A blog from Army&You’s winter edition by Naomi, @dodayoga
I have a disease. If you meet me on a good day you won’t know. If you meet me on a bad day, I’ll definitely hide it from you.
Medication has helped, but I’ve still had to grapple with reidentifying myself. I’ll never be rid of rheumatism. It’s me every day.
A few weeks after a routine (if any birth is routine!) delivery of my daughter I started to develop pains in my wrists and shoulders. Initially I put it down to tiredness and breastfeeding. After all, it’s a tough job. The pain very quickly became more intense and I knew something else was wrong.
Then the pains started appearing everywhere and anywhere. Some days it was wrists and shoulders, other days it was my whole body, or just one knuckle that felt like someone had put a nail into it.
Then we were posted, and my pain took a backseat to our move from Northern Ireland to London. I still had no diagnosis. Roughly 12 months on I finally cried rivers of tears when I was diagnosed, it was such a relief. Someone finally knew what was wrong with me. Palindromic rheumatism. The pain can go as quickly as it comes but it can feel like your bones are breaking themselves.
This is the part that the army rarely sees. The real issues that people experience in the shadows. I was a mess. We were a mess. My husband was torn, wracked with guilt, feeling he was abandoning me to go to work. Then wracked with guilt he was letting those down he was supporting on operations when he had to care for me and our daughter.
The worst part has been the mental journey of acceptance. Acceptance that whilst I can’t let the disease define me, it will always be a part of me and shape who I am. I used to run marathons but now, even a seemingly great day may end abruptly with total exhaustion rather than the gentle warmth of feeling tired.
Medication, diet, yoga and self-discovery have combined to provide a reasonably stable platform for my new identity. I’ve qualified as a yoga teacher and started my own business. This has allowed me to get more active again, cycling and running as well as teaching yoga. I’ve had to learn how to ask for help. Sometimes we all need help, but most of us wouldn’t ask.
I have to check myself every morning as the worst thing I can do is try and exercise with a flaring joint which could cause permanent damage.
I’ve become vegan which has made me a lot healthier – a lot of meat and dairy products increase inflammatory proteins in the blood.
Most of all I’m honest with myself and I make self-care a priority. I fear if I don’t, then the disease will take hold of my life once more.
If you would like more information on rheumatism or arthritis, visit versusarthritis.org