On Coping Differently
You may be looking about yourself and wondering if you are missing something. You see people with chronic illness seeking empathy or bonding with others through discussing their common struggle, and they seem fulfilled by it. It seems to work for them. But perhaps that does not fit you. It is not what you want personally. You look around though, and you don’t see anyone doing it differently.
Different coping techniques for RA
As I have discovered in my four years living RA, there are many ways to cope with disease. For some people, a sense of community and mutual understanding is what they want. There is a lot of good that can come from that. And there is certainly a lot to appreciate about it. However, that may not be what you want personally. You may not want to talk about your illness at all. If you are like me, you may just want to get on with your life as much as possible, and not dwell on it. This, however, is harder than it seems. The disease forces you to think about it.
What is your end goal?
If you are like me, then the less time can you can spend thinking about your disease, the better you feel. Perhaps your goal is to manage the disease in a way that makes you feel strong and powerful, or at least adaptable and capable. Connecting with others does not necessarily bring you this. The more you talk and think about the disease, the worse you feel, the more you worry, and the less you work on personal improvement and goals. Some of us are just more introverted and quiet than others. The goal is to find what works for you.
Personal forms of coping with RA
Seeking inner strength
Perhaps in your more personal way of dealing with it, you turn to your religious community, or your God for support, and you keep your struggles quiet. Or, if not religious, you turn inward to a source of strength you feel within. Illness to you may be profoundly personal. You want to live in a way that feels dignified and talking to others about your illness can feel like an intrusion into your personal matters. Sometimes you open up to others, but it is generally rare.
Feeling uplifted by a higher power
This quieter form of coping can bring a deep sense of meaning. In quietude, you may feel strong in confronting your illness, and go back to your source of strength when you feel weak. At times, you feel a well of personal fortitude from within.
If you are prone to the philosophical or religious experience, you may want to feel uplifted by something bigger than you are, and know that your suffering has some greater purpose. When you are with others, you want to laugh, smile, or just be with them, and for a time escape the harsh reality of your illness.
Drawbacks to focusing inward
There is however a drawback to the quiet and personal form of coping. Over time, as you continue to focus inward, you can slowly lose connection to the outer world. An illness brings something solipsistic with it. The constant physical pain, or worry about the future, can leave you fighting internal battles that you keep hidden from others. These internal battles can make it hard to be with people.
It may be tempting to try to get others to see what you are going through, but if you are like me, you have tried, and it seems impossible. There is wisdom in the age-old saying that the only thing you can change is yourself. By changing yourself, others react to you differently.
Continuing to be social after your diagnosis
With illness, you may often have to push yourself socially. Being social does not come easy, or at least it may not anymore. You may have to overcome your own embarrassment and shame about your illness, and you may have to learn some new skills to involve yourself again. I sure did. My illness changed me. I became different, and people noticed. I had to learn to get out of my head. Nonetheless, once I did, I found people were still welcoming on all the same topics they always have.
Not caring about what others think of you and RA
The subtle art is to stop caring what others think of you and your illness and what it means about you. This does not mean you simply do as you please, propriety be damned. Rather, as Dale Carnegie so brilliantly recommended in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, you enter the world of others, and allow your genuine curiosity to guide you. In this way, you are shifting the focus from yourself to others.
Express genuine interest in others
By expressing genuine interest and curiosity in others, you make them feel important, like they have value to you. Most people, likely including yourself, crave this feeling of social importance. Allow others to feel it, and you will find that in turn, they often become interested in you. You are no longer seeking approval but giving approval. By turning outwards and towards the world or others, you can become freer to enjoy, to express curiosity, and to be in the moment.
No doubt this is hard. Nonetheless, it gets easier with practice. When you feel down, do not go into your head and try to figure yourself out. I have found this is an endless spiral. Go somewhere you can be with people: family, friends, the gym, a hobby, or whatever it is, and talk to others. Find out about who they are and what moves them as a person. Learn about them. Enjoy the conversations and get out of your head. In this way, the illness fades into the background. You may find yourself enjoying the many things you lose track of when you become overly focused on your struggles.
When was your last flare?