Adjusting Our Goals

When we use Movement As Medicine, we need to set goals: SMART goals. If you are new to the concept of SMART goals, click on this link “Make 2018 Your Year for SMART Goals” and catch up!

My current general goals are:

  • 7,500 steps a day, including active rest days
  • Weight training Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday
  • Swimming Wednesday & Sunday

I say general goals because within each of those, there are more specific goals, e.g. improve my walking pace to 10 minutes per kilometre, increase my leg press weight to 110 kilograms, swim 1,000 metres in a session.

Today is Sunday. I did not swim today. I adjusted my goals due to my condition requirements. Or, to put it another way, I was happy decided to miss that swim goal today. Sometimes we have to. Everything has been going swimmingly (pun intended) however on Friday I did something unusual: unusual for my body, that is. I scrubbed dirt off a window cavity frame well above my head. In fact I was on a stepladder. Yes, I do shoulder presses at the gym, but that is a very controlled action. Scrubbing stuff is not such a controlled action. Oh, I inherited the dirt, I didn’t create it! Just in case you wondered.

As is typical for my joints, two days later (today) the joint I may have overloaded while living life is complaining. The same two day lead time happened with my wrist recently when I used a manual screwdriver to screw 48 screws while building two bedside drawer units.

Lots of screws!

In that particular case, Friday being an active rest day, my grumpy wrist didn’t upset my walking – however on the Saturday I did drop my bicep curl weight. My wrist has to hold the weight. Often we can adjust activity to ensure we are operating in a pain-free range. We can walk for less time or at a slower speed, but do more walks on the day, for example if it is knees, hips, feet or back that is grumpy. I can temporarily lower a weight, as I did with the bicep curl, to ensure I don’t aggravate any inflammation. In that case, inflammation I had caused by doing too much twisting of the wrist.

Swimming is not such an adjustable activity. I can’t do half a stroke. I can’t reduce the range of motion of my arm to swim within a pain-free range. I’d sink and that is not a good look.

I pulled out my hydrotherapy equipment and did 30 minutes of exercise in the hydrotherapy pool. The top picture is my carefully rinsed equipment drying. From the left:

  • Push bells which I also use as dumbbells. I got these instead of aqua dumbbells as I don’t have to grip them, they strap onto my hand.
  • Pillow. I use this in the corner of the pool when I do certain leg exercises. Purely for comfort.
  • The bag I carry the equipment in.
  • Aqua cuffs for the ankles – this particular type is no longer available, it seems.

I bought these from theraquatics.com.au some time ago if you are interested in getting any equipment yourself. Theraquatics are a registered NDIS provider.

The ankle cuffs have extension pieces, therefore the two can be joined to make (for example) a waist “cuff”.

Setting goals is important. Just as important, when we are managing chronic conditions, is the ability to say to one’s self, “It is OK to adapt today”. That can be difficult for some of us. For example, I find it VERY difficult, let’s say impossible, to end a planned 2 kilometre walk at 1.93 kilometres. I’ll walk to the clothesline and back to get that final 70 meters! I like round numbers, I’m an accountant! What can I say?

Yet I knew when I was making my breakfast this morning that my right shoulder was not happy. I knew that swimming would quite likely exacerbate the situation. Then I’d need to take Prednisolone to settle it down. So I did the sensible thing. Gritted my teeth and let my swimming goal slide for the day. I replaced it with an alternative activity. One where I could easily control my range of motion.

Am I annoyed? Yes. Of course I am. At the same time I am also pleased with myself for being sensible!

Goals are good. Adjusting goals is sometimes necessary and also good. Even for stubborn people!

Movement! Exercise! Weights! Health!

Over the last few weeks, I have noticed a few articles in various media about the general health benefits of weight training. All regular readers know I am a strong supporter (OK, advocate) of weight training for ALL adult age groups including my own and older.

The first I noticed was “How Your Muscles Affect Your Mental Health

Muscles at work secrete tiny chemical messengers called myokines that exert powerful effects on organ function, including brain function.

Early 2018 I wrote about the importance of mental health especially when managing chronic conditions. Now it seems with resistance (weight) training, we can kill two birds with one stone! Help ourselves physically and mentally at the same time. This is very encouraging.

I’m on the Pacing UP journey at the moment. My personal best on the leg press in 160 kgs (back in 2018). I did 90 kgs today, will do 100 kgs on Saturday. No, I may not get back to the 160 kgs, but it can’t hurt to try! Plus it makes me feel better!

I’m careful though. I’m asking the gym staff to put the 20 or 25 kg weights on the leg press for me as my wrists don’t like lifting those weights onto the leg press – at the moment. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Then The Guardian published “Exercise with weights linked to lower risk of early death, study says“.

Adults who reported meeting the aerobic activity guidelines and weightlifting at least one or two times every week were found to have a 41% to 47% lower risk of premature death.

While many chronically ill patients are younger than I, I am in the older demographic. While I LOVE lifting weights, I do find it challenging to encourage others my age to do so. Hopefully research such as the above will help! For the record, I do weight sessions three times a week, roughly 30 minutes each time. The weights don’t have to be huge! The above photo has small weights, ankle weights, a hand weight for walking with and a resistance Thera band.

