CourtneyBrooke

@courtneybfranklin
T-Kea Blackman

Choosing Not to Have Children as a Woman With Mental Illness

One day, I decided to do some research on women who don’t want children, and I discovered the childfree movement. They’re a community of people who don’t want children, and when I found the movement, I finally felt like I had found my tribe. As the oldest of eight siblings, I helped my mom raise my siblings. While she did not require me to help her, I gravitated toward helping since I’m the oldest. At 9 years old, I changed my first diaper. I remember taking my little cousin who lived with me shopping at 12 years old — all by myself. In high school, we had the option of taking care of an egg or a doll for one week, and the doll was the type that acted like a real baby and cried. I was one of the few students who chose to care for an egg because there were five children in my house, ranging from newborn to 7 years old. I also worked at a daycare in high school, so I quickly learned that parenting involved far more than dressing children up in cute clothing. I’ve also struggled with my mental health — specifically suicidal ideation — since I was 12 years old. As I became older, my mental health worsened, leading to a suicide attempt. Throughout my recovery, I realized having children was probably not the best idea for me. However, I did not think being childfree was an option. I’m a woman. Aren’t I supposed to have children? Is something “wrong” with me for not wanting them? I decided to talk to my therapist about it, and I told her I was about 95 percent sure children were not in the cards for me. She told me my life is mine, and I do not need the approval of others or society. After my therapy session, I wrote a list of reasons to have children and not have children. Guess what? I came up with nine reasons for not wanting children, and I had zero reasons for having them. The first reason on the list was my mental health. As someone with bipolar disorder , sometimes I struggle to get out of bed, eat, engage with others, work, clean, and take care of my hygiene. I know having a child would likely cause me to struggle with my highly fragile mental health . I still struggle with suicidal ideation frequently too. I will also have to stop taking my medication when I am pregnant and risk being depressed during pregnancy and afterward. I know women with mental health diagnoses who are great mothers; however, I do not think motherhood is the best decision for me. I told this to my OB-GYN during my appointment, and she mentioned she has never had a patient consider their mental health before having children. Many joys come with being a parent, but it can also come with stress. Does this mean I don’t like children? Absolutely not! That is the mindset of some childfree people — but not me. I am a big sister and a cousin, a godmother, a mentor, and a soon-to-be-aunt. I watch children on weekends occasionally and enjoy my time; however, I do not think I can manage that responsibility 24/7. A friend once asked me, “Who is going to care for you when you’re old?” Ideally, parents prefer their children to care for them when they age, and many children do care for their aging parents. However, I also realize children are not obligated to care for their parents. I do not need to have children to care for me when I am old. I have poured love into so many children and have a big family, and I also plan to get married, so I doubt I will be left alone when I’m on my deathbed. I plan to make a will and discuss my desires with those close to me before I pass as well. I enjoy time with family and friends and also love speaking publicly about my mental health recovery, allowing me to meet hundreds of people who are inspired by my story. Still, I thoroughly enjoy having a lot of time to myself, so I travel alone often. I am happy by myself most of the time, and when I feel the need to be around people, I make plans. My values are also different from some others.’ The idea of starting a family does not excite me as it does for other women, and that is OK. I prefer to spend most of my time traveling, and I also want a fulfilling career that supports my mental wellbeing. Because of my mental health challenges, I am incredibly passionate about mental health advocacy, education, and policy. To help end the stigma around mental health, I teach mental health training, host events part-time for my business, volunteer with mental health organizations, and am the director of communications and programs for a mental health non-profit in Washington, D.C. I also plan to start a scholarship fund for black students who want to work in the mental health field and raise money for low-income children to access therapy. Traveling allows me to experience different cultures, have fun, take a break from my daily responsibilities, and practice self-care. Does this mean women with children can’t travel, participate in charity events, and have great careers? No, it does not. However, children are also a huge responsibility. Good parents often make sacrifices to ensure they raise responsible children. They typically do not have the flexibility to take a spontaneous trip without impacting their children. Some women are OK with making those sacrifices, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, I do not think I want to make those sacrifices and put someone else’s needs before mine all the time. I prefer to choose when to put my needs on hold for the sake of others. I don’t think “rolling the dice” by having children to see if my mental health can handle it is worth the risk. I also have more flexibility with my finances. As the oldest child, a god-mom, and a cousin, I can do a lot more for my family when I have the mental capacity to handle it. For instance, I am taking my mother and sister to Puerto Rico to celebrate their birthdays. As a parent, I may not have that freedom, and the children in my life can get what they want from me most of the time because I don’t have my own children who would need my finances. I feel extremely fulfilled doing things for others. I have seen many mothers judge other women for deciding not to have children. We are often called “selfish,” “bitter,” and “old cat ladies” and are sometimes told we will never know true love. Hearing those things can feel hurtful, but I also see stories online of women who regret having children. I would rather regret not having children than have it impact my parenting. Women should respect other women’s choices, whether that includes having children or not. One choice is not better than the other. Our values, health, and reasons for not having children are as unique as we are. Being childfree allows me to have the flexibility and freedom to manage my time how I see fit, making it easier to prioritize my mental health . Therefore, I am leaning toward not having children — and that’s OK.

