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Oct 15
Finding the Inspiration to Thrive with nr-axSpA

Learn more about living with non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis (nr-axSpA) from Chelsea, who recently shared her story.

'Inspiration is discovered in unexpected places, inviting the opportunity to learn some of life’s most important lessons. That’s why I love walking my dog, Ernie. Walking with Ernie sparks inspiration in my life. When we’re out for a leisurely stroll, I see things that other people might miss because they’re in a hurry or distracted. Ernie compels me to get out in the world, and that’s not always easy because I have a chronic form of arthritis called non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis, or nr-axSpA.

Living with nr-axSpA can be lonely. Just meeting a friend for lunch takes a lot of effort and planning. I have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning because of the severe back pain. Simply walking from my car to a restaurant can be a challenge. I never know when I’ll have a flare because of a change in the weather or something I ate the day before. I live in a constant state of wondering and stressing about when my next flare will occur. One day I’ll have pain on one side of my body, and the next day, it’s on the other side. If the pain goes all the way up my back to my temple, I’m bedridden for a week. As you can imagine, that causes a lot of stress. I’m so anxious about pain and stiffness in the morning that I often can’t fall asleep at night.

One day while Ernie and I were walking around my neighborhood, I saw a magnificent jade plant lying beside the curb. It looked like someone had carelessly kicked it over. Its stump was exposed without its roots to anchor it to the earth. My heart was broken when I laid eyes upon this helpless plant.

I scooped up that destitute jade plant and lugged it home. I had no great expectations for it, but as I watered and nurtured it, slowly, it began to thrive. The jade plant needed someone to really see it and figure out what it required to be healthy. It responded to my care, and its resilience inspired me. If that jade plant could flourish despite everything it had been through, so could I. Like that jade plant, I wasn’t willing to give up on finding the cause for all my symptoms.

After 15 years of being told my symptoms were caused by depression, I finally found a doctor who listened and engaged with me, working towards tangible and realistic solutions. He referred me to a rheumatologist and, through bloodwork and an MRI, he diagnosed me with nr-axSpA . I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t “just depressed.” But if I hadn’t kept asking questions and seeking answers, I wouldn’t have found a meaningful diagnosis and treatment.

Today, I have more power and control over my healthcare. Doctors are experts of their fields, but I must be the expert of my body. I have to inform them as much as they inform me.
My jade plant worked ardently to grow new roots—just as it took great effort for me to find my voice as a person with nr-axSpA. Today, my jade plant is four feet tall. We are both flourishing. Like the jade plant, I’ve grown strong roots, showing my resilience despite this disease. Yes, I have my limitations, but I’m determined to inspire others to stand strong, too.'

About the Author
Chelsea is a self-proclaimed “plant rescuer” who lives in California with her husband, their dog and cat, and more than 100 plants. She retrieves failing flora that other people discard and collects new cuttings at plant swaps. Gardening is one of Chelsea’s passions. Caring for her plants helps her manage her chronic pain, which she’s lived with since the age of nine. Since being diagnosed with non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis (nr-axSpA), Chelsea has become an outspoken advocate to help heighten awareness and help other people living with this condition.