Tuesday, September 19, 2017

What My Chronic Illness Gave My Children

“Mommy, let’s skip to the car,” my 7-year-old son says.
Grabbing his small hand on one side, and my 5-year-old daughter on the other, we make a chain as we skipped from the store doors to our car, laughing all the way. This was a regular occurrence for us. We felt free and united.
And then my body stopped working. 

Raising children while living with chronic illness

In 2004, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) right before my son turned 8 and my daughter 6. As my daughter sat on my lap and asked, “Why are your fingers so big?” I worried about what type of mother I was going to become and what type of long-term effects my disease would have on them.
Raising two children while dealing with a chronic illness has required patience, honesty, vulnerability, and the ability to honor the very people they have always been. Right from the beginning, the character of each child came out in their own unique way to support and love me.

Cathy with Children

Read the rest of the article and discover the amazing people my children are as young adults. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Good News: Bernie Sanders Reminds Me of the Positive

Last Wednesday night I had a night out with my 21-year-old son. We went to a local restaurant and coffee shop before a night of listening to Bernie Sanders. We are both big supporters of him and his philosophies so it was a real treat for both of us. Plus, I really needed to hear good news. I don't know about you, but stress inflames my joints and this year there has been plenty of it.

Stepping in line for admission, spirits were high. You could feel the need to be energized and motivated - ready to make positive change in the world. Bernie did not disappoint.

As Bernie hit on various alarming topics, he always ended with "Now here is the good news." I am smiling now just visualizing him speaking those words. As I sat absorbing the positive vibes around me, it made me think of my journey with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

The last 14 years of living with a chronic illness have been filled with lots of bad news. My personality is one that desperately needs to find the good news and let that be the focus. This is probably one of the reasons I am drawn to Bernie Sanders. He has a special way of reminding his followers that we all have a role to play in making good news a reality. Here's how I see my bad and good news with RA.

Bad news: There have been mornings that I feared I wouldn't be able to get out of bed and care for my kids.

Good news: I did get up. I wasn't always able to do the things I wanted to, but my children turned out pretty amazing, despite living with a mom who lives with a chronic illness.

Bad news: I have slightly wonky fingers and multiple nodules that often make me feel more monster than human.

Good news: The nodules in my feet, fingers, elbows, and shoulder have not prevented me from doing any of the things I have wanted to do in life.

Bad news: I have to take medications that potentially have very harsh side-effects.

Good news: So far, I have not experienced any of those side effects. In fact, despite taking an immune suppressant medication, I rarely get sick with a cold or flu. Plus, with my current medication mix, my hair has grown back in fully.

Bad news: RA often affects more than just our joints and I will always need to be aware of my lifestyle choices so that I am living as healthy as I can.

Good news: Because of my RA, I was forced to learn about better food choices, stress reduction, and living in the moment. Plus, RA has helped me focus more on my individual strengths and work on improving my weaknesses.

Bad news: When living with a chronic illness, it is easy to feel alone, as if we are the only one to experience that pain that is now a big part of our lives.

Good news: Communities of people continue to grow. Support is out there in blogs, organizations, advocacy work, and one of my favorites, HealtheVoices, which brings together people of a variety of health conditions to learn and share with one another.

Bad news: Despite my RA being in a good place, I constantly have to monitor my fatigue. One day of doing too much can wipe me out for days.

Good news: After years of struggling, the fact that my RA is in a good place is absolutely amazing.

I left Wednesday night feeling in touch with myself. I needed to hear good news - it's what keeps me going. Bernie reminded me that no matter what is happening in my life, good news is always up to me. I have the potential to change the bad to good.

*I realize that not everyone is a Bernie supporter and that's okay. My goal here is to share the effect he had on me and my desire to always find the good within the bad.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Blog Acknowledgment

I've been blogging a long time about my journey with rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes though, it still surprises me that people read what I am writing. Thank you to all who do. You are appreciated.
Being included in the amazing group of advocates who participate in Joint Decisions has been a real thrill. Not only have the other bloggers been amazing, but the folks at Janssen have really listened to our voices and made us feel welcome.

My fourth year of being included in this list. Thanks Healthline! It is a true honor.

Wow! This is great. How did I get so lucky?
 Check out the other 40 here.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Transitioning from Natural Remedies to Medications for RA

Trying to control my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with diet alone taught me valuable things about RA, and about myself. While I share the diagnosis of RA with many, my journey with this disease is uniquely mine. My approach to RA may be considered by some to be irresponsible at times, but it has allowed me to follow my heart so that I could make decisions about medications and the way I live my life without regret. Join me over at HealthCentral to read the rest of this article.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

How to Stop Yo-Yo Exercising with RA

In October 2017, I turn 50! My sister recently asked me what I want to accomplish before turning a half century old. “I want exercise to be a part of my life again. I want to feel strong,” I said. Until six years ago, regular workouts had always been a part of my life. I wanted them back. I was tired of yo-yo exercising — starting a workout plan, stopping, and starting again.

Sharing this goal out loud somehow made all the difference in the world to me. I was ready. To succeed, I had to take some realities into consideration, such as the fact that I would be 50 soon and that I have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I stopped working out years ago when my body started responding negatively to exercise. I had to find a plan that would work for my current body.  To read more, check out my newest post at RAHealthCentral. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Happy 50th Birthday to Me...Almost!

In October, I turn half a century old! Despite society frowning on aging, I am EXCITED. Why?