T-Kea Blackman

Choosing Not to Have Children as a Woman With Mental Illness

One day, I decided to do some research on women who don’t want children, and I discovered the childfree movement. They’re a community of people who don’t want children, and when I found the movement, I finally felt like I had found my tribe. As the oldest of eight siblings, I helped my mom raise my siblings. While she did not require me to help her, I gravitated toward helping since I’m the oldest. At 9 years old, I changed my first diaper. I remember taking my little cousin who lived with me shopping at 12 years old — all by myself. In high school, we had the option of taking care of an egg or a doll for one week, and the doll was the type that acted like a real baby and cried. I was one of the few students who chose to care for an egg because there were five children in my house, ranging from newborn to 7 years old. I also worked at a daycare in high school, so I quickly learned that parenting involved far more than dressing children up in cute clothing. I’ve also struggled with my mental health — specifically suicidal ideation — since I was 12 years old. As I became older, my mental health worsened, leading to a suicide attempt. Throughout my recovery, I realized having children was probably not the best idea for me. However, I did not think being childfree was an option. I’m a woman. Aren’t I supposed to have children? Is something “wrong” with me for not wanting them? I decided to talk to my therapist about it, and I told her I was about 95 percent sure children were not in the cards for me. She told me my life is mine, and I do not need the approval of others or society. After my therapy session, I wrote a list of reasons to have children and not have children. Guess what? I came up with nine reasons for not wanting children, and I had zero reasons for having them. The first reason on the list was my mental health. As someone with bipolar disorder , sometimes I struggle to get out of bed, eat, engage with others, work, clean, and take care of my hygiene. I know having a child would likely cause me to struggle with my highly fragile mental health . I still struggle with suicidal ideation frequently too. I will also have to stop taking my medication when I am pregnant and risk being depressed during pregnancy and afterward. I know women with mental health diagnoses who are great mothers; however, I do not think motherhood is the best decision for me. I told this to my OB-GYN during my appointment, and she mentioned she has never had a patient consider their mental health before having children. Many joys come with being a parent, but it can also come with stress. Does this mean I don’t like children? Absolutely not! That is the mindset of some childfree people — but not me. I am a big sister and a cousin, a godmother, a mentor, and a soon-to-be-aunt. I watch children on weekends occasionally and enjoy my time; however, I do not think I can manage that responsibility 24/7. A friend once asked me, “Who is going to care for you when you’re old?” Ideally, parents prefer their children to care for them when they age, and many children do care for their aging parents. However, I also realize children are not obligated to care for their parents. I do not need to have children to care for me when I am old. I have poured love into so many children and have a big family, and I also plan to get married, so I doubt I will be left alone when I’m on my deathbed. I plan to make a will and discuss my desires with those close to me before I pass as well. I enjoy time with family and friends and also love speaking publicly about my mental health recovery, allowing me to meet hundreds of people who are inspired by my story. Still, I thoroughly enjoy having a lot of time to myself, so I travel alone often. I am happy by myself most of the time, and when I feel the need to be around people, I make plans. My values are also different from some others.’ The idea of starting a family does not excite me as it does for other women, and that is OK. I prefer to spend most of my time traveling, and I also want a fulfilling career that supports my mental wellbeing. Because of my mental health challenges, I am incredibly passionate about mental health advocacy, education, and policy. To help end the stigma around mental health, I teach mental health training, host events part-time for my business, volunteer with mental health organizations, and am the director of communications and programs for a mental health non-profit in Washington, D.C. I also plan to start a scholarship fund for black students who want to work in the mental health field and raise money for low-income children to access therapy. Traveling allows me to experience different cultures, have fun, take a break from my daily responsibilities, and practice self-care. Does this mean women with children can’t travel, participate in charity events, and have great careers? No, it does not. However, children are also a huge responsibility. Good parents often make sacrifices to ensure they raise responsible children. They typically do not have the flexibility to take a spontaneous trip without impacting their children. Some women are OK with making those sacrifices, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, I do not think I want to make those sacrifices and put someone else’s needs before mine all the time. I prefer to choose when to put my needs on hold for the sake of others. I don’t think “rolling the dice” by having children to see if my mental health can handle it is worth the risk. I also have more flexibility with my finances. As the oldest child, a god-mom, and a cousin, I can do a lot more for my family when I have the mental capacity to handle it. For instance, I am taking my mother and sister to Puerto Rico to celebrate their birthdays. As a parent, I may not have that freedom, and the children in my life can get what they want from me most of the time because I don’t have my own children who would need my finances. I feel extremely fulfilled doing things for others. I have seen many mothers judge other women for deciding not to have children. We are often called “selfish,” “bitter,” and “old cat ladies” and are sometimes told we will never know true love. Hearing those things can feel hurtful, but I also see stories online of women who regret having children. I would rather regret not having children than have it impact my parenting. Women should respect other women’s choices, whether that includes having children or not. One choice is not better than the other. Our values, health, and reasons for not having children are as unique as we are. Being childfree allows me to have the flexibility and freedom to manage my time how I see fit, making it easier to prioritize my mental health . Therefore, I am leaning toward not having children — and that’s OK.

