There comes a time in everyone’s life when a discovery, a piece of news, a flash of understanding changes it forever. That is what happened to me in 2015. It has been a long 18 months, a time of adjusting, of accepting and of working on moving forward. What I have to share, in the hopes that it could help others, is about living with a chronic illness.
For months, years even, I experienced all sorts of odd symptoms seemly unrelated: low-grade fever, joint pain, unexplained cough, upset stomach and on and on. Everyone told me that we all get some aches and pains as we age and we should not over think that. What do you do? you begin to doubt yourself, you begin to think everyone is right and you are just not accepting your age or the changes in your body.
I kept trying until finally, I found a doctor willing to run tests until she found what was wrong. This is most important. A doctor that listens and is willing to go along until the reason for your symptoms is found. I have been lucky with that and are doing better because of it.
Just before Christmas 2015, I received a call from my doctor’s office. She wanted to see me that afternoon. I immediately thought: this cannot be good. It wasn’t. The tests were back and the doctor said the four words that have changed my life: You have Rheumatoid Arthritis. At the moment, I was not familiar with what all that meant. Arthritis didn’t sound good, thought. Well, it was worst than that.
RA is an autoimmune disease that presents many symptoms and causes untold damage to the human body. It is in the same group as Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Crohn’s Disease and other illnesses. It causes the immune system to attack healthy tissues in your body. There is no cure and produces painful inflammation not only in the joints, but the heart, lungs, liver, stomach, kidneys and any other part of your body.
Pain is your constant companion and fatigue is ever-present. Insomnia, brain fog, dry-eyes, forgetfulness are just a few symptoms. Left untreated can be deadly, but known treatments can slow the progress and help with symptoms. Unfortunately, they could also cause untold damage since they involved chemotherapy and steroids. There most be a balance so you need to research and read, inform yourself. Ask questions and go for second opinions. When you find a doctor that understands you, keep her!!!
Most of people suffering from RA have a hard time explaining the illness. It is difficult because most of us do not look sick, we continue our lives as normally as we can and try not to complain. Besides, not everyone is comfortable to sharing everything with everyone.
Each day brings new challenges and we deal with them as best we can. We can make plans and cancel them unexpectedly. There is always a possibility of a flare that will take us to bed and keep us there for a while. A day of activity can render us useless for many days afterwards. So understanding is an important part of what our friends and loved ones can do for us.
Taking care of ourselves is a priority, more than ever. Becoming selfish is a most. You cannot help anyone if you are not fit to help yourself. You learn not to feel bad about standing your ground and saying no when needed. RA is something that will shape your days for the rest of your life.
Each one of us deals with this in our own way, but it is important to realize that we must have a plan. Make changes in our way of doing things, our diet, anything that needs changing. Keep active as much as we can, don’t give up on what we enjoy. Also we must accept that we might need help to do the smallest things and must learn to accept it. Finally, love yourself and take care.
P.S. “The beauty of life and the reality we live with” — perfectly captured in this photo of a Curaçao sunset by Neelam Melwani. Thank you!!!
What? That was my reaction when I read a post by Margaret Manning, from Sixty and Me. She has been on a trip to Bali for 8 weeks, rediscovering herself and accepting who she has become. It was very powerful. See for yourself HERE .
My mind understands this is essential to acceptance of ourselves as older women. Changes in our bodies are the first sign we are no longer the young, pretty things we once were. They creep in and slowly transform us. I know that, but since changes come slowly or we are not paying attention, we just wake up one morning and we are older!!! It’s not easy for me to post this picture, but I thought it necessary.
Margaret, of course, is right. This is who we are today and accepting, loving it and moving on is the thing to do. Now, what each one of us mean by accepting is the difference between living in harmony with ourselves or fighting to stay young by any means. This would be hardly harmonious. The desire to hang on to our youth is powerful, I understand. Millions of women spend fortunes in beauty products and surgery to try just that. Who are we to criticize….. but is it worth it? For some it is, but more and more women are changing this view.
The most important thing we should remember: keep healthy, active and involved. Living in harmony with our aging bodies, accepting them, does not mean we are going to let go. Nobody is saying we should just stay home, gain weight, slow down in our activities, dress like our grandmothers did and sit and wait for old age to fully take charge of our lives. Absolutely NOT!!!
Accepting our bodies as they are today involves a lot of work, dedication and care. We should work at keeping our bodies healthy and performing at their best. Make sure you have your physical exams regularly, listen to your body and tell your doctor anything you do not like or understand. This is most important. If you need medication, take it and do not forget to take your vitamins and supplements.
Eat right for your age. I know, here I go again mentioning age, but it’s important. At this stage of our lives we need certain nutrients more than others. We cannot tolerate certain foods and certain drinks. Alcohol should always be taken in moderation, but these days it’s more important. Make sure you know what agrees with you and what doesn’t. There is also the fact that overeating or eating at certain hours could be upsetting to our bodies, pay attention.
If you are exercising, great!!! If you do not like to exercise, try yoga or tai-chi. Your body needs to stay nimble, it will help your aches and pains, your posture and your attitude. Walking tall is always a confidence booster!!!
Finally, and very important, learn to dress as you please. It’s our time, wear what you like, what makes you feel attractive, what feels good. There are no rules about how we should dress…..never mind what certain people say. If you Google this topic, there are countless articles. Ignore them!!! Best go online and look at older women’s blogs: Not Dressed as Lamb, The Sequinist, No Fear of Fashion, Style Crone and Idiosyncratic Fashionistas. You’ll be surprised in a most wonderful way.
Now you know: accepting our aging bodies it’s a powerful statement in a world obsessed with youth. Go out and make it with pride!!!
P.S. Header photograph by Alan Maduro at Caracasbaai, Curaçao. Thank you!!!