Love is in the air

With February being the month designated to celebrate love (thank you Valentine’s Day) PLUS my birthday falls on that day PLUS my last name is Hart I felt compelled to discuss love and how it relates to RA. This may seem odd at first thought but it really is a topic we should all be considering, not just in February but all year long.

Love in the form of giving and receiving physical affection can become lost in the chaos and pain of RA. Yet, it is crucial to our self-esteem and well-being. Communicating with your loved ones, therefore, becomes so important!  I love, absolutely love, hugs – giving them and getting them!  I cannot imagine a world where I do not receive that most loving of touches.  And yet, when I am in the throes of a nasty flare I can barely lift my arms to offer a hug and if I do it is with much discomfort.  The same goes for the handshake. That warm grasp of a hand that is a lovely sign of welcome, hello, thanks, farewell can also elicit a serious “ouch” from time to time. When I am flaring and someone extends their hand I have developed quite the technique for barely giving a handshake.  With practice you can too!  Or you can honestly say with a smile “I’m sorry but my hands are troubling me at the moment” and move on.

And of course intimacy is a whole other subject and one that I have honestly never discussed even with my doctor let alone publicly.  I guess I preferred to deal with that one on one with my spouse.  But that said, it does need to be addressed as do all forms of loving touch.

So what to do?  How do we continue to enjoy physical love and affection while dealing with a disease like RA that by its very nature makes us want to shy away from any form of physical contact with others?  I think it all begins and ends with communication.  By that I mean self-communication AS WELL AS communicating with others.  First and foremost we have to fully assimilate the fact that we want and need affection, perhaps even more now that our bodies and minds are dealing with a chronic illness.  Then within that truth we need to account for the new reality of how touch must be altered to accommodate RA.  AND we need to share that with our loved ones so that they too can adjust.  That is a whole lot to digest!

I have learned to be pretty up front with those closest to me when it comes to touch.  I let them know that the big, intense hugs need to be limited but the gentle caresses are most welcome!  I let them know that taking my hand gently in theirs is lovely and makes me feel terrific. For my husband holding hands has always been a part of who we are as couple and that has not changed.  It may mean the grasp is little lighter but that is it.  Intimacy is more gentle and sweet but just as meaningful and special.

RA when in full flare mode may well be a time to back away from touch and of course that is part of the management of this disease and perfectly understandable.  I certainly have times when I just want to be left alone to sink into a hot tub of water or curl up with a blanket till the pain eases.  The key is to not carry that behavior over to the times when your RA is less painful. It is very easy to fall into a pattern of shying away from touch/affection due to the pain, isolation and stress associated with RA.  I encourage you to push through that with every ounce of determination!

Even when I am feeling horrific pain a gentle caress or hug can lift my spirits and even ease the pain.  I also love massage and by allowing that type of healing touch regularly, it opens your mind to other forms of touch.

So in this wonderful month dedicated to sharing love and affection I hope you will reflect on how embracing gentle touch can be a tool for successfully managing RA. Happy Valentines Day!

Nan

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