By Nora Yechou, as told to Keri Wiginton
I’m in college now, but I started having chronic pain in high school. I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis when I was 17. That was 2 years ago, and I’m still trying to understand what feels best.
My symptoms don’t affect me every day. But when they do, my mom, who also has psoriatic disease, taught me that asking for help isn’t a bad thing. I’ve learned it’s OK to take care of my body the way I need to, even if people don’t think my symptoms are real or say things like, “You have arthritis? But you’re so young for that.”
I know it doesn’t really matter what other people think. It’s not their body. It’s mine. And one of the biggest things I’ve worked on is trying to listen to it more.
How I Manage My Day-to-Day
Most of my everyday pain comes from my psoriasis, which is the inverse type. But there are times when my back or joints bother me. When they hurt, I take that as I sign that I should slow down or stop what I’m doing.
I haven’t always been good about that. I used to push myself a lot, even when I didn’t feel well. But it’s way harder to recover when I go past my boundaries. Now I respect my limits.
Sometimes I just need to make small adjustments. If my wrist hurts while I’m at the dining hall, I’ll take multiple trips to my table instead of carrying everything at once. Or I’ll find an easier way to hold things. That usually means shifting the weight of the object to one of my bigger muscle groups.
I recently had to carry a big box of my medicine to my dorm room. I had to hug it so I could take pressure off my wrists and forearms. I also lift with my legs to take pressure off my back. And if I need to press on something but my fingers hurt, I’ll use my palms or elbow instead.
It also helps that I have some pretty understanding roommates and suitemates. My symptoms vary by the hour, day, or season -- I’m in a little bit more pain when it’s colder. And there are times when I have to tell them, “I can’t go with you. I can’t walk across campus right now.”
It Feels Good to Stay Active
I’ve always been pretty athletic. I danced for 11 years when I was younger. My flares haven’t been as bad since I started going to the gym and exercising more.
I started running a few months ago, and I really like it. But that may not be a good long-term option for my joints. I’m still experimenting with my exercise routine. What’s most important is that I pick something that doesn’t increase my pain.
If something hurts, I quit that exercise completely or lower the amount of weight I’m lifting. Sometimes I use those assistive weight machines. They’re a great tool because they take pressure off my smaller muscles and joints.
One of my biggest issues at the gym is how I hold things. I used to grip the handles for dear life. But now I really try to be mindful that I’m pulling with my muscles, not my hands.
If my joints still hurt after I make these changes, then I’ll switch to another activity that feels good. That might be walking on the treadmill, doing ab exercises, or stretching.
Sometimes I Just Need a Break
There are some things I like to do if I’m having a physically hard day. A hot shower really helps, and so does going for a walk. I’ll try to eat less sugary foods.
But pain isn’t the only thing I deal with. There’s a mental aspect, too. I was so frustrated for so long because I felt like I was too young to be dealing with arthritis. Now I know that it’s not in my control, and I do the best I can every day.
I’ve stopped beating myself up and trying to push through the day when I feel bad. It always helps when I give myself some grace.
When I need some self-care, I may cook something I enjoy or lie in bed and watch a few episodes of a show I like. Though I’m not going to lie -- as nice as it sounds, lying around all day doesn’t help my physical symptoms. But I think it’s OK to prioritize my emotional needs.
Biologics Weren’t New to Me
Right now, I take a biologic drug that manages both my psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. The general prescription is two injectable pens once a month, but I flare too much on that schedule. I give myself a shot every other week.
I wasn’t afraid to try a biologic. I grew up seeing my mom give herself shots, and she’s never liked needles. She showed me that it’s possible, even if that kind of treatment is hard to think about.
Normal Life With a Chronic Illness
When I was in high school, I told people about my psoriatic arthritis as soon as I found out. Now I’m a little less upfront about it. I’m not embarrassed about my condition at all. But it’s not something I feel like I need to announce to everyone.
In general, I try to carry on with life like everyone else. I’ll share details about my health when I feel like someone needs to know about it, but I don’t let anyone give me a hard time when I can’t do something. And I certainly don’t feel guilty about having a chronic illness. This is how my body works and I have to listen to it.
Photo Credit: Jupiterimages / Thinkstock
Nora Yechou, college student, Asheville, N.C.