JAMA recently published “Association of Dual Decline in Cognition and Gait Speed With Risk of Dementia in Older Adults

In this cohort study of 16 855 relatively healthy older people in Australia and the US, a dual decline in gait and cognitive function compared with nondecliners was significantly associated with increased risk of dementia. This risk was highest in those with both gait and memory decline.

No, the above article doesn’t look at weight training, but it is about movement and exercise and staying physically “on point” if we can. Something I am aiming for personally is to get back to my old walking pace of 6 kms per hour. Now, my GP kinda rolls her eyes at me given my total knee replacement, bi-lateral foot surgery, psoriatic arthritis and age. She could have left the age bit off, but she didn’t.

I’m just not quite there yet. I can do that pace, but not for long enough. Yet. Having goals is something to strive for though – while I accept I may not get back there, that doesn’t mean I should give up!

Exercise generally and the relationship to the onset of dementia is of course a big part of the study I am currently participating in. The study is still recruiting, so if you meet the criteria and are interested, contact them!

This following article I do find a little worrying, given I am, technically, a complex comorbid patient. I have edited this article of mine to add this reference, as I forgot yesterday. I am far from infallible! The article is “Two or more chronic health problems in middle age ‘doubles dementia risk’.

After adjusting for factors such as socioeconomic status, diet and lifestyle, having two or more conditions aged 55 pushed up the risk of dementia almost 2.5 times compared with people who had none. Developing two or more conditions between 60 and 65 was associated with a 1.5-fold higher risk.

Retirement is working for me! Well, not being retired per se, but having the time to do more Movement As Medicine stuff WITHOUT draining my internal battery is working for me. I’ve upped my daily step goal to 7,500 every day. It was 5,500 on my weights and swimming days while I was working, 7,500 the other days. I’ve paced up.

We Don’t All Look Sick! Invisible Illness

Many people who are classified as chronically ill, myself included, don’t look sick or ill. Healthy people can find this a bit of a conundrum. We can be accused of “faking it” or being a hypochondriac. Even worse, we can be criticised for doing the very things we must do to manage our various conditions. With my condition, psoriatic arthritis, I must exercise. This just seems to be a red rag to a bull for the doubters because their understanding of “sick” doesn’t include things like the leg press or lat pull down in the gym!

I wonder how many chronically ill people are actually dissuaded from doing the very things they should do because of this attitude of doubt they encounter from others. That is a study for an enterprising young exercise physiologist and a psychologist to undertake! I’m just posing the question!

In 2018 I wrote “You Look So Healthy!” which was a look at how our emotions can react to being complimented for looking “so good for a sick person”. I also looked at society’s overall acceptance of chronic illness in my more recent article, “Will Society Adapt? When? How?“.

Please be aware not all conditions that MAY be invisible are invisible for everyone. To take psoriatic arthritis as an example, it is invisible in my case SO FAR (and I hope to keep it that way). Other psoriatic arthritis patients will have visible indications of their condition. It may be deformed joints or the need for mobility aids. In fact, psoriatic arthritis is a condition that may wax and wane – so I could be using a walking stick today, but not tomorrow.

People often look for a “gotcha” – and that is very annoying. Having to constantly explain that being chronically ill does NOT mean we have to be in hospital with a cannula in our hand, that yes we can walk 4 kilometres a day but we are still clinically sick is very, very tiring. As I have said before, the reaction I get from the public if I go out with a walking stick is very different to the reaction I get without it. In some respects this is fair enough as without the walking stick there is no indication to anyone that I am not perfectly healthy. However, if I tell someone I need a seat on the tram, I don’t expect to be put through the Spanish Inquisition!

Today I’m looking at the specific question of why, given such a large percentage of the population has one if not more chronic conditions (comorbidity is common), society is not more aware of invisible illness. To use myself as an example, why do people find it difficult to understand that I can do the leg press at the gym, but I can’t clean my shower recess without falling in a heap? For those wondering, it is due to damage in my lumbar spine – which you can’t see. It is invisible.

I sometimes get the strong impression I am not supposed to paint my nails, wear lipstick, or wear my extravagantly floral (happy) leggings. I am supposed to “look unwell”. Why? I think I speak for most of us when I say we go to considerable lengths to NOT look unwell! Doing so makes us happier.

I remember going to my GP once, a while ago now. I was in a flare. My shoulders and wrists were, essentially, unusable. I couldn’t put a bra on (so wore the most bulky windcheater I own to hide the fact). I managed to pull on some tracksuit pants – leggings weren’t happening. Lipstick certainly wasn’t happening. I called a taxi as I didn’t feel safe to drive. “Oh, you are the worst I’ve ever seen you”, she said. True, she had never seen me in such a condition. Had it been my knees or hips or ankles, she would not have seen me in that state: it was only because the joints I use to “look good” were “feeling bad”. Would my GP have recognised how sick I was, though, if I still “looked good”? While only she can answer that, I have been a patient of hers for quite some time now – I think she gets it. But not everyone does.

I would have had NO trouble convincing anyone I was sick that day! But that is not how I want to live my life. It isn’t how I want to look everyday. I don’t want to have to look sick for you to believe I have a chronic condition and trust my requests for certain adjustments.

