Arthritis Awareness and Our Family

AF St. Pete/Tampa Connect Group gathering
Arthritis Awareness

May is the official month in which conversations and understanding about arthritis is encouraged.  Awareness is elevated simply when a conversation takes place, whether in groups or between two individuals.  When the discussion is shared in a public way through an Awareness Month, the intention is to escalate the level of understanding to more people who are not familiar with or are only vaguely familiar with arthritis.

Most of us had a casual understanding of arthritis since we were young.   Typically, a first encounter was with a parent or grandparent describing sore joints, swelling and pain. They mostly told us it was because of their old age, that this just happens when you get older and we went about our business assuming our wise elders had explained it satisfactorily.  Chances are, they were describing what is referred to as osteoarthritis, a form of arthritis that is a degenerative joint disease that results from breakdown of joint cartilage and underlying bone.  It can happen from joint overuse such as an athlete or from aging.  This version of arthritis pain can be mitigated through various treatments depending on the level of progression. But this is only the most commonly understood version of arthritis.

More than 100 types of arthritis

There are more than 100 types of arthritis, many of which are little known or misunderstood and can happen to individuals of any age. Other types of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritisjuvenile idiopathic arthritis and more. They are mostly autoimmune diseases and often described as “hidden” arthritis.  These diseases are accompanied with chronic pain to joints and like rheumatoid arthritis can be systemic, meaning they can affect many areas of the body such as skin, eyes, heart, lungs and more.  Individuals with the same disease do not all necessarily present symptoms in the same way which makes it harder to understand.  The diseases can also happen at any age, even those who otherwise “look healthy”.  The pain can be exhaustive and difficult to manage.   Frequently those suffering from one of these hidden arthritis conditions can have symptoms for years before being properly diagnosed.

Other variables come to the table as well.  Having this type of chronic disease can also be accompanied with unusually acute fatigue, “brain fog”, gaps in memory recall and the big gun, depression.  Often medical providers do not address the depression aspect of having a chronic disease and these individuals are 2-3x more likely to struggle with depression than the population at large.

To make it even more confusing, autoimmune diseases tend to “flock” together referred to as co-morbidities.  Translation, when an individual has one of these diseases, it is quite common for them to contract a second or third condition.  Other autoimmune diseases are not limited to but include lupus, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.  To date, there is no cure for these autoimmune diseases, only treatments, medications and methods to help manage them.

Closer to home

In our family, Sherry has rheumatoid arthritis and hashimoto’s disease, both “hidden” autoimmune diseases.  This is why it felt so important to me to contribute to the conversation during the month of May with this introductory article.  Those of you who know us pretty well are aware of some of the challenges these diseases have presented us in the past 4 years.  For others, this may be the first time you learned that Sherry suffers from chronic illness.

Sherry teaching beach yoga

Sherry center, teaching beach yoga

She is very active, teaches yoga and is among those who “look healthy” or appears “too young” to some to have these diseases. As you have just read, these diseases don’t care about your age or how you look, they can impact you at any time and as it happens are far more likely to occur in women.

Owning a yoga studio helps us have the opportunity to remain active and to encourage others to do the same.  Sherry’s credo is “movement is medicine” and she lives and breathes it every day.  Sometimes taking a short walk for 10 minutes after work is all that she can manage.  Other days that activity can include taking a yoga class, swimming laps or going for a long walk on the beach.  Each day presents new and different challenges.  Learning to manage pain levels, sharing in fun activities with family and friends and helping to hold depression at bay are a part of the daily routine in our home.

Sherry and I are active in the Arthritis Foundation and encourage you to learn more about this wonderful organization.  We are full of gratitude for the endless support we receive from the Arthritis Foundation and the many friends we have met through volunteering and participating in the multitude of events.

If you or someone you know has arthritis and live in the Tampa Bay area, Sherry and I host the St. Pete/Tampa Connect Group for the Arthritis Foundation.  All are welcome to join our group and come to our free events each quarter.  It is for those facing arthritis and those who support them (the latter includes me).  We do fun and casual gatherings to support one another and to simply “connect” with others who understand how disruptive these diseases can be to everyday life.

There is much more to discover about this journey and I appreciate you spending a few minutes with me to read this article and learn a bit more about arthritis.

—wishing us all good health and wellness, Sandy

Please note: this article is intended to share my understanding of arthritis and advance the conversation about the disease with others.  It is not in any way to be used as medical advice.

The cover image is from an Arthritis Foundation St. Petersburg/Tampa Connect Group gathering we hosted.

Sources:  WebMD, Mayo Clinic and Creaky Joints

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