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What I want people to know about RA.

I’ll never forget the time someone asked me why I let my life revolve around my Rheumatoid Arthritis.

I almost laughed, because the truth is, I don’t.  In fact, I like to think that my RA revolves around me.. for the most part. So here I am, living life with RA following me around like a lost puppy:

Today, my thumb kills me every time I move it. For those of you who don’t know what that feels like, it feels like having to go through life with a workman’s clamp closed on your joint. At first, it’s not so bad, but after a few hours (or days), the joint is so swollen and red, it’s warm. Then it feels like I slammed a car door on my thumb. I notice it’s getting worse when I absentmindedly begin using my dominant hand less and less. But I do my best to continue my daily tasks, like stapling billing paperwork, for example. I consider going paperless to save my thumb…(Tonight I’ll search Amazon for an automatic stapler). As I drive to the Tag agency, my vision started to blur and my eyes grew heavy even though I woke up only 3 hours before. So I immediately detoured home to rest/replenish my “spoons” before continuing my day.

Two hours later, I set out again, driving coolly with my left hand at 12 o’clock on the wheel. I’m feeling confident again because today I put on makeup–which I usually only apply once or twice a week, but any day with makeup means no more “spoons” left for my hair. So I preplan to flat-iron my hair on Tuesday and put on makeup Wednesday. Thursday is a French-braided ‘do and by Friday, my hair will be dirty, but perfect for a slick-backed pony and light makeup again. High pain days means no hair & big sunglasses and I thank heaven beachy-messy waves are ‘in’ again.

I made seven stops total on my way to finish the errands and eagerly punch in every address (even though I know the way) to avoid Miami traffic and save my stiff hips from more abuse. I finally arrived back home after four hours and crash on the bed. Before my head hits the pillow, I text my husband, “I can’t cook tonight. Order in?” And the days go like this: If I was out all day, we order in. If I worked from home, I cook dinner.

So you see? How can self-care and careful “spoon” maintenance planning equate to my life revolving around RA? Just because I’m an advocate, just because I blog and I tweet does NOT mean I let my life revolve around my RA. I don’t let RA stop me, but we have agreed to slow down. The majority of the time, slowing down frustrates the heck out of me, but since slow is as fast as I can go, I will continue on–slow and steadily ahead.

The Support System – Loss & RA

Those closest to me know why I’ve been gone seemingly without a trace, but for the rest, I thought I’d let you all know. It’s taken me this long to settle back into “reality” knowing less than a month ago our family lost a bright and shining star. Joyce Aleite, my father-in-law (and second dad) suddenly became our guardian angel just 4 days after Thanksgiving.

There are still so many negative emotions, but the surreal-ness has dissipated for me leaving behind only urgency to hold my husband and our friends and family close. I met Joyce Aleite just after I turned 18 when Andres and I decided to reveal to everyone we were more than just friends (I needed to be legal first!😉) The first thing I noticed was that Andres is his dad’s clone. The second thing I noticed was his indecipherable Chilean accent. (I spoke virtually no Spanish when Andres & I began dating though I caught on quick to the Chilean slang. i.e “che” & “huevon, which actually means ‘friend’ and not an insult”). I soon also noticed that his love was unbounded—and not just for his kids (though they were the entirety of his life’s meaning) but every person he met. Waiters and waitresses who regularly go unnoticed, he asked their names and about their families. For me, he never let me get my own glass of water. I always had to jump up out of my seat quickly and snatch the glass up before he could reach it. When I didn’t know how to even fry an egg, he taught me how to cook. First pasta, then chicken, then steak (though I haven’t quite mastered the last one.) I made him an inedible lasagna once and he ate it gladly. He bought me my first walker, then my first wheelchair and never stopped paying for my medicines because he loved his son so. I was embarrassed when he told anyone who met me that I had a terrible disease, but I knew he did it so they would understand. He cared about shit like that, people understanding me and what I go through. I’ll never forget the day he personally delivered my medicine to our apartment when I was alone and after seeing how difficult it was for me to walk, he brought me a four-footed cane the very next day. I wanted to see him retire and grow old—though he would argue he did grow old. Selfishly, I wanted him to be around even functioning at 50% than die with dignity and nearly perfect health. I hate saying his name out loud now and I simultaneously want to bring him up in every conversation. I hate people who say he lived a full life even though he himself said it every day. I hate thinking of moving on without him being here to cheer us on, knowing his last words to us were “go, go, you guys can go. I’ll be fine.”

This post was a hell of a lot longer than I meant it to be. He was a Joy.

This is an article written for VectraVoice on published on our wedding anniversary last year. 🙂 Read the Team Approach to RA: Hate the RA but Love Each Other

Tune into Dr.Phil Nov. 29th!

Last month I got the opportunity to be on the Dr. Phil show for Rheumatoid Arthritis awareness! It was an awesome once-in-a-lifetime experience and I feel so honored to put a different face to this invisible illness. Rarely do us in the chronic crew get the opportunity to share with the public how Arthritis affects us, so for that reason, I’d LOVE for YOU to share your face with @DrPhil on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram on November 29th with #RedefiningRA!

