My Attitudinal Approach to Living with RA
Over the years, many people have asked me about my attitude, how I can stay positive and upbeat while living with a painful condition. I often just laughed it off because what else was I supposed to do? I am just keeping on as best as I personally can.
It's more than having a positive attitude
But on further reflection, I believe that my attitudinal approach is actually more complicated. It’s not just about trying to stay positive. It’s also about persistence, sometimes channeling anger and frustration, or even sometimes being sad (but not for too long). It can be a circle of emotions but always comes back to keep on keeping on.
Here’s a bit of a roadmap for my attitudinal approach to living with RA. For me, it came about by accident, but as I’ve lived with the disease and learned what works best for me, I’ve come to better understand how I need to focus my emotions to keep going with this disease.
Maintaining perseverance through chronic RA pain
Stay positive and happy. Even on terrible, no good, very bad days there can be a spot of happiness. Sometimes it’s a good book, a funny TV show, a pretty flower, or a fresh breeze. It can be anything small and pleasant that I enjoy. I hang on to that and focus on tomorrow being another day where I may feel a bit better.
Engage the funny bone. Perhaps it’s inappropriate, but I am very good at some gallows humor! Recently when I had a terrible cold and cough, I was joking with my husband about how lucky he was to have a lady with such a husky, sexy voice. Sometimes when I feel awful is when I need to use my sense of humor the most! A few years ago when I had my left knee replacement out and a temporary spacer that was non-weightbearing, I made up a whole song about having no knee. The experience was terrible and painful, but the jokes were hilarious!
Focus the anger. As you may have read, I have a lot of health-related fights. Lately they have been with my pharmacy benefits manager. The anger I experience in these encounters keeps me focused on getting the problem solved. I’m like a dog with a bone—I will not let go because it is my health dammit! While these situations are infuriating, I really do try to use that anger to get the problem solved.
Be sad, but not for too long. I have had plenty of sad days, when I not only feel terrible but also feel useless as a person. Sometimes we just have to be sad. We can’t avoid it. But I know for myself that I should only be sad for a limited amount of time. I then give myself a kick in the butt and say “Shape up! You have a life to live!” Too much wallowing is a waste of time for me. I may still feel sad, but I have to get back to the business of living.
Remember, there’s always tomorrow. From a young age, I’ve learned to play the long game. During my flares when I have been in great pain and immobile, I had to remind myself that tomorrow may be better and that years from now may be better than that. Usually, a few days would make a difference and my flare would fade. And now after 40 years, I’m finally on a treatment that has brought my inflammation down. Sure, that’s a heckuva long road (not optimal!), but it reinforces that we have to practice patience and keep on trekking through good days and bad.
Cultivate a purpose. Even as a child I always wanted to help people, to make the world a slightly better place. I’m one of those annoying do-gooders that think we can do better as a society, as human beings collectively. So throughout my life, I’ve worked both in my career and in my free time to engage in activities that I hope have helped others. When my RA gets me down, it’s good for me to remember that I am working to make a difference in my life no matter my illness. My identity is not just about being a patient, but being a person who helps others.
No choice but to keep going
In a lot of ways, I feel like my attitudinal approach to living with RA comes from a lack of choice. I have had this disease for a long time and have had to learn to live with it. It’s not going away because I will always live with joint damage and physical disabilities.
But I also think we come to cope with RA in our own way, managing the emotions and thoughts as we can. Perhaps my perspective can help others. What attitudinal approaches help you with the ups and downs of RA?
Have you shared tips on how to manage RA with anyone before?