Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Staying on Track

Isn't it funny how we can just go through the motions of life without stopping to really take stock of what's going on inside? Initially, when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I was sad but I was motivated. I was going to take charge of this disease. I had a good doctor with an aggressive treatment plan. She told me I could still run. I figured that once the pain subsided, I'd be good to resume my regularly scheduled life.

The dust has settled and the overwhelming, jarring reality of having RA has set in.




By now, I thought I'd be completely better. After 6 weeks of steroids and methotrexate injections, I thought I'd be pain-free.

Silly, naive me. I had no idea that I was in this for the long run. I'm doing handstands! I ran 50 miles for that running challenge! Heck, I ran 105 miles in January! I'm lifting all the weight! And don't forget about all the yoga...

After beginning my treatment plan, I saw a dramatic improvement in my symptoms. Now I'm in a holding pattern. I have daily symptoms. Mostly, my hands swell, burn, and ache. There are some random pains and weird rashes. I'm still fatigued. Nothing debilitating, just an ongoing reminder that I'm fighting this illness.

This past week, though, a new symptom appeared. My old nemesis, anxiety, broke through and rose to the surface. I've done such a good job over the years tamping that demon down, and now it returns, threatening to derail me. On a run last week, lost in my head, I felt suddenly overwhelmed with panic. It was scary and it was frightening. Knowing what was happening, I was able to calm myself down enough to finish my run, but that pressure in my chest didn't completely resolve. After my run, I worked out with my tough-as-nails coach and we talked about what happened. She blamed the steroids. Feeling strong and empowered after lifting some heavy weights, I went home for lunch.

I considered all that has happened with this illness over the past 6 weeks.

Besides dealing with the disease and reframing how I see myself, I've been struggling with the paradox of being a medical provider with a chronic illness. It's ironic how we medical folks do such a good job of providing compassionate care to our patients but not to each other. Couple that with non-stop gray skies and the shenanigans of our new president--well, it's not a complete surprise that I started to crack a little bit.

Later that day, I went to see my rheumatologist for a follow-up. I was prepared with a list of questions for her. Instead, I got into it with the receptionist as she greeted me with an announcement that I owed a large sum of money and asked me how would I paying for it. Hello!

Then I burst into tears as I apologized for my reaction.

Even after my apology, I couldn't stop the flow of tears. It was as if someone turned on a faucet. I cried while I sat in the waiting room and I continued to cry when I was brought back to the exam room. The PA came into the room to examine me and I kept crying. We talked about how I was feeling. Why wasn't I better? Why am I still feeling symptoms? Why am I starting to feel so anxious?

Why now?

Why me?

She finished her exam, left the room, and returned with my rheumatologist, who agreed that my anxiety was probably a result of the prolonged course of steroids. While she agreed to wean the steroids slowly, she cautioned me that I may need to continue on the steroids or even increase the dosage if my symptoms worsen. She answered my list of questions. She talked about reducing stress in my life, citing the difficulties I've been having at my job. She also praised me for continuing with running and reinforcing the importance of activity. She suggested mindful meditation. By the end of our visit, the tears stopped.

I drove home from my visit feeling more calm but drained. Determined not to let this disease and subsequent anxiety derail me, I vowed to retake control.

I continue to run. I continue to play with yoga. I'm working towards new goals in my strength training sessions.

Already committed to Grandmas Marathon, I signed up for my other 2 spring races.

I modified my running playlist, deleting most of the "angry music" (that's what Becky calls my hard rock) and adding songs with more positive melodies. They're still edgy--you wouldn't expect me to pick anything fluffy, would you? I've got some good ones, and I'll share them next week. It was time for a change anyways.

I'm also making some big changes in my diet which I'll share in Friday's post.

With regards to the anxiety, I'm feeling better. In fact, I feel like myself again. Is it the reduction in the steroids? The reduction in my hours at work? The changes in my diet? The happy music?


Anxiety and panic on the run? Oh hell, no. That's my sanctuary. That's my moving meditation.

Just breathe. Positive energy. Taking control. Staying on track.

Have you ever dealt with anxiety and/or panic attacks? What do you do to stay on track?

I'm linking up with Deb Runs for Wednesday Word, which happens to be derail. Check out what everyone else is saying about this word!


83 comments :

  1. Great job on getting in over 100 miles for January - you are a rockstar!

    I'm so sorry to hear about your anxiety :( I don't personally have experience with panic attacks, but when I start to feel overwhelmed, especially at work, I get up and go for a five minute walk. It helps to diffuse the situation and clear my head.