I don’t want to live my life justifying why I DON’T look like that every day! A friend of mine has MS and he has a card, the size of a credit card, issued by the MS Society confirming his health status. Like me, he doesn’t look ill either, most of the time, to the uninitiated. Maybe a card would be appropriate for more of us.

Above I mentioned walking 4 kilometres. Let me assure you that 4 kilometres is very carefully planned out. I don’t walk out the door and just walk 4 kilometres in one hit. I do hope to pace up to doing that again, but at the moment I’m on the comeback trail. Sometimes, no matter how well we manage our conditions, we have setbacks. We have to pace up again to get back to where we were, provided we can.

I cite myself as having an invisible illness NOW – in ten years it may not be so invisible.

If you are standing in a group of ten randomly selected people, statistically at least four of them will have a chronic condition, maybe more than one chronic condition. There may be absolutely no visible indication. Some readers may have read my rant about public transport – if not, hit that link and read up.

All I ask is don’t assume that a person who looks 100% healthy is actually healthy. Many of the population is not – and we shouldn’t have to explain it every day.

I don’t always win!

I get told many of my audience see me as an inspiration. This is a lovely compliment and I really appreciate it. The recognition actually helps keep me motivated to keep doing movement as medicine to manage my own medical condition/(s).

Having said that, not everything goes according to plan. I think it is appropriate I share the dippy things I do as well as the things that go well!

Today was a dippy day. I had a plan for the day. Around 10 am have two sets of bloods done. For the curious among you, one set was for thyroid function as I recently started Thyroxine. Some years ago I swallowed radioactive iodine and as a consequence, sooner or later I was going to go hypoactive. I was lucky, I got a few years before that happened! The time has come. The second test was to meet the PBS regulatory requirements for the authority necessary to continue a biologic treatment for my psoriatic arthritis.

At 10:30 I had a GP appointment scheduled. Then my plan was off to the gym for weights. Saturday was weights, Sunday was swimming, yesterday (Monday) was an active rest day (walked 4 kms and hit goal of 7,500 steps). So back to weights today. Then I realised that was not a great plan as I was having blood tests – and that means no lifting heavy things afterwards. Hmmmm. OK, compromise, I’ll do just lower body stuff, I thought to myself. Yes, if you are wondering, I wear a mask when doing weights.

Warmed up on the treadmill. Did leg press, leg extensions, back extensions, hamstring curls, single leg push back. Couldn’t do the seated row, of course, or get on the rowing machine. Did not feel as if I’d done enough and wasn’t keen on getting back on the treadmill. Stationary bike? Nuh, not today. The elliptical machines were standing there looking rather unloved so I decided, not having been on an elliptical machine for WELL OVER 10 YEARS (and I was never a fan of them in the first place), I decided I’d just do five minutes to “top up” my workout.

At the 1 minute 30 second mark (this is me we are talking about, I time EVERYTHING for pacing purposes) my quads were telling me they were not at all impressed with this sudden change to their routine. At this point I thought, “OK, three minutes will do this time”.

At two minutes I hit the stop button. Of course, what has happened NOW is I have decided I must pace up on the elliptical machine, haven’t I? I have no desire to become an Olympic candidate by any means, I’ll be happy with five minutes!

After my recent experience with the screwing of 48 screws with a manual screwdriver, where I subsequently needed to resort to Prednisolone (brief, one day only needed – phew) and a wrist brace, I wasn’t about to overdo the elliptical machine (after a more than 10 year sabbatical). I’d learnt my lesson. Now, why I never applied the pacing logic to screwing things, I have no idea. I know better: excitement at building stuff overrode my thought processes! It happens! But really, *rolls eyes at self* I know full well my wrists are involved in my psoriatic arthritis. I have a special mouse, for that very reason!

I also fitted in my second ‘flu vaccine for the year – one of the joys of being immunosuppressed. Just thought I should finish on a positive note!

Never forget to pace.

Movement! Exercise! Mobility!

As we know I retired in order to concentrate on managing my psoriatic arthritis condition. The obvious question is “So how is it going?”

Very well, thank you for asking!

I thought a short update was in order. After all, while I do delve into other chronic illness related topics from time to time, this website IS primarily about #MovementIsMedicine. About pacing activity to maintain or, even better, improve our mobility and reduce pain and the incidence of flares. Avoid the boom/bust cycle so many chronic illness people are familiar with.

As I type it is 9:20 am. I have already walked a kilometre this morning. Yay me! Yesterday I hit the gym for weights – well, at my age and in my condition, resistance training would be a more accurate description. I am not going into the gym and lifting to failure, after all, so I feel a little guilty describing what I do as weight lifting. I am lifting weights though, just smaller ones than in my 40s!

To paint the picture, I had not been to the gym while the Covid-19 Reff was above 0.80. Saturday was my first day back for a while. Yesterday, Tuesday, was my second day. Saturday I took it gently, probably a step back from where I had been before the latest Covid-19 wave. I did the same with swimming on Sunday – a step back.

Tuesday I was pleasantly surprised to discover I had quite an easy improvement in my leg extensions. I increased my bicep curls by a kilogram with no trouble. Very good.

