It Never Gets Easier, You Just Get Stronger
Like being a parent to young children, the challenges of RA simply change with time, they do not disappear. And like being a parent, you may need to lose your idealistic thinking of the future and embrace the reality that you will always have challenges. There is always a curve ball coming. That’s the disease. That is life. Sometimes, you will fail, or feel you have failed. This is to be expected. There is no certainty, no easy path.
Reflecting on four years with RA
Four years is not a long time with RA, but it is long enough to reflect some thoughts to those new to the disease. I have managed to continue with my career with some changes, and to achieve about what I had hoped in my sports, though I retired within three years of diagnosis. Nonetheless, I am content. I am a father to three children and a Ph.D. student and, despite my disease, I enjoy my life. Not all the time, and certainly not when in intense pain, nonetheless, I have figured out how to cope in a way that suits me.
On challenges and strength
My advice to those just beginning this journey: There will come a time when having RA will be just a part of life. It will still devastate you at times, knock you down, and put you through a lot of pain, nonetheless, you will deal with it. You can, and you will. Listen to the ideal you hold for yourself of confronting what life throws at you. Look around, there are some incredible people dealing with brutal illnesses and circumstances. They are handling it. Be one of these people. Day by day, learn, adapt, and grow.
How to maintain a positive outlook with RA
There is hope. Of course, there is hope. What now seems unbearable, life-shattering, and devastating, is something you will get better at dealing with.
Healthy habits, healthy mindset
Here are some habits and mindsets I have adapted for dealing with the disease:
Exercise: Complement a healthy diet with exercise, and lots of it. Movement helps. It may seem like you should rest, and on the worst days you should, however, if you can move, then get moving. I find swimming keeps the joints feeling lose or loosens them up when they are stiff. I also lift weights, which I enjoy. Because of exercise, I feel my body is more capable of compensating for the various pains I randomly encounter, and I feel mentally stronger and more energetic. I also find that exercise greatly reduces brain fog. Find an exercise or physical activity that works for you and get moving.
Know your enemy: I have learned to be wary of the times I feel good. The enemy is lurking. Do not overdo it. Stay within your boundaries. Overextend yourself and the disease is given an opportunity to attack. Be vigilant.
Learn: Read up on what helps besides medication. Read about medication too. The more you know, the more options you have, and options are power.
Get adequate rest: The worst times with my illness have come when I could not get enough sleep, whether because of work, a new baby, pain from the disease, or my overactive mind keeping me up. You need adequate sleep. It will make a world of difference. Prioritize sleep. Make whatever changes are necessary in your life to get more sleep. Talk to your doctor about sleep if you are having trouble with it. Just make sure you sleep.
Be social: Prioritize your family and/or relationships. It is easy to get stuck in your head. Don’t give in to the siren call of solipsism. Sure, most people won’t understand your illness, but so it goes. Stay social. Keep up your friendships and relationships with your family. If you need to learn new skills to deal with difficult people, then do it. If you need to have a hard talk with a family member who is making your life harder, then do it. Prioritize yourself and stay social, do not disappear with the difficulties.
Live with purpose: This more than anything has brought me success in dealing with the hardest mental aspects of the illness. What occupies my mind most and keeps me moving is my yet unrealized goals in life. Live intentionally, even with your disease. You may need to make some adjustments, nonetheless, find something that moves you deep within, that makes you really want to live, and do that thing as often as you can. Make no mistake, realizing your goals is hard work. It will not always feel good in the moment, nonetheless, you will feel a sense of fulfillment that keeps you pushing ahead.
You can choose to grow with the challenges or shrink from them. Choose growth.
On a scale of 1(low) to 5(high), how difficult is it for you to talk about having RA?