Carrying All That Baggage is Just Going to Make Your Hands Hurt Worse: The Role of Thought in RA, part 1

So I want to talk about how our thoughts can actually make us sicker, but it is such a complicated subject that I have decided to break it up into several posts.  This is, of course, the first in the series.  Please feel free, in fact, I encourage you to ask questions!  Ask them here, on the Facebook page, or email me.  Thanks again everybody! 

Patrice on Antidepresents

I didn’t do so well on antidepressants.  Yeah, I could get out of bed and get dressed.  I couldn’t help but smile, but all I wanted to do was cry.  The pills just masked my pain.  It was a miserable and very unnatural existence. After several months, my doctor wanted to add an anti-anxiety, but by then I couldn’t wait to be done with pills altogether.  I felt like Ren when Stimpy tricked him into putting on the happy helmet.  Much like Ren, if I could have taken a hammer to my head to stop what those pills were doing, I would have.  (If you don’t know who Ren and Stimpy are, search them on YouTube.  They are hilarious, if not a bit strange, relics of the 1990’s, not to mention, icons of my youth).

So I dumped the pills, but the black depression remained.  In fact, it had just gotten worse since beginning the antidepressants.  You see, I was supposed to be “SOMEBODY.”  Not some loser’s “baby-mama.” I just wasn’t “THAT” girl.  I had earned my first college degree at 18 and had plans of attending the University of Texas and traveling the world to teach; it was all set into place.  All that was left for me to do was go.  Instead, I flushed it all away and got pregnant.  All I can say is that the regret I felt was crippling, but my perspective, the beliefs I had about myself, and the situation made it far worse… 

Sure, my story may be sad to some, but what is even sadder is that it was years before I was able to undo all the emotional damage I caused.  Not just to my self-esteem and confidence, but to my body and specifically my joints.  It didn’t have to be this way; I had a choice, I just didn’t know it.  I wish somebody had told me sooner that life a series of learning opportunities, not mistakes.  Things happen for a reason; how we deal with the unexpected is only a test of our character.  Besides, when in life does anything ever go exactly according to plan?  Never.  The future is unknown, so we can never anticipate what will happen.   We must be ready to embrace whatever life throws at us, whether it be by choice, as consequence, or purely by chance.

The point is that my story is no more or less “tragic” than anyone elses, and EVERYONE has a story.  How we choose to deal with life when it doesn’t go our way determines how many emotional bandages we decide to carry through life.

Thoughts are very complex constructs of the mind.  Our brains are always thinking.  Most of the time we aren’t even aware of it; thoughts just flicker in the mind for a split second.  However, whether conscious or subconscious, fleeting or deep, they all get sorted and attached to an emotion.  Most thoughts may be classified as “indifferent” but the point is, they are ALL classified AND they are ALL stored somewhere in the brain, either in the conscious or sub-conscious. With time, the thoughts may fade, but the emotions remain and begin to pile up, like pennies in a jar.  The mind can only hold the weight of emotion for so long before the rest of the body is called in to help out.  Hello disease!

The thought-emotion relationship is often overlooked or even dismissed as a source (or at the very least, a major contributor) of disease and pain.  It is much more acceptable to keep patients chemically oblivious to their internal pain.  In fact, it is so acceptable, that more than half of the United States have been prescribed antidepressants.  I am sure there are cases where pills help, but it cannot be denied that little is being done to address the issues that warranted the need for the pills in the first place…..

I don’t have rheumatoid arthritis because I inherited from grandma.  Well, maybe that may have a little to do with it, but not as much as the manner in which  I have dealt with my emotions throughout my life.  I am an intense person, I feel strongly about stuff and I haven’t always had the skills required to deal with all my emotion. The result is that my emotions, left unchecked,  manifest themselves as arthritis pain.   The real kick in the crotch is that once the pain hits, I am less able to manage my emotions, and I am more likely to become aware of other disappointments that I have yet to deal with.  It is like I have an internal cesspool that churns up all the emotional garbage that I have tried to forget.  This all adds up to more pain, and more pain leads to depression, and then to hopelessness.  The whole process is a vicious cycle.  Many of us RA’ers (and AI’ers) really never have a chance; we are doomed to be trapped by our emotional demons.

It was when a herbalist friend of mine gave me a book called, Feelings Buried Alive Never Die, by Karol Truman, that I started to begin to understand the relationship between emotion and  disease.  Now I don’t believe that emotions by themselves hold the key to autoimmune cause and cure, but I do know from my own experience that our minds play a pivotal role in our health and our ability to heal.  According to Truman, rheumatoid arthritis is associated with “the body receiving mixed messages [from the mind]; like laughing on the outside, but crying on the inside.”  Additionally,  the feeling of being, “totally helpless in [the] ability to change life’s burdens.”  She also contends that inflexibility and rigidity in life is manifested in diseases affecting the joints.  If you recall my story from earlier, you know that I could totally relate to what this author was saying….

