I’ve been on this walking kick since the first of the year. I have to admit I was pretty pathetic when I first started, but I’ve gradually increased not only the distance but the number of days that I walk. My goal right now is five days a week. I give myself permission to NOT walk the other two days. It could be due to rainy weather, because I overdid the day before and don’t feel up to it, or simply because I don’t want to that day. I don’t have to have a reason; I can just decide not to walk those two days. Of course, I go around all smug because I usually walk six days a week and have only been using one of my two “permission” days a week.
But the fact is, I’m not as young as I used to be and I have advanced RA along with a bunch of artificial joints, so sufficient rest is an important part of my life. There is no reason for me to feel guilty about not walking those other two days.
It’s amazing how much guilt there is in the RA community. Reading through the social media or internet sites, you’ll find “guilt” as a common theme. I recently sent out a tweet that said, “Fill in the blank, ‘With RA I feel guilty when __________’” The responses ranged from canceling plans at the last minute to asking for help, to simply being crabby because of pain or fatigue.
So, I have three words to say about RA-related guilt, “Get Over It.” Okay. I know it’s not that easy.
Several years ago I went through a really tough time and I was talking to a therapist about the anger I was feeling. He told me I had every right to be angry. I had bad things intentionally done to me and anger was a very honest and very justifiable response. By giving myself permission to feel angry, I could own that emotion and deal with it in a constructive manner.
That lesson has served me well over the years. I was raised in the South during a time when little girls were taught to be sweet and never say bad things and to always be polite and to put other people first. It went against my grain to acknowledge “bad” things like anger and guilt and to realize that I needed to take care of myself as much or more than I did about others. But you only have power over things you acknowledge. And acknowledging that you don’t feel well or need help or need to cancel (and giving yourself permission to do so), allows you to deal with that situation in the best way possible.
Having RA isn’t an excuse. It’s a fact of your life like the color of your eyes. Unfortunately, RA causes situations that you’d rather not have – like disappointing people or having to ask for help or not being able to do things you want. You need to give yourself permission to do those things without feeling guilty about them. Those things are beyond your control.
One of the hardest things to give yourself permission to do is just to say “no” to the people who ask us to do things (and then try to make us feel guilty because we don’t). But sometimes when we get asked to do things that are beyond our scope, saying no is the right thing to do. You don’t have to say “yes”. You can give yourself permission to say “no”.
So try it. Fill in the blank: “With RA I feel guilty when _________” Then give yourself permission to not feel guilty about it. Having RA is tough enough. Feeling guilty about what you can’t change doesn’t help the situation.