Community Voices

Loss of parent

I lost my Dad this morning to stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He had been battling for over two years. He was the rock of our family and did everything for us. I don’t understand why someone so wanted and needed could be taken away. Why wasn’t I taken instead? Everyone depends on my Dad. No one depends on me. I don’t think I can handle life without him.

1 person is talking about this
Erin Migdol

10 'Hidden' Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis We Don't Talk About

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) tends to be a bit of a mystery to people who don’t live with it. The word “arthritis” often makes people think the condition only affects the joints and is primarily seen in older individuals. However, RA is actually an autoimmune condition that can affect people of any age and causes a wide range of symptoms. When you have RA, your immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, leading to inflammation in the joints as well as in other parts of the body. As a result, you will experience pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints — but you could also have other symptoms due to inflammation elsewhere in the body. Those “other symptoms” aren’t usually discussed to the same degree that joint pain is. Perhaps due to RA’s association with arthritis, people often focus on symptoms the two conditions have in common. But that’s a shame, because if no one talks about the entire range of symptoms you could experience, you might feel like you’re the only one dealing with a particular symptom. In reality, there are so many fellow RA warriors out there coping with the same challenges. That’s why we asked our Mighty RA community to share a “hidden” symptom of RA that doesn’t get talked about much. Their answers reveal that joint pain is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s time these additional, lesser-known symptoms got some recognition — if for no other reason than because they demonstrate what a true warrior you are for coping with a condition that brings pain and discomfort to your entire body. Here’s what our Mighty community told us: 1. Lung Issues The inflammation caused by RA affects not only the joints but also other parts of the body including the lungs. Symptoms include growths in the lungs, buildup of fluid between the lung and chest wall, damage to the airways, and interstitial lung disease (ILD), according to the Arthritis Foundation. ILD occurs when inflammation in the lungs causes a buildup of scar tissue, which can make breathing difficult. The Arthritis Foundation reports that one in 10 people with RA will develop ILD over the course of their disease. 2. Depression RA can change your physical abilities dramatically, which may, in turn, lead to feelings of anxiety or depression when you aren’t able to participate in life as you used to. The stress of having a chronic illness, with all the medications, expenses, doctor’s appointments, and fluctuating symptoms, can be exhausting and, understandably, contribute to depression. “A ‘symptom’ of RA that isn’t talked about often is the toll it takes on your mental-emotional state. I’d classify it as depression. I wasn’t prepared for the mental-emotional exhaustion RA would cause. There were days that I would tell myself, ‘If I’m going to feel and hurt like this the rest of my life, I don’t want to live.’ Thankfully, I have a wonderful support system around me that was able to push and encourage me through that time period!” — Lauren D. 3. Digestive Issues Inflammation in the gastrointestinal system, an impaired immune system and medications likely all play a role in digestive issues, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Possible symptoms include bleeding, ulcers, diarrhea, constipation, obstruction and esophagitis. Certain foods may seem to lead to more symptoms too, though rheumatologist Anne R. Bass told The Mighty food triggers have not been proven scientifically. A 2012 study found that the risk of developing a GI event was 70% higher in those with RA than those without. “My one symptom that doesn’t get discussed is digestive issues. Sounds crazy… but I’m now so sensitive to so many foods when I never was before.” — Melanie N. 4. Fatigue Fatigue is more than just “being tired” — it’s a type of exhaustion that doesn’t go away after a night’s sleep. It can make you feel like