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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 team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Darla
    5 years ago

    The learning to live with limitations is so frustrating! I was once so capable. So
    proudly independent of my physical abilities to accomplish any task. With age
    I slowed down. Then RA limited those to smaller tasks. Baby steps to finish up.
    My gardening is now a small vegetable garden. Yet, great satisfaction with each tomato, pepper, squash. Still moving, involved, cherishing life’s bounty.
    Loving my battered body. It has given me my children, my pleasures, my travels. Thanks for your article.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    5 years ago

    Thank you so much for these comments, Darla. Reading them gave me a little lift. 🙂

  • Cassandra Bird
    5 years ago

    So frustrating. I’m sure for years people have just thought I’m lazy. As a single mum of four plus a few fostered children over the years. I used to do it all myself the garden the decorating the car, all the kids, everything that ever needs doing has always been my sole responsibility. It just got in the end that I couldn’t keep up and I was labeled as a bad parent and person, children often late to school. Painting half done for years. All I got was degradation…until I got diagnosed. Yet even now I feel people question my intent, as if I should produce to them written documentation of my multiple health problems. I have lots of proof and just one look at me can see the damage my disease has done to me. I look nothing like my former self and I’m housebound whilst waiting for optimal treatment. Is it really not obvious to people that I’m really not able to do all the many things my peers may be capable of?! Would anyone really choose to live this way? It sure isn’t pleasant. Always enjoy reading your work, thank you and well wishes sent your way x

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    5 years ago

    All the best to you, Cassandra. It is so frustrating. None of us would choose this, yet I think we all feel at times that others are disappointed in us and/or don’t understand the extra effort that is required from us to do what other people can do with little effort. I hope this online community gives you some validation, because we do understand what you’re going through!

  • Nes
    5 years ago

    When I read this I was so joyful I was not alone! I don’t mean that in an ill way at all, I have always been a just do it person. Now I find myself being a not today person. Whether it is cleaning the house or working in the garden I have learned to break it up into small doses, but I too have those days that I just plug away knowing I will pay for it later. Frustrating!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    5 years ago

    I’m so glad you found this article to be helpful. It is so frustrating, plus it’s easy to be hard on ourselves even though we can’t control when RA will rear its ugly head. We live in a go-go-go society and sometimes our bodies are yelling, “Stop!”

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