This is the seventh of ten things I’d like to go back and tell my newly diagnosed self about living with RA.
I don’t think that anyone who has RA is surprised that depression is often a sidekick. RA can be overwhelming. It’s easy get into a downward spiral playing “what if” games about the future. What if this new treatment doesn’t work? What if I have a flare the day of my job interview? What if I am disabled in five years? What if this pain doesn’t go away today or even tomorrow?
Plan for the future but live in the today
There is an old saying about planning for the future while living each day as if it were your last. While you need to plan for those eventualities, it’s critical that you enjoy your life today. Sometimes that takes a real effort. I have had a full life – both before and after my diagnosis. True, there have been days when I couldn’t get out of bed because the fatigue and pain that goes along with RA simply wouldn’t allow it. But I’ve learned that the bad days pass or at least get better and I look forward to that time while enjoying a day curled up watching old movies.
Can having a sense of humor help one live with RA?
Another old saying – laughter is the best medicine – is especially true with RA. You have to keep your sense of humor. Sometimes that means making a conscious effort like taking the kids to the latest silly movie. True story: I start my day every morning reading the newspaper comics. If I’m traveling, I access the paper on line and read them electronically. I love Fridays and Sundays because the comics are in color. I don’t know why – color doesn’t make them any funnier, it just makes them more special somehow. And there is always at least one comic strip that can make me smile whenever I think of it that day.
Can a positive mental attitude have an impact on one’s RA?
There have been numerous studies on how a positive mental attitude (PMA) can also have a positive impact on a person’s physical health. There are a lot of theories on why this is, including being able to better handle challenges that come along with having a chronic illness. One theory I think applies to RA concerns stress. For many people, stress is a primary trigger for RA and it’s been found that certain negative attitudes or emotions like anger, fear, or despair increases stress hormones. A better attitude keeps stress lower and is better for your RA.
I’ve adopted an attitude I’ve heard from others who have RA: I have RA, it doesn’t have me. And while I spend a great deal of my time with RA advocacy and writing about RA – I don’t define myself as an RA patient. I am a person first and foremost. And I believe I have been given this life to make the most of it that I can.
We all know we’re going to have bad days. Even people who don’t have RA have bad days. And it really is okay to have the occasional personal pity party. But they’re not all going to be bad and you need to make up your mind to make the most of the good ones. Be kind to someone. Make time for self care. Do something that makes you smile. Even better, do something that makes someone else smile.
If I quit enjoying my life, then I feel like RA wins. While it’s true that day may come, that day is not today. Today, I’m going to enjoy myself.