Finding the right balance
One of the many challenges we face as we move through the years managing a chronic disease like RA, is finding the balance between being vigilant about our health and allowing it to consume our every thought.
This becomes especially challenging when we are 1) in the midst of a nasty flare 2) having other testing done for any number of reasons 3) trying to sort out other health issues or 4) just unable to stop our mind from settling on our health all the time.
There is a balance and it takes practice and patience to find it. I want to make it clear that in the early stages of dealing with a disease like RA it is not only natural but even wise to devote a lot of time and thought to your health and the realities of living and coping with a chronic disease. In fact putting in the effort to sort out all the information thrown at you in those early days and weeks is daunting and you need to take a breath and sort through all of it. And of course, throughout your management of RA, there will be times (as mentioned above) when you must attend to your body and the demands of RA, be it new treatment options, surgical corrections, etc.
The danger comes, I believe, when a pattern of almost constant thought surrounding RA develops. It can literally take over your life, interrupting and disrupting any normalcy you might want to have in your day to day life. I have certainly succumbed to that from time to time.
There are some telltale signs to look for. If you find yourself unable to focus on anything other then your health that is a sign you may need to step back. By this I mean if you find that while you are in the midst of some other thought or action, like work, for instance, and you are unable to concentrate for any period of time OR you are easily distracted with health related thoughts to the point that it is disrupting your daily life then you are “out of balance” and need to reassess.
Another sign is sleeplessness. In particular if what is keeping you awake are constant thoughts related to health. Getting proper rest is such a critical part of managing RA that we need to do whatever it takes to get that squared away.
Another sign is the inability to enjoy friends and social activities, not due to physical issues related to a flare. Clearly we all have to adjust our social demands when we are flaring or otherwise not feeling well. But what I am referring to is when you begin to even shy away or simply cannot enjoy outings or times with friends and family because you find you are focusing so much thought on your health you are just not able to find pleasure in those activities.
Of course one that is somewhat obvious is overt depression or sadness that lingers beyond a few days. If your outlook settles constantly on the negative to the point that you are not able to find joy anymore due to health fears and thoughts then is it time to give some thought to dealing with that. Along with depression often comes lack of appetite, listlessness, isolation, etc. so beware of any of these signs.
It is important that we continue to live our lives with vigor, intention and joy despite having a chronic disease. If we find ourselves unable to break the thought pattern of constant attention to health beyond the normal amount of concern then it would be wise to seek advice from your RA Team – medical, personal, etc. Sharing with them the fact you are struggling to get your cognitive balance back will open the door for them to offer strategies designed to deal with that. Acknowledging it is the first step. How to handle it from that point forward should be a team approach!
It is challenging enough handling the daily struggles of a chronic disease in any context. Staying in touch with your cognitive balance when it comes to health vigilance is not easy to maintain but when you achieve it, you have yet another significant accomplishment to be proud of in the management of RA!