Posted in Coping, Social Isolation

How to Manage Social Isolation With Chronic Illness

Learn five ways to stay connected with others and prevent feeling alone.

Living with chronic illness and pain is difficult. And too often, sufferers isolate themselves. As a result, it is important to learn how to manage times of social isolation so depression doesn’t take over.

Chronic illness causes social isolation

“Belonging” is a complex social concept, relating to people, places, and things. It is fundamental to our emotional well-being, helps define us, and keeps us connected. Social isolation, on the other hand, is when you distance yourself, physically, psychologically, or both, from your network of needed relationships.

When you have a chronic illness, isolation can have unforeseen consequences, including worsening symptoms, unexpected health crises, hospitalization, loss of interest in activities, and decreased levels of energy. Anyone living with a long-term health condition is at risk for social isolation.

Managing the symptoms and stress of chronic illness reduces your time and ability to develop and maintain a network of social relationships. Moreover, financial difficulties, physical and emotional limitations, and concerns with self-image can force chronically ill people to isolate themselves. In some cases, you may feel abandoned by friends and/or loved ones, or maybe your close relationships have been disrupted by illness. Sadly, even the most loyal family members and friends sometimes withdraw to protect themselves from watching their loved one struggle.

Read the rest at Upwell.

Posted in Coping, Gratitude, Single Parenting

When Life Handed Me Chronic Illness

 When you are a kid, no one tells you how hard adulthood will be. They don’t point out the perfect life and tell you how to go out there and get it. No one tells you about the hurdles and curves, or the sadness and adversity. They sure don’t tell you that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia can strike when you are a young parent in your early thirties. They don’t tell you how tough being a single parent with illness is, or that you have to worry about your family’s income if you get seriously sick, and there is no one around to help you.

No one ever warned me about the obstacles life and chronic illness would throw, and maybe, that was a good thing. After all, despite all the challenges and stresses of life and chronic illness, I do know I am happy most of the time.

To be honest, I don’t have an articulate way to explain what it was like going from being an active young mother to being someone with two debilitating and crippling diseases. It was just downright awful and to make matters worse, my illnesses, in some part, contributed to the dissolution of my marriage and me becoming a single parent.

Read more at HealthiVibe.

Posted in Uncategorized

Tips on How to Handle Depression When You Have a Chronic Illness

For so many with chronic illness, depression is a fact of life.

In fact, depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illness. Just the idea of facing a long life with illness brings about uncertainty, grief, anger, and sadness. While some of this is a normal part of living with chronic disease, it is when you continue to experience these feelings and they start to affect your daily life that you should seek medical help.

Be aware of depression triggers

Be aware of the following aspects of your illness that can lower your mood and possibly trigger depression.

Your feelings about your illness. You should expect to feel overwhelmed. There is so much to learn about your illness and you may need to give up favorite activities due to fatigue, pain and/or physical limitations. And sometimes giving up the things you love can be discouraging. Research suggests a connection between chronic illness and depression when people withdraw from activities they find rewarding and involve social support.

Read the rest of this article at Upwell.

Posted in Uncategorized

Chronic Illness and Sexual Intimacy

Chronic illness doesn’t have to have negative effects on your relationship and sexual satisfaction.

Having a chronic illness such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or fibromyalgia can take a toll on intimate relationships. The partner who is sick may be coping with many changes in how he or she feels. And the person who is not sick may not know how to handle the changes.

Chronic illness may strain relationships

Stress and misunderstanding associated with chronic illness may push partners to their breaking points. Even in the best intimate relationships, chronic illness could create problems.

Studies have shown that marriages where one spouse is chronically ill may be more likely to fail. One 20-year study of older couples found a divorce rate of 31% when one partner is chronically sick, according to researchers from the University of Michigan.

Read more at UpWell.

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Ways to Successfully Advocate for Yourself

Keep these tips in mind to better control and manage your chronic illness.

If you suffer from chronic illness and pain, it is important to learn to advocate for yourself. You are your best advocate because you are the only one that will not give up on you.

Don’t tell yourself you will just learn to live with your chronic illness, because that isn’t enough. Having a passive attitude toward your health isn’t as beneficial as having an active one.

Here are five ways you can play an active role in assuring you receive quality care and get the support you need to make living with chronic illness easier:

1. Know your illness

The first and most vital step in advocating for yourself requires taking time to understand your condition. The internet offers millions of websites and forums dedicated to chronic illness. Doing your research and learning all about your illness allows you to be the best advocate for yourself and feel more in control of your situation. Just make sure your internet research comes from reputable sources.

Read the rest of my article at Upwell.

Posted in Coping, Single Parenting

Successful Single Parenting With Chronic Illness

Being a good parent means taking care of yourself too. These tips can help you do both.