you’ve just run a marathon even if you’ve spent most of the day on the couch. And its invisible nature can make it one of the most difficult symptoms to deal with, thanks to friends and acquaintances who may not realize just how debilitating fatigue is since you “look fine.” “The crushing fatigue that causes me to have to just ‘shut down’ wherever I happen to be. I usually try to get away from the company I’m in as I find it embarrassing to have to just crash in front of people.” — Louise H. 5. Slow Recovery People with RA may notice that it takes them longer to “bounce back” from illness or injury than others. The inflammation caused by RA means your body has to work extra hard to fight infections and regain energy. So while others can “get over” a cold in a couple of weeks, it may take you a month. “Slow recovery — from illnesses, over-exertion, injury, stress, anything… It takes at least twice as long as it used to. Not to mention that the level we recover to is our new ‘autoimmune disease’ version of normal — not the same normal we used to be.” — Kat G. 6. Excessive Sweating RA is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms. This is because RA causes your body’s immune system to switch on (albeit attacking your body’s own tissues instead of a foreign invader like a virus). This immune response can cause symptoms you would experience if your body was actually attacking the flu virus, leading to symptoms like a low-grade fever and sweating. “Sweating and heat. Is this something anyone else experiences? My doctors have no answers. I get a feeling of heat that starts in my head and works down until my hair is soaked and I’m literally dripping sweat down my chest.” — Nancy A. 7. Weak Grip RA’s effect on larger joints like knees and hips tends to be discussed more than its effect on wrist and finger joints. However, inflammation in these smaller joints comes with its own set of challenges, like difficulty holding objects, opening packages, and performing necessary work functions like typing and writing. “Dropping everything due to lack of micro-grip in hands and weakened strength in hands and legs, (i.e. the inability to open a jar or bend down and pick something up).” — Miamaria 8. Getting Sick Easily Medications for RA suppress your immune system, which makes you more susceptible to illnesses like the flu or the common cold. RA itself can lower your ability to fight off illness since the disease makes your immune system dysfunctional. To someone without RA, a cold may be a once-a-year annoyance. But if you have RA, you might catch a cold several times in a single year, perhaps seemingly whenever you come into contact with someone else who’s sick. “I do everything I can to be as healthy as possible, but regardless, getting sick every couple months keeps happening,” Dina Neils wrote. 9. Pain and Stiffness After Not Moving for a Period of Time You might assume that if you have pain and stiffness in your joints, your symptoms will lessen if you simply don’t move them. However, with RA, you can experience the exact opposite. Rheumatologist Brian D. Golden told The Mighty that this is due to “gelling phenomenon,” a feature of RA in which inflammatory molecules and fluid in your joints get thicker if the joint is stagnant. Once you move, the “gel” loosens, making it easier and less painful to move. This is why pain and stiffness are often worse in the morning, right after you wake up. To head off this stiffness, people with RA are encouraged to get up and move after sitting for a long time and try to engage in low-impact exercise to keep your joints mobile. 10. Dry Mouth If inflammation targets your saliva-producing glands, the result is dry mouth, which aside from being uncomfortable can also lead to gum disease and tooth decay. In addition, some medications may cause dryness and mouth ulcers as side effects. “RA affects and destroys every part of the body… eyes, teeth, joints, ears, heart, lungs, skin, sinuses, hormones, etc… EVERY SINGLE PART!” — Kaye H. For more insight on living with RA, check out these stories from our Mighty community: 8 Things I Want You to Understand About Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis What I’ve Learned After 3 Years With Arthritis 10 Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis – as Shown in Photos

Erin Migdol

10 'Hidden' Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis We Don't Talk About

