How My Rheumatoid Arthritis Progressed

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Laura Helms
I had been pretty active growing up. And I never had any physical problems before. I did dance lessons since I was 4. That was my main physical activity in high school. I enjoyed chemistry class. And at the time, chemical engineering was becoming the next big thing. When I applied to colleges, I applied to ones with good engineering programs. I had two in-state scholarships, so that choice was easy.

I was pretty active just being a college student, you have to walk everywhere. You know, you have classes on all different sides of campus. And I had to dress up for a class one day when I had high heels on. And I remember noticing that my ankle was a little bit stiff. And I was like, oh, that's weird. In my dance background I was like, well, I'll just stretch it out, move my ankle around and try to work it out.

I remember, by Thanksgiving it had started swelling. So it was like, OK, something's wrong. Once it started hurting, all the walking around campus -- and I was limping. And I had a classmate who was like, what's wrong with your foot, are you OK? And I'm like, I don't know. My ankle's messed up. I was not familiar with rheumatoid arthritis at that time. During this time, my mom was doing a lot of online research trying to help me figure out what was going on. And eventually, she got me an appointment with a rheumatologist in Columbus. And that was eight months after my symptoms started. The pain and symptoms stayed in my left ankle from when it began.

Up until the month when I had my first rheumatologist appointment, I was making up the bed and I was kneeling on the bed to reach the far side, and I remember noticing that my knee felt strange, my right knee. And I realized it was starting to swell. At that point, I just lost it. I was so upset. It hadn't just taken over my ankle. Now, it's spreading. There's nothing I can do about it. Medicine's not helping. You've never had anything really wrong with you, and then all of a sudden you're limping around because your ankle is hurting. It changes a lot.

My first rheumatologist put me on anti-inflammatory and on DMARD, the disease-modifying antirheumatic drug. It had started to work. I was still having issues with my knee, even though I was on the medication and it was helping. He also, because of the condition my knee was in from the swelling and the loss of range of motion, he had me go to physical therapy for 10 weeks. Between that and the medications I was on at that time, I started doing pretty well. I started feeling much better than I had been when it started.

My husband and I met in the fall of 2011. We got married in 2015. He was really into biking. He didn't have a car, he just had a bike. So he got me a full-size bike. And then when the pandemic hit, I saw all the people starting roller skating Instagram accounts. And I said, oh, I should get back into roller skating. So I got a new pair of skates last fall. Turns out, roller skating is really good for my joints. It really helps my knee.

So I have tried to do that more regularly. And it's a fun form of exercise that's low impact. But overall, I think I have it a lot better off than some other people with rheumatoid arthritis. And finding a new normal for me means having my arthritis as well controlled as I can, making the most of what I am able to do, and trying not to focus on what I can no longer do. It was like, OK, I can do this.