It only takes one Google search to realize that not very many people are writing articles or books on single parenting with chronic illness. And when you are looking for answers and can’t find them, parenting alone with chronic illness could be confusing and scary.

Whether you are a single parent by choice or by circumstance, you know that single parenting brings with it many unique challenges and joys. Many of us feel as if we are just muddling along day-to-day and getting it wrong. Add chronic illness to that scenario and single parenting suddenly becomes even more complicated.

Doing it alone

In 2008, shortly after my youngest child was born, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the joints and organs. Not long after that I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a medical condition characterized by chronic widespread pain, sleep issues, and problems with memory. And two years later, I was parenting my children alone while living with two chronic illnesses.

Even though much time has passed and my diseases are well controlled, I still worry about my health and the effects that it has on my children and their future. But I also have the same worries every single parent has—not enough money, time, love, and discipline.

I am trying to raise well-adjusted children to the best of my ability and single parenting isn’t all rainbows and flowers. In fact, it makes the hardest job on earth even harder. With chronic illness in the mix, my single parenting is neither messy nor successful—it is just somewhere in between.

How do you do it?

You probably didn’t choose to be a single parent. You didn’t choose to be chronically ill. And you sure didn’t want to raise your kids alone with chronic illness.

Read the rest of the article at Upwell.

Posted in Coping

How I Learned to Accept That I’ll Be Sick for the Rest of My Life

What I learned could help you too.

Chronic illness has been part of my life for nearly eight years. While I now accept that I will be sick for the rest of my life, I didn’t always feel that way. My journey toward acceptance hasn’t been easy. No matter how many times I moved closer to acceptance, for a long time my feelings about being sick continued to change just as my chronically ill life constantly changed. Here is how I finally learned to accept that I would be sick for the rest of my life.

At least it wasn’t terminal

I know telling yourself “at least it’s not terminal” is harsh, but being sick for the rest of your life is just as scary and life-altering. In 2008 when I was the sickest I’d ever been, I focused on feeling relieved that I wasn’t dying. Getting diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia was hard. But recognizing the difference between a terminal illness and a chronic illness helped me to seize a glimmer of hope.

Frustration when I didn’t quickly get better

Three months passed after I was diagnosed. My rheumatologist had prescribed three different mediations and I still wasn’t better. Back again at my doctor’s office, I was given different medications and more pamphlets. I drove home convinced that things would be different and these new medications would work. They didn’t. Another three months passed and I continued to feel sick. That was the hardest year of my life, but it was also the first part of my road to acceptance.

Read more at Upwell.

Posted in Uncategorized

Autoimmune Disease, Arthritis and Women

Why are women targeted more than men?

 Autoimmune Disease, Arthritis and Women

Autoimmune diseases that cause arthritis symptoms tend to affect more women than men. This understanding has been established for well over a hundred years, but only in recent years has research paid specific focus to possible reasoning.

Autoimmune Disease and Arthritis

There are 50 million Americans that live with an autoimmune disease and more than 75 percent are women. The term “autoimmune disease” refers to a group of different illnesses characterized by a problem called “autoimmunity,” wherein the body’s immune system attacks the cells it is supposed to protect.

Many autoimmune diseases are characterized by inflammation of the joints in addition to inflammation of connective and soft tissues and even organs. The most common autoimmune diseases that cause arthritis symptoms include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, Still’s Disease, juvenile arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, ankylosing spondylitis, primary sjogren’s syndrome and mixed connective tissue disease.

Statistics for Women

Women are three times more likely than men to be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, this according to estimates reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. Moreover, autoimmune disease has been cited as one of the top causes of death among U.S. women under the age of 65 and is also the fourth largest reason for disability among American women.

Possible Explanations

Why exactly are women more prone to arthritis producing autoimmune disease than are men? Here are some possible explanations.

Hormones. Some researchers believe that because women produce estrogen, it puts them at a greater risk for autoimmune disease. In fact, research has shown that high estrogen levels force women’s bodies’ overreact much like the response of autoimmunity.

Environment. Researchers pay a lot more attention to the role played by environmental factors as an underlying trigger to autoimmune disease. It is very likely that exposure to external toxins, such as environmental pollutants and medication, can trigger an autoimmune response. And the role that men and women play at home and in the workplace can help determine who is exposed to specific toxins. Researchers are also looking at products that women use in greater frequency, such as hair dyes and makeup, to determine if these pay a role.

Genes. Genetic differences between men and women are a big consideration in explaining why women are more likely to develop autoimmune diseases. Most research has pointed to the fact that women and men have completely different cells throughout their entire bodies despite having similar tissues. A revealing study out of the University of Manchester UK hinted that X chromosomes play a part in the development of autoimmune disease and because women have two of these, their risk becomes greater.