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) tends to be a bit of a mystery to people who don’t live with it. The word “arthritis” often makes people think the condition only affects the joints and is primarily seen in older individuals. However, RA is actually an autoimmune condition that can affect people of any age and causes a wide range of symptoms. When you have RA, your immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, leading to inflammation in the joints as well as in other parts of the body. As a result, you will experience pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints — but you could also have other symptoms due to inflammation elsewhere in the body. Those “other symptoms” aren’t usually discussed to the same degree that joint pain is. Perhaps due to RA’s association with arthritis, people often focus on symptoms the two conditions have in common. But that’s a shame, because if no one talks about the entire range of symptoms you could experience, you might feel like you’re the only one dealing with a particular symptom. In reality, there are so many fellow RA warriors out there coping with the same challenges. That’s why we asked our Mighty RA community to share a “hidden” symptom of RA that doesn’t get talked about much. Their answers reveal that joint pain is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s time these additional, lesser-known symptoms got some recognition — if for no other reason than because they demonstrate what a true warrior you are for coping with a condition that brings pain and discomfort to your entire body. Here’s what our Mighty community told us: 1. Lung Issues The inflammation caused by RA affects not only the joints but also other parts of the body including the lungs. Symptoms include growths in the lungs, buildup of fluid between the lung and chest wall, damage to the airways, and interstitial lung disease (ILD), according to the Arthritis Foundation. ILD occurs when inflammation in the lungs causes a buildup of scar tissue, which can make breathing difficult. The Arthritis Foundation reports that one in 10 people with RA will develop ILD over the course of their disease. 2. Depression RA can change your physical abilities dramatically, which may, in turn, lead to feelings of anxiety or depression when you aren’t able to participate in life as you used to. The stress of having a chronic illness, with all the medications, expenses, doctor’s appointments, and fluctuating symptoms, can be exhausting and, understandably, contribute to depression. “A ‘symptom’ of RA that isn’t talked about often is the toll it takes on your mental-emotional state. I’d classify it as depression. I wasn’t prepared for the mental-emotional exhaustion RA would cause. There were days that I would tell myself, ‘If I’m going to feel and hurt like this the rest of my life, I don’t want to live.’ Thankfully, I have a wonderful support system around me that was able to push and encourage me through that time period!” — Lauren D. 3. Digestive Issues Inflammation in the gastrointestinal system, an impaired immune system and medications likely all play a role in digestive issues, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Possible symptoms include bleeding, ulcers, diarrhea, constipation, obstruction and esophagitis. Certain foods may seem to lead to more symptoms too, though rheumatologist Anne R. Bass told The Mighty food triggers have not been proven scientifically. A 2012 study found that the risk of developing a GI event was 70% higher in those with RA than those without. “My one symptom that doesn’t get discussed is digestive issues. Sounds crazy… but I’m now so sensitive to so many foods when I never was before.” — Melanie N. 4. Fatigue Fatigue is more than just “being tired” — it’s a type of exhaustion that doesn’t go away after a night’s sleep. It can make you feel like you’ve just run a marathon even if you’ve spent most of the day on the couch. And its invisible nature can make it one of the most difficult symptoms to deal with, thanks to friends and acquaintances who may not realize just how debilitating fatigue is since you “look fine.” “The crushing fatigue that causes me to have to just ‘shut down’ wherever I happen to be. I usually try to get away from the company I’m in as I find it embarrassing to have to just crash in front of people.” — Louise H. 5. Slow Recovery People with RA may notice that it takes them longer to “bounce back” from illness or injury than others. The inflammation caused by RA means your body has to work extra hard to fight infections and regain energy. So while others can “get over” a cold in a couple of weeks, it may take you a month. “Slow recovery — from illnesses, over-exertion, injury, stress, anything… It takes at least twice as long as it used to. Not to mention that the level we recover to is our new ‘autoimmune disease’ version of normal — not the same normal we used to be.” — Kat G. 6. Excessive Sweating RA is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms. This is because RA causes your body’s immune system to switch on (albeit attacking your body’s own tissues instead of a foreign invader like a virus). This immune response can cause symptoms you would experience if your body was actually attacking the flu virus, leading to symptoms like a low-grade fever and sweating. “Sweating and heat. Is this something anyone else experiences? My doctors have no answers. I get a feeling of heat that starts in my head and works down until my hair is soaked and I’m literally dripping sweat down my chest.” — Nancy A. 7. Weak Grip RA’s effect on larger joints like knees and hips tends to be discussed more than its effect on wrist and finger joints. However, inflammation in these smaller joints comes with its own set of challenges, like difficulty holding objects, opening packages, and performing necessary work functions like typing and writing. “Dropping everything due to lack of micro-grip in hands and weakened strength in hands and legs, (i.e. the inability to open a jar or bend down and pick something up).” — Miamaria 8. Getting Sick Easily Medications for RA suppress your immune system, which makes you more susceptible to illnesses like the flu or the common cold. RA itself can lower your ability to fight off illness since the disease makes your immune system dysfunctional. To someone without RA, a cold may be a once-a-year annoyance. But if you have RA, you might catch a cold several times in a single year, perhaps seemingly whenever you come into contact with someone else who’s sick. “I do everything I can to be as healthy as possible, but regardless, getting sick every couple months keeps happening,” Dina Neils wrote. 9. Pain and Stiffness After Not Moving for a Period of Time You might assume that if you have pain and stiffness in your joints, your symptoms will lessen if you simply don’t move them. However, with RA, you can experience the exact opposite. Rheumatologist Brian D. Golden told The Mighty that this is due to “gelling phenomenon,” a feature of RA in which inflammatory molecules and fluid in your joints get thicker if the joint is stagnant. Once you move, the “gel” loosens, making it easier and less painful to move. This is why pain and stiffness are often worse in the morning, right after you wake up. To head off this stiffness, people with RA are encouraged to get up and move after sitting for a long time and try to engage in low-impact exercise to keep your joints mobile. 10. Dry Mouth If inflammation targets your saliva-producing glands, the result is dry mouth, which aside from being uncomfortable can also lead to gum disease and tooth decay. In addition, some medications may cause dryness and mouth ulcers as side effects. “RA affects and destroys every part of the body… eyes, teeth, joints, ears, heart, lungs, skin, sinuses, hormones, etc… EVERY SINGLE PART!” — Kaye H. For more insight on living with RA, check out these stories from our Mighty community: 8 Things I Want You to Understand About Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis What I’ve Learned After 3 Years With Arthritis 10 Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis – as Shown in Photos

