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Little Things Make A Big Difference

Little Things Make A Big Difference

When you live with rheumatoid arthritis, in many ways your life shrinks. Opportunities come off the table, hobbies take a back seat, social time turns into nap time, and dreams change by necessity. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it, your life changes in so many ways that are out of your control. Over the years I’ve read about “learned helplessness,” and the impact of lack of control over circumstances, and my reading has led me to realize that in order to be okay with all the changes forced on me by my disease, I need to make the most of what I am capable of doing, however small that thing may seem.

My efforts deserve recognition, too.

I live in a town filled with professional athletes; Ned Overend, one of the most celebrated, successful, mountain bikers in the world, is a fellow resident of Durango. At first glance my athletic endeavors pale next to his.  But, the truth is, my paltry bike ride on the river trail takes as much effort as his ride over the mountain. My efforts deserve just as much recognition as his, yet the only recognition I get is from astute friends and family who see my efforts every day.

I regularly find myself on a trail, walking my dog, usually with a knee brace or two strapped in place and a hiking stick to keep my balance, stepping out of the way as people twenty years older pass on by. I often see them on their way back down the mountain before I even get to my turn around spot, which happens to be only a portion of what I watch my fellow hikers do. I have to admit, it often puts a lump in my throat. I try every day to live gracefully with JRA, and every day it takes silent effort, because, contrary to the smiles I put on my face, inside I’m not a good sport about my physical limitations. What I need is a session with a punching bag to work out these frustrations, and of course that is a silly idea because my hands can’t handle that sort of thing. This is a classic predicament, a situation without a solution. But that frustration has to go somewhere, and if I’m not careful it will leak out in other ways, so I’ve had to find ways to be satisfied with my world and my abilities, as limited as they may be.

These little things can be lessons.

Sometimes you find answers in the most unexpected places, and years ago I had an experience that taught me a valuable lesson. At the time I was living in the central coast of California in a small town called Morro Bay. Almost every day I would take my dog Willow to the beach and walk. My JRA was flaring horribly, and walking was excruciating, even with knee braces, ankle support, and a walking stick. But I did it every day, in part because Willow could be off the leash there, and when the pain became unbearable I could stand in the ocean to cool my legs down and then lie in the sand to rest while Willow dug holes in the sand. I had been doing this for months, occasionally exchanging waves with an older man walking the other way. One day he stopped me. He said, “Do you mind if I ask you what is wrong with your legs?” I answered, “Of course!” and explained to him about the JRA. His face changed and he told me, “My wife had a stroke a year ago and she is embarrassed to be seen in public. She won’t even try to walk outside with me. I told her about seeing you, and she perked up. Do you mind if I tell her about our conversation?” I said, “Sure, go ahead,” and we each went on our way.

A few weeks later I saw him again and he thanked me. He told me that I had inspired his wife to try and she had been around the block a few times. From that day forward, I’ve held my head up a bit higher when I’m out on the trail, strapped knees limping along. I do this because I now know that I’ve inspired at least two people to keep trying.

Every day I go out in the world, I’m moving mountains just by showing up. My small walks make a difference in my health, and I prove to myself that I’m not giving up or giving in to the pain. And, quite possibly, I’m inspiring others to do the same. Little things, actually do make a big difference, you just have to open your eyes to see.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Cheryl Allred
    5 months ago

    Thank you and God Bless you!

  • kat-elton author
    5 months ago

    You Too Cheryl!

  • Ruthieq
    5 months ago

    I understand. I used to be more active, but as my spine deteriorated, I began to do less and less. Depression about loss of livelihood and just the pleasure of being outdoors was a constant. Since my fusion though, I’ve been working at getting my strength back, enough to be able to enjoy fly fishing again. Water exercise not only helped me gain strength it helped with balance as well. I’m looking forward to fishing jaunts in the spring and summer as I continue with water exercise at my local wellness center. I’m hoping to build confidence in my joints again, at least for a few hours of fishing here and there.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    5 months ago

    This sounds great Ruthieq. Glad to hear the water exercises have been making such a difference. My wife Kelly (a contributor here) has used a wheelchair for over twenty years and water therapy makes a huge difference for her strength and ability to balance when she does stand. She wrote about water therapy here: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/water-therapy-ra/. Best to you and, if you like, let us know how the fishing goes. Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Richard Faust moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi Kat. Great article. When you first mentioned how your ride took as much effort as the ride the professional was doing, I thought of how Kelly just had a conversation with a nutritionist who confirmed something I had said about how her workouts and how much energy she burns can’t be compared to others because of how much more effort she puts in. Just now (as I’m writing this) showed the article to Kelly and she says “love it, thank you so much.” Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • notdancing
    5 months ago

    Good morning, I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your story (your truth). It made me think back to a time I had forgotten, a time when I struggled, but was able to do much more than I can now. Anyway, I was proud of a project I took on with my husband. Yes he did most of the work, but I was so proud that I participated and hung in there until the end. I posted it to a social media site and received so much more support than I had anticipated.
    Sometimes we have have to spell it out for people, our individual accomplishments-even to people we know well. People who should understand. But then there are the times that surprise us, when someone we don’t know very well-totally understands the “far from average” efforts that goes into our daily lives. I commend you for your physical stanima and everything that goes along with that! Once again, thank you for your writing.

  • kat-elton author
    5 months ago

    Hi notdancing! Love your story as well and I agree, I’ve found that some of my loneliest times have been surrounded by people who know me well but forget the challenges of living with JRA. And I also agree that it is really healthy to actually do some teaching, in as graceful a way as possible, in order to help people to understand. Over the years I’ve learned to wait until I get my hard emotions ( I.e. the “left out” grumpiness I get!) in check and then open up about one or a few areas that seem to be misunderstood – as you say, it can be surprising in a good way how people respond, and who responds positively! Have a beautiful day!

  • Amanda Kohl
    5 months ago

    This was a great article. I think you’re moving mountains by sharing this story! Thank you!!

  • kat-elton author
    5 months ago

    Thanks Amanda! Happy holidays!

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    5 months ago

    Oh and I forgot to add you get a real metal. It is an amazing way for our community to understand we are all doing the best we can, regardless of ability.

  • kat-elton author
    5 months ago

    Thanks Rick, and wonderful idea! I once was on a first date where the guy decided it was a good idea to take me on a trail that went straight up a mountain. He didn’t know I had JRA at the time, and as he was timing us and saying how slow we were going he made the most insightful comment. He said, “ you know I used to race up mountains with my athlete buddies and occasionally pass someone struggling up the hill. I realized that those out of shape people were working as hard a we were even if they only went a quarter of the distance!” It took me aback since I was considering the source, and I never forgot what he said. We do have to award ourselves and each other for the Herculean effort we put out! Thanks again and have a wonderful holiday!

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    5 months ago

    In the diabetes community we have an award termed the diabetes athlete award. There are two qualifications you must have diabetes and you have to be nominated. Self nominations are encouraged.

    So if your accomplishment is walking around the block, you are an athlete, if you ride your bicycle 2,000 miles in a summer you are an athlete. no minimums and anyone can nominate anyone.

    Amazingly there are only a few nominations each year. This seems like something we should consider for the RA community.

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