  • I am proud of my life and all that it includes - my family, friends, home, job...everything!
  • Without time, I would never have had the opportunity to grow my relationship with my husband of 29 years who still makes my heart patter.
  • 50 years has given me a chance to experience love as a mother and to watch my children grow into the two most amazing people ever.
  • The older I get, the more I realize we are always growing and always changing. I love that.  
  • Although I never felt I was going to die from rheumatoid arthritis, I had mornings were I wondered if I would ever be able to move again and to live in a time of fabulous medications is a good time to be alive. 
  • I have 50 YEARS of MEMORIES that make me smile. 
I am not officially 50 until October, but for this special birthday, I get to celebrate twice. Last week, my extended family traveled here to help me celebrate. We kept busy with outings but also took time to sit back, drink wine, and enjoy each other.

My sister and bestie - she made this a very special weekend.

My Chicago Scavenger Hunt team. 

The gang - two brothers and their wives, a sister and her husband, two nephews
and two nieces, my two kiddos, my husband, my border collie, and me.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Newly Diagnosed With RA? Common Concerns and How They May Change

A diagnosis of an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can set off a wide range of concerns. While you may feel completely alone as you try new medications and learn all about your condition, it may be nice to know that those who have lived with an autoimmune diagnosis for some time also experienced similar fears at first. For the most part, they now see their disease in a new light. 

To read more, check out my article Newly Diagnosed With RA? Common Concerns and How They May Change over at RAHealthCentral and find out how community members view their diagnosis today. 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Dog Helps You Live Better With Chronic Illness

For 10 years now I have shared my life with a border collie named Izzy. She was welcomed into our home at a time when my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) seemed under control. While Izzy is technically a family dog, she is really my dog. I am the one she follows around the house, or “talks” to at night when she wants out or is scared by a storm. It’s my side of the bed she sleeps on during the day. I believe Izzy came into our lives for many reasons, but most importantly, she came for me. She came to teach me how to live better with my chronic illness. 

To read the entire article, visit me at RAHealthCentral.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Life Keeps Moving Forward with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Way back in 2008 when I started this blog. I had no idea where I was going with it. All I knew was that I had a lot of emotions sitting in my heart and mind that needed to be released and writing helped me to make sense of all of them. I had been living with rheumatoid arthritis for four years and felt that medications had failed me. I was about to embark on a two year journey without medications to give alternative medicine a chance. In my quest to live a healthier life, I was also looking more within to find the one true Cateepoo. It is a journey I will never regret! In 2008, I was also a homeschooling momma to two and active in our groups as well as a part-time adult education instructor.  A lot was happening.

I have never loved the name of my blog, but the other day it occurred to me that it fits. My blog has been about my life and my adventures, good and bad. Those who have been with me from the beginning have watched my children and border collie grow up, witnessed my rheumatoid arthritis progression with and without medications, and shared in my journey as a woman trying to do her best for her family, students, community, and herself.

Somehow along this journey I became an advocate for rheumatoid arthritis, chronic illness, and self-care. I have denied it at times because it wasn't something I set out to do, it somehow just became a part of my journey. But it is a part of my journey I am extremely proud of. I have always tried to be true to myself and nothing more. Sticking to this goal, it feels good to know that I have made so many friends on this path and been able to connect with other people living with RA to acknowledge my own fears and accomplishments as well as their own.

Starting in July, I am taking my health advocacy to a new place. I am really excited! I will be joining the Health Central team as both an RA social ambassador and a health guide. The release of  my first article this month is really what caused me to reflect on the name of my blog because the title is Are My Symptoms RA or Menopause? How did I get from writing about how my rheumatoid arthritis affects living with young children to discussing RA and menopause?  The Life and Adventures of Cateepoo is the right name for my blog.

I will still be writing here on my personal blog but hope that you will also join me on the Facebook page of RAHealthCentral.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Save Self-care Coupons, Not Demerits

As adults, we have somehow convinced ourselves that self-care is indulgent and there isn't time for it. When we do occasionally carve out a small amount of time for ourselves we tend to feel guilty and almost instantly focus on what we have done wrong.
  • "I ate too much today."
  • "I didn't make it to the gym again today." (Even though our bodies told us "No". 

Why do we forget the kind things we do for ourselves but remember the negative things so well? Why isn't self-care looked upon as a strength that is admired and encouraged?

When I taught fifth grade, my discipline plan was based on a reward system. Whenever I caught a student doing something positive for themselves or their classmates they were rewarded with a coupon that could be saved and used at a class party for goodies. Positive coupons could NEVER EVER be taken away. I wanted my students to know that my focus was truly on what they did right. Good acts should always be remembered and cherished. They are the very things that made us stronger as individuals and a group. When discipline issues did come up, we took care of them outside the reward coupons. Many thought this system would not work because children need consequences not rewards for the good things they do. As a person who has always believed people innately want to do good, I didn't believe this and my students proved me right! Children (and adults) love when they get caught doing something good. My students worked hard to earn coupons and overall, I didn't have a lot of issues. Best of all, the more good they did, the more they tended to grow in that direction.

What if we started saving self-care coupons that reminded us of each time we did something good for ourselves rather than always giving ourselves demerits for what we have done wrong? Would we love ourselves more if we could focus on what we are doing right?

Self-care is a practice that takes time and patience. We are slowly growing and discovering that self-care is an energy source that helps us thrive. Like a flower that naturally leans toward the warmth of the sun, we find ourselves leaning more towards the joy we get from being good to ourselves rather than what we are doing wrong.

During May, I shared a variety of low-cost self-care tips that hopefully at a minimum reminded you to be good to yourself. As you go forward, keep finding ways to be good to yourself but also don't forget to check in with friends and family and find out how and if they are practicing self-care. We have to hold each other accountable to self-care.

I hope you have enjoyed these self-care reminders. I had so much fun writing each one. My daughter said, "It's therapeutic." She is so right. Sending good vibes out to the world is definitely one of the ways I like practicing self-care.