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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Testing 1,2,3

     So...I think I may finally be done with testing for awhile and I could not be happier!  As much as I needed to figure out what was going with my stomach, etc. I was not looking forward to this latest round of testing which involved both a colonoscopy and endoscopy.  Thankfully it all went well despite my worries.  Best of all the tests showed no signs of an ulcer.  Instead I have a hiatal hernia.
    This is a pretty simple diagram of what it is.  Suffice it to say that I don't need surgery and it fully explains my nausea, chest pains and reflux.  Treatment is pretty much the same as what you do for GERD....or surgery, which is not recommended for me at this time as the doctor believes mine is treatable with life style changes and medications (which I already take).  That was very happily received news!
     I had begun feeling better while we were away and as I discussed in my last blog post, I am working to reduce stress to go along with my new attitude about exercise and my activity choices.  Reducing stress and slowing down my pace is not easy for me.  I tend to go at 100 miles and hour and in fact, have always thrived doing just that.  I needed to learn to walk, not run through my life.
     This may be the most difficult strategy yet for me to add to my RA tool box.  But, I know that in the long run (pun intended) I will be better off mentally and by extension physically, if I can assimilate this into my daily life.  I am often reminded by my family, friends and co-workers that I need to "slow down" so I know that it must be pretty evident that I tend to overdo.  
      So, the last few days I have really started to do just that.  Now most people who have been around me may not have noticed but I truly have changed my pace and more importantly my attitude.  I am no longer over committing myself each day to the point that when I get home I am exhausted and too tired to enjoy the remainder of the day.  By just stepping back a bit and not overextending my time I am seeing a big difference!   I am waking up more relaxed and ready to start my day.  I am finding that by being more selective and measured about what I am doing each day, I am actually being more effective overall in what I am accomplishing!  By simply stopping for a moment through out the day and "taking a breath" I am reducing stress, which is really what this is all about.
     Funny how something so simple can lead to something so profound.  I will admit that this week I was "tested" in more than just the physical sense.  This was a particularly busy week at work and one that was not short on stressful and demanding situations.  However, because of my new found commitment to "slow down and breathe" I was not only able to handle the pressure but I felt a lot more effective and actually enjoyed the challenge!  I feel like a thousand pound weight has been lifted from my shoulders (and boy is that nice for someone with RA!). 
     I find myself smiling more, breathing deeper, sleeping better, handling the daily demands of RA better and that is what I continue to strive for each and every day.  I know that I will likely slide back into the old habits now and again and with the holidays just around the corner it will be a big challenge.  But I am up for it and with my RA under control at the moment I think now is the perfect time to really commit to my new found approach.  Once again I am adding to my RA management toolbox...which is actually getting more and more complete with each lesson I learn.  I can really have a full and rich life filled with joy and beauty, not pain, frustration and stress.  Mission accomplished.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Lesson learned...I promise!

     The last few weeks have generated some big-time lessons for me and they come from a broad range of experiences.
     I just returned from a very special and amazing trip to Brazil with my family to attend and participate in the wedding of a young man who is like another son to me and my husband. We then had the pleasure to stay on in Brazil and visit with his parents who are close friends (his mom is like a sister to me).  The trip was one we had planned for months and months in advance.  
    An international trip of such a great distance was new to me and so I was eager to go but still anxious about how my RA would fare.  I was also in the midst of this whole stomach/GERD business which had not been resolved when we left but had improved enough that I was not going to let it stop me from taking the trip of a lifetime!
     So, what lessons did I learn?  Well, lesson number 1 is that I  discovered that a few decisions I made in advance really paid off.  I gave myself my Simponi shot 5 days early rather than 8 days late.  My doctor agreed that would be the way to go and he was right.  I also upped my corticosteriod from 4 to 8 mg. for the duration of the trip.  Another wise move.  The flight down was 11 hours, 13 hours on the way back (different route) so between the confinement of the flight itself coupled with the miserable seats and lack of leg room I would likely have spun right into a flare before our trip began!  Although I did have some minor pain issues they resolved within a few days.  
     Lesson number 2:  Try to get some exercise while on vacation but wait a day or two to allow some time for your body to adjust to all the new elements you have introduced into your days.  I am so thankful that I swam while I was away although I did not get to do it as often as I would have liked.  That said, I am convinced it helped me to have a relatively pain free trip!  
     Which brings me to lesson number 3: This is my second long trip within three months so I was worried about how I would manage to get through this without any flaring.  As I sat on the beach in the Riviera in Brazil (yes that is meant to induce reader envy) I had a revelation.
     On both trips I had been very careful to not overdo it physically, to not strain myself from an exercise standpoint.  I also was clearly able to be stress free for the most part, my most demanding decision being what to order for dinner.  I realized that "back home" I was not nearly that diligent about these areas of my life.  In fact I would go so far as to say that I pretty much ignored them, often plunging headlong into stress inducing situations; insisting on participating in exercise regimens that were clearly not wise choices; in short, I was not living day to day in a way that would transfer the benefits of "vacation mode" to "home mode".  I knew when it came to me that I had won the prize for best lesson learned!
     Now came the hard part....take these lessons home and assimilate them into my life on a daily basis.  First of all, I have revamped my exercise plan.  I am dropping Zumba (for now anyway) as it is simply too strenuous on my joints (when you are wearing more braces on your joints then you are clothing and socks combined it is time to move on).  But...I need exercise to stay sane, sleep well, keep my mood in check, etc. so what to do?  Well, I am adding an additional day of swimming (THE best form of exercise for those of us with RA, by the way) AND I am going to try some gentle yoga:
and some tai chi:
   I have to admit that at first, the old "poor me" mentality began to creep in.  I started thinking why do I have to continually change my way of life and give up the things I love to do because of this hellish disease?  But then, after I had my pity party I got a grip...not easy but necessary to manage RA as I have said over and over here.  I realized that I had once again, however inadvertently, added on to my "self awareness tree".
      Instead of looking at this situation as something being taken away I decided to flip that and see it as an opportunity to try something new.  A chance to find a new and interesting challenge, to learn a new type of exercise.  And that is exactly how I have approached this and it is working!  
     What still remains is to tackle the stress and "doing too much" pieces of the puzzle and I will keep you posted on how I plan to solve those issues!  Wish me luck!
     So, take these new found lessons and use them as you continue your journey with RA.  I hope they serve you as well as they have me.