The segment airs November 29th, so tune in next Wednesday! For local listings, click here.  …SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEO!13861109-E4AF-4CC7-A264-AEDAF908AF22.JPG

D is for Disabled

So, this is going to be embarrassing… Today I got my first D since 11th grade, second D ever.

In case you didn’t know, I’m in my Junior year of college majoring in Psychology and minoring in Statistics. And.. I love school. Always have. Not really the institution of it, but I do love learning and reading. When my RA came back at 17 after a remission in my teens, my schoolwork became the first casualty in what I like to call, “My RA vengeance.” I’ll never forget hobbling around on crutches, not being able to hold a pencil and vomiting in the trash can at the back of the class after being put on Methotrexate for the first time in my life. I dropped classes, abandoned classes, and the W’s racked up.

After everything I’d done–getting into the School for Advanced Studies (a dual-enrollment program) at 16 and graduating early, I dropped out of college in my second year. Truth be told, I took too long to drop out. I waited until I literally could not walk anymore and even showering became impossible. Looking back, I wish I had accepted my new reality sooner.

Fast forward to 2015, I started feeling better and I immediately enrolled at Miami Dade College. It felt amazing to be back to doing what I love and my grades reflected that. Being in school (and doing well) reminded me of who I used to be–energetic, zealous, and tenacious.

That all vanished the second I saw the D at the top of my test paper. I know I have been feeling really bad lately, but how is it that my grades are always the first to suffer?

I know my pain has been making it extremely difficult for me to focus in class and the fatigue has dwindled my motivation to study, but am I really making the same mistake all over again? I don’t know what to think–do I finish school the best I can or do I drop out now and salvage my 4.00 GPA? My biggest mistake before was not reaching out to the Disability Resource Center at my school as soon as I felt sick. In my defense though, I had no idea what was wrong with me and (naively) thought I’d get better in no time! This time, I learned from my denial. I contacted the DRC and I’ve communicated with my professors, but when they don’t know how to help me and I don’t know how to help myself (beyond asking for a scribe or dictation software), what else is a girl supposed to do? (BTW, the DRC doesn’t offer any help with typing or extensions on deadlines–I asked.)

I was so disappointed with myself and really felt like quitting until… I got these messages. Screen Shot 2017-11-20 at 3.48.45 PM.pngScreen Shot 2017-11-20 at 3.50.59 PM.png

Being a part of a community online and getting to know individuals who truly “get it,” means everything. Encouragement from so many people–friends, family, and my chronic clique–reminds me that even though I stumble, (often and awkwardly) the most important thing in life is that I pick myself back up. 🙂

Last chance for the RA with RA

As soon as I realized my love of scientific research ‪and my knack for statistics, I became eager to join a research lab on campus. I filled out two applications, got two interviews, and two offers! Then, I accepted a research assistant (R.A.) position in my dream lab! The Cognitive Neuroscience lab. 

At first I was nervous and wondered if my love of research would get satiated once I got a taste of what it was really like, but surprisingly, it didn’t! I’ve always been a dreamer and being in the lab- getting a tiny peak at what research was like up close- just amplified my dreams of answering my own research questions. And it encouraged me to pursue a minor and Master’s in biostatistics.

Then my dreams were shattered when just the other day the PhD student whose experiment I’m running ‬sought to fire me because of my RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis).

I’ve never been late to the lab in my life. I’ve attended nearly every weekly lab meeting, even after infusion appointments with out-of-town speeches/conferences being the one exception.

But just the other day, the day after my infusion, I became fatigued and accidentally overslept PAST my 12:00pm lab appointment. Since I got hired I’ve never once been late to the lab, even arriving on time at 8:45am after an hour of rush-hour traffic and a night of painsomnia. Oh, and I hardly ever sleep past noon—even on days I fall asleep at 7 or 8am. But for some reason, this day was different and I slept through my alarm and into the early hours of the afternoon. As soon as I awoke and realized the time, I immediately called my participant, apologized profusely, and promised to grant her credit for my mistake. My lab manager soon noticed my absence and (thankfully) being aware of my Arthritis, asked if I was feeling okay. I told her what had happened, apologized my heart out, and swore up-and-down it’d never happen again. Then, I threw on some clothes and raced over to run my next appointment. I thought it was over then. It wasn’t. My lab manager then approached me with the news that Ali (the PhD student) had instructed her to fire me for my first tardy. She then proceeded to apologize for disclosing to Ali that I had RA.

It had taken me months to feel comfortable enough to reveal my diagnosis and I had specifically asked for her to keep it to herself. But in this situation, she felt it necessary to do so to save my job and in fact told Ali, “It’s not like she didn’t want to be here. She wasn’t feeling well.” To which he replied, “Fine, but this is her last chance.”

Revealing my diagnosis had earned me a first and last chance to keep my job. All this time I had worried about losing my love of scientific research, I hadn’t even acknowledged the possibility of research not loving me.

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