The best part was at the end, when I reached that point I recognised as “That’s enough for today” and stopped the timer. I’d done 27 minutes! Now, to healthy readers who wouldn’t dream of doing less that an hour, let me tell you for me that was a 5 minute improvement over Saturday. Also, please note I superset my workouts. That means I don’t do three sets of a specific exercise with a break in between sets. Supersetting is like this: a set of leg extensions, followed immediately by a set of chest press, then back to the leg extensions, rinse and repeat until the three sets of each are completed. I tend to combine things like lat pulldown and back extensions, tripcep pulldowns and the wood chop.

Benefits of supersetting are more weights done in less time, obviously. Moves the blood around the body by alternating upper body and lower body exercises. I also use the weight machines more than I used to in my pre-psoriatic arthritis days: I find I can keep my technique correct more easily than with free weights. I’m lifting to keep my body working, I don’t need to accidentally injure myself through poor technique.

I’ve set myself some retirement fitness goals:

  1. Weights sessions x 3 a week
  2. Swims/hydrotherapy x 2 a week
  3. Steps per day 7,500
  4. Increase speed to 6 kms per hour

The last one, increase speed, is related to preventing (or delaying) the onset of dementia. There have been studies that suggest slowing walking pace may be an indicator. I have slowed in recent years. I’ve also been participating in a Monash trial, Better Brains. More on this topic another day – just explaining why that goal is there! My GP rolls her eyes at me, given my ortho surgeries (and recovery times involved) and my arthritis – she thinks my pace currently is acceptable. I am not deterred!

I will still drop my step count on the days I do weights – it’s all about the pacing, folks, all about the pacing! No point in doing weights AND 7,500 steps today if I can’t do anything tomorrow.

As for more specific goals, as in swim how far, leg press of how many kilograms, etc: at this point I’m not fussed. as long as I see progress I’ll be happy. Essentially I’ll stick to the pacing principles of 10%, but I’m not going to rush it.

I am definitely seeing retiring was the right decision for my body and my health.

(Edited to correct the cited day! I had Wednesday instead of Tuesday).

I Have Retired. Should You?

I’ve been very quiet on Limberation because I’ve been extremely busy. I’ve retired and moved. BIG life change it is too!

My plan was to keep working until I was 70. My body has been saying, “Maybe not”. Not that I am in constant pain, I’m not. And I want to stay that way. Regular readers will have noticed my articles about energy use and pacing. Two very important aspects to managing my condition and retaining my mobility, function and independence.

By April of this year I had reached the point where I was seriously considering how long I could keep working. It seemed I didn’t have enough energy to work AND exercise enough: #MovementIsMedicine. Of course, simply getting older plays a part in this as well and there is not a lot I can do about the passage of time.

When my name came up on the right list for retirement housing (yes, I had been planning ahead, I was on waiting lists) I made the decision. Retirement was the way to go. The decision involved a lot of work though – energy I really was struggling to find. Writing was definitely put on the backburner. Working through phasing me out of my position in a job I love. Organising the actual move – and the move date got moved twice, just to complicate matters. The move also meant downsizing and that was work. I am typing this on my dining table, not my very large corner desk with a return on each side that I used to have! Packing took more energy. To top it off I got a temperature that hung around for six weeks and towards the end of that six weeks, a tooth infection. The temperature involved a lot of blood tests, some CT scans and several doctors visits. More energy needed. We now think the temperature and the tooth were connected, but initially I didn’t have any tooth pain, therefore we didn’t realise.

It wasn’t just me either. My brother-in-law was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, my nephew needed stents and my daughter and her husband got Covid-19. There was an attempted identity theft/fraud on an account of mine which had to be sorted as well – I caught it as it was happening, so no losses. Everything was happening at once.

Back to why I retired. I used to be able to walk before work, walk at lunch time and walk after work. I was struggling to find the energy to get dressed before work, let alone walk before work. This wasn’t good for the management of my psoriatic arthritis. I wasn’t being consistent in my exercise either. My weight training had dropped to once a week – I was not happy about that. As a result I was experiencing an increasing number of minor flares and I didn’t want any major flares! I had already cut my working hours from 30 hours per week to 24 hours per week, but the days I worked I was still struggling to do the movement I need, therefore I was losing the consistency.

It seemed if I did the exercise and physical therapy I need to do, I was too tired to work, and if I worked, I was too tired to maintain my exercise regime. Maintaining my health as best as I possibly can is critical to quality of life. I love working, but it reached the point where I could no longer have my cake and eat it too.

Should those of us with chronic conditions make this decision earlier if we can? It is a huge decision. There are the financial implications of course. There may be housing implications as well. The age pension age keeps getting further and further away……. The disability pension (for younger patients) is almost unattainable these days. Women around my age may not have a lot of super (if any) due to the particular decades we worked through, there was no paid maternity leave for many of us and so on.

Yet more and more of the population live with chronic conditions of some sort. We have to make hard decisions about how we manage our lives. I became eligible for the age pension the year before I finally bit the bullet and retired. I am still working as a casual for my employer but minimal hours.

I believe I have made the right decision for my health. Without health, other aspects of our life may suffer: relationships, work, mental health to name just three. Do we try to “keep going” too long, or longer than we should? I’m thinking not just of now, but in ten years time. I want to give myself the best chance of minimising deterioration NOW so I can maintain quality of life in my seventies and eighties. We need to look ahead, not just at tomorrow or next week. Our modern medications, as fantastic as they are, don’t solve everything.

