For Goodness Sake
So often when we consider our life before and after RA, the focus, not surprisingly, falls to the negative. Of course, that makes perfect sense since RA is a chaotic, painful, progressive, chronic, inflammatory disease that is challenging, at best, and paralyzingly overwhelming at times. As we move through our RA journey it becomes increasingly difficult to even remember the “before RA” times and I sometimes think that may be just fine. Why? Because it forces us to address and live in the here and now and not dwell on the past or slide into the “woe is me” mentality. Don’t get me wrong, some good old fashioned anger and resentment are just fine from time to time and serve their own purpose of spurring us forward. But, settling into a negative outlook will do absolutely nothing to assist you in managing your RA and having a satisfying, productive and joyful life while navigating RA.
Resilience with RA
With that in mind, I would like to offer a few positives associated with the “after RA” phase of my life, 21 years and counting as of now. First of all, I have become, by necessity, exceptionally resilient. If pain knocks me down and forces me to do things differently, then I will find another way to accomplish what I hoped to. If that means changing my plans, then so be it. Before RA I was one who lived for methodically getting things done, on schedule, and with a list, no less! I still like my lists, but now I know what is on it, may have to change and with very little notice. Big deal. It will still get done, but now on what I call RA TIME, meaning when the disease activity permits. Having that ability to bounce back and move on is the very definition of resilient and I am happy to now possess it!
Flexibility and compassion
Which brings me to another positive I have learned; the art of accommodation. There is no room for being rigid when you are dealing with a disease like RA. I have learned that I can make my life a lot easier if I make some adjustments. For instance, I no longer travel with one large suitcase because it is a disaster for my RA. Instead I now travel with 2 or even 3 smaller suitcases, making my willingness and ability to travel much more successful.
I have also become a more compassionate person. I like to think I always was, but the fact is, when you are dealing with a life-changing, progressive, incurable disease, you have a level of empathy and compassion that is forged from your own experiences. I see that as a distinctively positive “after RA” effect.
I have discovered so many new ways to exercise! I was an avid tennis player and runner “before RA”. Well, that had to change not long after I was diagnosed as my body no longer liked what those activities did to my joints. So, over the years, I have explored all kinds of exercise from Zumba to gentle yoga to my current favorites, swimming and Tai Chi. I highly doubt I would have ventured into any of these if RA had not changed my life. I think that has made me a stronger, more adaptable person and now I teach Tai Chi which has added a whole new dimension to my life!
Another positive is emotional strength. RA forces us to confront a lot of realities too numerous to list here but all of them result in either giving up or getting on with it. I believe that RA management is a journey and you may feel like giving up from time to time (we all have) but if you choose to get on with it, the results are so empowering! I occasionally stop and reflect on what I have accomplished, from work related to raising three amazing sons, to having a loving and successful 40 year marriage and I am proud of that and always will be, despite RA OR because of it? Who knows. I do know I am a stronger, better person with a more open, tolerant, flexible outlook on life, so maybe because of is not so crazy. As much as having it easy would be a lovely thought , not having it so easy shapes us in ways that make us better people, I have no doubt. And that gives me such satisfaction that on the really bad days when I question my ability to keep fighting RA, I need only think about the next generation of our family, our precious granddaughter (with another one on the way) and how I do not want to miss one moment of the time we get to spend together and THAT is the greatest positive of all!