I was first diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis when I was 24 years old. Even though I’d been dealing with a diagnosis of psoriasis since high school, I had no idea that it was associated with a form of arthritis.

My psoriatic arthritis symptoms started about a year before my diagnosis as nagging muscle pain and a general fatigue. I started to feel a weakness on the left side of my body and my left shoulder and left glute/hip area were really sore.

A few months later I was just beginning my graduate program at Algonquin College when one of my toes began to swell…and swell and swell and swell. I thought I had broken it actually. I lived on the fifth floor of an apartment building, and the elevator was constantly broken, which forced me to take the stairs. Over the next few months the pain and swelling in my toe traveled to the bottom of my foot, and it became really difficult to walk let alone do stairs. It was ultimately my toe that sent me to my doctor’s office for the first time. Nothing too much came out of that first visit. Initially they ran tests for gout, which came back negative after months of waiting. And nothing more was done at that point really. I have since learned that dactylitis (the sausage-like swelling of fingers or toes) could be an indication of psoriatic arthritis.

At this time the muscle pain in my leg was also getting worse, and I could barely make the 8 minute walk from my apartment to campus, and when I finally got there I would feel disproportionately tired.

Here I was, almost 24 years old, I had just moved to Ottawa to start an exciting new chapter in my life, and now I couldn’t even make it up the stairs to get to my apartment. Ultimately I made the decision to move back home with my parents for support. So I made the move, and I was actually really glad that I did, because the muscle pain got even worse and at one point I couldn’t even get into bed by myself, dress myself, or even shave my legs or wash my hair.

Now I knew with certainty that something was absolutely wrong, and I really had to advocate for myself with my doctor. It took months and multiple trips to the emergency room for muscle pain before finally being referred to a rheumatologist and given a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis.

As much as I had to fight to get this diagnosis, when I finally got it, I had a really hard time accepting it.

I believed arthritis was a disease that came hand-in-hand with old age. I had no idea it could affect people in their twenties or even younger.

So it took me a long time to shift my mindset, and stop thinking of myself as “broken”, and instead embrace this “new normal” for what it was, and try to make the best of it.

Once I had reached that stage of acceptance, I decided to take a really active approach to my wellness. I am currently on medication to control the inflammation in my body, but I don’t like to rely on that alone. I find that I feel a world of difference in terms of my muscle pain when I incorporate a more holistic approach to wellness, and for me that includes regular use of my infrared sauna, following a predominantly plant-based diet, and doing yin yoga and my physiotherapy exercises. I’m also a big proponent of meditation. When I was in a lot of pain one of the hardest things to do was sleep. I could feel relatively okay most of the day, and the second I got into bed it felt like all of my pain would multiply tenfold. This is where I brought in meditation to help me get my mind off of it and actually try to get to sleep. Today I rarely have nights where the pain keeps me up, but I still enjoy meditation regularly.

Psoriatic arthritis has absolutely changed my life. But I choose to focus on the positive changes. It’s made me appreciate my family more than ever, and their ability to be a support system for me. It’s forced me to choose a healthier lifestyle filled with fruits and veggies and regular trips to the infrared sauna, and it’s opened my eyes up to my love of restorative yoga. That’s a lot of good in my life that I may not have found so quickly without my diagnosis, so for that I thank it.

For anyone out there who’s experiencing arthritis, whether they know it or not, I want to tell them that it’s okay. You’re not broken. Your body is talking to you, and you may not like the message, I know I didn’t, but it’s one you need to listen to. Get in tune with yourself and start doing activities that make you feel better. Remember that you’re never ever alone in this, even if it feels that way.  In the words of Epictetus, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react that matters”.
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