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    1. I'm feeling so much better this week--I think it really was the steroids. It was pretty scary! I hope I don't need to go back up on the dose.

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  2. I wrote a little bit today about how people in the medical field are so good at helping others but can have such a hard time helping themselves. It's ironic indeed! You crushed January with all your miles and your yoga and strength training. Keep reminding yourself about all that you can do!

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    1. Your post was just perfect for me! I would be so easy to just lie on the couch and feel sorry for myself. But I feel so much better when I push myself and go!

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  3. I have nothing to say except as always I admire your attitude and your resilience. And, state the obvious, anxiety is a b*tch.
    xoxo

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    1. Oh, no doubt. I can handle the pain way more than that anxiety. I know what to do, though, having been down that road before.

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  4. I totally hate you are going through this (although I'm sure not as much as you do). It just sucks. It's so unfair.

    My guess is you've been holding a lot of stuff inside, and it just had to work itself out somehow, plus no doubt those steroids and all their nasty side effects. Hello, the good news is there are steroids that help, the bad news is there are steroids that help.

    Thankfully, I've never experienced an anxiety attack. Hopefully I never will. If you are really willing to give meditation a spin, I highly recommend the Calm App (and I mention it in tomorrow's post!). Some of the meditations are only 3 minutes! And I truly do feel calmer, even after that short a time (some are 5, 10, 15+ -- I've done as much as 20, but that's rare for me).

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    1. I do have that Calm app on my phone, and the Breathe app on my Apple Watch. The Breathe app is kind of cool, because the watch vibrates, reminding you to stop and breathe.

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    2. I was going to say the same. I have that app and it is cool.

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  5. My heart broke reading this.
    Wishing you the ultimate success as you battle this illness and the demons it revives.
    Sending love from halfway across the continent.

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    1. Thanks for all your love and support. I'm doing so much better this week!

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  6. This probably goes against everything recommended but I honestly believe that sometimes everything gets so overwhelming you just have to allow it to flow and feel it. I'd venture to say you felt better BECAUSE the flood of tears came and you finally released some of that anxiety. Of course, maybe it would be better if you weren't at the doctor's office, but who knows? Maybe it was great that they saw what was going on.

    I learned 20+ years ago - in the midst of the year from hell - that in times like that, self care is the most important thing, in whatever form that takes.

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    1. I agree with you about self care. I'm trying!

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  7. Glad that you're feeling better! I also occasionally get med induced anxiety attacks (from too much thyroid meds combined with whatever stress I'm dealing with). As I told a student recently who apologized when she started to cry in my office (she felt under a lot of stress) , "Honey - don't apologize. We cry - that's what women do and it's ok." "The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea." - Isak Dinesen

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    1. It wasn't even an ugly cry. It was just a continual flow of tears!

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  8. You are one tough cookies. I know that you will get through this. Virtual hugs. We are all pulling for you.

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    1. Thank you! I feel kind of silly--it could be so much worse--but I do feel better this week.

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  9. I'm sorry to hear this, but I appreciate how insightful you are about what is going on with you! I don't get anxiety attacks per se, but I do get down. Yesterday I had a day of fighting back tears all day - probably a combo of leaving Sam again at college, not being able to run due to ass pain and just the general winter blahs. Hang in there sister! Brighter days are on the horizon. :) You are a fighter and you are resilient!

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    1. Those teary days are good and bad--sometimes it feels good to let the tears flow. My problem is once I start I can't stop!

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  10. I've noticed that my anxiety comes and goes at various points in my life. It is a struggle but I almost always end up in tears at the doctor's office....sigh.

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    1. Isn't that crazy? What is it about being in the doctor's office that unhinges us?

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  11. Anxiety sucks! I'm glad you can recognize that it's a symptom and not a part of you inherently. Keep strong-- I like your mantra stay the course!! Please share your positive playlist!!

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  12. Totally relate, especially when you said that you knew what was happening so you were able to get it under control but the heavy feeling in your chest didn't leave all day. I FEEL YA.

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    1. Oh, that chest heaviness! And no, it is not reflux...

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  13. I can only imagine how the weight of all that you are dealing with would come crashing down and cause major anxiety! I am glad, however, it came at a time when you were able to talk to your doctor about your options. I did have to do steroids for a spider bite years ago, and wow, they really made me feel awful. Now, when I get a sinus infection, I can tolerate 10 mg per day for 10 days and then I am done (enough to reduce inflammation but not so much it freaks out my body and mind). I have no doubt that is much of what you are dealing with and hopefully you can wean down and then just use the bursts for acute times when things flare up! Hang in there, Wendy! Go easy on yourself as you navigate a whole new way of doing things. I promise you will find a solution that aligns with your desires. Don't give up!

