“Right now it’s about finding out what works”
Anna Lind discovered her passion for exercise in the middle of her life. Later, when she was diagnosed with RA, it shook up her life on many different levels. Today, she is even more convinced of how important it is to exercise to stay strong and find new ways forward, even if the paths ahead are sometimes winding.
Who are you?
My name is Anna Lind, I’m 47 years old, I live in Gävle and work as an IT manager at Sandvik. I have two children who are 8 and 16 years old. A normal everyday life for me means work, training and spending time with my family.
Before, I had never been very interested in anything, it was almost a little difficult when I had to present myself and talk about "an interest". I simply did not feel that I had anything to say.
I have exercised all my adult life, mostly running and strength training, but I took a break as it did not work so well when I got pregnant. After the break after my second child, I felt I was shaky in my body, I felt half-broken inside and out. I started training again, but did not experience any immediate results. Then I took the help of a personal trainer and was advised to try a little heavier strength training, which later led to me starting to learn things like clean and jerk. It was so much fun!
How did you find out about crossfit?
Crossfit always looked like a lot of fun, but I never dared to try it. But in the end I went to a crossfit place one early morning at 5.40 and did a test session. After that day, I was there every morning, five days a week.
Crossfit became a huge part of my life, all of a sudden I had that interest I never felt I had before. I met a lot of new friends and combined with the rest of my training it was a hit.
How did the symptoms start for you?
One morning in February, after I had been training, I got so sore in my fingers. I had stood on my hands and done lots of exercises and thought that I had probably overworked myself. But it never went away. Instead, it got worse and worse. I sought medical advice, thinking it could be something rheumatic, but my doctor thought it was due to exercise and I was prescribed rest.
The pain increased as time went on. I got a sore jaw and it felt like I had bruises under my feet. I went back to the health center and was tested for various things, but the rheumatic blood tests showed negative.
By April, I had scaled down everything in life and done everything I could to adapt. In the end, I could not do anything. By May I had a hard time even putting my clothes on. Finally, I met a doctor who called the rheumatologist and I had to come there and leave samples. On June 1, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
How did that feel?
It was awful to get the diagnosis, I felt like I was drowning. I had guessed that it would be a rheumatic disease, which gave me an even bigger shock. "Now my life is over," I thought. Right then I was in so much pain everywhere too. I thought it would never go away.
What happened next?
The diagnosis affected my whole life. It altered my social interactions with all the new friends that I hung out with during my training sessions over several years. Everything I thought was fun, I had to stop. It made me feel excluded. One thing that was extra difficult was that it was barely visible where I was in pain, which made it harder for others to understand the pain I was walking around with. I convinced myself "I can’t be with everyone else while they have so much fun." It felt like a big defeat.
This is something many people may not understand, how much impact it has. I had been quite strong and now I felt so powerless and awkward. I think the grief over things like this was the worst. That part felt as hard as being diagnosed with a chronic illness.
How did you move on?
Slowly things have gotten better and better. I started taking medication at the end of June last year. I got to try different drugs and in October it got much better. Since February this year, I have regained better mobility.
Because I had not been able to do crossfit for a long time I decided that I needed to do something else in training. I started spinning but it was not as fun and I missed my old form of training. But even so, my body felt better after the bike sessions. My hope was that my problems would pass quickly, as long as I was given medicine. It didn’t turn out to be as fast as that, but I do feel better and have less pain.
How is it today?
I feel much better today. I am no longer constantly tired and I can actually train a lot, even if I have to choose what will work for me at the time. When spring came, I swapped my spinning bike for running shoes. I started running both because I wanted to avoid the gym because of the coronavirus, but also because I felt that my body was ready for something new. It works! Now for a period I am trying something called Runstreak, which means I run at least 1.6 kilometers every day. (read more about Runstreak here)
So, right now running is my main thing. I'm glad I've found a new form of exercise that suits me. I have met people who want to run together so we are building a new community. I keep thinking that maybe I can go back to crossfit, that's my goal, but I'm still doubtful it's going to work.
What do you think will happen in the next year?
Right now I think that I may be able to run 15 or 21 kilometers. I have begun to realize that this is something I will need to spend time on. I have started reading about running techniques and heart rate zones, and I have met with a running coach. It feels fun! When I was diagnosed, everything turned black. I thought life would be boring - but it hasn’t been. It's important to find what works right now! In another six months, maybe my body will be able to handle crossfit. If not, maybe I will find something else.
Is there anything specific you needed when you received your diagnosis?
I would have liked more actual examples of what life can look like from a perspective where you live and act the way I do. A colleague of mine said: "My mother also has RA and she can carry on just as normal." But I thought to myself, “Yes but what is her normal?” My normal is not her normal. I may be able to make pancakes and take the garbage out, but that's not my normal. I want to be able to do pullups on a railing.
I find that my doctor visits are too short and factual and based on a catastrophic situation. I had to go to some kind of information meeting when I received my diagnosis. The information I received there made me feel even worse than before. It was about preparing something difficult. The information was also more aimed at the elderly, it was not aimed at me and the everyday life I lived. And losing the everyday life that I loved so much was my great sorrow. But a girl I trained with had RA. She was basically symptom-free and no one else noticed. She was the only one I knew who lived much like me.
Have you gained any insights into life?
I think you should take the opportunities you have and do things while you can. Having had such intense pain has obviously affected my body in the long run as well. It will take time to rebuild it and I have respect for that.
It's never too late to start, even if it can feel daunting. You have to do what you can and be open to new alternatives. I hated running, thought it felt boring and that I was bad at it. But when I stayed for a while, it started to get fun and I got better and better.
It is important to think proactively in life, to train to be strong. There is a big gain in being prepared for the bad times. It means I will be able to handle them better. At the same time, by valuing my body's mood every day and giving it what it needs - I get to take some of the benefits right here and now.