Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Self-Love: Sex

On my last birthday I wrote a post titled "Who Taught You to Age?"  I shared, "Another mentor was in her 50's at the time. She adored her husband after many years of marriage. I loved how they were always doing something new- travel, outings, etc. Life was still exciting as was her sex life. Maybe TMI for some, but as a young married woman it was so beneficial to know things didn't have to change with age."

As I edge closer and closer to 50, I am glad I have had so many wonderful mentors in my life. With each new period of life, they come back to me and remind me of how to live my age fully. The mentor mentioned above taught me at a very early point in my marriage that sex was not something enjoyed only by the young. In fact, the lesson I learned from her was that it only gets better. She glowed when she talked about her husband. Even though I thought she was "old" at the time, I could see that when she was with her husband, she felt gorgeous. She wasn't ashamed that she enjoyed herself. What a lovely gift she gave to me. 

Twenty eight years into my marriage, this lesson means so much to me when it comes to self-love. Sex is an important part of a loving relationship with your partner but also with the way you can see yourself. There have been times when words between us weren't there, but sex was. It held us together. Sex with my husband has made me feel like the most beautiful woman alive through each phase of life. When I was at the height of  pregnancy with our children, I could look into his eyes and see exactly what he was seeing - the woman he loved carrying the life we created together, not the big bellied woman with stretch marks I saw in the mirror. When I was in my worst pain with rheumatoid arthritis, I often felt embarrassed to show how slowly I moved or how I winced in pain, but my husband lovingly moved my joints onto pillows while checking if the position was good for me. While I often wondered how he could find me attractive as I struggled to get into bed, his eyes and gestures showed that he not only still found me attractive but was excited to be with me. To him I have been beautiful with each change life has thrown at me. 

Sometimes self-love comes from allowing ourselves to see ourselves through the eyes of people who genuinely love us. How is our significant other treating us?  Looking at us? Responding to us? Look closely into the eyes of the person who loves you. See yourself as they do rather than how you see yourself. When I stop and really look at what it is that my husband is seeing, I am able let down my guard and let all those negative thoughts about my body go and instead focus on enjoying sex more fully. By seeing myself as my husband does, I have gained the confidence to ask for what I want in our sexual relationship. I don't need to be ashamed to ask for what pleasures me. Confidence in ourselves allows us to ask for and receive the good things in life we deserve. By putting away the mirror and just seeing ourselves as the beautiful, gorgeous person someone else sees us as, we are able to put the negatives aside and instead just focus on the self-love we need to give ourselves.

Life is exciting.  Sex is exciting.  Love yourself at whatever phase of life you are at: young and healthy, pregnant, chubby, disabled, in pain, old, whatever. Be the beauty others see in you.   

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Healthline's 16 Best Rheumatoid Arthritis Blogs 2016

I am honored to once again be included in Healthline's 16 Best Rheumatoid Arthritis Blogs. According to Healthline, "We've carefully selected these blogs because the writers are actively working to educate, inspire, and empower their readers with frequent updates and high quality information.  If you would like to tell us about a blog, nominate them by emailing us at bestblogs@healthline.com."  Congrats to everyone on the list for the advocacy you do and to all RA bloggers who are giving us a voice. You are appreciated.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Self Love: Listen to Your Body

“Listen to your body. Your body knows best.”  This is a mantra I have used over and over with my kids and myself.  Age though has shown me that for women, listening to our bodies takes a lot of work.   Physically our bodies are changing week by week, day by day. Depending on where we are in a cycle, we may feel fit and thin and a day later, exhausted and chubby. Our hormones are of course our friends, but sometimes they like to mess around with us physically and emotionally. 

I have definitely entered perimenopause, the years before menopause actually occurs.  When I last asked my PCP to run tests on my hormones, everything of course looked “perfect”.  Blah! Sometimes lab work makes me angry.  As an intrapersonal individual, I spend a lot of time listening to my body. I know things are off.  My body is on fire in the morning and my makeup has usually sweated off before entering the classroom. I wake up thinking I am going to burn to death during the night if I have had foods that don’t agree with my body. I’ve gained 30 pounds despite continuing to eat mostly healthy foods. My energy levels have gone down. I no longer enjoy high intensity activities. My body now asks me to do more yoga, Pilates, and walking. When I don’t honor it, it throws a tantrum and workouts cease. By listening to my body, I am aware of so many things that lab work is not able to detect. I know my body is changing. Sometimes I struggle not knowing if these changes are RA related, hormonal, or my guess, both.  I wake up at night with eyes so dry I am afraid to close them. I told my class the other day, "unfortunately, my brain sometimes likes to take little breaks in the middle of conversations."  Are the dry eyes and brain fog due to rheumatoid arthritis or perimenopause?  I have several other symptoms that could be RA or perimenopause or maybe worsened by the other. My rheumy says, “they are still treated in the same way.”

