Breaking My Rhythm

Here’s a common scenario: I’m feeling pretty good and am up for a task I’ve been putting off, such as painting a room, reorganizing closets, or stripping and waxing the floor. I farm my kids out to grandparents or set them up with a project of their own, I get into some “work clothes” that can get messed up, and I gather any needed supplies. I get my head wrapped around the project and start to proceed with the actual task. As I make progress I get over the initial reluctance I had that made me put off the project for so long, and I start to feel happy that I’m finally making improvement to whatever it is that I’m working on. I get into a groove, I’m clicking along, and then . . . the swelling and the aching sets in. Whatever part of my body that is involved in the activity starts to protest and ask for a break. Yet I don’t want to leave the wall half-painted or the contents of the closets all over the room. I try to push through, but the more I work, the more I ache, and I know that I’ll be paying for these shiny waxed floors with an evening in bed on painkillers and a heating pad.

Rheumatoid arthritis makes it so very hard to feel productive. Aside from the fatigue and pain that can impede any desire to start a project, RA is aggravated by repetitive motion, so even a good day can turn into a bad one if I try to do “too much.” The frustrating thing is that my 37-year old brain’s definition of “too much” and my body’s definition are two very, very different things. I have standards based on how I want things to look and what I think I should be able to accomplish, rather than being based on what my body needs, which is generally a rotation of different types of activity balanced with bouts of rest.

One might think, “Well if that’s what your body needs, that’s what you should do.” However, it’s not as simple as that. Some tasks such as waxing a floor or painting a wall are not easily broken down into smaller steps that can be spaced far apart. In addition, transitions, whether physical or mental, take time, so trying to take a “circuit training” approach to tasks ends up taking much longer than if I can complete one before moving to the next. Take writing for example. Sure, it’s far more simple to get up in the middle of a writing project than it is to take an extended break from organizing closets, as my desktop is not left in a state of disarray. Yet, my thoughts might be. Generally when I start writing, my thoughts are slow and I have a hard time finding the exact word I want. Once I am immersed in the writing process, my brain gets into a groove where my ideas come together with much more fluidity. Therefore, my second hour of writing is more productive than my first, and my third hour of writing is more productive than my second. If it weren’t for RA, my fourth hour of writing would likely be the most productive hour yet. However, while my brain may get into a groove, my joints do not, and after a couple of hours my fingers start to swell from typing, and after three hours the ache in my fingers and wrists impedes my thoughts, and I can no longer concentrate.

Rheumatoid arthritis inserts itself into my life in so many ways, and I often feel like I’m unable to reach my full potential because of the higher level of rest that my body requires. Of course, I know that in facing the challenges of living with arthritis I am strong in other ways, and that no one can really “have it all.” Still, I get frustrated when my body won’t cooperate with all the plans and goals my brain aspires to.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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