“Adjusting to life with psoriatic arthritis has been a journey”02 January 2020
Jamie Birch was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis early last year. In her words, "this turned my world upside down and I’ve been learning to manage it and adjust to daily life ever since."
Here she shares what life is like as a parent living with a chronic health condition and how she’s focused on living well through exercise, diet and raising awareness via her blog - Mama Bear.
Jamie says that writing has helped “to push myself to take these bitter lemons that life has dealt me and turn them into something resembling lemonade (pink, of course).”
Can you tell us how you were diagnosed?
In 2018, I began having unexplained pain and weakness in multiple joints and my neck. It had built up slowly and I had thought maybe I was sleeping funny or it was from having a computer-based job.
In March, it became so severe that I was unable to get out of bed. Leading up to this I’d been visiting my GP and I was diagnosed with pulled muscles and tendinitis, but this never sat right with me. I thought more was going on.
In April 2019, I visited a private rheumatologist and was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. I felt as if my world had fallen apart and I was terrified.
Have you found it easy to talk about your arthritis?
I have written a blog since 2017 when I was on maternity leave with my daughter. It felt natural to add a section around arthritis, my journey and my life living with it.
I am really open as an individual, what I find hard is telling people I’ve just met. Having arthritis is part of me and part of my daily life, but there are many misconceptions and it’s hard to slip into a conversation without opening a can of worms!
How have you made changes in your life to help manage your condition?
I’ve been taking sulfasalazine for around 4 months now, but I’ve only been on the full dose for a short time and the rheumatology team still want me to try this for a little longer.
Since my diagnosis I have changed my eating habits drastically. There are lots of foods that can potentially enhance inflammation or flares, and it is about trial and error in seeing what works for you. Gluten, dairy and sugar all seem very common flares, so I’ve been trialling cutting these out.
I’ve written more about my medication and the complementary therapies on my blog. What works for one person, may not work for another. You must find what works for you.
Do you think enough people are aware of arthritis and the impact it can have?
Definitely not, I didn’t know the difference between osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis before I was diagnosed.
People often assume that arthritis is only associated with old age, people often say things to me like ‘but you are so young’ when I talk about my condition. I’ve also had elderly people say things like ‘oh yes, I get a bit of that in my foot’ which is frustrating.
What do you hope to achieve in the future?
My next challenge is to have a second baby. I had my firstborn before onset of my condition, and now I have a lot of fear around pregnancy and managing with a new baby.
My condition is fairly well managed now, and the thought of potentially having a big flare post-birth and having to look after my daughter and a new baby is really frightening.
In terms of my blog, I’d like to keep growing it as a community and platform to share with other people with autoimmune diseases like psoriatic arthritis.
Do you have advice for other mums and families living with arthritis?
Be kind to yourself - and this goes for whether you have arthritis or not.
Being a mum is a really tough job and if at the end of the day all you achieved was feeding yourself and your child(ren), then you are winning.
The house can wait, your baby won't remember that you didn't attend every baby group and tomorrow is always a new day.
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