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    1. Thank you so much for your empathy! I am so much better this week. I might not be able to control what's going on inside me, but I'm sure not going to let it control me.

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    2. ...that's great news! Progress not perfection right? (said from a perfectionist who is always working on this and some days do better than others!!)

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  14. You have done such a great job to not let your RA diagnosis define you. Kudos on your 105 miles last month, and even more kudos to staying active throughout all of this. You are so strong and you will overcome this.

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    1. If I can keep that anxiety at bay, I'll be good with everything else.

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  15. My god Wendy! that sounds so stressful! But you are handling it like a champ! Still running, still doing yoga, weights! you are amazing!

    And I understand the anxiety runs all too well... Meditation and positive thoughts are excellent tools to put in your anxiety care toolbox. Have you read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown? That book helped me deal with some anxieties.

    take care of yourself!

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    1. I've heard a lot of good things about Brene Brown and I think I'll put that one on my to-read list. Thanks for sharing!

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  16. Wendy, I can relate to almost everything you're going through. I'm not in the exact same situation as you but I can relate to the self doubt, the anxiety, the drive to overcome adversity. All of it. I question my body and it's capabilities daily. It's a lot to handle. I feel you, sister!

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  17. You know I've had anxiety attacks a lot in the past year. The worst happened on a bike ride. I was shaking so bad thought I was going to have to get off before I fell off. They freak me out because they come on so quickly.

    Hang in there!

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    1. The suddenness is what scared me! On the run, too?

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    2. I have not had one on the run yet. I've had them at dinner, just sitting on the couch, and once when I was on the platform at church waiting to sing (really thought I was gonna blow that song!)

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  18. I'm sorry that you're going through such a rough time with your RA. It sounds like your anxiety is a little better now after the conclusion of your doctor's appointment and a good workout. Kudos to you for continuing to run strong!

    Thanks for linking up!

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    1. And a reduction in meds! I can't wait to get off the steroids.

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  19. I'm really glad to say my anxiety is quite well managed. As much as I'd like to not take medication for it, it's a reality for me, and it's far better than not taking medication and feeling like a deer in the headlights every day.

    Sometimes we all just need a good cry to let it all out.

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    1. Yes, I really have been so much better since that cry!

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  20. I think you needed to let all that frustration out and that's exactly what happened at the doc's office. I so understand the need/want to control and fix things. And to expect the "right" outcome when we do A, B and C. And then life pulls the rug and we realize it doesn't work that way.

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  21. Yes I am familiar with panic attacks and anxiety. I similar trouble like you after my steroid shot after Christmas. I was also having trouble with hunger and went to see my cardiologist for my check up. He said it was the steroid shot giving me so much trouble. When I think about it, I had 2 panics attacks AFTER I had a steroid shot last year. I'm wondering if it's related. My doctor said the shot would be out of my system in 6 weeks so after this week I'm hoping it will be long gone. I can't relate to RA but can totally understand your anxiety. Hope this week is going better for you!

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    1. This week has been so much better! Onward and upward!

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  22. I had no idea the anxiety had resurfaced ;-( I wish I could hug you in person....I've been lucky to be one of the chosen few to not have panic episodes (although my kids would probably tell a different story whenever we were awaiting a visit from the MIL). I hope things settle down for you

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    1. Things are settling down nicely. I didn't want to share much until I felt better. I'm all about staying positive..

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  23. I suffer from high anxiety and have had panic attacks too. They're absolutely the worse it's like a dominoe once it begins it's hard to stop the momentum. You did amazingly well to be going through everything. I really hope that you find a long term solution.

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    1. I'm hoping once I'm off the steroids, the panic attacks will go the way they came!

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  24. Oh lady. I'm so sorry. I think that you are also coming down from a sort of shock and adrenaline. My own anxiety started to get really apparent about 6 weeks after I was diagnosed. You are going through so much, your body is going through so much, and that is the dictionary definition of stress trigger, in my opinion.

    Coming to terms with a chronic illness is, in my experience, similar to going through grief--you have fear, denial/indignation, bargaining, acceptance, and then peace and learning a new normal. (I'm sure I'm getting that wrong, but you know what I mean). You are doing remarkably well.

    Sending you so much love. So much love.