Having now gone through puberty, pregnancy, RA changes, and currently perimenopause, I can say with certainty that our bodies are never mundane.  I gained a lot of weight with both pregnancies and lost the weight quickly. I was actually surprised at how my body bounced back after giving birth. I was happy with the outcome. With perimenopause, I struggle.  I practice a lot of self-love and my inner self feels happy and complete. It’s the outside that needs more of that self-love. I have started adding supplements that support a woman’s body during perimenopause. Mid-life is a beautiful time. There are so many things I love about it and I want to round out the bliss that comes with age by figuring out why my physical body is not in balance with my emotional/mental state.  I have made it the last 12 years with rheumatoid arthritis, surely I can make it through perimenopause too, right?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Self-Love: Our Body is Our Best Friend, Even in Pain

This month I am focusing on self-love. A biggie for me is how I talk to myself.  I strongly believe that when we talk to ourselves, we should be doing so as if we are talking to our best friend because really, that's what we are to ourselves, or should be anyhow.  After several days of dealing with hip bursitis, I felt worn down.  I asked myself, "when will these damn hips stop hurting?"  I immediately felt awful about the words I had used.  Why would I say "damn hips" to a part of my body that is trying so hard to be good to me.  I wouldn't say that "damn friend" to someone who is sending extra love and support when I need it most, would I?  No.  Well, my hips are doing the same thing.  Each day, despite the pain, they move me from place to place.  They allow me to take my morning walks, stand at the stove as I prepare food for myself, and most of all support the rest of my body that isn't in pain.  My wonderful hips are doing all of this while they are in pain.  As my friend, I need to treat them with the respect they deserve.  "Thank you hips for doing all that you do for me each day. Let's take a break.  Let's get some ice."  It may sound silly to talk to yourself or your body parts this way, but when I do, it totally flips things in my mind.  Instead of hating the thing that is hurting, I instantly feel compassion and love.  To me, this is the truest self-love we can show ourselves.  I feel like I have highs and lows in this area of self-love but know that the more I practice it, the better at it I will be. 

What about you?  How do you talk to yourself?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Self Love: Stop Listening to Others

My journey to gain control over my rheumatoid arthritis has been all over the place.  I started off on medications as I awaited an appointment with a naturopath six months after diagnosis.  In my heart and mind I felt confident I could make huge changes in my rheumatoid arthritis by just eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones. And I was right, I did see some improvements with diet.  Good nourishing foods are never wrong.  NEVER! EVER! Eliminating harmful foods is never wrong. NEVER EVER!

But after years of avoiding restaurants with family and sitting on the sidelines watching others enjoy a good meal in fear of eating something that might inflame my body more, I look back at pictures of myself during this time period and I instantly feel the pain I was experiencing at the time.  It was awful.  I had stopped all meds so that I could see what my body would do by being strong and staying true to an anti-inflammatory diet.  The pain I endured during these years will never leave my memory.

Once again I want to say that I 100% believe eating anti-inflammatory foods is important for each and every one of us.  But, as I browse Facebook and see posts such as this one, I cringe.

It's not changing my mind that I need to always add healthier foods to my diet. I have learned that on my food journey. I mean, who can turn down pineapple, avocadoes, spinach, apples, or lemons?  I love them all and they all make me feel great.  BUT, what experts maybe don't realize when they make statements like the ones above, is how it makes those of us who have tried over and over again to live a painless life without meds feel.  What their messages say to me now is

 "You FAILED."
"You didn't try hard enough."
"Did you really follow the diet?"

