A woman looking back at the progress she has made in cleaning her house. There is still a little mess to go but shes making good progress.

Before and After

A common lament for those of us living with rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease [RA/RD] is how hard it can feel to get anything accomplished. We have aspirations that are often bigger than our physical stamina for task completion in the face of pain, inflammation, and fatigue.

In addition, RA/RD is a very unpredictable disease, and the level of disease activity can vary not only from day to day but even hour to hour. Therefore, it’s easy for plans of completing tasks to get derailed by this disease.

Managing and accomplishing chores with RA

When contending with this RA/RD reality, it’s easy to look at all that is yet to be completed versus what has been accomplished. For instance, if during the week I plan to catch up on housework over the weekend, but end up unable to do all that I’d hoped due to increased pain and/or fatigue, it’s much easier to focus on the remaining mess than the improvements.

Items on the to-do list that have yet to be scratched off stand out more than the completed ones. For someone with RA/RD, a to-do list can feel like the glass that’s perpetually half empty.

How I tackle household tasks with RA

To combat this, I’ve started using a quick and easy strategy. When I am about to do something that requires some amount of physical exertion, I make use of the camera that is always close at hand in this smartphone era, and I snap a picture before I begin.

For instance, if I have several loads of clean clothes to fold, I take a picture of the laundry baskets covering the floor before I begin folding. If I have a kitchen with messy counters, a sink full of dishes, and a drying rack full of dishes to put away, I take a picture before tackling the cleaning. When my bedroom is cluttered with clothes on the floor, an unmade bed, and a pile of items that need to go to other rooms, I take a picture. Whenever I begin a large project, such as reorganizing a closet or clearing out the garage, I make sure to snap some pics.

RA limits my productivity

Then, I clean. Depending on the day, I might be able to work 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour before my body says “enough.” In the past, on those 10 and 20-minute days, I was prone to becoming really frustrated with this disease and would often take it out on myself, feeling bad about my lack of productivity.

I tend to take my frustration out on myself

Rather than saying “my body has had enough” I was sending myself the message “I am not enough.” It’s no more my fault that I have RA/RD than it is that I have brown hair, but somehow there’s guilt that creeps in with this disease. Too often, I’ve felt bad about what I wasn’t able to complete rather than congratulate myself for what I did accomplish.

I reassure myself by checking my progress

That’s where the pictures come in really handy. It’s easy for my brain to see the two baskets of unfolded laundry and forget all about the clothes that are now stowed away in dressers. The dishes still sitting in the drying rack command more attention than the clean counters and empty sink. It’s tempting to see the pile of items that haven’t been returned to their proper places, overlooking the made bed and all the dirty clothes that are now in the hamper.

That is, until I look at the “before” and “after” pictures.

Giving myself credit for completing household chores

When I look at the visual of what the area looked like before I started, the progress I’ve made stands out. Therefore, when I’m in the middle of an activity and the fatigue becomes very heavy or the pain becomes too sharp, I stop.

I try hard to listen to my body when it says “enough.” I shift to an enjoyable, restful activity such a reading, watching something funny, or listening to a podcast, and I try really hard not to feel bad about needing that time. If the guilt of not completing the task rears up, I pull up the “before” picture on my phone.

When I hold up the “before” image to the current state of “after,” it’s easier to give myself credit for whatever portion of the task I did complete. I remind myself that while I may not have accomplished everything I had hoped to, it was enough. I tell myself that in the face of this tough, unrelenting disease, I am more than enough.

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