How I Went From Surviving to Thriving
The road to health is long.
For me, the road started with trusting my gut and listening to my body. Even though I still felt sick as I worked through these steps, I can’t leave them out. Because they laid the groundwork for everything else after my rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis.
With each step forward, I checked in with my body.
Started new medication #1. How did it make me feel?
Started new medication #2. How did it make me feel?
Started new medication #3. How did it make me feel?
Sometimes listening to our bodies is complex. I was battling whole-body inflammation while also starting multiple medications. Some medications provided immediate relief. Others took time. Others had awful side effects (methotrexate hangover anyone?).
That’s when I learned: Perfect clarity isn’t the most important thing when listening to our bodies. We will never have total clarity. Even doctors don’t have total clarity (understanding this truth will save you a lot of frustration). The two most important indicators when listening to our bodies are consistency in symptoms and patterns in our health.
I began to learn what consistently made me feel worse and the lifestyle patterns that improved my symptoms.
Sleep. Exercise. Diet. Just three points on a larger wheel of health, yet their importance is underrated.
I couldn’t address every aspect of health simultaneously. And honestly, making massive changes all at once is a recipe for disaster. But I could address one section of health, then move down the list when the items stabilized. Once the arthritis medications stabilized, I could move forward with sleep. My body says, nine hours is ideal if I could sleep and wake without an alarm. Eight hours is great. Seven is alright. Six is getting into cranky-town. Five is just getting by. Four or less - danger zone, for my health and for others too since keen judgment is super important as a Registered Nurse! Everyone is different when it comes to sleep preferences - but I guarantee adequate sleep patterns play a major role for us all.
Next came exercise. I’ve never liked running. I wish that I did. About once a year, every year since I was fourteen, I get a real desire to “become a runner.” But every time I talk myself into trying again, I end up in severe pain (the kind of pain that turns into injuries). Even when I start out slow and stretch, my joints give me hell. Finally, I stopped forcing my body into something that consistently caused discomfort. Instead, I learned to work in light movement and activity. I can break a sweat walking or doing yoga while still protecting my fragile joints. And what’s even better, the light movement helped.
When I figured out how to maintain movement, I moved on to food and diet. This has been the hardest to sort through - even today I’m still learning new things about nutrition. I started with an elimination diet. Surprise, surprise, I’m intolerant to gluten. Gluten and wheat products, especially if highly processed, cause me fatigue, joint pain, and stomach cramping. Intolerant to gluten, very sensitive to alcohol, and still not a big fan of red meat. That’s ok - as it turns out, research says all of these things cause inflammation.
Before I knew it, I became an expert at listening to my body and making long-term lifestyle changes. Sometimes I mess up and give in to a cupcake at a wedding - but it gets easier over time. I’m convinced the reason it becomes easier is that I’m becoming more and more faithful to my body. My body is faithful to speak to me. And I’m faithful to listen. I’m faithful to treat my body well based on what it’s told me. And my body is faithful to keep me strong, healthy, and active.
With each step forward, I still check in with my body. I want to help you do the same.