I wish my RA could be cured by something as "simple as a change in diet".  I really do.  But after years of making "simple" and drastic changes to my diet, I am worn out mentally.  I never again want to pass on a beautiful meal or miss out on the fun of eating out with my family and friends.  While I desperately want to lose weight, I will never again micro-manage each and every piece of food I put in my body.  I am done.  I am done listening to "experts" tell me how simple it is to cure rheumatoid arthritis.  They don't know MY body or MY RA.  I AM the expert.  And I am telling my body that it no longer needs to put itself under the stress of feeling like a failure for not being able to gain control of my RA with food. I am done. I love myself too much to keep listening to "experts" who believe you just haven't tried eliminating the "right" food or taken the "right" supplement. Roll your eyes at me, but I deserve to fill my body with nourishing anti-inflammatory foods while also enjoying a less stressful life. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Self-Love: Improving My Thoughts

Due to the state of Illinois not being able to agree on a budget, I have found myself with a lot of extra time on my hands this summer.  Since I do not have a day job until mid-August, I have decided this is the perfect time to focus on improving my "self-love".  Throughout the month of July, I hope to share some thoughts on this topic.
Overall, self-love is an area of my life that I happen to be pretty good at.  I know that I need time each day to quiet my mind and with age, I have been lucky to figure out what that means for me.  Sometimes my heart feels drawn to these things when I neglect them, which is a good thing for me. Each day I try to quiet my mind by walking with my border collie Izzy, connecting via text with my one of my sisters sharing positives from the previous day, sneaking in a bath between day and evening classes while catching up on a favorite Hulu or Netflix show, sitting down and just talking with my husband or kids, and not filling up my daily schedule.  These are things I've made a habit of doing, things that are easy for me to do to show self-love.

There are of course other ways to show self-love. The food I buy and eat plus the cosmetics, shampoos, and lotions that I use tell my body that it deserves the very safest, cleanest products within my budget. There are some things though this month that I want to work on.  I've been cleaning up my diet and working out pretty regularly for the last five weeks or so and I want to continue doing that. I know my body is going through a big transition right now as it prepares for menopause, and I need to do my part to make sure it receives plenty of nutrients, rest, and movement. With extra time, this is quickly becoming a habit because I can plan ahead and make sure food is always ready for me and exercise is a part of my day.

The biggest hurdle I need to work on to promote self love is my thoughts.  Due to various reasons, I have gained a lot of weight and don't feel comfortable in my own body.  I don't like feeling this way and want to change it rather than settle on it. I don't have a set weight that I need to lose, I just want to feel strong and comfortable.  One thing that often gets in the way is the thoughts I tell myself such as, "You look fat." or "Nothing looks good on you anymore."  Just when I feel my stomach is a little flatter, I put on my clothes and feel disappointment and tell myself that I must have eaten too much or not moved enough.  I don't like feeding my brain these thoughts. I want to tell my body that it worked hard that day, it ate well, it loved others to its fullest because deep down I know that is the truth.  I want my body to know it is doing well. I want to show every part of my body that it is loved.  So, here I go.  I'm ready to turn my negatives into affirming statements. "I am helping my body to reach its ideal weight."

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hip Pain: Bursitis

I have four posts started, but just sitting, waiting for me.  I woke up early this morning which usually is my best time to gather my thoughts and write.  I tried adding some thoughts to all of them with no luck.  They are all topics I have been thinking about for a while and want to see on my blog.  Yet, I can't concentrate.  I can't say what I want to say. 

At the end of my walk this morning, I realized the problem.  Pain has taken over my brain and that is the focus.  While I have many thoughts floating around in my head, the only one it can truly listen to is the pain. 

Last September I had bilateral cortisone shots in my hips.  The pain has returned.  My rheumatologist quickly diagnosed it this week as bursitis, but sadly I came home and had to do my own detective work.  Why? Because after sitting in a small claustrophic room for thirty minutes, she spent less than ten minutes going over my symptoms, medications, and insurance change questions.  As I left, I didn't feel she really listened to my levels of pain even though she prescribed Meloxicam and said she thought it was bursitis and if I'd lose a little weight it might improve.  Seriously, I had to keep my middle finger held down tight.  I had just refused to be weighed because I am fully aware that I am overweight right now and despite spending the last four weeks working out regularly and living mostly on cut up veggies, salads and a ton of salmon, I have lost zero pounds. I am fully aware that the extra weight negatively affects my symptoms. Duh!

