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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!

     Despite the old adage contrary to this statement I am convinced that learning can happen at any age!  Not only do I see this with the population of older adults that I work with but now I am part of that group having turned 60 this year. Not only is it possible it is crucial to maintaining a good quality of life AND in the case of RA, to managing the ever changing world of chronic disease.
     Keeping up with the latest news, treatments, management strategies, etc. should be as important to each of us as taking our medications, exercise and diet.  To illustrate this, simply look back over the last two decades of treatment options promoted by rheumatoligists and you will see the sweeping changes that have occurred in the world of our disease.  It is nothing short of stunning the many advances that have been made in the relatively short time period from new medications to when to start aggressive treatment to alternative options, the list is long and impressive!

     In chatting with some of our RA Support Group members who have had the disease for 25+ years and/or their older family members who suffered it with it is amazing to hear the way RA was once treated.  Not only were the medications different (which frankly is not surprising) but so many other aspects have changed!  At one time, people were sent to rehab places and essentially told to stay in bed when in pain because it was believed that any weight on the joints would make it more painful.  Now, of course, we know that has very little to do with flaring since it has been determined that RA is autoimmune in nature.  
     Exercise is yet another example of "learning new tricks".  It is now well known that staying physically active is a key strategy in not only surviving RA but enhancing the quality of life and remaining healthy and fit - physically AND mentally!  And yet not long ago the idea of exercising with RA was totally contrary to popular thought.
     I have to also mention the value of innovation and technology.  I find that many of the newest technologies have been very helpful to me, not only medical ones but also in terms of electronic devices like my phone and computer.  The easy use and soft touch they involve have been life savers and actually have allowed me to continue to work even when my hands were flaring pretty badly.
     I actually like new ideas, plans, etc. for the most part.  I have learned, in no small measure due to RA, that change can be "just what the doctor ordered" and to embrace it is a lot less stressful than fighting it.  This is not a lesson that came easily to me.  Only after having multiple surgeries and changing medications numerous times and being forced to switch exercise choices have I learned that to not accept and move forward with these changes can be so stress inducing it will actually cause setbacks and unnecessary and avoidable anxiety.  No thanks!  
     By allowing ourselves to embrace change we truly invite new thoughts and actions which in turn lead to a better life with a much better handle on our RA in all its "colors"!  Entering through the "new doors" will only make our management of RA that much more complete and successful.
     What actually prompted this whole train of thought today was my most recent episode of anxiety that lasted for several weeks unchecked.  I had decided, despite know this was not likely a wise choice, to "keep it to myself" and try to get it under control without benefit of sharing with anyone. Now I knew from past experiences in many other aspects of my life and contrary to even my own advice to others, that this was probably a bad decision.  Be that as it may, I still determined to buck up and try to do some self talk and other strategies to see if I could handle it on my own.  Well, two weeks into it I was chatting with a dear friend and it just all bubbled up, tears and all.  She was her usual patient, compassionate self and I found the anxiety falling away as we chatted.  Much to my surprise, it has not returned to any significant degree since!  So now I know yet another strategy to cope with anxiety and will take advantage of this in the future.  Thus my conclusion that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!
     Biggest lesson for me is to keep my mind open to any and all new "tricks" knowing it will lead to a healthier and happier life!


Friday, September 5, 2014

fight or flight

       So we have all heard of this concept but how many know what it means and how it might be related to chronic disease?  Anxiety, for me, really became an issue during the time I was patiently (pun intended) waiting for someone, anyone to figure out what was causing the many symptoms that would later be revealed to be due to RA.  
     However during the interim I was being passed from doctor to doctor and told that it was probably all due to stress.  Knowing that what I felt was quite real only intensified my anxiety and to this day I am paying the piper. 
 Once the diagnosis was made it certainly eased my mind but the fact was the damage was done in terms of anxiety triggers. I suffer with it to this day and lately it has reared its ugly head again and I am trying to work through it.
     Just around the time I began to have RA symptoms which went undiagnosed for some time I began to have feelings of butterflies in my chest...sounds strange I know but that is the best way for me to describe it.  No pain, no other issues that could lead one to think it was heart disease, etc.  That said, I had an EKG done following a sudden, unprovoked panic attack.  Long story short a series of tests were done to ensure that it was not my heart and in the end due to some elevated heart rate issues I went on Toprol XL and have been on it for about 15 years.  No heart problems surfaced and it was great that was ruled out.  Fast forward to a few weeks ago.  I had gone off the Torprol in March when I had my para esophageal hiatal hernia repair and have been doing great ever since.  No issues at all.  Well, one afternoon I had a rather abrupt sensation of an increased heart rate and took my blood pressure and heart rate check myself.  It was not overly high considering my elevated anxiety response (only hit 99) and went back down to the low 80's within an hour.  Blood pressure was perfect.  So I thought well let's just chalk that up to the crazy pace and stress of late....just suffice it to say that there has been a LOT going on and leave it at that.  All good I might add.  At any rate, since then I periodically get this weird sensation that I had not experienced in 15 years back again and it is wearing me down.
     I am so disappointed that after all of this time this nasty, nagging anxiety cycle has resumed.  And what really has me concerned is that it tends to be a downward spiral that can be very difficult to crawl up out of.  
     Most frustrating of all is why now? I have surely had small episodes of anxiety over the years but nothing with such a physical response that brings back bad memories and fears I would sure like to keep packed away never to be seen again!

     I know in my head the way stress works and plays with my mind but knowing it in my head and controlling my thoughts about it are two very different things!
     With that comes this sense of impending doom and absurd thoughts of death, fear, etc. that take control of my time, my life and my days.  So hate this cycle and would give anything to not ever have it happen again.
     I firmly believe that root of all of it goes back to the extended period of uncertainty associated with RA and I also believe that it accounts for how under extreme periods of stress (good or bad) it resurfaces now and then.  I am trying my best this time around to handle it with some tools that have proved helpful in the past.  Fingers crossed they work this time.   The pattern of stress and the way it effects your mind and body can be overwhelming and paralyzing.
     So for me anything that takes my mind off it, from massage to guided imagery to exercise and time with friends usually grants me some relief and hopefully will do the trick this time....
     We have enough to manage with the day to day demands of RA.  I will muster all of my will to see to it that anxiety does not rob me of the joy and happiness I strive to enjoy each day.