What am I going to do with all this “spare” time? Naturally, I’ve set myself some physical goals: swimming, weight training, walking goals. I will pace up to those goals. Find more unusual flowers!

I will write more. I will get back to my parking permit project. I will finish unpacking, cull my shoe collection.

Paint my nails! Of course!

This first week of full retirement has been psychologically challenging. I hadn’t had time to really prepare myself for the change of lifestyle and then there it was, happening. My advice would be if you can plan ahead, do so.

So that is it. I am retired. A different phase of life.

Bring it on!

chronic conditions care courage consistency coaching

Use It (Consistently), or Lose It

Modern medicines do many things. Some cure conditions. Many do not (yet) cure, but help in other ways: medications may slow disease progression or manage condition expression (e.g. control/reduce inflammation).

Medication alone is not a silver bullet – it often isn’t enough on its own to retain or regain functional movement and quality of life.

I’m going to share my own practical experience as an illustration. Shoulders are only the example here – the concept is the important bit. Interestingly I had a conversation with my eighty-something year old neighbour this morning who concurs! He told me he has FINALLY learnt to do his rehabilitation exercises religiously, every day. But Jack (not his real name) no longer works: this is where my consistency can suffer!

As per my earlier article, I Sat in My Car and I Cried, 2021 was a bad year for me. I went through a period where everything hurt. Consequently, as I was battling so many bits of my body, my shoulder care slipped. That’s on me, my fault.

My shoulders had first played up in 2016 and with the help of a great physiotherapist and lots of CONSISTENT exercises I’d rehabilitated them. With my usual swimming and weight training, the shoulders had stayed good without the need for specific exercises daily. However, during 2021 because the rest of my body went into meltdown, I was limited in my swimming and weight training. The shoulders progressively worsened to the point I had an ultrasound-guided steroid shot in each shoulder in late October 2021. There was at the time fluid in both shoulders. Not good. I should mention at this point the shoulders may not be exclusively psoriatic arthritis, there is likely some osteoarthritis going on in there too, plus the constant irritation of mouse and keyboard work. Yes, I have a fantastic vertical mouse, but that is more for the wrist than the shoulder. The right shoulder (mouse shoulder) is worse than the left.

It wasn’t until after my new medication started working in January 2022 that I was capable of being consistent with my exercises again. But how consistent was I being? As it turns out, not very.

The last couple of weeks are good examples. Saturday I head to the gym and yes, my shoulders hurt for the first couple of reps, but I do the usual upper body routine: lat pull-downs, chest press, seated row, bicep curls etc. By the time I leave the gym I have no shoulder pain. Movement Is Medicine (point 3 in that article). Sunday I head off to the hydrotherapy pool and do more gentle exercises, some involving the shoulders. As of last week I’ve added a few swimming laps (slowly increasing as shoulders toughen up). Monday, back to the gym, but less upper body work as I did the workout on Saturday. By Monday afternoon, my shoulders are singing!

Then comes Tuesday. My first work day of the week. I’m busy. I make sure I get my step count in. No gym today. My shoulders, feeling fine, do not remind me to do my rehab exercises and I slip. Bad me.

Wednesday I might feel a twinge or two when I get up and think to myself, “Robyn, make sure you do your exercises today, you know what happened last week!” Do I? Maybe, maybe not. Depends how exhausted I am at the end of the work day. Note to self: do them before breakfast, you idiot.

By Friday I’m back where I started, with sore shoulders. Again, I kick myself (figuratively speaking).

According to my myotherapist, I am pronating my shoulders. Not surprising as a desk jockey, we have to be so careful and it gets harder as we get older. To counteract the pronation, I bought myself a PostureMedic which I wear under my clothes, not over as shown on the marketing materials! Ran it past my myotherapist for his approval. I don’t wear it all the time, as while it encourages the wearer to hold their shoulders correctly, wearing it isn’t strengthening the muscles required to hold the shoulders in position naturally. I use it as a prevention tool as I first start work to help me develop/maintain correct sitting posture at the desk when I am deeply engrossed in work and can forget about my body.

If you have ever had your shoulders taped by a physiotherapist, it is a bit like that, but something you can put on and take off yourself without the issue of wet tape on your back after a shower!

My goal this week is to be CONSISTENT! To follow my own advice to other people! To do my exercises every day and not lose the gains I make over Saturday, Sunday, Monday.

Modern medications are fantastic, but they don’t do everything. Often, there is no way of medications repairing past damage, for example. If there were, I wouldn’t have needed a total knee replacement! I need to take the time and put in the effort to get my shoulder muscles working properly again. Yes, age is also a factor. In three months I will be three years away from three score and ten – what used to be considered the nominal span of a human life.

I hope by sharing my failures at being CONSISTENT I may have encouraged you to be more consistent than I have managed recently.

Movement IS Medicine.

(Mostly) No Pain is FANTASTIC!

A few of my recent articles have been quite serious, so it is time to celebrate progress! After starting my new medication on January 14, 2022 I am happy to report I’m functional again! Friday I started Week 7 of my new medication and I very pleased with progress. Let’s hope it keeps working!

Readers may recall my list of painful bits from I Sat in My Care and I Cried. It was a pretty long list.

What was painful?