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    1. I was hoping you'd weigh in on this. And you are right--all the emotions. Now it's time for the new normal.

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  25. Lots going on here. I hope the anxiety incident was just because of the drugs, and it seems very likely that it was. Sorry to hear that you aren't feeling totally better either with the treatment. I'd be curious to know about the angry songs you deleted. Sometimes it's therapeutic to run to angry rock- that's my favorite thing to run to actually!

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    1. Angry rock is my jam for running, but it wasn't working for me the last couple of weeks. I'm going to lighten up the tunes for a while until the anxiety settles down.

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  26. Thanks for sharing, Wendy. I'm sorry things aren't going well for you at the moment, but your strength and perseverance are inspiring. Life gets hard, but we are brave!

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  27. It sounds like the stresses you've been dealing with this past year, and especially in the past two months, came to a head and hit you like a ton of bricks. I'm glad you were able to get through it and finish your run. A good cry can be very cathartic!

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    1. I think I needed to hit bottom. Now I'm doing much better and taking control of what I can control.

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  28. I've experienced some anxiety in my life but nothing extreme. Not the best feeling but good to hear you're doing better. I've followed you for almost a year and you're such a positive inspiration. Despite your struggles, like your plantar fasciitis and now RA, you continue to maintain your strength physically and mentally. You're a problem solver and you don't allow barriers to bring you down! Keep being the positive light that you are!!!

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    1. You are too kind and just made my day! I try to put a positive spin on things always. I didn't want to write about the anxiety while it was happening because it was so frightening. But now I am feeling better!

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  29. I am so sorry your anxiety is creeping back. :( When I get anxious I start to get "controlly" about things... packing lunches for days in advance, laying out clothes for days in advance, running extra miles...

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  30. Oh man this sounds so frustrating. I have felt that way before for different reasons. Running has always helped...its the only time I can really feel at peace and I can either let go of my thoughts or problem solve. Glad you have started to make some changes that will hopefully help you!

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  31. Thank you for being brave enough to express your struggles. I respect you so much for that. Sending you a hug and a high five. You have many things to be proud of, including the way you deal with your RA.

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    1. I've been fortunate to read about others' struggles and that has helped me. So I don't mind sharing mine, if it helps someone!

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  32. Sorry to hear you had an anxiety attack while running. The good news is that you sound like you have a great support system that really listen to you. Take care.

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  33. I'm sorry you're experiencing all the things with this disease...it's annoying that the medication is causing side effects like anxiety, ugh! I've dealt with anxiety for the last several years and it's no fun. Especially when people kindly try to help...nothing does and then I feel worse. Hopefully yours really is from the steroids and by cutting back, it will go away. It's about time something went right for you with RA, dang it!

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    1. I feel like it already is getting better!

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  34. I'm sorry to hear you're struggling. Being diagnosed with a chronic life-changing illness is so hard. I hope they can figure out your meds in a way that relieves symptoms enough for you to do the things you love yet with fewer side effects. Hugs.

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    1. Thanks! Fortunately, I'm already feeling better this week.

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  35. Oh man - I'm sorry to hear that. Panic attacks are no joke. My husband has gotten them before.

    Hang in there :)

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  36. I was on methotrexate for 7 months and I had a lot of side effects. It made me really moody. I would cry all of the time and it made me very impatient. It really changed my personality. I wasn't even on that high of a dose, 6 ccs a week. It wasn't working that great so my dr switched me over to Enbrel. I am doing much better on this, my appetite is back and no more mood swings, feel like my old self again. I have PsA. No skin involvement just joint pain.

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    1. Were you on steroids at the same time? I feel much better now that she lowered my steroid dose. She did up the MTX, so we'll see...

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  37. I'm sorry about your issues with RA and the anxiety definitely sux, I hope it all settles down for you.

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    1. I'm feeling much better now on the lower dose of steroids. And I get to cut it more this week! Thank goodness.

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  38. Just breathe for sure my friend! It is so hard to unwind once we get wound up- it happens to all of us. HUGS! Can't wait to see you in March!

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    1. Isn't that the truth! Looking forward to our reunion as well!

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  39. I, thankfully, haven't really experienced a true anxiety or panic attack. I do get stressed out, though, and that sometimes affects my breathing. I don't even know what I do to get back on track with that. Eventually, it just goes away. Until it comes back. :-(

    Sorry you've been having a tough time, but I think you've been handling your diagnosis really well.

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    1. I'm feeling much better since she decreased my dosage of steroids. I hope to continue to feel like myself again!

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