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Today’s story comes from Marina Rozey, a dressage rider who has been living with rheumatoid arthritis for 2 years. Thanks for sharing and offering some great advice to others dealing with chronic illness, Marina!
Q: What is rheumatoid arthritis? When were you diagnosed?
A: Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system attacks your body and causes high levels of inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis primarily attacks your joints (hence the arthritis) but can attack your organs and other parts of your body as well. I was diagnosed in October of 2015 after struggling with symptoms for several years with no answers. I remember my Rheumatologist looking at my test results and literally telling me that I wasn’t crazy, I had some sort of autoimmune issue. I’m pretty sure I started crying, because after being told for years by different doctors that there is nothing physically wrong with you, you start to wonder if they think you’re just crazy.
Q: How has rheumatoid arthritis affected your life, both personally and professionally?
A: My RA not only caused me pain but extreme fatigue as well. I’d have weeks where I could barely get out of bed because I was so exhausted and in so much pain. Often, the only time I’d leave the house was to go to the barn, or maybe to class. Needless to say, my grades suffered quite a bit and I’m still trying to get my GPA back up.
Q: How do you balance a chronic illness and riding? Do you have a solid support team at the barn?
A: A lot of the time, riding is the one thing that makes me feel better but I just try to make sure not to do more than my body can handle, even if my mind thinks it can. I also try to not feel guilty if I have to say no to something because i’m having a flare up. I ride at a fairly small barn and I’ve been there for about 10 years so the support from them has been really strong since we’re all really close.
Q: What is something you wish people knew about rheumatoid arthritis?
A: A lot of people assume that since it’s called Rheumatoid Arthritis that it’s ‘just arthritis’ and have a hard time understanding why people with RA can feel so miserable. It’s not ‘just arthritis’, and it can cause many other symptoms other than joint pain.
Q: How has rheumatoid arthritis affected the way you view yourself as a rider, if it all?
A: When I have a flare up, my effectiveness in my riding suffers quite a bit since I don’t always have full use of my joints, so that can be discouraging. I just try to mention it to my trainer so she’s not sitting there wondering why my riding looks awful that day.
Q: Do you have any advice for someone who may be dealing with a chronic illness?
A: Having a chronic illness can sometimes feel really lonely, so I found that joining Facebook support groups for RA was really helpful- just to see that there are other people going through similar things. This was especially helpful when I first got diagnosed and was really confused about what it all meant. Also, make sure you are advocating for your self with your doctor. If you aren’t happy with the treatments you are on, or if you don’t feel like they are working, make sure you speak up!