flareSo much for remission.  It was good while it lasted.  Swollen feet and stiff hands/wrists are not how I like starting my days.  Recently my feet have been so sore that I’ve caught myself thinking that if I had one of those blue parking tags, I’d actually use it when I’m at the store.  That’s not something I ever thought I’d say.

This flare is affecting basic activities.  Tuesday night I went shopping and couldn’t even pick up my groceries normally.  I felt like a two-year-old with one hand on each side of the boxes so that I could get them into my cart.

In trying to figure out what changed (did anything perhaps cause this flare), I realized that I am beat!  With one child running track, and another playing baseball, it seems like I’ve been constantly on the go. These sports are in addition to the kids’ usual activities (violin, piano, lawn care job, scouts, youth group, getting ready for college…), but the two new sports seem to have pushed things over the edge.  I’m exhausted.

I’ve tried to pace myself and let some things slide since life has gotten so hectic.  That means there are dirty dishes in my kitchen sink and I’m sitting at the computer resting instead of cleaning the kitchen.  All the laundry has been washed, but it has not been folded or put away (to tell the truth, I’m happy it’s not still in the dryer, and figure people will go find their clothes when they need them).  Despite looking for ways to get some rest and not over do it, I’m exhausted.  Maybe that’s why my joints are rebelling.

My kids are trying to help.  Some people cringe at the thought of teenage drivers, but I have to say that I am thrilled to have assistance with transportation.  Unlike God, I cannot be two places at the same time.   Music lessons are 12:30-2:30, and track practice is 2:00-4:00.  Track meets are 3:30-6:00, and baseball games are 5:30-8 (sometimes in cities an hour away from each other). My daughters have been fabulous in helping out with all the driving so their brothers can participate in team sports for the first time in their lives.

Honestly, if I have to deal with a flare so that my boys can play sports and have this happy memory to look back on, I can live with a flare.  It’s worth it.  It broke my heart, when my son asked about sports this year, to discover that my daughter had wanted to turn out for volleyball back when she was that age.  She never even asked, and has felt deprived all this time, because that was the year I was diagnosed.  RA affects entire families in ways we might not even know about until later.  We had a couple pretty crummy years, and I have no idea how I could possibly have gotten any of the kids to any extra activities back then.

Despite the flare, things are way better than they were five years ago.  I don’t yelp in pain when I roll out of bed in the morning.  I’m able to sleep at night without waking in pain every time I roll onto a bursa (and my vocabulary now includes words like “trochanter”).  I can (usually) lift my arms.  Yes, I hurt.  My hands, my feet, my shoulders… But this is just a flare.

Flares burn for a while warning that there’s a problem, and then they’re gone.  Maybe, just maybe, this flare is warning me to pace myself better.  With any luck, if I heed the warning, the flare will die out.

Just Arthritis – NOT

Before a diagnosis of RA, it’s common for friends to know you haven’t been feeling well.  If they’re good friends, after you’ve been to the doctor they inquire about the results.  For some inexplicable reason, when we say, “The doctor diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis,” listeners only hear four of those five words.  “Rheumatoid” seems to be inaudible when spoken.

Fortunately, we don’t have to remain stuck with the frustration that occurs when people hear “arthritis” without comprehending “rheumatoid” and respond, “Oh, I have that in my neck/knee/little finger.”  Usually, I don’t think my health is anyone’s business, but good friends are an exception.  If I know someone well enough to tell them that I have RA, then I know them well enough to explain why RA is not “just arthritis.”

When people respond as if I’m discussing osteoarthritis, I’ve had very good luck smiling and saying, “Oh, you’re thinking of OA.  There are nearly 100 different types of arthritis.  I have RA.”

It’s quite simple to quickly explain that OA is what people have when a joint wears out due to overuse, but RA is completely different.  RA occurs when the immune system goes postal and starts attacking multiple joints and organs, too.

