I had always been an athletic, healthy person, but in my late 30s my body started sending signals that something was wrong. I was tired all the time. I had no energy. I even started losing my hair.
When I went to my doctor, the staff ran blood tests, but nothing ever pointed to a specific diagnosis. I lost weight. I couldn't keep food down. I developed a butterfly-shaped rash on my face. I saw other doctors; they thought it was all in my head, and, for a time, they didn't believe I was physically sick.
Lupus improves at times, and worsens at others. Symptoms of lupus may include:
Severe joint pain and muscle aches
Skin rash on the face or body
Extreme sun sensitivity
Mental confusion and seizures
Chest pain on taking a deep breath
Nose, mouth, or throat sores
Enlarged lymph nodes
Poor circulation in fingers and toes
Bald patches and hair loss
It was 1992 and the Internet was in its infancy, so I went to the library instead. I was very active in trying to figure out the problem, very vocal, and very angry -- whatever was wrong was interfering with my life. I was 39 years old, I had a 3-year-old son, a husband, a home, and a full-time job as a nurse, and I had doctors telling me they didn't know why I was ill.
It took two years and four hospitalizations before my doctors figured out that I had lupus: a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation, then swelling and pain (episodes are called "flares"), and eventually tissue damage throughout the body. I was relieved -- but also scared -- to finally know what was wrong.
You don't take a water pistol to a gunfight, so once diagnosed, I began seeing a specialist, a rheumatologist who prescribed some pretty powerful drugs.
After my symptoms were under control, we backed down on the medication. I also made some major life changes: I started exercising again, ate more healthy foods, and tapped into my network of friends for support. (My husband and I decided to part, as well.)
Now when I have a flare, I bounce back so fast. I discovered that exercise -- rowing especially -- is an important ingredient in keeping me healthy. There's just something about being in a boat and going out early in the morning.
At first my rheumatologist wasn't too happy I was doing it. He thought rowing would be too much stress on my system, so I decided to prove him wrong.