Anyhow, back to the hip pain.  The pain originally started around my hip bones every evening around 5:00 and got worse as the night went on.  By morning, the pain was gone.  The last few days, especially today, it was there when I woke up.  The pain starts around the hip bones and then creeps down into my inner thighs and down into my legs.  After reading about bursitis, my rheumy is probably right.  I just feel like I wasn't heard. The pain isn't sharp.  It doesn't come and go if I move in a certain direction.  It is more like a constant gnawing pain the takes over a large part of my body.  All I want to do is complain. It wears me out. Working out makes me feel stronger and more attractive, but it definitely irritates the pain.  It's a painful conundrum.   

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

I Found the Person I was Looking For with Biologics

This is a post from 2015 but still holds true today.  My life literally changed almost immediately when I started on a biologic.  I fought hard against them, but in the end, it is exactly what my body needed.

Often I think back to an evening in 2004.  I finished teaching an evening class at 9:00, walked to my car, and received a call.  I sat in the parking lot absorbing the news from my primary care physician that I was officially diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.  I'll forever be thankful to him for patiently explaining the findings from the rheumatologist I had recently visited.  He assured me that once I was on the right medications life would be fine again.

I don't know that I ever questioned my doc's supportive words that life would be okay again, but over the following years it didn't seem like it was in my future.  I was on meds for four years, got better, and then worse than ever. My rheumatoid arthritis went from mild to severe. Since the medications didn't seem to be working anyhow, I decided to take a two year break. It was the supportive words of my health professionals that lead me back to medications.  My naturopath had me take a good look at where I was and where I wanted to be and my primary care physician suggested I start fresh with a new rheumy.  The advice from the two of them was just what I needed.  I went to my first appointment with the new rheumy ready for change and a feeling of optimism.

One thing I always did for myself even during my darkest days of struggling to walk up the six stairs to my bedroom, needing my children to undress me, and finding everyday tasks like lifting my cup of tea to my mouth was to visualize myself well.  I could always see myself hugging my family without pain, skipping beside my children, bike riding with my husband, and walking my border collie with ease. I never let those scenes drift from my mind. When my new rheumy suggested a mixture of methotrexate and Enbrel, I accepted and for some reason knew as I was shooting myself with my first dose of Enbrel that things were going to be different this time with medications.

I was diagnosed in April 2004. From that time until August 2010 when I started on Enbrel, I searched high and low to find someone who was leading a fairly pain-free and active lifestyle. I had no luck.  I found person after person who dealt with the pain I did during my rough years and wondered if I would ever find someone who got better.  "Maybe people don't get better" was a thought I sometimes allowed myself to think. Then my optimism won over and I convinced myself that people do get better but stop sharing online because they are out enjoying life again. I had to believe my life wouldn't be one of constant pain and physical restrictions.

In the five years that I have been on my mix of Arava (went off methotrexate due to increased number of nodules) and Enbrel, I have finally found a person that leads a pretty much pain-free and active life.  She has flares off and on and has to watch her stress levels, the weather, food, and other conditions that contribute to the flares but overall leads a pretty good life.  She has answered "NO" to the following questions from her rheumatologist for some time. "Do you have morning stiffness?"  "Do you ever need to take pain medications?" "Do your flares last more than a few days?"  Who is this person that I finally found?  It's ME. I'm finally the person I searched for all those years.  I am the person who I dreamed about on my most difficult days. Will I always be this person?  I have no idea. What I do know is that at this time my rheumatoid arthritis is under control.  I searched too long and too hard to find the person I have become to worry about what "might" happen in the future. Now is the time to embrace life and be thankful that my visions of wellness came to be.  If it hasn't happened for you, please don't give up. Keep seeing yourself healthy. Know that it may take years for you to find the person you are searching for but that person is out there just waiting to be found.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Changing Insurance While on a Biologic

Making the decision to go on a biologic was a tough one for me as I shared last week.  But once the decision was made, I have never looked back.  In fact, I have developed a little anxiety over the possibility of ever being without.  This fear unfortunately gets reflected on my husband since
he holds our insurance policy with his employer since I do not have benefits with mine as adjunct faculty. 