  • Shoulders
  • Ankles
  • All Toes
  • Left hip
  • Elbows
  • Wrists
  • Most fingers
  • Hands
  • Knees (yes, even the operated knee felt swollen, but not painful, the right was painful)
  • Neck
  • TMJ (jaw joint)
  • Left Achilles Tendon
  • I also had some plantar fasciitis

Today I can happily report all of that list has resolved except the shoulders and the plantar fasciitis. While I was on Prednisolone and the new medication together, the shoulders and the plantar fasciitis were barely noticeable, but as I tapered off the Prednisolone both reappeared. The plantar fasciitis is minor, only noticeable when I first get out of bed in the morning and hopefully will continue to improve the longer I am on the new medication.

The shoulders I am not so sure about. At my age and with prior injuries, I suspect the root cause of the shoulders may not be psoriatic arthritis (although it is undoubtedly not helping). The right shoulder is the worst of the two and that is the shoulder that has in the past suffered a torn rotator cuff. I’m doing lots of remedial exercises which will hopefully improve the situation (I’ll admit to letting those lapse while I was battling everything else). It is time to focus.

Other than that it is great to be able to do all these things again, pain free:

  • Fasten my bra (shoulders are at least allowing that)
  • Hold my full coffee cup in one hand (wrists)
  • Get out of bed without mobility aids (crutches or walking stick)
  • Sit down and stand up without immense difficulty (quads & glutes weren’t firing)
  • Be able to clench my fists (no, I’m not planning on using my fists!)
  • Turn taps on and off without pain (fingers & wrists)
  • WALK!!!!! (mainly ankles, although right knee & left hip had spasmodically interrupted)

That is not an exhaustive list, of course, but hopefully sufficiently illustrative! Functionally, I am almost back to (my version of) normal. I’ve been to the gym and done some hydrotherapy.

The only downside seems to be lethargy. I am quite tired. This may be temporary and may be due to my body adjusting to the new medication, the (tapered) cessation of Prednisolone and quite simply normal life things such as work-related stress. In order to give my body the best chance I have negotiated with my employer to drop my working hours to 24 hours per week. Initially this is for a temporary period of six months and then we will reassess.

The tiredness could possibly be my thyroid firing back up, although based on my last ultrasound we doubt that. Even so, that fact I do have an unhealthy thyroid cannot be overlooked. I’m due for monitoring checks again in April. I was, I gather, a little unusual as a radioactive iodine recipient. Many patients’ thyroid function becomes hypoactive after the treatment but mine never (not yet anyway) did. Both hypoactive (underactive) and hyperactive (overactive) thyroid conditions can result in tiredness/lethargy. Mine, theoretically, could go either way!

I am very concerned about the lack of strength training I have done over recent months as retaining muscle strength really is very important with this and many other arthritic conditions. However, I can’t rush back, I need to pace up again. That is part of the reason for reducing my working hours.

The shoulders, particularly the right one, may be being exacerbated by typing and mouse use. This is something that will also be reduced by reducing my working hours. Of course my bank account is NOT going to like less income, but that is simply a fact of life for those of us with chronic conditions: we have to make our bodies a higher priority than our finances, otherwise we end up with no finances at all as we lose the ability to work.

Overall, pretty darn happy! Of course, there are no guarantees. I’ll just enjoy the improvements while I have them! This gives me space to concentrate on rehabilitating the grumpy shoulders. I’m seeing my myotherapist regularly at the moment to assist.

Concurrent objective is to rid myself of the weight gain from the Prednisolone – there’s always something!

If you are interested in the fascia of the body, this is a great video! This is related to my seeking myotherapy treatment at the moment. More on this another day.

Underlying Conditions

In 2017 I wrote Why Do Our Bodies Attack Us? Like many of us, I wondered WHY did I have a chronic condition (otherwise often known as an underlying condition). Most of my working life has been about root cause analysis – naturally I apply that to myself! It is a bad move, I don’t recommend it, you can drive yourself nuts!

More recently, December 2021, I wrote Will Society Adapt? When? How? looking at society’s lack of acceptance of chronically ill people. I specifically noted I wasn’t looking at environmental impacts in that article, but we can’t ignore the impacts we ourselves, as a species, have created in the same span of the last 100 years or so. In that article I proposed society has yet to adapt to this new chronic state of health, and I referred to my generation as being the first generation of chronic people in any great number. I essentially attributed our survival to improvements in medical science keeping us alive, but why do we fall sick in the first place, in ever increasing numbers?

Regular readers will know I am a big supporter of the work of Julian Cribb, an Australian author and fantastic science communicator. He has recently released Earth Detox – How and Why We Must Clean Up Our Planet.

Every person on our home planet is affected by a worldwide deluge of man-made chemicals and pollutants – most of which have never been tested for safety. Our chemical emissions are six times larger than our total greenhouse gas emissions. They are in our food, our water, the air we breathe, our homes and workplaces, the things we use each day. This universal poisoning affects our minds, our bodies, our genes, our grandkids, and all life on Earth. 

https://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/earth-and-environmental-science/environmental-science/earth-detox-how-and-why-we-must-clean-our-planet?format=PB

I did refer to chemicals in my 2017 article cited above. I’ve also looked at plastics in Packaging Our Pills in Plastic which includes some videos – visit that article if you are interested.

