Getting engaged is delightful at any age!
So the final E in my EEE approach to RA management is Engaging (the first two E’s can be found here and here.) . By that I mean simply staying connected. When you have a chronic disease like RA it can lead to loneliness and isolation. I work closely with both the older adult population and volunteers in my work. As studies have shown for years now, people who are civically and socially enagaged are more healthy physically, mentally and emotionally. When you have a disease with chronic episodes of flaring (a painful reality with RA) it is a real challenge at times to not allow yourself to close off from others. The fact is that when we are sick that is a rather instinctive reaction. However, it can be very harmful if we are not careful to keep it under control.
One way is to get involved in something you are passionate about. I started an RA support group in my community about 5 years ago and that has been a great way to stay connected to others in my area AND more specifically folks who are dealing with a common issue. I have also just gotten certified to teach Beginning Tai Chi for Arthritis and will be offering a class at our local Adult Center along with another gal, hopefully in the coming months. My husband and I love sports – especially college sports – and being a fan and enjoying going to sporting events is a fun and exciting way to stay involved with our fellow sports fans.
Many of my friends are gardeners, crafters, painters, etc. Whatever hobbies or interests you have enjoy them to the fullest extent you can! Look around in your communities to see if there are groups who gather to share their common interests. I have a friend who is in a stamping group and they meet regularly and have all become good friends. Book clubs are a great way to get to know other folks and reading is a terrific way to stay intellectually stimulated at any age! Exercise groups, like Tai Chi or an Aquatics class are yet other possibilities to stay engaged. The examples here are just the tip of the iceberg!
Like so many who face chronic diseases, I have felt the pain of loneliness since being diagnosed with RA. Despite having a wonderfully supportive network at home, at work, and with friends there are times when I feel like I am the only one who must be going through this difficult journey. It makes me just want to curl up on the couch and not go anywhere or do anything. It is a daunting and scary place to be. I have learned to let myself sink into this time now and then with the thought, in the back of mind (sometimes way in the back), that “this too shall pass”. It is not always an easy task to get up and get going again but knowing that “staying engaged” is absolutely critical to my overall well-being is a strong motivator. The key may very well be to keep this in the forefront of your mind when you ARE doing well so that when you are in that “I want to be left alone” phase you fully embrace the notion that it is only temporary. Just as the sun rises each day this sense of loneliness will pass. Talking with someone or even more than one person you trust and you are confident understands what you are feeling is a strategy I have used on more than one occasion. It may well not be the same person. One time it may be my husband or my brother or a good friend or my Rheumatologist. I don’t limit myself to who I may vent to nor do I always talk to the same person. I like to “spread the wealth” and frankly different people offer different perspectives which can be the perfect way to get me back on track and ready to seize the day!
The key is to be open to possibilities no matter what they are or where they may take you. Having that positive approach can be the difference in staying engaged and enjoying your life.