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It Never Gets Easier, You Just Get Stronger

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.

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


  • MrsMiller
    7 months ago

    Good article! I am sitting here on one of the most gorgeous Summer days we have had this year! Breeze blowing, birds chirping, hummingbird coming to feeder in front of me, puppy at my feet .. but I am miserable after a day and a half of over-exertion :(. I am just upset with myself and my hands and elbow hurt just typing this . Self control and curbing enthusiasm is hard for me. Thanks for encouragement !

  • Kelly Dabel moderator
    7 months ago

    Thank you for sharing MrsMiller. Sounds like you are doing well appreciating the beauty around you on summer day. You are not alone here in feeling this way after over-exerting. Wishing you some relief very soon. Thank you for sharing and being part of our community. Best, Kelly , Team Member

  • miaj
    7 months ago

    I agree with you Michael. Even when you have RA everything in your life is still a choice. It may not always seem like it, but it’s there. I spent a long time feeling overwhelmed by my RA and I know that feeling is still there if I don’t pay attention. But it helps me (a LOT) to think that I am the one who chooses how I feel, what I do and what my life will look like.

    Thank you for laying this out so clearly — it helps a lot to read. xx

  • Nina Winterbottom moderator
    7 months ago

    @miaj, it’s a lot easier said than done, but I love what you said here: “I am the one who chooses how I feel, what I do and what my life will look like.” What both you and Michael have discovered takes a lot of mental work to get to, and I’m glad you’re sharing it! – Nina, Team

  • miaj
    7 months ago

    Yes, you’re right Nina, it does take a lot of very committed mental work, and I think it’s good for everyone who knows that to say it as often as necessary. Too often I hear people dismiss the change of outlook needed as “oh it’s easy for you to say that” as though some of us have a magic formula. It’s good to keep speaking the truth that there is no magic, it is, as you say, a LOT of hard work. At the same time, it’s hugely rewarding to come to the realisation that you’ve managed to make a change in the way your brain works and, I find, enormously motivating too. To be able to feel as though there’s some control you can take (no matter how small) is very empowering. xx

  • Larry Sawyer
    7 months ago

    Never Ever give up

  • Tamerika
    7 months ago

    It seems as if depression isn’t part of your life. Good words, yes, yet just reading them I get overwhelmed and want to cry. It’s all so hard. But, I’m doing the best I can.

  • Cynthia Ventura moderator
    7 months ago

    Tamerika, I’m sorry you are feeling depressed. I am no stranger to depression having struggled with it for many years alongside my RA. Michael Booth has written extensively on this subject. In fact, he has a very informative and personal series on this very subject. I urge you to read it. Just click on Michael’s name and all his posts will come up. I pray you feel better soon. Counseling and medication are a mainstay of my mh journey. I fear I wouldn’t be alive if not for both. Chronic illness is a difficult thing to live with. Being depressed is not a weakness. It is as any other illness.

    I hope you receive the help you deserve soon. There is hope. Please don’t give up. We here understand what you are feeling. Reach out to us as well anytime. God bless you.

  • Najmah1982
    7 months ago

    I really needed this message New to this. I’m a cyclist, 74 y/o, mother of six with ten grandchildren. Feel like my life is over. Overwhelmed. Hate to ask for help.
    Got to get a grip.
    Glad to have read this. Thanks.

  • Cynthia Ventura moderator
    7 months ago

    Wow! Six children and ten grandchildren. Bet family night at your house is a lot of fun.

    I know it feels as if your life is over but it isn’t. True, it has changed in a big way and you will need to make adjustments going forward. It’s takes a lot of learning, tries and fails to get yourself to your “new” life with RA but with your experience I bet you figure it out quick.

    I’ve lived with RA for over 20 years.The two toughest lessons for me to learn were, 1) learning to ask for help and 2) being good to myself. What I mean by that is learning to say, “no” to ppl when I was tired or knew that I’d suffer for it tomorrow. Learning to prioritize the necessary from the not necessary tasks. Learning to turn a blind eye to the dusting and ironing when I needed a break. Telling myself it was okay to let someone else do the shopping or the vacuuming or comfort me when I felt I couldn’t go on.

    I am an extremely independent woman, always have been. It was not easy to back off my to-do list or learning to lean on my family and friends. I had to do it in steps, baby steps. But I did it. Not everyone will respond favorably to the change in you. Some will call it weakness, attention grabbing, ignore them and check them off your list. You will learn one great lesson from your chronic illness, a hard one, who’s truly your friend and who’s not. It was the toughest lesson of all for me.

    This disease will try to take many things from you but don’t allow it to take who you are deep down. You are still that lady. Best wishes.

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    8 months ago

    Laugh a lot, I mean really what other productive choice is there? Not many I know of.

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