'She was always fighting a battle but her smile wouldn't tell you so'-Nikki Rowe.
There are different stages for the way I deal with my emotions. I can either hold things in for way too long until I explode a weeks’ worth of emotions at once, I can hide my inner feelings thinking I can deal with this on my own and become grumpy until my parents or friends will make me chat about it and those small issues are cleared up or reassured very quickly, I sometimes become so frustrated at my own body some days I resent it. All of these things aside I'd like to say I'm quite a positive person I like to approach life with a pinch of salt, no feelings last forever, and the more positivity you put out there the more you receive.
I also believe there are clear differences between positivity, negativity, and realism. I had one experience where there was a family health emergency, and whilst anxiously waiting for important test results to come back I got told I was being negative. In this situation I was actually being realistic, that these test results were so important for the future health of my family member I had to prepare myself for either outcome and we would deal with that as we needed too. It is not real to be overly positive at every moment in your life, it just doesn't work.
As the last four years have gone by now after my diagnosis I have learnt how I like to cope with my RA. I love to laugh, take the mickey out of myself and self-deprecate so I will occasionally make jokes about myself to make me feel better, and naming my condition Arthur is just one example of a coping mechanism, he's like a friend I guess, a really annoying, demanding one! I also ensure that I surround myself around understanding people that will just get it if I’m having a hard time without too many questions asked, my friends and family always know what to say- whether that be sympathy or much needed words of encouragement.
When I was first diagnosed I fell into an initial two week black hole of trying to deal with my ‘new life’. I felt like my body was no longer mine. My healthy body had been stolen from me and replaced with an unhealthy one. To now live with this new lifestyle that I didn't ask for, or deserve was such a huge hit.
I had to deal with the pressures of slaying my college course, trying to get into the dance performance I wanted and growing up, becoming a women and finding out who you are is enough as it is. I think through college years, is when you experience all kinds of humans, life experiences, and how you as a person deal with day to day life becoming an adult. Emotions are high, sometimes you don't understand yourself. This is all enough to promote mental health problems. In fact 50% of mental health cases are established by age 14, and 75% by age 24.
So add all of this up, and then add on a chronic illness. What the fuck? When you are growing up you never truly consider your health. I ate less because I wanted to be skinnier, I worked out at the gym after a full day of college because I wanted my body to look better so I'd be considered for more jobs, I didn't sleep enough, I was stressed, I binge drank, socially smoked, and then started every Monday, a new week at college tired and pushing through. I had an amazing time don't get me wrong, and who doesn't do all of those things right? ITS FUN! I just find it crazy looking back now for these last four years, and having the knowledge I have now after really looking into my disease, and knowing what helps me and what really dosen't, how on earth did I constantly do that to my body?
So I cried and stayed at home for two weeks not really admitting to myself what I had been told. I couldn't go back to college and be strong, as I couldn't yet set my head straight. I was so EMBARRASSED. Why did I care? I don't know. But the thought of explaining to so many people why I had time off of college. Why I was allowed to sit out of some parts of class because it hurt too much. Why I missed class because I felt so sick on my meds. These all filled me with dread!
When I finally got off the sofa and back to college I remember having an audition the next day. I had cried most of the night, not really knowing why specifically, but just feeling super anxious and down. I got to the morning of the audition and my agent told me to put more mascara on, she had no idea I needed more eye makeup because of what I was going through. I went to the all day audition and got right to the end, with five other girls and was so proud of myself. That's when I knew I could do this. If I could make it far in this audition, after this diagnosis, this pain, this huge blow, I could do anything. My college were super supportive, they sent notices out to all of my teachers letting them know why I might have to sit out on certain occasions (press ups killed me the most) so I wouldn't have to keep explaining myself infront of my class. My close couple of friends knew what was going on and that was it, I couldn't admit it to myself let alone anyone else.
I was up and down for a while after this. One day I would feel strong and ready to give my all, and some days I felt so far away from myself and a bit of a nervous mess. I actually found my note-pad recently, I wrote down every time I felt anxious and why, I never knew the real reason why, but it helped to write it down. I assume it was an accumulation of life.
Fast forward four years ahead and I couldn't be more comfortable with who I am, what I am, my diagnosis and everything. Hense why I'm here writing this today! Time heals all. It takes time to get on the right meds, eat the right foods for your joints and energy levels, find the correct exercise routines and all of those lifestyle amendments that are going to help you. The initial part of diagnosis is scary, but reassuring that someone finally believes the pain that you are in and is going to help tackle that! Day to day life with a demanding and unpredictable disease is hard work, take the good days and enjoy every minute, and know that you can get through every bad day, you have this far!
You are 2-4 times more likely to get depression as an RA patient. You can't do what you used to enjoy, or what a ‘normal’ person can easily achieve anymore, and that is what sends us into this mental challenge. A 2017 study conducted in Britain found that within 5 years of diagnosis, about 30% of people develop depression, and a 1.6 increase in women to men.
Symptoms from RA can make your mental health worse, but in turn mental health can make your symptoms worse as stress can induce inflammation. Its a vicious cycle!
There are so many forms of mental health, click here to see the many versions you can experience mental health. 2016 'Fundamental Facts' states that every week 1 in 6 adults experience common mental health problems like anxiety and depression, and 1 in 5 adults have considered taking their own life. Anxiety and depression are the most common form of mental health in the UK.
Top tips for staying positive with a chronic illness
Share your story, it will inspire others
Everyone's journey is different
Don't compare yourself to anyone else
Listen to your body
Practise calming your mind and soul
Be honest with yourself
Know your capabilities
Its okay not to be okay
Exercise-it releases happy chemicals!
Remember your not failing-setbacks come unexpectedly, don’t change your goals
Give yourself time to grieve, it’s okay to be upset that you don’t have the body you thought you would
Do something small for others-you’ll feel accomplished
Do little things for yourself, take time to make plans to force you to do something fun and positive
Break down tasks into manageable steps
Be your own best advocate-no one knows you better than you know you!
Self Care is Health care
Food is medicine
There is so much help out there, reach out to your friends a family, a counsellor, a GP, an anonymous helpline, me! You can get through this. It's okay not to be okay.
Thanks for reading
Chloe & Arthur x