“I’m living the dream!”

Here’s how Kirsten Borrink used stylish yet RA-friendly shoes—and the right treatment plan—to take control of her pain, reinvent her life and show RA who’s boss!

Lori Murray
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Kirsten Borrink may have every mom’s dream job: She works from home, has flexible hours (which means more time with her 12- and 7-year-old sons), can wear her jammies—and makes money blogging about shoes! “Sometimes the other moms at the playground ask why I’m so dressed up that day, and I tell them, ‘I’m test driving shoes!’ ” says Kirsten, who gives tips on finding “comfy yet stylish” footwear at BarkingDogShoes.com. Looking at the happy mom, it’s hard to believe there was a time when Kirsten, 46, wasn’t sure whether she’d be able to walk, let alone wear cute shoes, after being diagnosed with RA in her 20s.

“I finally found a treatment that works!”
Today, Kirsten’s RA is in remission, and she credits the close relationship she’s had with her doctor since day one. Admittedly, finding the treatment that worked for her took some trial and error. At last, when her doctor heard of a new type of RA medication that seemed like the perfect fit, she let Kirsten know right away. Within months, Kirsten felt like a new woman.

Gone was the severe foot pain that triggered the start of her RA journey—and plagued her for years afterward. It came on quickly, says Kirsten. “I was out walking with my friend when she said, ‘Why are you so slow?’ and I blamed it on my new shoes.” By dinnertime, says Kirsten, “I was exhausted and it felt like knives on the top of my feet.” By the next morning, the pain had traveled to multiple joints in her body. Soon after, she was diagnosed with RA (see the box for the treatment lessons she’s learned).

“Who knew clogs would be the answer?”
“I’ve felt better the last three years than I ever have since my diagnosis, and I’m more active than I ever thought I would be,” says Kirsten.

Indeed, her RA had been so severe that it forced Kirsten to give up her job as a Spanish teacher. “I just couldn’t be on my feet all day,” recalls Kirsten, who became a stay-at-home mom after she and her husband adopted two sons.

Eventually, Kirsten got the itch to work again. But teaching on her feet was out of the question.

What can I do? she wondered. Kirsten’s husband showed her an article titled “Blogging for Dollars.” But what to blog about? Her hubby had an idea: “He asked me, ‘What’s made a difference in your life?’ ” recalls Kirsten. “I thought, Well, the footwear—I love my clogs, they’ve been so good to me. I’m able to walk because of them...” For someone who had spent years searching for the right shoes, it was the perfect answer.

“Helping others makes me happy”
Kirsten started her website in 2007—“there were fashion shoe blogs out there, but I wanted to mix style and comfort. So I started with the few pairs that were in my closet and posted some reviews.” Then she caught the attention of a shoe manufacturer who sent her a pair to review on her site. Soon Kirsten was test-driving dozens of shoes and answering reader questions.

Now, Kirsten has blogged about more than 1,100 comfort shoes—and she couldn’t be happier. “I’m able to stay home, be with my kids and contribute financially. Plus, it makes me feel good that I’m helping people.”

“What my search for pain relief taught me”

  • Team up with your doctor. “Find a good rheumatologist, get on treatment and listen to what the doctor says,” advises Kirsten, who’s had RA for 20 years. “It’s not just about taking NSAIDs [painkillers]. You need treatment to stop joint damage.”
  • Early treatment is the key. Although Kirsten started therapy right away, she didn’t always stay on it. “I went on and off meds because I was trying to get pregnant. That wasn’t happening, I was getting worse—it was just a terrible, terrible time,” Kirsten says of her first few years with RA. “Some people are reluctant to take meds, but early treatment is the key. I regret not taking them [continuously],” she says. “I think that’s why I suffered so much.”
  • You have options! “We have so many newer meds that can stop the progression of joint damage,” notes Kirsten, whose disease is in remission thanks to a combination of medications. And if your joints are damaged? Ask about surgery, suggests Kirsten, who’s had a shoulder replacement, wrist surgery and a joint/cartilage fusion on the top of her foot. “The result was miraculous. There’s no pain now, so it’s certainly worth it. But I probably could’ve avoided surgeries if I’d stayed on the meds.”
June 2015