Erin Migdol

10 'Hidden' Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis We Don't Talk About

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) tends to be a bit of a mystery to people who don’t live with it. The word “arthritis” often makes people think the condition only affects the joints and is primarily seen in older individuals. However, RA is actually an autoimmune condition that can affect people of any age and causes a wide range of symptoms. When you have RA, your immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, leading to inflammation in the joints as well as in other parts of the body. As a result, you will experience pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints — but you could also have other symptoms due to inflammation elsewhere in the body. Those “other symptoms” aren’t usually discussed to the same degree that joint pain is. Perhaps due to RA’s association with arthritis, people often focus on symptoms the two conditions have in common. But that’s a shame, because if no one talks about the entire range of symptoms you could experience, you might feel like you’re the only one dealing with a particular symptom. In reality, there are so many fellow RA warriors out there coping with the same challenges. That’s why we asked our Mighty RA community to share a “hidden” symptom of RA that doesn’t get talked about much. Their answers reveal that joint pain is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s time these additional, lesser-known symptoms got some recognition — if for no other reason than because they demonstrate what a true warrior you are for coping with a condition that brings pain and discomfort to your entire body. Here’s what our Mighty community told us: 1. Lung Issues The inflammation caused by RA affects not only the joints but also other parts of the body including the lungs. Symptoms include growths in the lungs, buildup of fluid between the lung and chest wall, damage to the airways, and interstitial lung disease (ILD), according to the Arthritis Foundation. ILD occurs when inflammation in the lungs causes a buildup of scar tissue, which can make breathing difficult. The Arthritis Foundation reports that one in 10 people with RA will develop ILD over the course of their disease. 2. Depression RA can change your physical abilities dramatically, which may, in turn, lead to feelings of anxiety or depression when you aren’t able to participate in life as you used to. The stress of having a chronic illness, with all the medications, expenses, doctor’s appointments, and fluctuating symptoms, can be exhausting and, understandably, contribute to depression. “A ‘symptom’ of RA that isn’t talked about often is the toll it takes on your mental-emotional state. I’d classify it as depression. I wasn’t prepared for the mental-emotional exhaustion RA would cause. There were days that I would tell myself, ‘If I’m going to feel and hurt like this the rest of my life, I don’t want to live.’ Thankfully, I have a wonderful support system around me that was able to push and encourage me through that time period!” — Lauren D. 3. Digestive Issues Inflammation in the gastrointestinal system, an impaired immune system and medications likely all play a role in digestive issues, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Possible symptoms include bleeding, ulcers, diarrhea, constipation, obstruction and esophagitis. Certain foods may seem to lead to more symptoms too, though rheumatologist Anne R. Bass told The Mighty food triggers have not been proven scientifically. A 2012 study found that the risk of developing a GI event was 70% higher in those with RA than those without. “My one symptom that doesn’t get discussed is digestive issues. Sounds crazy… but I’m now so sensitive to so many foods when I never was before.” — Melanie N. 4. Fatigue Fatigue is more than just “being tired” — it’s a type of exhaustion that doesn’t go away after a night’s sleep. It can make you feel like you’ve just run a marathon even if you’ve spent most of the day on the couch. And its invisible nature can make it one of the most difficult symptoms to deal with, thanks