Fear and Loathing in a Painful Body

I’m a firm believer in options. No matter what situation you find yourself in, there are always at least two- the trick is to find two good ones. As someone who lives with a painful, chronic disease, this is harder than it seems.

A few months ago I found myself in a situation I’ve been in numerous times in my life. I had to decide whether to start taking a biologic drug again to control the arthritis I’ve lived with since age two.  This wasn’t my first rodeo: I’ve had to pull the trigger more than a handful of times before.

The reality is that every drug comes with a cost. There is the financial cost, which in some cases is considerable, enough to be a mortgage. Then there are the numerous physical costs. Every drug causes side effects. In the case of RA, the side effects are the result of a compromised immune system, so you may end up living with constant colds/flus/infections/rashes. Or you may be lucky, you never know.

Whenever my arthritis becomes so active that I need to make this decision I feel dread, instead of the excitement I had as a kid. When I was younger I believed that my doctors would help me, and I believed them when they told me that medication was my only option. Time and experience has taught me differently.The painful reality that I live with is that medication is often a necessary evil, in order to control the intense pain that I live with.

Without it, joint destruction, out of control swelling, and the possibility of complete disability is, if not a given, a very likely scenario. But over the years, I’ve learned to find other options. Far-infrared sauna, massage, herbal supplements, meditation, exercise, and changes in diet are all things that I’ve incorporated into my life now. Every one of these have proven to help tame my symptoms, and, in my opinion, every little bit counts.

What I’ve discovered is that finding these other options has helped me in other ways too. They give me an active role in my disease, which is mercurial, unpredictable, and savage by definition.

They help to stave off the fear that comes with the medication merry-go-round. I can choose to stop a medication if I decide the side effects are too bad. And they give me hope, which is always better than fear. Even if I do live with a chronic disease, even if I’m stuck in pain, I’m not completely stuck. I always have options, and this feels good.

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