Arthritis, physical and mental health

Good, good afternoon everyone, how are you doing?

Come on in and let’s have a little chat – I am afraid that this post may not be as positive as usual and there is a content warning for this post: I speak around depression. But current circumstances are something I want to talk about.

Essentially, I have had problems with my back since I was in year 7 (12 years old), I slipped on ice and tore the muscles in my lower back. Every so often, I would have a flare up that resulted in some quite severe pain. I would go to the doctors and, like clockwork, be prescribed some pain relief and onwards I would go. In December 2017/January 2018, it was really bad. I ended up needing an MRI because of the sensations I was having down my legs; numbness, burning, pins and needles. The A&E stated it was muscular and that the MRI would show nothing. It turned out I have a couple disc protrusions and arthritis in the lower half of my back.

As you can imagine, I wasn’t pleased. But I went on with the pain and taking medication as needed. It eventually started in my hips over the next year and I ended up (and now) taking pain medication daily just to keep on top of the arthritis. Recently, my knees have now given way and the bad flare ups can last for a few weeks. But the toll it has taken on my mental health is something that needs to be discussed. I hope by sharing this, I can help someone else reach out if needed.

Most of the time, I can quite happily continue on with life, make light of my situation and just do things as best I can within my ability. But these last few weeks, with my knees being swollen and having odd sensations, I can barely walk for 15 minutes. I have had to rely on family to drive me to the shop, or to the vets for little Brenda. It is not a great feeling, I will grant you that. But each time a flare up occurs, it seems to feel worse. I hit a very low point, fuelled by frustration and panic. One thought that has recently stuck with me is: “if this is me at just 24, what am I going to be like when I turn 30, or 40?!”

It is quite scary how much I am impacted, because I worry about my physical independence, I have always hated relying on others, feeling like I should always depend on myself only. To me it is a very real possibility that I just will not be as mobile in just a few years or decades. It fuels my anxiety to an extreme. Most people will say not to think like that, but if I live in complete ignorance, then the shock of what may come will hit harder. That expectation does not get me low despite the anxiety, it feels realistic.

But when I have flare ups, yes, my emotions run high. This is because I suddenly feel so limited, unlike with mental health, I don’t have any warning signs, I wake up and am stuck in bed. If the pain is beyond control, I do become upset, I can become someone who feels like everything is meaningless – near nihilistic. I am like this for the first few days, just wanting to cry and do nothing else. When I become used to my “limited” capabilities, I adapt, so I can study in bed, have a little more assistance with the guinea pigs or getting somewhere I need to be. I am thankful I have such a great support network.

At the moment, I am struggling a little bit with adapting, I am unsure how many weeks this flare up has been going on for to be honest. It feels like a long time. But that is what happens with a chronic condition. The ways in which I cope I feel are healthy, I use the spoon theory to delegate my time well, I have found ways of adapting so things I need to do are still done without much impact on my body or mind and I have a support network to help keep my spirits up.

One thing I am truly thankful for is that I never feel worthless, I don’t feel as devalued because I cannot do as much. I remind myself, the pain is temporary, this is just a temporary new normal. If you suffer with chronic pain, I hope you know you are still as worthy as any other human, you are absolutely brilliant and I see you. I applaud your bravery for fighting every day and continuing on as the fabulous human you are. Because it is hard, at least in my experience. The impact on mental health is no laughing matter, and if you need help I hope you seek it.

Keep on going,

L x

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