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Endless Decisions and RA

Just like life in general, living with rheumatoid arthritis is a series of endless decisions. From the very big decisions about medication to the daily decisions about how much activity to pack into a day every single decision is important and some can have big consequences in how we feel. The problem is, it’s impossible to know what are good decisions without making a few that aren’t so good, and whenever I do something that I hope will help me and instead makes me worse, I start to doubt myself and my decision-making skills.

Endless decisions

I once went to a naturopath who put me on a detox that made my JRA flare so badly I couldn’t function for about a month. I’ve let a new rheumatologist talk me into a treatment that ended up putting me into a horrible allergic reaction only because I didn’t want to say no and damage our therapeutic relationship. I’ve tried diets that claim to help RA, only to drop weight like a stone and end up more frail than when I started. All these decisions were made in good faith but ended up damaging my faith in myself and the people who advise me.

I think that living with RA is an exercise in inner strength. As my body gets less strong, my mind is getting stronger. It has to, because without a strong mind, the uncertainty and the inevitability of making a decision that hurts more than helps, will eventually turn me into someone who stops trusting myself. Without trust and hope, life quickly fades into a dark hole that is hard to climb out of.

RA decisions dilemma

Lately, I’ve decided to become as mindful as I can during my day so that I can make better decisions and learn to trust myself more. I’m finding that if I take action immediately when my pain or swelling climbs, with things that I’ve tested over time (like ice packs and compression,) I feel better and I quickly become more confident the next time this happens. I’m noticing when google research helps me and when it makes me more anxious. I’m refining my questions for my doctor by becoming more aware because I have much better information to offer her. I’m noticing just how much more every decision I make affects my quality of life versus the people around me who don’t live with RA, which makes saying no easier for me. I’ve also found that with family and close friends if I say no with a simple explanation about the consequences for me I get a lot less backlash and/or attempts to change my mind.

Focusing away on what's a must for my RA and not on the fears and "what-ifs"

I’ve had a few epiphanies about RA and decisions too. I’ve realized just how important it is to have health-care providers, especially a rheumatologist, who I trust has an up-to-date knowledge base, can have my back, and go the extra mile for me when I need him/her to. Without that expert help with the big decisions about my JRA, more of the burden goes back to me and my level of anxiety rises. I’ve learned that there are so, so many hard decisions I make every day about managing my health and my life, and that affects my mood at times. I’ve learned that sometimes internet searches can be an exercise in too much information leading to more confusion and fear. I’ve learned that if I take big decisions one-step-at-a-time, and pay attention to how I feel every step of the way, I can make small shifts that make a big difference. And I’ve learned that when I make a decision that ends up making my life better, (like giving myself some time in the afternoon to relax,) I need to make that decision much more often.

Henry Wallace, Vice President to Franklin Roosevelt, once said, “The source of all our mistakes is fear.” By acknowledging all of the good decisions I’ve made over the years instead of obsessing over the ones that didn’t turn out so well, I’m helping to quell my fear about the many “what-ifs” life with RA brings to mind. And in doing so, I’m leaving much more mental space for moving forward in a positive direction.

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