I realize I haven’t gone as far as I need to, but this is already really long so…..stay tuned for more on thought.  Same Pat-time, same Pat-channel….

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Monthly Visitors: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hormones, and a Cow

Do you tend to get flares around the time of your period?  I do, and I find it particularly frustrating because for the most part,  my RA is pretty well under control.  However, every month around the same time, a flare will come like clockwork and undo my life, as only flares can, and always do.  You would think by now I would be used to a flare at the same time each month, but to be quite honest, I only recently picked up on the correlation between the two.  In fact, my doctor clued me in when he gave me a product called EstroFactors to try and help clear my monthly bouts of acne.  The bottle says it is for menopausal women and upon reading this, I quickly and emphatically questioned why on earth was he giving ME, a young woman of 32, pills for menopause!   He told me that many women with RA tend to hold on to estrogen in their bodies and that the pills would actually help my body detoxify excess hormone. 

So what does this have to do with RA?  Well, science has found there to be a correlation between estrogen and rheumatoid arthritis.  Apparently, too much estrogen, and hormone imbalances in general, can actually make rheumatoid arthritis symptoms worse.  

There is so much conflicting information about this topic on the web, so I will just share my own experience with hormones and RA.  I have always been hormonally imbalanced.  My periods have always been irregular and heavy, I have always had really bad cramps and PMS (I think anyone who has known me through the years would agree).  However there have been several things that I have done within the last year that I have noticed a marked improvement in not only my menstrual symptoms, but my rheumatoid arthritis severity. 

The biggest change came when I eliminated animal protein from my diet.  No, I am not a political vegan, just someone who has found that I feel SO much better when I significantly reduce or eliminate all meat, fish, dairy, and eggs from my diet.  All animal protein is highly inflammatory and really difficult to digest.   For my own health, I want to avoid inflammation like the plague! It is what causes the pain we feel in our joints!  Don’t get me wrong, I love barbeque ribs and fried chicken, cheese burgers and turkey sandwiches, but not even the best baby back ribs (my mom’s) are worth the pain and disability I feel when I flare.  I feel like every day that I am trapped by RA is a day wasted that I will never get back.  It just isn’t worth it.  Since going vegan, I have lost 30 pounds without effort, I feel better,  have more energy, I look younger, and best of all, I don’t have half as many flares as I used to.

Going vegan has also helped to regulate my period.  For the first time in my life, it comes and goes on time; usually lasting about 5-6 days, down from 8.   There is no more PMS or heavy flow, and only minor cramps (Sorry, I know that’s too much information, but I am trying to illustrate a point).  This dramatic improvement  is largely attributed to my significant reduction of fat consumption, and subsequent weight loss.   

Even the leanest cuts of meat still have a relatively high amount of fat.  So even when you try and eat a low-fat diet, it is still pretty fattening when you compare it to a healthy, balanced, vegan diet (yes, there is such a thing!)  Moreover, most environmental toxins (including  xenoestrogens*) are fat solulable.  That means, they are stored in our body fat!   Oh, did I mention that hormones are stored in fat as well? Well they are, and cows have a ton of hormonally loaded fat.  And no, when we eat meat, those hormones don’t just go away.  They get stored in our fat right along with all the other toxins that cow has stored in its fat.  This is true for any animal or egg, organic or not,  that is consumed.  Beef has a higher concentration of hormones simply because of a cow’s large size.

If you remember from earlier in this article, I mentioned that my doctor had said that some people with rheumatoid arthritis have a tendency to hold on to excess estrogen.    I have always been hormonally imbalanced and ate animal protein for 31 years.  That is a long time for my body to store quite a surplus of excess hormone.  So it will likely take some time before I can detoxify and come into hormonal balance.  Taking EstroFactors should help this process.  In the meantime, I cannot complain.  I am down to having only have one “major” flare at about the same time each month.  As long as I don’t suddenly get invited to judge a BBQ Pitmaster competition that is sponsored by Ziploc plastic bags, I know there will be a day not too far into the future when I will have conquered this as well.

* Xenoestrogen:  Any of the by-products of industrial or chemical processing that have estrogen-like effects [including plastics].

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Welcome to My Blog!

I have started this blog in hopes of spreading awareness about the effectiveness of the functional medicine approach to treating and managing rheumatoid arthritis and other similar autoimmune diseases.

 I have had rheumatoid arthritis since I was a child and have had the fortune of working with a functional medicine research center where I have been receiving state of the art treatment and guidance for the last four years. I feel that it is now time to share what I have learned with the rest of the world, in hopes that I might help others who desperately want to feel better. 

I am not a doctor.  I am simply a patient who has been blessed with a doctor and dietician who have shared their knowledge with me.  My intent is to simply share my experience and what I have learned. With the current state of health care and the scary side effects of prescription drugs, it seems to me that there is a need for other viable options.  This blog is meant to illustrate that viable options do exist and a life dependent on pharmaceuticals is not inevitable.

By Me