So while some science is keeping us alive, our tendency as a species to misuse other science for selfish reasons is potentially, at the same time, making us sick. Why did I choose selfish in that sentence? Let’s take plastic as a classic example. When I was a child plastic was not really a thing. Shopping bags weren’t plastic. You didn’t put your fruit and vegetables in plastic at the shops. Glad Wrap? I do remember plastic bags for freezing meat. Pills were still in glass bottles.

But plastic was convenient and we started using it for EVERYTHING! Our wild life has been paying the price for years, but it seems we have too. We just didn’t want to acknowledge that fact because that would be inconvenient and if there is one thing the human species hates, it is being inconvenienced.

Of course, all of this ties in with our population growth: if there were less of us, we’d use less of all the “stuff”. Less MIGHT be manageable. That is a big “might”.

I’m going to turn 67 this year. In my first ten years of life I lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere, BUT I was still exposed to many chemicals. Sheep dip. Top dressing. Weed killers. All before the many safety tests and regulations of today were in place.

Later I moved to the city: car fumes, plastics.

“It would be naïve to believe there is plastic everywhere but just not in us,” said Rolf Halden at Arizona State University. “We are now providing a research platform that will allow us and others to look for what is invisible – these particles too small for the naked eye to see. The risk [to health] really resides in the small particles.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/aug/17/microplastic-particles-discovered-in-human-organs

Yes, I have psoriatic arthritis (PsA) and a wonky thyroid (plus a few other things) and yes, there is a genetic component to PsA. What triggered the expression of the condition? After all, genes or no genes, my disease hasn’t been active all my life. What triggers any number of the conditions now prevalent in the chronic illness community, even if there are genes playing a role (in many cases, not yet proven)?

We have to stop blaming our chronic illness patients for being chronically ill, when it is very likely it is the path humans have chosen that has created many of us in the first place.

In our current situation in 2022, chronic illness has suddenly risen to the surface as a “reason” people die of Covid-19, so more people are aware of our existence. I myself am in four Covid-19 risk categories, the most dangerous to me being that I have an underlying inflammatory condition (PsA). We know Covid-19 can cause lots of inflammation: I’ve already got that going on, so I have this image in my mind of Covid-19 entering my body, running into PsA and my PsA saying, “Mate! Great to see ya! Let’s party!”

According to Professor Jeremy Nicholson, there are only about 10% of people in Western society that are “really, genuinely healthy”. You can find that quotation at 31:40 in the second video on Better Health, Together: Living with COVID in 2022.

I’m not suggesting 90% of us are at high risk of imminent death from either our conditions alone or our conditions plus Covid-19. We DO need to know which underlying conditions place us at higher risk of severe Covid-19 in order to be able to adequately take whatever additional protections may be necessary. The fact we are at a higher risk cannot be ignored. I see many on social media particularly suggesting the underlying conditions are irrelevant. They are relevant. We can’t ignore reality because we find it unpalatable. I most certainly think the politicians could separate the sad news of deaths from the statistics relating to underlying conditions. This is where the 90% really comes in – as in, it is potentially most of us!

As I am known to do, I have digressed – or have I? Covid-19 is perhaps a wakeup call. As a species we have created a state of ill-health as “normal”. Because we want our pollution and our chemicals and our plastics – but as Julian writes, we are paying the price. We’ve been somewhat quietly paying the price for a while, now Covid-19 has highlighted our vulnerability.

I know I have a chronic illness – many people do not yet know they have one. Conditions can take a while to be evident enough for the person to seek medical help. I am quite sure my PsA was active at least two years before I was diagnosed. In other situations, many people struggle to get a diagnosis of various conditions for years.

I am NOT suggesting that had Covid-19 come along in 1819, or 1719 that we would have been in a overall healthier state as a species. There were other considerations back then. However, we have changed our world, our environment, our living conditions, massively in the last 100 years. We’ve solved old problems, but created new problems.

I am a massive fan of science generally and medical science in particular, however I am also very aware of the human tendency to misuse anything we can if we see a personal advantage in doing so. Covid-19 gave us a shock: we were the Gods brought to our knees by the invisible.

We are not just destroying the environment of the planet we inhabit. We are not just destroying other species. We are possibly also destroying ourselves.

I Sat in My Car and I Cried

2021 was not a good year for me health-wise and it is time to come clean. In our chronic illness life, things don’t always go according to plan. Before I get into the details, I want to make VERY clear I do not in any way regret participating in the clinical trial I was on. It was wonderful, the people were wonderful, I was very well cared for. I am no longer on the trial, as you shall read, but that doesn’t mean the medication isn’t a great medication. I was just unfortunate. It happens. Hopefully I will have contributed to scientific knowledge in some small way.

So let’s get into it.

