Learning to Live With Rheumatoid Arthritis


Back in October, I ran my 3rd half marathon post-baby, and I walked long stretches. Walked. I never walk in races. My body was telling me to slow down. I felt achy, tired, and just could not push forward.

Afterward, my body felt creaky, like an old wood floor. I hobbled around like I had just run for hours. Every step I took hurt my joints. My left foot had been hurting me for a few weeks, but now it was yelling at me. My friends asked me how it went, and all I could say was, “Today just wasn’t my day.”

But deep down, I knew something else was wrong. These aches and pains had been getting worse since I had my son, William, 6 months prior. I was experiencing swelling in various joints, too. Maybe I had overdone it? Pushed too hard post-baby? At first, I attributed my aches and pains to getting older (but really, I’m only 30! That can’t be it!)

After multiple doctor visits and seeing a specialist, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She thinks I may have always had this autoimmune progressive disease, as I experienced similar symptoms in high school, but it “flared up” after my son was born.

You can read more about rheumatoid arthritis here. I am joining Olive along with 1.4 million Americans who have the disease.

So now what? Well, as I write this it’s been about a month since my diagnosis, and I went through all the phases of “grief”: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. My husband told me I am allowed to have moments of anger or “why me?”, but I need to move forward and figure things out. He’s right.

My doctor said of all the diseases out there, this is the “one to get.” There are about 24 different medications on the market for it, and many people are able to get it to go into remission for years with treatment, diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes.

I’m working toward racing like I used to.

I continue to run because it helps my stiffness and pain so much. I am looking forward to a few shorter races this spring. I have a coach who is helping me get back into the swing of things, smart and slow.

On the days I don’t run, my symptoms are much worse. I am now taking two different medications several times a day to halt the RA symptoms and inflammation.

Mentally, some days are better than others. With my ICU nursing background, it’s very difficult for me to accept that I am a patient. I’m used to being the caretaker, and I struggle with the thought that someone might think me less of a runner or a less capable person because of my disease. I never want my son to think of his mother as being weak, and I continue to draw strength from looking at him and remembering that I can do anything. I am determined to get back to my old marathon times, and back to feeling good. My rheumatologist’s goal is to help me get there.

I purposely did not go into a long description of my RA symptoms, but if you have any questions, please reach out in the comments! Do you have RA, or know anyone that does? Have you ever had a why me moment?

I am a full-time critical care nurse, who, in my spare time, loves to pound the pavement around the west side of Cleveland, Ohio. I am originally from Wisconsin, and ran for the University of Minnesota where I learned how to run smart, healthy, and happy. I enjoy writing about my adventures in running and what I have learned from racing. I hope to be an inspiration to other women to reach high!

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  1. I love your positive, but real outlook on this. As always you find a way to work through what has been thrown your way and I have no doubt you will come out on top of this thing. I’m also glad you have such a good support system and doctor who understand what your goals are. I think it can be hard when these things happen, if the professional doesn’t understand that it’s not about getting back to a “normal” lifestyle, it’s about wanting to get back to the lifestyle you are accustom to (more miles, racing, etc. Things that most wouldn’t consider your average American Lifestyle).

  2. Iโ€™d love to hear more about your symptoms – the ones immediately preceding your diagnosis, but also the ones that, looking back, cause you to think itโ€™s been going on for a while. It sounds like you have a great handle on things. I wish you didnโ€™t have to through this though!

  3. Iโ€™m curious about how you distinguished your symptoms from running injury or overtraining generally. How did you avoid the immediate reaction (from your or others) to say – oh well, it has to be the running so I will cut back there. Perhaps just knowing your body, or was it the severity of the symptoms? Best wishes in managing your diagnosis going forward!

    1. Hi Sarah! At first, I definitely thought it was an injury. With my foot pain, I went to an orthopedic doctor who diagnosed me with “metatarsalgia” which is literally the inflammation of the upper half of the foot. She told me to wear wider-toed shoes, and to take a few weeks off of running. She said she didn’t know why I had this issue, but to take it easy for a while. I had already taken 2 weeks completely off (because I thought I may have had a stress fracture so I wanted to see a doc before I made myself worse). But the 2 weeks didn’t seem to help. She took xrays and listened to all of my symptoms, so I knew it wasn’t a SF. It spread to my other foot within the next month, but I told myself maybe I was just over-compensating. I took it really easy with my running, and tried my best to stay off of my feet at work (which is really hard in the ICU). After Thanksgiving, I had been working night shift for 2 weeks, and my whole body was telling me something was going on. I had swelling in my hands, and I started to grow what looked like a knob on the lateral side of my right foot. I woke up on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and wasn’t able to bend my fingers on my left hand. I decided at that point to seek out help immediately. I went to a primary care doctor and explained my symptoms, and he drew some lab work. Within a few days, those labs came back showing an autoimmune process going on, specifically pointing to rheumatoid arthritis. I then went to a rheumatologist at the end of December who officially diagnosed me. Looking back, when I was in high school, I had a very similar situation occur. I was taking a medication for acne which is an antibiotic for a few years. I slowly started to develop joint pain and swelling in my hands and knees. I didn’t think much of it, but I remember not being able to shift my car in the morning, play my violin, and eventually, my parents saw me not being able to open gifts at Christmas with my fingers. My dad said to me, “this isn’t right.” We went to 2 or 3 different doctors, and I was told I had an “allergic reaction” to the acne medication which made me develop symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. They had me stop the medication itself and within DAYS, I felt normal again! I guess because they linked it to be an “allergy” to the medication, I forgot about it. My rheumatologist thinks it may have been dormant all this time, but giving birth to my son (a “traumatic” life event) flared it up again. I think as runners, we are really good at knowing our bodies, and I am so glad I advocated for myself. Though I am not “cured”, I am so glad I have a label on my symptoms so I can move forward with my diagnosis. If you have any more questions, feel free to email me!