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3rd November 2020

Life is better than ever

Three years ago, I needed help getting dressed in the mornings. Now I am a Pilates devotee, living an active, balanced life.

My journey with rheumatoid arthritis started out on an otherwise idyllic holiday in France, when I was 42 years old. Having experienced a few shoulder twinges in the preceding months, which I put down to muscle strains, I suddenly developed an acute pain in my right wrist. Each night of the holiday, this seemed to migrate to a different joint, making it impossible to sleep. On returning home, my symptoms settled in: stiffness and pain in my neck and shoulders; swollen, painful hands and feet; and episodes of acute pain.

Luckily for me, it wasn’t something I could ignore. Limitations to my shoulder movement meant it was difficult to get dressed or undressed, or to drive – changing gear was particularly painful, and the pain and swelling in my hands made it difficult to grip the wheel. I found it hard to get moving when getting up from my desk at work and resorted to a sponge-soled pair of pumps to make walking less painful for my feet.

When the symptoms failed to clear up after a week or so, my doctor ordered blood tests and x-rays and referred me to a rheumatologist. The blood tests confirmed that I had rheumatoid arthritis, a long-term autoimmune condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. I was also diagnosed with secondary Sjögren’s syndrome, another autoimmune condition that causes symptoms such as dry eye and dry mouth.

At this point, I was most concerned that the condition would stop me from being an active mum. I had always enjoyed getting out and about with my then 9-year-old daughter and was saddened by the thought of not being able to take her skiing, climbing or swimming.

But with the early diagnosis that was facilitated by medical technology, my healthcare team were able to quickly get me onto the medication that would restore my mobility and positivity. The diagnosis also gave me access to support from occupational and physiotherapists, who taught me to prioritise self-care. I was in the very fortunate position of being able to give up my job while I got my health on track. This also gave me more time to take up Pilates, yoga and eventually aerobics classes, which I believe has greatly improved my mobility and joint strength.

Regular blood tests are still an important part of my healthcare, allowing my doctor and rheumatologist to monitor the ongoing impact of my medication. Knowing that I am under this continued surveillance has also given me the confidence to try to further improve my health through dietary changes and the use of supplements.

Three years on, I have carved myself out a new norm for living – heeding my occupational therapist’s advice to pace myself, lead a balanced life and avoid excess stress. As a result, I can often forget that rheumatoid arthritis is even part of my life. Importantly, I am able to be the active mum that I want to be.