Stress. Stress affects the body’s ability manage immune functions. In fact, autoimmunity can result when stress alters the effectiveness of cortisol to regulate inflammation. The belief is that because women process stress differently than men, the reduced levels of cortisol encourage inflammation rather than inhibit it.

Evidence is Only Circumstantial

While researchers do identify hormones, environmental factors, genes and stress as potential contributing factors to the higher incidence of autoimmune disease in women, these triggers are at best circumstantial. What do know is that while autoimmune disease is more common in women, men are often affected much more severely. Interestingly, research in animal studies have shown the same bias. To sum up, while hormones, environmental factors, genes, and stress may play a role in a women’s autoimmune response, they have very little to do with how strong that response will be.

Written for Alliance Health Networks’ Arthritis Connect site.

Posted in Uncategorized

Overcoming Arthritis in the Bedroom

Communication and changing habits are keys to bolstering intimacy.

Overcoming Arthritis in the Bedroom

Sex is a hot topic and it is also a taboo topic. Whether you are talking freely among friends or for educational purpose, there will be controversy. As it pertains to arthritis, many of you have found yourselves wondering whether arthritis and sex can even go together, but it is not a topic you want to be open about. In general, people do not want to discuss what goes on behind closed doors. Even couples in meaningful relationships can relate to this as they hide their feelings from one another.

What is Intimacy?

What does intimacy requires and includes? Ideally, it includes love. It can also include romance. Two additional critical components are mood and setting. Last, intimacy includes the act, with positions and physical attributes.

In addition to the requirements of intimacy, we can also look to why intimacy fails and why breakups and failed relationships occur. In looking at the reasons for failure, we find challenges to successful relationships and that once successful relationships can fail. Moreover, when we consider the reasons for failure, we often forget that in addition to emotional factors, physical factors can play a part in the success or failure of a relationship. Emotional factors are a given, as are intimacy issues. Physical factors can include arthritis and chronic pain conditions.

Intimacy and Arthritis

The problems faced by arthritis sufferers are both emotional and physical. Emotional factors include self-doubt and poor body image. Physical factors include joint pain and other symptoms that are characteristic of a person’s specific arthritis condition. These concerns not only affect the patient, but they also affect that person’s partner as well. Barriers include physical pain, the inability to perform because of joint pain or other symptoms, expectations and personal needs — both sexual and emotional. This complete consensus can have strong complications in a relationship.

What it all comes down to is that sex is supposed to be enjoyable, but for arthritis sufferers, it can be difficult. In additional to physical pain, psychological factors come into play. The nature of a couple’s sexual lifestyle prior to the diagnosis further complicates the situation. This can result into resentment, worry and fear for both partners.

The Effect of Arthritis on Sexual Intimacy

The effects of arthritis pain, stiffness, fatigue, lack of mobility, and swelled joints can make sex difficult, painful and unappealing. When arthritis affects your back, your knees, your hips, ankles, etc., sex cannot possibly be enjoyable. In addition, side effects of medications can diminish sexual desire and cause other problems such as vaginal dryness, erectile dysfunction, inability to orgasm, and fatigue that also lessen the desire to be intimate. As the sufferer, you feel sexually unattractive and, as a result, you cannot feel relaxed enough to enjoy the actual act. These feelings bring with them anxiety and stress and further worsen our symptoms.

When you sufferer from arthritis, your partner may not necessarily be aware of the changes happening to your body — both physical and emotional. Your partner cannot understand your pain levels, nor can he or she know whether you are using pain levels as an excuse not to be intimate or whether your excuses are legit. All of these factors can lead to the failure of a relationship when the real and best answer comes down to communication.

What Can You Do?

Change Expectations. Sexual intimacy is not just about achieving an orgasm or the act itself. If we can change this perception, we can change our expectations. Taking a slower approach to intimacy works best for partners when they share mutual respect, care, trust and love for each other. Moreover, barriers can be approached through communication on what is comfortable and what is not. Arthritis does not necessarily affect sexual organs but the physical effects of the disease can make intercourse painful. Moreover, emotions come into play because of those physical aspects. Therefore, couples must address the emotional aspects, as well as the physical, openly and honestly.

Communicate. Expressing fears and concerns allows the partner without arthritis to support and reassure. In addition, talking about fears will allow the arthritis sufferer to let go. What the arthritis sufferer must take in mind is that his or her fears can be viewed as rejection to his or her partner. That rejection turns into distance and emotional breakdown of the relationship. If these topics are sensitive initially, writing a letter to a partner to express fears and concerns can be another approach, but the next step would be to talk openly about what has been written down.

