I was working in a rheumatology clinic. After his examination, he calmly said, "I'm going to refer you to a rheumatologist."
I was a dancer, actress and writer. Being on stage, I had to be fit and energized, ready to deliver my best in each performance. With the pain, swelling and fatigue, my normal zip seemed to disintegrate. I took some time away from performing, trying to adjust to a new regime. I still exercised as best I could, but had to switch to low impact exercises like yoga and swimming. I was an avid Salsa dancer at the time of my diagnosis, but pain in my hands made it difficult to partner with people unaware of my condition.
I tried different medications, looking for that combination that would control my flares. At my rheumatologist’s suggestion, I switched to a gluten-free diet. He also suggested cutting out processed sugars and dairy – I was already lactose intolerant, so that was an easy adjustment. I learned to slow down. I used to rush about like a hummingbird, but weak hands caused me to drop things. By slowing down I was able to control the new clumsy quality of my life.
My better half, who is the love of my life, as well as my family, my friends, my co-workers, and all the lovely people I have connected with through my blog.
I returned to the stage four years after my diagnosis – it was a lead role and it required me to carry a tray of glasses. I got through rehearsals and four weeks of performances without mishap. I may have been tired, but I was determined not to let arthritis stop me from performing.
I also created a blog based on my daily life with arthritis. I took a page from my creative writing life and told my stories through the eyes of a storyteller and poet. I wanted to show the upside of life, even in the face of this disease.
Be positive, always look for the blessings in life and be kind to yourself.
Don't put pressure on yourself – you'll get there when you’re ready.