A friend of mine used to ask me this every time she saw me. It made me laugh. I was just a kid, and I liked how she, an adult, was playing with language and ‘getting away with’ saying a ‘bad word’.
Who knew, way back then, that questions of health would one day dominate my life? Who knew that I would spend years trying to discover what the health is wrong with me and how I can remedy the problem or at least minimize its effects?
But guys, I have relatively good news! After five years of trial and error — testing, medication, treatment, side effects, etc. — we have discovered a strategy that, at least for now, is reducing my symptoms!
Let me pause here and give my disclaimer that every body is different, no one treatment works the same for every person, and certainly this is just my story. I am in no way suggesting that your strategy for managing your health is inappropriate or that you should alter it in any way.
I haven’t written about my health since last summer when I was doing a trial of Cosentyx. After a over a year of no medical intervention for my illness, which had been labelled psoriatic arthritis and/or fibromyalgia, I had gone to a new rheumatologist who, at least initially, promised hope for reduced pain, better mobility, and less fatigue. She felt that Cosentyx was a miracle drug and that I would certainly see dramatic results perhaps even with the first dose. I was so excited! After four years of pain and fatigue that limited my everyday life, I was looking forward to ‘getting back to normal’!
Well, I did see a dramatic effect, but it was not the one I was looking for. Cosentyx made me an emotional wreck — I mean a serious emotional wreck. I could barely function, particularly when the doses were back-to-back in the initial ‘loading’ period. I was irrational, depressed, impulsive, and downright mean. Nevertheless, I continued through that initial phase hoping to strike the promised gold; it never surfaced. I stayed on Cosentyx for six months with no real improvement.
My doctor, suspecting a different diagnosis of degenerative arthritis, next recommended that I visit a pain management clinic. I have been very opposed to this from the start. Remember that prior to this illness, I had been a pretty avid runner for about 10 years. I had run 5-6 days a week and completed two half-marathons. I was in pretty great shape up until I started noticing joint pain and extreme fatigue. I did not want to resign myself to a life of pain meds — I wanted to get better! I wanted to find the source of the problem, fix it, and get back to my life! My previous doctor had also recommended pain management; that’s when I had decided to try homeopathy. Homeopathy offered me hope and agency but no true change.
Anyway, I digress. Last fall, when my current rheumatologist recommended I go to the pain management clinic, she suggested I try a steroid shot in my sacroiliac joint — the biggest source of my pain. This sounded different to me. She was not suggesting that I take NSAIDS for the rest of my life or that I take opioids or some other form of pain medication. She was just suggesting a steroid injection. I was willing to give that a try.
With the very first injection I noticed a change — I didn’t have such a high degree of pain or such dramatic fatigue. In fact, I was moving around more easily and having more energy. After my second injection a month later, my chiropractor and physical therapist both noticed structural differences — my spine adjusted more easily, my muscles seemed more relaxed, and my posture was more erect. After the third injection just two weeks ago, I notice that I have more endurance as I move through my days and I sleep more comfortably at night.
For the first time in five years, I have noticed a significant change in my ability to function!
Now, I will say that I am cautious in celebration. First, I am only two and a half months into this treatment. I do not know how long it will last. In fact, after the third shot, the medical team said that I should call them “as needed”. What does that mean? Will my relief last a month? Two months? a year? What I am told is that everyone is different. Some people get relief for months; some get relief for much longer.
The second reason that I am cautious is that I do not want to go back to my soldiering ways. My illness has helped me, through trial and error, find a better pace for my life. I don’t try to cram twenty hours of living into every day any more. I find time for work, but I also find time to rest. I have built boundaries into my life that never existed before. I have more time with my husband, more availability for my kids and grandkids, and more margin to manage the unexpected stuff that arises in life. I don’t want to lose this balance as my health improves.
I still believe that this journey of the last five years has been a lesson designed uniquely for me. The way I was living my life previous to this illness was a path of my own making — I was kicking butts and taking names. I was not caring for the others in my life or, least of all, myself. I don’t want to lose what I’ve learned in any level of recovery.
So, for now, I will continue the practices that have sustained me this far:
- A commitment to daily Scripture reading — this has been a calming anchor to my days. I listen to a daily ‘dose’ on a YouVersion Bible reading plan every morning as I move through my routine. It’s a small thing that makes a huge difference.
- Regular visits with my chiropractor and physical therapist who have been my coaches and supporters for going on three years now. I can’t say enough good about these two.
- Yoga, a healthful eating regimen, and walking. Daily intentional care of my physical body helps maintain both my physical and emotional health.
- Writing — putting my thinking on a page with a commitment to total transparency has been an accountability that contributes to my emotional and physical health.
- Psychological therapy — a once a week discussion with a trained professional who helps me sort out the healthy and unhealthy messages I am giving myself. I am always surprised by the interrelationship between physical and mental health; it cannot be overstated.
- A renewed commitment to prayer — this seems to be the hardest for me. I am so used to muscling through and finding my own solutions. Turning to prayer is a highly intentional act right now. I am praying that it becomes more automatic over time.
I sometimes joke that taking care of myself is a part-time job. It takes a lot of effort. However, I have learned that if I have any hope of caring for the people I love or for being effective with my students, I have got to oxygenate myself first. It’s not selfish; it’s a healthy practice that enables me to do the things I love. It honors the Creator to care for what He created.
Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.