I have noticed when Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds is in pain on stage. I see it surface briefly in the form of a grimace with pained eyes, a determined glare into space, or a barely detectable stretch after standing at the microphone for too long. I’ve said to friends, “He’s in pain right now.” Then I blink, and the moment is gone.
I know what Dan’s pain feels like. I know because I have the same disease he has, the one with a name that sounds like a dinosaur: ankylosing spondylitis.
I, too, have learned to mask my pain in public.
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a systemic immune-mediated inflammatory disease that causes pain & stiffness primarily in the spine and low back, but it can also impact other joints. AS can damage the eyes, heart, and lungs; as well as cause fatigue and cognitive impairment. The disease is difficult to diagnose, often missed or misdiagnosed by doctors for years, and it impacts everyone differently. There is currently no cure.
For most observers, Dan looks the perfect picture of health; he posts regularly about his fitness journey, and mainstream media encourages that perception. One might think he has conquered AS and that perhaps everyone with else AS would feel great if they just copied his approach.
I had the chance to interview Dan about living with AS in 2017 for This AS Life and again in 2019 to learn about his new project, the Monster Pain in the AS campaign. I discovered in both interviews that his journey with AS is more multifaceted than mainstream media suggests. Continue reading Dan Reynolds Hasn’t Beat AS
It’s the season of dropping things, hips and elbows knocking door frames, “Will this flare ever end?” weeks, buckling knees on flat ground, brain fog competing with memories of the years when I felt younger than my age.
It’s the season of “But you don’t look sick, you look Great!” and “Have you tried yoga?”
It’s the season when, as soon as the door latches shut, the safety of our homes becomes the hell of letting our guards down, removing the mask. Our yoga is the inching off the bed on our bellies, gripping the prescription bottle to suck down a pill and doze for 30 minutes in half-inchworm-half-human-pose before grasping our walker to pee in the middle of the night with shuffle-steps amid stifling stiffness and the pain of partially fused joints that used to swim in the joint juice of cartilage. Chronic yoga.
“Yes, I already do yoga. Maybe I’ll show you sometime.” Continue reading The Doctor Will See You Now
Shortly after I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) I decided to buy a pair of heels. I could count on one finger the number of times I’d successfully worn heels in the past: to that dance in college after a knee surgery, using my crutches to help me balance.
I grew up in rural North Carolina and heels did not help me climb trees, catch blue crabs, or sail a boat. I didn’t have a use for them. I didn’t know how to wear something that wasn’t running shoes or soccer cleats. I would only try on heels to make my friends laugh while I stumbled around like Jar Jar Binks.
It seems counter-intuitive that I would purchase a pair of heels right after being diagnosed with a disease that causes extreme joint pain, inflammation, and spinal damage. I should be preserving my body and my joints as much as possible, right?
But when I was diagnosed with AS something clicked inside me, and it wasn’t a desire to follow the Yellow Brick Road back home to Kansas. It was a sudden desire to experience everything life could offer before I couldn’t do it anymore. And that somehow meant learning how to walk in heels even if I was only able to use them for a year, 5 years, or 10 years. Even though it didn’t make any sense.
So I bought heels and kind of learned to walk in them.
And then I became a fashion model. I swear it wasn’t planned. During my first photo shoot the photographer had to teach me how to pose gracefully without falling over. Continue reading How a Pair of Heels Gave Me a Reason to Live with Ankylosing Spondylitis
Many months ago during a routine drug treatment I heard a happy commotion and looked up to see balloons entering a private room across the infusion center. Noticing my curiosity, the nurse checking my vitals offered, “Last day of chemo.”
My lips curled upward into a celebratory smile, but it was interrupted as a different feeling suddenly took my breath away.
“Oh,” I breathed in sharply, “I’ll never get balloons.”
I was crushed.
The nurse asked, “What are you receiving infusions for?”
“Ankylosing Spondylitis,” I ventured, waiting to see if I would need to explain the disease to her.
“Oh, yes,” she replied, “I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. Perhaps we can bring you balloons for your next infusion?”
Someone walking by offered me a cupcake. I shook my head, no. Continue reading I Will Never Graduate from Treatment