“Arthritis” is just a name for when old people’s bones hurt, right?
That’s what I had always thought, until the spring of 2014.
I was 26 years old, finishing law school and studying for the Bar exam, and had allowed stress to consume my life.
I started noticing that my right ankle was swelling up in a way it hadn’t before, but I didn’t think much about it.
Over the next week or two, it swelled to a point where I couldn’t ignore it any longer. My ankle had quickly become a giant cankle, and I could hardly walk on it.
I made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon, who performed x-rays that showed there was a lot of fluid on my ankle, but that was it. By the time I could get in with a rheumatologist a couple weeks later, the pain and swelling had spread to my left knee, right elbow, neck, and jaw.
There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the pain, but I knew SOMETHING was wrong.
My rheumatologist informed me that I have Psoriatic Arthritis, an autoimmune disease similar to rheumatoid arthritis but with slightly different symptoms.
He said it was likely I’d had the disease in my body this whole time, but the stress I was experiencing had triggered the symptoms.
I did have a bit of psoriasis on my scalp, but it turns out that you don’t technically have to have psoriasis to have psoriatic arthritis.
No one else in my family had been diagnosed with the disease, so it was all very confusing and overwhelming.
But I thought arthritis was just for old people!
No, there are lots of children and young people diagnosed with autoimmune arthritis.
Will this ever go away, I asked? No, not likely.
Will I ever be able to walk again? Yes, hopefully.
He just had to find me the right medicine combination for my body.
I was given a handicap tag and sent on my way. I went from being perfectly healthy to hardly being able to walk or live a normal life, seemingly overnight.
In more ways than one, I felt like I was 80 years old.
My husband was so good to me throughout this entire ordeal.
He carried me places, as I could no longer walk well.
He cooked and washed all of the dishes because I couldn’t stand for that long at one time.
He even brushed my hair, because my wrists were too weak and I could no longer bend my elbow.
I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through this time without him. In fact, it made our marriage even stronger than ever, but I could easily see how a disease like this could be taxing on a marriage.
It’s very painful, stressful, and emotional.
Finding Treatment That Worked
After a couple months of this, my doctor put me on Humira and methotrexate, but that just didn’t seem to work well.
I could walk a little better thanks to steroid shots and the prednisone I was also taking, but the pain was still strong.
Finally, about four months from the time the pain and swelling all started, my doctor put me on Enbrel and methotrexate.
It was like something clicked in my body almost immediately! It was so strange – I started feeling better and regaining movement within just a week or two of taking the Enbrel shots. (My husband gives me those to this day, as I still can’t give myself shots.)
The timing could not have been better, as it was now a week before I took my Bar exam. My husband took a video on his phone of me dancing across the living room to share our excitement with our parents that I could move again.
Since that time almost three years ago now, my life has changed a LOT, as anyone with an autoimmune disease will tell you.
I am much more aware of diseases and illnesses that others are going through, and I have come to realize that just because you cannot see someone’s disease does not mean their pain isn’t real.
Although I am now able to walk normally and do pretty much anything I could do before the diagnosis, I still deal with pain on a daily basis.
I have made lots of lifestyle changes in hopes of helping suppress my symptoms and healing the pain. Although I can’t say that any one of them works for sure, I can say that thanks to a combination of all of them, I am overall feeling great and truly enjoying life again.
The most important thing after finding the right medicine is to live a healthy lifestyle.
My pain is worse when I do not exercise, or at least go for nightly walks.
I have recently gotten back into barre classes, which I highly recommend. It is not hard on the joints but increases movement and flexibility.
Yoga is a similar form of exercise that is also great for all forms of arthritis.
I ate a strictly Paleo diet for about nine months toward the beginning, and although I let myself get back to eating sweets and dairy occasionally, I still try avoid bread and pasta, as I found that gluten does make my swelling worse.
I also drink green juices regularly.
I strongly believe that a healthy diet makes a difference in autoimmune diseases.
Although life with Psoriatic Arthritis is easier now in many ways than it was when I was first diagnosed, it has not been without its unexpected challenges.
For one, once you are diagnosed with one autoimmune disease, it’s very likely that others will follow. A year and a half after my PsA diagnosis, I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease (a form of hyperthyroidism).
I’ve also had to come to terms with the fact that, as long as I’m taking methotrexate, I’m not able to have children biologically. (It would be extremely dangerous for the baby.)
My husband and I have wanted to adopt since we were dating in high school, but this kicked us into gear. We are now in the waiting phase of a domestic infant adoption, and couldn’t be more excited.
The biggest thing that has gotten me to a place where I can live a “normal” life again with psoriatic arthritis is having hope and a positive outlook. For me, prayer has been a huge part of this.
My advice would be to stay positive and optimistic, and don’t read message boards online!
Be assertive and research your medicines and your options.
Listen to your body, and try to treat yourself when you have bad days. Have a massage or take a hot bath because your body needs to relax.
Don’t push yourself too hard physically and overdo it – know your limits.
Life may never be the same as it was, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be great.
Don’t let psoriatic arthritis hold you back.
Kristen and her husband live in Nashville, Tennessee, and write about their adoption journey at www.hopingforaharvey.com. You can connect with her on Instagram at @kristenharvey_.