I remember a few years ago my riding instructor shrugging off my stiffness, saying that we all feel stiff sometimes.  I waited a day, then sent email to explain the situation:

“Three years ago I was diagnosed with a disease that means my immune system is overactive.  It doesn’t distinguish between my body and foreign invaders.  The immune system is supposed to attack germs so that we don’t get sick.  My immune system does that, but it also attacks the synovial fluid surrounding my joints, the enthesis (where tendons attach), my skin, and pretty much anything else it feels like attacking without giving me any say in the matter…

While RA can cause OA, RA is not “just arthritis.”  There is a huge difference, and I’ve had tremendous response when giving people a brief explanation of the distinction between the two.

Painless Gardening

The person who originally landscaped my yard chose flowers and bushes based on what they looked like in the nursery, without any consideration given to how much work they take to maintain or what they contribute.  Before RA I hated weeding the garden; it’s worse now that my hands ache for days after pulling weeds. Low-maintenance/high-yield plants would be ideal.

For instance, my low-maintenance lavender hedge is green all year and bears beautiful flowers in the summer.  Weeds aren’t a problem because I mulch heavily.  Instead of hand-pruning all the flower stalks, I take the weed-eater to them – either in autumn or spring, depending on the weather and when I get around to it.  I know some gardeners are appalled that I take a weed-eater to my lavender, but it’s quick and easy, and my plants are flourishing.  The weed eater can be wrapped with foam to make gripping it easier.

Some plants do well with a groundcover beneath – sort of a living mulch to keep down the weeds.  I recently put in a hedge of evergreen huckleberries, and underplanted the bushes with lingonberries.  Everything is heavily mulched to keep in the moisture and keep down the weeds until the lingonberries spread.

Mulch is your friend.  It holds moisture in the ground, which means less work watering.  It inhibits weeds, which means less work weeding.  It’s free!  Grass clippings make great mulch (provided your grass hasn’t gone to seed).

My high-maintenance landscaping?  With the help of a few friends, I’ve ripped most of it out and am happily learning about useful plants to take their place. My plant wish-list has gotten much longer than the space I’m looking to fill or my budget will allow, which means I’ll put in only some things this year, then spend the summer preparing new beds for the future. In addition to my aforementioned huckleberries, I’ve planted blueberry bushes and peach trees, and have some artichokes in the greenhouse to be planted out in mid-May.

It’s fun changing the landscaping in my yard to plants that will be easier to maintain.  If you’re inclined to take on a similar project, a few things have been helpful.  GoogleMaps let me zoom in on my house, which allowed me to get a perfectly-to-scale picture.  I was able to print it and use the picture as my “sketch” for writing in measurements and deciding on locations for the plants I want to put in.  Another thing I discovered is that local nurseries charge less than mail-order nurseries and generally carry plants that will grow well in your area.  That said, mail-order nurseries are a great source for varieties not stocked by the local nursery.


More tips:

  • Coat your hands with vaseline before donning your gardening gloves. They’ll be softer and easier to clean when you’re done.
  • Invasive plants like mint can be contained in pots.
  • If you want to grow herbs, make a plan as to where you’d like to grow them, but only add 2-3 per year so you get time to learn how to use them without being overwhelmed.
  • Herbs make good landscaping plants, and can cut down on your grocery bill. Sage and thyme are evergreens that are very easy to grow.  Stick them in the ground and ignore them until you need a few leaves.
  • Don’t be a slave to the zone maps.  Microclimates can let plants do well in areas that the experts say they shouldn’t.  For example, rosemary is labeled a tender evergreen, but mine is in outdoors in the ground and at six foot tall has survived weather down in the teens, simply by being in a slightly protected location.
  • Moisture-loving plants will do better by a swimming pool than will plants that like well-drained soil.
  • Lay a board on grass to kill it before establishing a new bed.  Keep it well-weeded for a year (or two) before putting in new plants.
  • Raised beds can be built 2-3 feet tall, which makes it possible to sit in a chair while tending plants.
  • Some of the garden planning software has a 30-day free trial period.  It’s nice to try before you buy (or determine you don’t want to buy).

Happy gardening!