RA: Depression And Anger & How To Deal with These Successfully
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Treatment Transforms a Teacher and Triathlete
Reesa Partida thought her RA symptoms would never improve.
By Michael Dolan
Medically Reviewed by Alexa Meara, MD
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Reesa Partida was used to shutting out pain during races. After all, her mom is an ultramarathoner who takes on 50-mile courses. Partida expected her body to rise to the challenge of competition. She started gymnastics at age 3. By age 9, she was competing in youth triathlons. But as a competitor in her mid-twenties, the pain she was experiencing was something very different.
Mickey Mouse Hands
“The first thing I noticed was my hands. I woke up and it looked like I had giant Mickey Mouse hands. I didn’t think too much of it. I didn’t have time to go to the doctor. I was finishing my student teaching assignment. I had to be at school every day or I wouldn’t finish the program, and I needed to finish that program. I had felt run down the whole semester. My fingers and toes were kind of swollen. It hurt to put my feet down when I ran. I had a trail race coming up, so I went to get X-rayed to make sure that I wouldn’t break anything if I ran 50K.”
A Diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Her diagnosis was no mere sprain or stress fracture. Partida was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) — an autoimmune disease that she would have for the rest of her life.
“The diagnosis was shocking,” she recalls. “I was also in the process of planning my wedding at the time. I remember calling my fiance to ask, ‘Do you still want to marry me? I’m defective.’"
Is It Ever Going to Get Better?
She wasn’t able to really run, Partida explains. “I had just got my credentials to be a dance teacher, and I needed my body to work. It was six months before any treatment started to help. It was completely disheartening that my body wasn’t working the way it used to. Is it ever going to get better?”
Despite dealing with the diagnosis, Partida refused to feel like a victim. “Even with the pain, I would still get up and go running,” she says. “I would hobble around the park. Maybe I would only make one lap instead of four. Swimming didn’t hurt so much, but just about everything else did. Sometimes, I couldn’t open the door because my hands didn’t work.”
Distracted by a New Job
The rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis affected more than Partida’s athletic endeavors. She was well on her way to becoming a dance teacher. “When I got my teaching credentials, I didn’t have a full time job yet,” she says. “When I first started my job, I was almost feeling a little better, but I had to go to work no matter what. There was so much to worry about in my new job that it distracted me from whatever was going on.”
Taking In All of the Advice
For Partida, one of the toughest battles she faced was what to do about her diagnosis.
“I had one opinion from the doctor,” she says. “Everyone else had their own opinion — friends, family. ‘Those meds are no good for you. You need to start changing your diet.’ My husband is very anti-medication in general. There was a lot of back and forth with the various people in my life. Finally, I started listening to my doctor. I trusted her. She said, ‘Look, you caught this really early. You’re young. If you start treatment, it won’t get really bad.’ I remember going running with my mom the day that I got the meds. I was like, ‘Okay, I have to take my poison now.’”
Slow But Certain Treatment Progress
Months after Partida began treatment, she started to notice a major difference in how she felt. “Toward the end of 2014, I started noticing that I could use my hands better,” she says. “I felt like I could run a little more like I used to. I also started doing aerial silks, which was something I had always wanted to try. My hands were working now, so I felt like giving it a try. I’ve been keeping that up for the last two years now. I take a class once a week. I also have a little space in the backyard where I can practice.”
Gaining Back Stamina
Partida has even felt strong enough to get back to her endurance events. She did a half-Ironman competition in April. And she has a 50K race and another triathlon coming up in September. But even more rewarding than being an athlete, she’s back to doing what she loves — teaching dance.
Success as a Teacher
“It’s been incredible. We just had our big show at school. To see these kids doing stuff I taught them on stage and do it well, that has been my dream since I was in the seventh grade,” gushes Partida.
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