Shelf full of small trophies representing daily achievements

The Importance of the Little Wins 

When you live with a disease like rheumatoid arthritis, you get used to big losses. Joints that get fused, jobs that become impossible; the longer you live with RA, the longer the list gets. It’s the opposite of a Christmas wish list: it’s a list of wishes that will never be fulfilled. Not surprisingly, this can quickly become depressing, and over time can skew your view on life.

The limitations of RA affect self-esteem

Instead of feeling confident and competent, it’s easy to slip into feeling self-conscious and useless. The measures of success that we typically use to decide how well our lives are stacking up against our peers will always show us lacking.

My earning capacity is laughable compared to my siblings even though we have the same level of education and drive, only because my physical body is so compromised. My level of strength is more like that of a seventy-year-old, even though I exercise every day. My energy levels lag behind, and my needs for rest have to eclipse any activity I may want to participate in because once I get too tired, it is like trying to climb out of a black hole to get back to normal. None of these facts make feeling good about myself easy.

How I've tried to boost my self-esteem & feeling good

Over the years I’ve tried hard to combat these feelings in various ways. I spent many years riding my bike a lot. Even though I never got to the point that I could ride as fast as the people around me, at least I could say I did it. I have been a hard worker my entire life; the energy I have I put to good use. I chose a career that focuses on helping people, which makes me feel better about all the help I require. But it hasn’t been enough, I still battle with feelings of inadequacy.

Where do these feelings of inadequacy come from?

Is it because I hail from a family of hard workers, prosperous people who keep raising the bar for success as they climb their career ladders and raise their children? Yes, as much as I want to say I can stand on my own and feel good about the accomplishments I’ve had throughout my life, it makes it harder the minute I go to my family text and see that my little brother is on another exotic vacation with his kids, riding elephants or learning to cook with a famous chef.

Comparing myself to others

As proud of myself and my life, I feel waking up in beautiful Southern Colorado, as soon as I talk to my friend in Utah, who ten years ago talked about building the thriving small business she now has, I think of where I had wanted to be in my own career plans and I feel useless again. As much as I like to think that I accept my situation, as soon as I utter the words, I realize that I’m lying.

Do we ever truly accepts the limitations of RA?

The truth is I’ll never really accept JRA. Why would I? There is nothing acceptable about it, in my opinion. But I have it: whether I accept life with JRA or not, this is my life. And one big aspect of handling rheumatoid arthritis well is self-care. The inevitable, daily hits to my self-esteem are part of the beast that is this disease, and something I need to counteract as much as possible. 

Finding the little wins to boost self-esteem

So, when I feel my self-esteem becoming shaky again, I’ve learned to find little wins I can hang onto, things that make me proud of myself. It may be something as little as making blueberry muffins and giving them to a friend. Or a continuing education class that I finished. These things help me to remind myself that I’m a capable human being. So does sticking to my exercise regimen as much as possible, and being there for friends even if I can only be there via the phone.

Rheumatoid arthritis is really good at making us feel bad, and anyway you can balance that out, it’s paramount that you do.

What aspects of living with RA are especially tough on your self-esteem and how do you handle them?

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