Living Well with Rheumatoid Disease
I am a single woman, 68 years old and currently retired and living in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.
In 2000, at age 53, I left my corporate job in South Texas and moved to Ras Al Khaimah in the north of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to teach Business at a local women’s college. I was tall, athletic, of normal weight and very flexible as I had practiced yoga daily for 25 years.
I arrived in February 2000 and started to get my new home sorted out. This included trying to make the “garden” look more enticing even in this blistering climate.
I like gardening. I have had gardens in several of the places I have lived, including Bahrain and South Texas. I like the feel of the soil on my hands and my nails are always a mess! What I did not bargain for was the chance of getting an infection under a finger nail, possibly due to bacteria in the soil. My finger swelled up very fast and the area all around and under the nail turned black within a couple of days. I went to the local hospital ER for treatment. All was well.
However, a few weeks later I started to have severe pain in the joints and tendons throughout my body. I thought I had flu! I went to my GP who immediately ordered a blood test. The results showed that I had either Rheumatoid Disease or Lupus, both of which involve a hyperactive immune system that attacks the body. It is not unlikely that this was triggered by the infection in my finger.
I went to a wonderful specialist rheumatologist in Dubai and started on a course of medication. I was in so much pain and so stiff that I had difficulty walking, could no longer do yoga and was constantly tired. Being single, I was self-supporting and had to continue working. Luckily the long summer vacation helped. I stayed at home and slept for two months.
I was determined to do something to improve my condition. Nothing like this had ever happened to me. I had always been in control of my life (well, most of the time!) I started to research the disease to see what I could do to help myself. Along the way, I discovered that the disease is incurable but there are some foods that may increase inflammation and are best avoided. I immediately started to notice this for myself and have ever since avoided those that cause me pain.
I also found that Ayurveda – Indian traditional medicine – could help the symptoms and relieve the pain although not cure the disease. Living in UAE, I had many Indian friends including a local doctor. I asked her opinion and she said that it might help me, it was worth a try. I asked how I could locate a reputable clinic that I could safely go to by myself. She said she would ask her husband, also a doctor based in Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) the capital of the Indian state of Kerala which is the center of Ayurveda.
My research also told me that Indian traditional herbal medicine is well documented and there is even a university training doctors in the traditions. My friend’s husband recommended a clinic for me. I checked out their website and found that they had won several state and national awards. It looked like a lovely place. I had never been to India and thought that it was worth a try.
In spring 2001, I went to Somatheeram Ayurveda Clinic the first time for 2 weeks. I found that the place (a wonderful garden at the top of a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean, including cottages, clinic and restaurant) was very relaxing. Also, the team of doctors who discussed my status and determined which treatment was best for me, were very helpful and professional. The therapists who massaged me and applied wonderful herbs steeped in warm fresh coconut oil were kind, gentle and friendly. The majority of the guests were foreigners from all over the world. Mostly women. I made some good friends among the staff and guests.
The treatment I was given included detoxification. Before leaving for India, I had been trying, under the guidance of my rheumatologist, to stop taking cortisone as it made me feel very ill and I knew it was addictive. However, every time I tried to stop, I would be in such pain that I could not stand it. I told the doctors at Somatheeram what medication I was taking but I did not tell them that I planned to stop cortisone.
After a couple of days, I stopped. I didn’t miss it! I was pain free and free of the addiction! Wow! I started to feel a lot better. I was able to do some very gentle yoga. When I went back to work, my colleagues all remarked on how much better I looked.
In the following years I went to Somatheeram many times. Sometimes I went for 3 or 4 weeks. Sometimes I went twice a year, depending on how I felt. I went every year from 2001 to 2008.
In 2009 I retired, left my job in UAE and came to live in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. In 2012 I again went to India for treatment but then became too busy to go again until this year (2015). I have now realised that I need to go regularly again because I am once more feeling stiff and do not want to end up in a wheel chair!
I also found that the disease and the medication, caused me to tend towards depression. Again I started to research and discovered Laughter Yoga. I went to India and took a Laughter Teacher training course led by the founder of the movement, Dr. Madan Kataria. Laughter helps to increase our endorphins which help to make us happier and healthier. I have found this to be true and try to share it with people I meet.
My current goal is to lose much of the weight that I have put on during the last years due to medication and reduced exercise. I must do this. One of my knees was badly affected by the disease early on and is now quite fragile. I do not want to take the chance of a replacement because of my impaired immune system.
One thing I have learned from this voyage of discovery with a chronic, incurable disease, it is my body, and I must do as much as possible to keep it in good enough form to allow me to travel and lead the life I love!
Do you suffer from one of the rheumatic diseases? What have you found that has helped your symptoms? Please join the conversation.
This is guest post by Helen Morgan