The Mental Chaos of RA
Most of us understand that the very nature of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), physically speaking, is chaotic and unpredictable. I have always understood this to be true and one of the most challenging aspects of managing the disease.
That said, what I discovered over the years is the emotional and mental side of RA is as serendipitous as the physical.
A mentally and emotionally exhausting day
Today was one of those down days. It came out of nowhere. I have no explanation for why I am feeling this way.
When I reflect on it, I can point to some possible triggers, but nothing so far out of the ordinary that it fully explains my malaise or sadness.
I just feel less than today. I feel old today. I feel like I am trying to push a boulder uphill today. I feel mentally and emotionally exhausted today. I hate that I cannot find a specific reason for this so that I could address it, handle it, and move on.
We try to push past it
I believe it is cumulative. I believe it is not always related to the pain of RA.
I believe that there is an emotional toll that a progressive, unrelenting disease like RA takes on our emotional wellbeing that we often push away and try to ignore. We work so hard to manage the physical side of this disease, that we can easily neglect the mental side of it. And, therein lies the challenge.
Addressing the emotional toll of RA
So, I know that I need to pause and consider how to address this. First, we must acknowledge it. It is just as real as any swelling or pain our joints have.
Once we have taken that step and absorbed the reality of it, we can begin to strategize on how to address it. Simply pushing it away will catch up with us if we do not come to terms with it.
Share your feelings with someone you trust
One thing that works for me is just sharing my feelings with a trusted family member or friend - perhaps over the phone, a cup of coffee, a nice lunch, or a walk. Whatever works best for you.
The simple act of talking about our feelings validates them and gives us comfort. That is priceless.
An activity that takes your mind off of the sadness
Another option is to find something to take your mind off of the sadness. I have a list in my mind of the things I can do to distract and divert my attention.
For me, that may mean a swim, a practice session of Tai Chi, some meditation, a mani/pedi - the list goes on. This may take some time to develop, but it is well worth it. A long walk in nature, a good movie, just a good cry may be a solution.
Having healthy distractions is crucial to managing RA, both physically and mentally. It is only, lately, that I have come to understand the importance of good diversions.
Be honest with your care team
I also think we need to be honest with our care team about this. Somehow, I seem to skip over the emotional aspects of RA when I have my rheumatology or PCP visits.
The physical aspects tend to take priority, but I have come to learn that being completely open about the mental side of RA is equally as essential to the management of the disease.
So, on those days when life seems bleak, try to have some strategies in your pocket that you can reach for. Just knowing you have them there to call upon may be part of the solution.
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