to friends and acquaintances who may not realize just how debilitating fatigue is since you “look fine.” “The crushing fatigue that causes me to have to just ‘shut down’ wherever I happen to be. I usually try to get away from the company I’m in as I find it embarrassing to have to just crash in front of people.” — Louise H. 5. Slow Recovery People with RA may notice that it takes them longer to “bounce back” from illness or injury than others. The inflammation caused by RA means your body has to work extra hard to fight infections and regain energy. So while others can “get over” a cold in a couple of weeks, it may take you a month. “Slow recovery — from illnesses, over-exertion, injury, stress, anything… It takes at least twice as long as it used to. Not to mention that the level we recover to is our new ‘autoimmune disease’ version of normal — not the same normal we used to be.” — Kat G. 6. Excessive Sweating RA is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms. This is because RA causes your body’s immune system to switch on (albeit attacking your body’s own tissues instead of a foreign invader like a virus). This immune response can cause symptoms you would experience if your body was actually attacking the flu virus, leading to symptoms like a low-grade fever and sweating. “Sweating and heat. Is this something anyone else experiences? My doctors have no answers. I get a feeling of heat that starts in my head and works down until my hair is soaked and I’m literally dripping sweat down my chest.” — Nancy A. 7. Weak Grip RA’s effect on larger joints like knees and hips tends to be discussed more than its effect on wrist and finger joints. However, inflammation in these smaller joints comes with its own set of challenges, like difficulty holding objects, opening packages, and performing necessary work functions like typing and writing. “Dropping everything due to lack of micro-grip in hands and weakened strength in hands and legs, (i.e. the inability to open a jar or bend down and pick something up).” — Miamaria 8. Getting Sick Easily Medications for RA suppress your immune system, which makes you more susceptible to illnesses like the flu or the common cold. RA itself can lower your ability to fight off illness since the disease makes your immune system dysfunctional. To someone without RA, a cold may be a once-a-year annoyance. But if you have RA, you might catch a cold several times in a single year, perhaps seemingly whenever you come into contact with someone else who’s sick. “I do everything I can to be as healthy as possible, but regardless, getting sick every couple months keeps happening,” Dina Neils wrote. 9. Pain and Stiffness After Not Moving for a Period of Time You might assume that if you have pain and stiffness in your joints, your symptoms will lessen if you simply don’t move them. However, with RA, you can experience the exact opposite. Rheumatologist Brian D. Golden told The Mighty that this is due to “gelling phenomenon,” a feature of RA in which inflammatory molecules and fluid in your joints get thicker if the joint is stagnant. Once you move, the “gel” loosens, making it easier and less painful to move. This is why pain and stiffness are often worse in the morning, right after you wake up. To head off this stiffness, people with RA are encouraged to get up and move after sitting for a long time and try to engage in low-impact exercise to keep your joints mobile. 10. Dry Mouth If inflammation targets your saliva-producing glands, the result is dry mouth, which aside from being uncomfortable can also lead to gum disease and tooth decay. In addition, some medications may cause dryness and mouth ulcers as side effects. “RA affects and destroys every part of the body… eyes, teeth, joints, ears, heart, lungs, skin, sinuses, hormones, etc… EVERY SINGLE PART!” — Kaye H. For more insight on living with RA, check out these stories from our Mighty community: 8 Things I Want You to Understand About Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis What I’ve Learned After 3 Years With Arthritis 10 Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis – as Shown in Photos

