It started with a bump on the inside of my palm underneath my ring finger. A week or so later, that same bump appeared underneath my other ring finger. I kept thinking that the bumps were actually calluses, since I had been lifting weights more often. That was almost 17 years ago.
At the time, I had a 2-year-old and a sometimes-colicky newborn. I was juggling everything. In one hand I would be holding the crying baby while stirring a pot of simmering oatmeal in the other. Often, the 2-year-old was attached to my leg. Meanwhile, I was starting to feel some discomfort in my hands.
As time went on, that discomfort began to move to my right ankle and then to both knees. What was going on? I finally decided that something wasn't quite right and that I should see my doctor. My husband agreed it was time for someone with a medical background to take a look at me.
I will not bore you with every detail. The short version of this very long story was complicated, to say the least. My husband was friendly with a hand surgeon, so I went to see him first. After examining my hands, he decided I should see my regular doctor. Weeks passed. I eventually saw my general practitioner. She did a thorough physical exam and then ran a plethora of blood tests.
A week or so later, the test results were in. I was told I needed to see a rheumatologist. What? I'm only 28! I thought a rheumatologist was only for older people.
It took awhile to get in to see the rheumatologist. She did another thorough physical exam, ran a ridiculous number of blood tests and asked an unfathomable amount of questions. Everyone was trying to rule out whatever was possible. The diagnosis: Arthritis.
During this 10-month-period, I was in a great deal of pain with everyday "nothings." It hurt to sign a check. It hurt to steer my steering wheel. It hurt to tie my children's shoes. Everything was hurting and, at the time, I saw no end in sight. It was extremely depressing.
I tried countless different medicines. Too many to mention with too many uncomfortable side effects to explain. I kept a medicine log (along with a feeding log for my newborn) to remember everything.
Nobody could help me. My husband was in the middle of his surgical residency and was at the hospital all day every day. He would sleep there every third night depending on the service he was on. At times, he would need to sleep there every other night.
We did not live near family, were new to the area and had few friends. I felt very alone. I was trying my best to take care of my beautiful babies and take care of our little house. Grocery shopping for the average Mom of two young children is challenging in and of itself. How could I do this when I could barely walk, drive my car or even lift my kids to put them in the shopping cart? Something had to change.
Finding the right medicine at the right time saved me. I had to muster more patience than ever as it took a full four months to notice any difference in my pain level. By six months I felt like a new person. It was an absolute miracle!
Being in so much pain and having such difficulty walking around had put 20 pounds on my petite frame. I did not recognize myself in clothing and shuttered when I would see myself naked in the mirror. Immobility had caused this weight gain, but my drive and determination would banish it.
Within a month, I lost five pounds just by walking around doing my everyday "stay-at-home-Mom" chores. Yes, finally! Now, I had to make some additional changes. It was time to start moving even more. It was time to start going on walks with my double stroller. It was time to play ball with my kids at the local park. It was time to join a gym!
Getting Arthritis at 28 was not going to break me. In fact, in many ways, I feel it saved me. Because of this disease, I am always careful when I work out. Nothing is done in sheer haste. Well... most of the time. I'm not perfect, you know.
I am convinced that keeping my weight down feels better on my tender joints. I am sure that eating well has positively impacted my life, my husband's life and my children's lives. Additionally, I am certain that regular exercise has saved me. It is this healthy combination that has become my daily life and routine.
Perhaps I would not care about eating well or exercise had I not received my diagnosis. Maybe I would not care about reading the nutrition labels on every product I buy. Maybe I would not be as appreciative as I am for having my quality of life back.
Here I am, 17 years later, with two amazing teenagers and a 20-plus-year happy marriage.
Getting arthritis was not the worst thing and it did not break me. I am positive that it not only saved me but that it has truly strengthened me. It's not that I have arthritis and I live with it. It's that I live with arthritis and I am really fine with that.