It started when I was around 20-years-old. Working my way through university in a chemical factory, I started to notice some changes in my body. Aches and pains, stiffness, excessive fatigue. Attributing this to my physically demanding job, I did what a typical 20-year-old does, and ignored it, hoping it would go away. This worked, until I stopped being able to make it through the days at all; I felt like a failure when I had to quit that job due to pain.
I applied for Work-Cover at that time, because physiotherapy wasn’t something that I, as a newly married, full-time university student could afford. I was declined because tests showed that I had congenital osteoarthritis, something I hadn’t been aware of, so this was thought to be the cause of any pain I was having; not the job itself.
So, I ignored it again, hoping it would go away now that I wasn’t working under those conditions. I kept going to university and worked in office jobs instead. But the pain has never left me since. In fact, it’s gotten worse, and worse and worse, and spread throughout my entire body.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve seen so many people about it. I’ve seen physiotherapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, podiatrists, even a naturopath and a kinesiologist. I’ve spoken to GPs and specialists galore. I’ve been treated for osteoarthritis, a prolapsed disc, bulging discs, a compressed sciatic nerve, scoliosis, plantar fasciitis, chronic fatigue, and IBS. I’ve been told that a range of things have caused my pain; years of dancing and netball, bad posture, genes, injury, chronic stress, dietary factors, mechanical body issues.
It wasn’t until this year… yes, 15 years later… that I’ve finally discovered the truth. That I am sick, not injured.
I’ve now been diagnosed with a lifelong, auto-immune disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), as well as a range of other auto-immune issues. AS means that my faulty immune system attacks my healthy joint tissue, causing ongoing inflammation and chronic pain and fatigue. It’s a form of inflammatory arthritis.
As you can imagine, part of me feels relieved to finally have answers. I’ve spent many years questioning my own mind and body, wondering if I was just crazy, or weak, and simply didn’t have the fortitude to get through the day like everyone else.
I will now be able to manage my pain with the right treatment plan, of medication, diet and exercise, rather than fruitlessly trying to treat an injury that never existed.
But it’s also a mindset shift. Receiving my first lot of steroids and biological injections recently meant coming to terms with the fact that I’ll likely be on medications for the rest of my life. There will always be things I have to watch out for, and things that I can’t do, that ‘everyone else’ can. This has been confronting. I don’t want to be a ‘sick person’.
I also feel hope though. Now that I know what I’m dealing with, I will go into the new year prepared. I will be looking at a lifestyle overhaul including diet, exercise, and overall self-care. This in conjunction with my new medication regime will hopefully, if not get rid of, manage the worst of my symptoms. I am hopeful for a 2019 with more energy, less pain, and enjoying my life rather than just (barely) getting through the ‘have to’s’ of every day and then resting so I can face tomorrow.
I wish there was more awareness in the general and medical communities, so that I, and everyone else with these issues could more easily access answers and earlier intervention. Fifteen years was far too long to wait.
Our mental health is impacted along with our physical health when we suffer from chronic pain and living in near-constant pain and fatigue is no way to live at all.
I’m hoping to be able to help other people with these issues in the future, however I can. I’m going to be looking at ideas for this in 2019 too.
Cheers to a healthier and happier 2019!