For whatever reason, during 2021 my medication stopped working for me. This could have been due to a variety of different reasons, we will never be able to prove the reason specifically for me so I am not going to discuss the various possibilities. It is not unknown: medications can just stop working for particular people. Of course, so much happened in my life DURING 2021, we did have a tendency to think I was flaring because of “stuff” happening. To just do a quick recap:

  • February: I suffered a fall, injured left ankle, right wrist (but saved my knee!!)
  • March: First Covid-19 vaccine (can cause flares in people like me)
  • April: Preparing for foot surgery (training work replacement etc, super busy)
  • May: Bi-lateral foot surgery followed by six weeks of inactivity
  • June: Second Covid-19 vaccine (can cause flares in people like me), plus I resigned from my old job
  • July: Started new job

So basically, lots of quite stressful events. That’s without considering the lockdowns which resulted in a lack of access to the gym and swimming and the various other concerns we all dealt with in 2021.

I did not want to accept that my medication wasn’t working (and that’s on me, it was my decision to persevere longer than I should have), for it had been wonderful. Best part was I did not suffer any side effects. However, at the end of 2021 it got to the point I had to accept the advice. A change of medication was needed. However, by now we were getting towards the holiday season and so appointment scheduling became an issue.

I’m leaving some detail out, but on New Year’s Day I almost took myself to an Emergency Department (ED). I didn’t for two reasons: A) If I went to my closest public hospital, I risked Covid-19 exposure, B) If I went to my local private hospital the ED fee would be money I really did not want to spend and I knew that in reality they’d likely manage the pain and tell me to call my rheumatologist on Tuesday. I could do that myself. So I soldiered on.

By January 4 it would have been easier to tell you what didn’t hurt, rather than what did. Even the entheses of my left hip were painful and THAT was scary as hips were one part of my body that had not previously been involved. What was painful?

  • Shoulders
  • Ankles
  • All Toes
  • Left hip
  • Elbows
  • Wrists
  • Most fingers
  • Hands
  • Knees (yes, even the operated knee felt swollen, but not painful, the right was painful)
  • Neck
  • TMJ (jaw joint)
  • Left Achilles Tendon
  • I also had some plantar fasciitis

That may not be a full list, but you get the picture. In the past, like when my shoulders had misbehaved earlier in 2021 (had ultrasound guided steroid shots in both shoulders), at least I could still walk, so I could still exercise, still move. Movement is not only my physical condition management strategy, it is also beneficial for my psychological health. Suddenly my lower body was so sore I couldn’t walk more than 500 metres. I couldn’t do upper body at the gym because my wrists wouldn’t allow me to lift dumbbells. I was struggling both physically and emotionally/psychologically.

I struggled to use a petrol pump. I couldn’t hold a coffee mug in one hand first thing in the morning. Turning taps off and on was painful. Getting dressed was a struggle. I needed a walking stick to get out of bed and move first thing in the morning. I could go on.

On January 9 I took myself to the hydrotherapy pool. It was a struggle to get into my bathers as my hands, wrists and shoulders were hurting. But I managed. Packed my hydrotherapy gear. Drove to the swim centre.

It was closed for repairs.

I walked back out to my car, sat in my car and cried. It seemed there was NOTHING I could do, not even hydrotherapy.

Of course, I’d been in touch with my medical team and January 11 I was officially taken off the old medication. I also took the rest of the week off work. Taking the rest of the week off work filled me with guilt. I love my job and when I’d accepted the offer I believed my psoriatic arthritis was under control. I didn’t feel fantastic at the time, BUT I was still only seven weeks post the foot surgery, so at the time it was thought the body seeing surgery as an injury was the cause of my flare state and I’d go back to my normal. So I was horrified to be taking time off.

I mention this for newbies to the chronic life and friends, family or colleagues trying to understand and be supportive. We, the patient, can feel guilty about stuff we have absolutely no control over. I can’t predict the future, yet I felt responsible for the fact I couldn’t have predicted the future! So then not only do we feel unwell, we feel guilty on top of it. Not a good place to be.

Bottom line, I’m on a new medication. This is my sixth medication since the start of 2015. So six medications in seven years. Many medications for many conditions, including mine, do not work overnight. Some take six to twelve weeks to “kick in”. In the meantime the patient takes a bridging medication to hopefully control symptoms at a manageable level, such as in my case Prednisolone. We taper OFF the Prednisolone as the new medication (hopefully) ramps up. I’d just ALMOST tapered off my last Prednisolone series, now I’m back on. So the patient doesn’t necessarily know for several weeks if the new medication is going to work for them. Will there be side effects? How much weight will be gained on the Prednisolone?

It can be natural for people to think along the lines of, “Well, OK, you are on a medication now, shouldn’t you be feeling better?”. No, it can take a while.

Many of these conditions are resolutely unpredictable, and THAT alone can be hard for friends, family and colleagues to understand. I get that – it is hard for ME as the patient to understand. I’m sure it is hard for the medical professionals to manage too. No crystal balls in this business. I wish there were. My rheumatologist painted me this lovely future scientific state where we will be able to personalise treatments, but we are not there yet – and probably won’t be in my lifetime. I also suspect such treatments may be rather expensive, but that is a WHOLE other discussion!

Today I actually managed to walk two walks totalling just over two kilometres. My left ankle is complaining a bit, but my right is OK. It is the furthest I’ve walked for weeks. I was back at work today. I’m on the improve.

All I can hope is the improvements continue. Pace UP again almost from scratch, don’t overdo stuff.

So if you or someone you know is struggling through a setback – please know you are not alone. It sucks. All I can say is keep persevering.

In closing, I would like to thank my manager and colleagues for their wonderful support. I am so grateful.