Winning in my Chunky Heels: My Autoimmune Disease Journey
On New Year’s Day 2015, I stood at a crosswalk on Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago. The light signaled for pedestrians to cross. I had plenty of time --30 seconds -- to make it to the other side of the wide and busy thoroughfare. I stepped off the sidewalk curb into the crosswalk. Each step was heavy and excruciating. With every moment, my joints in my arms, legs and feet felt like they were being ground with a cheese grater. My face grimaced. My pace was slow as if I was using a walker. But I wasn’t. I looked up to see the flashing red hand countdown, 3, 2, 1. There I was in the middle of the street. Thirty seconds passed and I wasn’t even to the median. The traffic light turned green and my brain said to my body, “Run. Get out the way!” I tried with all my might for just a light jog to make it out of traffic’s path, but I could not do it. The honks started and became increasing more aggressive as I inched my way to the median.
The decline in my health was quick. I started experiencing symptoms in October 2014 and gave myself every reason as to why I started feeling sore, “Maybe my workout was too intense. Maybe these ballerina flats are making my feet hurt.” My feet were in so much pain that it hurt to stand. I did away with all of my cute heels and resorted to sneakers with insoles.
On January 15, 2015, while I was in the airport headed to Charlotte from Dallas, my doctor called me. The official diagnosis: rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease in which the immune system begins to attack the joints in the body, which causes inflammation and pain. I was devastated. I cried the entire flight. How, at 28 years old, did I all of a sudden become stricken with an autoimmune disease? At its worst during the early onset, there were days I could not walk, couldn’t get out of bed or get myself dressed. It was painful to grab a doorknob, to clap or have someone hug me. Since graduating undergrad I dreamed of moving to New York City. I remember asking my parents, "How will I ever be able to live in New York when I struggle to walk?" Every day was unpredictable. The pain and the discomfort stripped away my quality of life and robbed me of the mobility I once had. My doctor prescribed me methotrexate, one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for RA. I did everything I was supposed to. I took my medicine as indicated and went in for my monthly blood work to check my liver functions, but I was not getting better. I was getting worse. Not only were my joints inflamed constantly, I started experiencing negative side effects from the medicine that included nausea, dizziness, feeling faint and hair loss. In August 2015, my blood work showed that my liver functions had drastically decreased and I was advised by my doctor to stop the medication immediately. “So, what are we going to do?” I asked my doctor. She said, “We’ll put you back on the medicine in a few weeks and just lower the dosage a bit.” Errr, what?! Cool the jets my dude. Ma'am you will not put me back on this medication.
I never went back. I was clearly having a negative reaction to the methotrexate and felt horrible. I determined there had to be a better way. I prayed, "God, I cannot be on medication for the rest of my life. I need your help, healing, something Lord." I began to do more research online about RA and discovered that it may be possible to control the disease with lifestyle changes. I was recommended to a homeopathic doctor who specializes in finding the root causes of autoimmune diseases. I went to her in November 2015 and she analyzed my blood work, my diet, and gave me a food allergy test. Based on the results, she advised me to remove gluten, sugar, dairy, nightshade vegetables (such as white potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes and bell peppers) and legumes from my diet for at least 30 days to see if I saw any improvement in my mobility, pain levels and overall health. She asked me what health goals did I want to meet. I told her that I wanted to be able to work out again and wear heels, stilettos, with no pain. Heels. Why was it so important to be able to wear stilettos? When I wore them, I felt different. I would feel more powerful, graceful, feminine, and even sexy when I put them on. For that entire year, I did not feel any of that. Struggling with RA made me feel weak, insecure and unattractive. Frankly, it affected my self-esteem.
I felt like a burden on my family and friends, who by the way were so supportive and have been there every step of the way. They had faith when I did not and accommodated me with love and compassion. After just 30 days of following the doctor's advice, I saw an 80% improvement. I was overjoyed! I was able to workout again, clap, hug people freely and wear heels with no pain. The thing is though, I never went back to wearing stilettos. I do not wear them anymore for a couple of reasons. 1. They are not practical. I have realized my dream, thank God! I now live in New York. You won't catch me walking city blocks in stilettos. Ha! 2. I realized that my feeling graceful, feminine, and sexy had nothing to do with the type of shoes I wore. It had everything to do with how I felt about myself. Four years after my initial diagnosis, I continue to control my RA with maintaining the diet changes that were recommended to me.
Today, I have seen a 95% improvement and go about my days free of pain and full of excitement for even more healing. I learned through this process and self discovery that I am powerful. I am graceful and feminine. Whether I have on flats, sneakers or chunky heels, I am sexy. I am all of these things because I am me. Thank God I have regained my health!
Angela Christine is an actor, model, and speaker in New York City & Dallas/Forth Worth. Follow Angela on Instagram @iamangelachristine
A portion of this blog post is published on www.medshadow.org and is entitled Dietary Changes, Not Methotrexate, Kept My RA Under Control