Fostering Hope While Dealing with RA
My wife and daughter were watching the movie “Anne of Green Gables” when a set of dialogue caught my attention. The adopted Anne faces one trial after another and she has a knack for the melodramatic. After one traumatic event, the following was said…
Anne Shirley: Can’t you even imagine you’re in the depths of despair?
Marilla Cuthbert: No I cannot. To despair is to turn your back on God.
It’s quite easy to sink into a pool of despair when fighting a chronic disease like RA. Constant fatigue that beats you down into the couch, joint pain that won’t go away, a never-ending litany of new symptoms, side effects from drugs, secondary symptoms, doctor visits, a regimen of treatments, health insurance, missed work, misunderstanding by those around you, and the list goes on. But Marilla’s advice rings true. When suffering with a chronic illness like RA, it’s easy to lose hope and get discouraged. This is especially true when suffering with a particularly bad flare for an extended time or when medications don’t seem to be working like they should. Because of these issues, it is critical for RA patients to find ways to foster hope.
In one study of patients with cancer and other chronic disease, the most commonly reported sources for supporting hopefulness were family, friends, and religious beliefs.1 We need to develop strong support systems and surround ourselves with others who help us in this battle. While online support systems and the people who interact at such websites can help in this process in virtual ways, we still need to establish relationships with people who are physically close. Personally, I rely heavily on the support of my wife and friends at church who pray for me and regularly check in on my health status.
Given some levels of ignorance about RA, sometimes our support people need to know how to interact with us in positive ways and to understand the ins and outs of RA. Sharing resources can help. Have them read information about RA from this website (see https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/what-is-ra/). Mariah recently wrote an excellent post called 8 Things Not to Say to Someone with RA. A blogger called RA Guy developed an excellent 60 Second Guide to RA that quickly paints an accurate picture of what it’s like to battle RA.
The Harvard Medical School posted a list of strategies to cope with a chronic illness.2 In addition to recommending building family relationships, they suggested that patients should know all they can about their illness. Those suffering with a chronic disease like RA are prone to seek out all the information they can in order to understand the disease and make informed decisions. However, as information consumers in an information age, RA patients must be careful and learn to evaluate the avalanche of information that is at our fingertips on the internet. The information to which we have access can help us be better patients and advocates. Just use wisely and learn to judge information and sources. We should also rely upon trained health care professionals for quality information. One word of caution is that we should avoid over searching for and analyzing information because that can lead to stress and misuse of information.
The Harvard people likewise suggested becoming an active partner in your health care by taking responsibility. Keep track of your disease progression via a journal. Know what’s going on with your body. Carefully choose reputable health care professionals and build strong relationships with them over time. Take your prescribed medicines as directed. Don't skip out on exercise or physical therapy. Eat a healthy diet.
Coping with a chronic illness can also involve moods and feelings. People with chronic disease are also more prone to depression. Researchers have clearly documented that RA patients routinely suffer from anxiety and depression at higher levels than general populations.3 It is important to know the signs and symptoms of these mood disorders. Talk to your doctor if they become problematic. Seek professional counseling if needed.
A friend once asked how I could live with all of the pain and fatigue from RA. He said that he couldn’t handle it. Sometimes it is hard to handle. But the good thing is that the symptoms don’t tend to come all at once with a chronic disease and you can learn to develop coping mechanisms over time. The experiences can make you stronger, cause you to dig deeper, and learn to foster hope in something bigger than yourself.
On a scale of 1(low) to 5(high), how difficult is it for you to talk about having RA?