Sexual Wellbeing and Changing Habits

Psychological wellbeing and social support can contribute to a fulfilling sexual life. By learning to separate the emotional aspects of arthritis and working creatively to deal with the physical aspects, couples can take a more practical approach in dealing with changes brought about by arthritis and in turn, make accommodations for one another when dealing sexual intimacy.

Changing sexual habits and planning is the first place a couple can start in order to continue to have a fulfilling sex life. For example, if the arthritis sufferer wakes up stiff and in pain in the morning, sexual intercourse can be saved for later in the day or at night prior to bedtime. If being rested helps, perhaps the arthritis sufferer can take a nap beforehand rather than avoiding the act altogether simply because of factors that contribute to the inability to perform. If muscles and joint become tense during sex, then a perhaps considering a warm bath to sooth muscles prior to sexual intimacy may help to ease those tensions.

Other considerations can include taking pain medications so that its maximum effects happen during sex, using massage to help ease muscles and joints as foreplay, using pillows or rolled sheets to support joints, or even pacing yourself to conserve your energy for you and your partner. Vaginal dryness can be addressed by using an over the counter lubricant. Other more difficult issues, such as erectile dysfunction, may require a medical perspective. What it all comes down to is that couples have to be willing to work together in order to allow for intimacy to be fulfilling for both partners.

The Bottom Line

Sexual intimacy should not make arthritis worse. By focusing on the physical and emotional aspects rather than the act itself, being open and honest with each another, and changing habits, couples affected by arthritis can continue to find satisfaction with sexual intimacy.

Originally Posted at Arthritis Connect.

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Ways to Beat Rheumatoid Arthritis Fatigue

See proven tips to help you fight this common effect of RA and have energy to do the things you care about most.

7 Ways to Beat Rheumatoid Arthritis Fatigue

If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you will likely experience fatigue from time to time. RA fatigue is not just being tired. It comes without warning and may feel so overwhelming that it prevents you from performing everyday tasks and planned activities. Sometimes, something as simple as taking a shower may require more effort than you can muster. RA fatigue could make it difficult to plan ahead, see friends and family, concentrate, work, and do things you enjoy.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, up to 98 percent of people with RA report fatigue. You are more likely to feel abrupt and frequent fatigue when RA is most active and your joints are inflamed. Pain worsens fatigue because it drains your energy and keeps you from sleeping. Fatigue is also a symptom of depression, which is very common in people with RA.

Combating fatigue

Combating fatigue requires taking good care of yourself. That means eating well, staying active, pacing yourself, getting enough sleep, and adhering to your treatment plan. Here are details on seven ways to help beat your RA fatigue.

Control inflammation. Your energy levels are affected by many different things when you have RA, and inflammation is the biggest culprit. Talk to your doctor about getting inflammation under control. There are medications that decrease both inflammation and fatigue. You and your doctor can work together to figure out which ones will work best for you.

Get moving. RA pain might make it hard to get moving, but inactivity makes fatigue worse. And most people with RA benefit from activity. The best exercises for people with RA are low impact, such as walking, swimming, and cycling.

Forget the naps. Long naps or naps taken too late in the day may affect your ability to sleep at night. If you having trouble getting restful sleep at night or falling asleep, a nap will only worsen things. Forget the naps and focus on getting to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning. Also, skip alcohol, heavy meals, and caffeine too close to bedtime.

Eat healthy. Eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, veggies, and lean proteins, and keep an eye on portion sizes. Avoid foods high in fat and sugar because these could make you put on weight, feel sluggish, and even make RA symptoms worse.

Take breaks. Listen to your body and rest, especially when you are hurting and/or starting to get tired. You should also rest between strenuous activities. However, don’t rest longer than you are active, unless you have a flare-up or a short-term illness such as the flu.

Use assistive devices. Wearing a brace or using a cane when needed can take pressure off inflamed joints and muscles, helping relieve fatigue and keeping it from getting worse. Other self-help devices can reduce the energy you use at work and at home. Check with your physical therapist to identify which tools are best for your situation.

Check your emotional health. Having a chronic condition like RA could take a toll on your emotional health. A mental health professional can help you to manage you emotional health through talk therapy and/or medication. You should also find a support group where you can talk to others living with RA so you are not isolated, especially if you are struggling with symptoms, pain, fatigue, and difficult emotions.

Slow down, don’t give up

Fatigue is your body’s way of reminding you to be gentle with yourself. But slowing down doesn’t mean giving up. Learn to regulate your activities and choose a pace that is right for you and your body. Let go of any preconceived ideas about how much you should be able to do. Choose to invest your energy on the things that are really important and let go of what isn’t.

Originally Posted at Rheumatoid Connect.