POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD) AND RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS

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I recently mentioned that I thought I had PTSD after a series of flare-ups that landed me in the hospital once and almost a second time. PTSD is serious and I don’t mean to minimize it by comparing my events to others who have it as the result of a terrifying event such as war or natural disaster. However, if you look at the definition of PTSD, it is a serious condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic of terrifying event in which serious physical harm occurred or was threatened. PTSD can cause intense fear, helplessness or horror.

When I was in the hospital and the week that I was not able to work because of the pain, I felt intense fear and pain. I was afraid that I would not be able to work again. I was afraid that I would not be able to lead a normal life. I was afraid that I would not be able to walk my dogs or cook a meal. Most of all, I was afraid of the pain. I was afraid to do anything for fear that it might cause a flare-up. I lived in silent and constant fear.

Two of the symptoms of PTSD that I experienced were avoidance and increased arousal.

I avoided situations where I was likely to cause a flare-up. I cancelled travel plans because I was afraid that it would cause a flare-up or that a flare-up would occur while I was travelling. I became detached and I started to lose interest in activities that I once enjoyed. I have always looked forward to and cherished my weekends. I became housebound on the weekends. I started dreading the weekends because they had become boring. I started having difficulties sleeping.

What about the increased arousal? This refers to excessive emotions. I started having outbursts of anger or impatience. I had difficulty concentrating. I was jumpy and easily startled and I was just irritable. I blamed this on the pain that I had or was experiencing. However, when the pain was controlled, these emotions continued.

I am finding that as time goes on and the longer the pain is under control, my patience is coming back. However, I still find myself nervously waiting for the pain to return. It has only been a couple of weeks that I have been, for the most part, pain free. I am hoping with time that the fear, the excessive emotions and worrying will go away.

So, what am I doing to deal with this “PTSD” like issue? Blogging about it is one of the ways to get out of my funk. I am forcing myself to get out and do the things that I enjoy. When my brain and body tell me to shelter in place, I am learning to force myself to override by body and brain. I am taking baby steps because I don’t know my limitations yet.

In researching this further, the following are some things that might help if you are struggling with the aftermath of a flare-up.

      1. Don’t isolate. Find a way to reach out to others. Be honest with others about your needs.
      2. Educate yourself about RA and about what you are experiencing.
      3. Look for a support group in your community or through your health care provider.
      4. Try to get back to doing the things that you once loved to do. Take baby steps if you need to.
      5. Find time for mediation, prayer or other mindfulness techniques to calm you. I listen to a book on Audible for about 10 minutes after a stressful commute or day at work. I put my feet up and relax.
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      6.  The dreaded exercise is next up on the list. Find an activity that       you               enjoy. Start off slow. Set small goals. Be consistent.

    2.     7.  Talk to a counselor or therapist.
    3.      8.  Keep a written journal. My journal is this blog. I keep a medical journal to talk to my Rheumatologist about things that are happening in between visits.

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9. If you have to work, you might want to ask your employer for help. When I was having difficulties walking recently, my employer moved my parking spot nearer to the employee entrance. Your employer may offer an Employee Assistance Program. Tap into that program to see what they can offer you.

10. Take note of how your emotions and/or isolation are impacting your relationship with your spouse, family or friends.

“My theory is that the hardest work anyone does in life is to appear normal.” – From the movie ED tv.
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