The last time my husband changed jobs I was completely off meds which meant I didn't have to worry about transferring meds, pre-approvals or how much insurance would cover for my pricey biologic. When I did start on a biologic in 2010, it was new to me, so whatever happened with insurance seemed right.  As I have talked with others, I now realize our insurance has been very generous with payment of my biologic.  But as my husband started to get the itch for a new employer, but anxiety took hold.  What if they don't pay as much? What if I am not approved? (Another anxiety is changing biologics when this one seems to work so well.)  I wanted my husband to find something that met his needs better, but also selfishly wanted him to just stay put because with the insurance we have now, I know what the deal is. 

Well, he has finally found a new job and it is amazing. During his first week, he has felt more supported and energetic than he has in a long time.  I love getting texts from him throughout the day telling me about another unexpected perk from his new employer. (The last one of the week was that this company buys "real" toilet paper, not the one-ply stuff that burns the butt. It's the little things, right?) This week we will be choosing our insurance and I'll begin the process of having my prescriptions transferred over.  I've talked with my rheumatologist which has made the process a little less scary and I am just trying to focus on the fact that everything else in this job is going so well so far, that the insurance will be great too.  I'll keep you updated but this week, please keep your fingers crossed for me and if you have any great advice for keeping the anxiety low or making the process easier, PLEASE share.   

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

I Fought Using a Biologic For Years

For the last six years when I auto-inject my biologic into my leg, I have a ritual of breathing in, mentally saying “Thank you for improving my life, “and breathing out. When I started using a biologic in August 2010, it almost instantly changed my life. I was in more pain than I wanted to admit, could barely move my body, and it was starting to wear on my relationships. It was time.

I fought using a biologic for years.  The monotone manner my rheumatologist used as he went through the side effects along with the commercials that backed up my fears, I was very slow when it came to warming up to biologics. When my rheumatologist first introduced the idea to me through brochures, I took them home and trashed them.  No way would I EVER go that route. I would try everything else before I took the leap of using a biologic.

Try everything else is exactly what I did. I hooked up with a naturopath the same year I was diagnosed. She guided me through an elimination diet that got me off prednisone about nine months later. Working with her honestly saved me during those first years. I desperately needed emotional support and received zero percent of that from my rheumatologist. Looking back now, I think if I had changed rheumatologists earlier, I might have taken a slightly different path, but who knows. I don’t regret the path I took. Each visit with my naturopath empowered me. She taught me to really listen to my body - a gift I will always value. I sought out other alternative practitioners also for acupuncture, other body manipulations, supplements, etc. I believed 100% that I could get my rheumatoid arthritis under control with little to no medications, despite my naturopath telling me otherwise. But I learned so much about myself during this time. While it was physically painful, the pain kept me focused on making other changes in my life. I made myself a priority and let a lot of guilt I had bundled up my entire life go free.

Six years into my diagnosis, I had been on and off  RA medications. I think now that it was when I had made the necessary changes in my way of life that I was ready to accept that I needed a biologic. Again, it was my naturopath who asked the question, “Are the side effects of a biologic worse than not being able to live your life?” This was the question I needed. She talked me through my goals in life and without telling me what to do, strongly agreed that starting a biologic was in my best interest.

Sometimes in our community I feel those of us who choose an alternative route are looked at as being irresponsible. The idea behind this is that rheumatoid arthritis is a serious disease and action should be taken quickly. I agree, RA is serious, but, we are each so different. I NEEDED to go through this long phase of denying a biologic to gain control over my emotional and spiritual body. By rejecting a biologic for so long did I do permanent damage to my physical body? I guess I will never know for sure. I do have some permanent damage to my knee and toes, numerous nodules that have continued with meds, and a few fingers that are slightly wonky. These changes could have occurred even while on medications. But if they are due to not starting on a biologic right away, they seem small in my mind now because those first six years were what I personally needed. When I finally made the decision to use a biologic, I KNEW it would work. I embraced it fully and it has worked amazingly well. I have no regrets in using it.

Please don't let family, friends, doctors, or even the RA community decide the path that is best for you. Take time to make the decisions that are fit with who you are. Because I listened to my heart, twelve years after my diagnosis, I feel optimistic. I don’t feel like my rheumatoid arthritis is the end of a happy life. My RA is one of the many components that have made me into who I am today.