A woman sitting with her head resting in her hand. There is a gauge on her back reading at low levels.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Is This as Good as It Gets?

Human nature is very hopeful. When life becomes challenging we think, “Things have to get better.” We make goals to improve our fitness and try to defy aging or at least cover it up so that we can show how much we are thriving. We live in a culture where self-improvement is expected, especially when it comes to our bodies.

The majority of adults are trying to improve some aspect of themselves and their lives right now. As soon as stay-in-place rules were put in place because of coronavirus, social media was buzzing with ideas like learning new languages, getting in shape with bodyweight exercises, or becoming a gourmet chef.

Quality of life with chronic illness

The other day I was on my daily walk and I was talking to a good friend who lives with a chronic illness as well, and she asked me something that stopped me in my tracks. She said, “Kat, have you ever wondered if this is as good as it gets? If, despite wanting to feel better, and doing everything I can to feel better, I never do?”

Maybe it's okay to just be

She went on to describe how tired she is all the time, and how hard it was to just get through the day. How for years she has tried every avenue to improve her health, only to find much of her efforts thwarted by her body. She told me she has gotten tired of trying. Maybe it’s time to settle into reality instead of trying to fight against it all the time. Maybe instead of trying to be “new and improved,” it’s okay to just be.

Keeping good habits that maintain my health

Chronic disease changes our bodies, and not in ways that we want. No one wants to walk on the side of their foot, or live with crooked fingers, but many of us do. I’m not thinking that it’s a good idea to just give up, and stop doing the things that improve my health and well-being, like my daily walks. I’m not stopping my theraputty exercises, wearing my splints, or eating a healthy diet. All of those things are part of a well-rounded life that encourages health.

But, after my conversation with my friend, I’m wondering if I could be happy with life as it is. What if the current state of my body is the best I’ll ever feel? If this is as good as it gets, will I be happy?

RA brings ups and downs

This is, of course a mental exercise. I know that, in reality, my JRA waxes and wanes - ups and downs are the nature of this mercurial disease. So, I know that someday I will feel better than I do right now, if only for that day or week. But I think it’s a useful one, at least for me and my friend, because both of us have spent years expending vast amounts of energy trying to change the course of our diseases and our lives.

Learning to be comfortable in my own skin

All of that time and energy wasn’t wasted - both of us have discovered many things that improve our lives. But another result of all this effort is the natural by-product of our nature - we look around and compare our results with the people around us, which is often an exercise in frustration and does nothing to help us feel better about our situation.

So, for now, I’ll watch other people learn languages. I’m going to learn to be more comfortable in my own skin.

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