RA Myths You Shouldn't Believe

You don’t look sick. Wow, today must be a good day. You must be doing better if you can do that. Aren’t you a little young to have that? I know exactly how you feel. My legs get so stiff and sore some days. Funny that you can do that but can’t do this. How many times have I heard statements like this? These well-meaning people just don’t understand the battle that I and millions of others living with rheumatoid arthritis face every day. Years ago my family wanted to do an activity together, so we all piled into the cars and went for some fun. I was already struggling with two swollen knees but didn’t want to let my kids down. I didn’t want to miss out on this memory. I knew this would set me back for a few days, but I was going to do it. We did the activity, had a blast and came home. I was exhausted and in pain. Other family members started preparing dinner, but I had to rest and take a break. As I sat down to regroup, someone came up to me and said, “Well, I guess this is kind of convenient for you. You could play but now can’t help out? Guess this kind of comes and goes for you.” I smiled but did not answer. All the while, I was fuming inside. How could someone think this about me? I went upstairs, sat on the edge of the bed and just cried. (Yes, men do cry, and that is OK.) My wife came to the room and sat beside me. As I told her what happened, she was livid, but I didn’t want her to create a scene. As she sat there and hugged me, I said, “I don’t know how much longer I can keep fighting. I am so tired.” Twelve years later, I am still fighting. It’s never easy, and I haven’t forgotten that day. When you battle chronic illness, it is hard for others to understand the daily battle you face. Sometimes there is so much misinformation, misconceptions or just plain misunderstandings about the battle we face. It becomes clouded and more difficult to fight; we are battling not only the disease, but also people’s false beliefs about it. Too often these misconceptions lead to lack of empathy and can hurt the person facing that battle, as their struggle is unintentionally minimized. If you know someone living with RA, don’t fall for these myths. Instead seek to understand the battle your loved one is facing: RA is not just for old people. RA can affect anyone. I have battled RA since age 15. It affects people of all ages, and for those younger patients, it can become very isolating. Often the only people they know living with RA are 2-3 times their age. One of the most terrifying statements for us is, “You think it’s bad now? Just wait until you are 50 or 60.” It’s not always “visible”. For some, it can cause deformity in joints, but for others, it does not. My hands and joints look OK, and unless I tell you, you wouldn’t know I have had my hip replaced three times. People with RA don’t look sick. If people saw me on the street, they might not know I have RA. However, with this disease looks can be deceiving. Like many chronic illnesses, it can look different for each person. Even a good day is a painful day. Pain is the white noise of our lives, and it is there all day, every day. Some days we might feel better, but even those days are still painful and a struggle. RA is not “just an excuse” to get out of things. Don’t get me wrong: I love to joke, and sometimes I try to play the “RA card” as a joke. In reality, it’s not just an excuse to get out of things. I’m not faking it, and some of the things I hated doing before are the things I miss doing the most. When I do one thing, I am often trading off the ability to do something else. But I promise that I’m not just trying to get out of something. There is no cure. I’m not getting better; in fact, I am getting worse. Every day my body is attacking itself, and it gets a little worse. Some days, I do have less pain, but often that is about as good as it gets. RA is more than just stiff joints, and it is more than “everyday pain.” I know you’re trying to be sympathetic and relate, but sometimes it minimizes the struggle we are facing. Being done is not the same as being suicidal. Being done just means I am tired, and I need a break from fighting this “glorious” disease. I have been “done” many times in my battle. Some days I will not be OK, and I’m just tired. Please, try to appreciate that. I’m not the only one struggling. The biggest misconception of this disease is that I’m alone in my battle. However, there is nothing further from the truth. Everyone in my house is fighting this disease, struggling with its effects and hurting with me. My wife and kids miss out on things, and my parents and sisters hurt when I hurt. It affects every aspect of my life and the life of those around me. This is the hardest part for me, seeing how it affects my loved ones. If you know someone living with RA, be there for them. Listen to them and take time to care for them. Don’t look for the perfect thing to say; simply be there for them and love them – all of them! Be present in their lives, and help them find the strength to fight, even if for just one more day. Charles Mickles, author and speaking. He has written, Mine’s Parkinson’s, What’s Yours? and What Christmas Really Is All About? You can follow his story at www.minesparkinsons.com .

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