I’m guilty of not always being a patient person. But I cover it up well! I was recently surprised when a friend commented on how patient I am (with my RA and related challenges) and giggled because that’s not how I feel. For me, patience is definitely a practice that I have had to cultivate.
When I think about it, there are many types of patience that people living with RA have to practice. It’s not just one and done. And it’s not just certain areas of life, but many. For me, some are harder than others but I have really been conscientious about trying to become more patient.
Patience with healing
Waiting to heal is so hard! We all know that it takes time, but sometimes it feels like eons. I remember after my joint replacement surgeries wondering how long the incision would need to heal, then the internal muscle and soft tissue, then my strength and so forth. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep, I felt so impatient. I wanted to be well again, to be able to stand and have my strength returned.
But somehow, I started understanding that I needed to practice patience in order to heal. I was exhausting myself with my impatience and I needed that energy to focus on resting and recuperating. I refocused on smaller amounts of time, like just one day or moment by moment. While I couldn’t do anything to accelerate the process, by focusing on doing the current activity well (such as resting, eating, or exercising) it helped me see the gradual process and stop feeling so anxious.
Patience with pain
I don’t take pain medications for my RA. It’s a strange thing to admit because I do live with constant chronic pain. Some days are better than others, but my joints usually give me pain throughout my day. I’m not exactly sure how I do it, but I think somehow growing up with RA has led me to gradually develop a tolerance and acceptance of my pain that I have found to be largely manageable.
I do have bad days where I am just in bed resting. But most days I can cope with my pain. I think I have developed patience for it. I feel it and know it is with me constantly, but yet it does not usually interfere with my day. It’s sort of a truce. I have learned to breathe through bad moments, observe and respect my pain. But I also tell it that there are limits, that I am the boss. Ha ha! Who knows if that’s true, but half the battle is believing, right? In any case, I live with my pain and somehow have developed patience for a life with chronic pain.
Patience with help
I get so frustrated when I can’t do things for myself. And there’s gradually more that I need help with. Sometimes I take this frustration out on myself, sometimes on the very people who are trying to help me. When I point my impatience outside, I definitely feel badly and have instantaneous remorse. Obviously, it’s not the person helping that I am frustrated with—it’s my RA!
This means I need to practice patience with myself about needing help and asking for it. I have to let this go and accept the help that I need. But I also need to be patient with the people helping me, who are sharing their time and energy to assist. I need to let them help in their own way and time. Sometimes I need to wait or instruct, and I need to be patient about this as well. Part of practicing this patience also comes with practicing gratitude—with being thankful that I have people in my life who care enough to help.
Patience with people
Sometimes it is other people who are the most challenging, isn’t it?! They may not understand RA and what people living with the condition are experiencing. Or they may be insensitive about their good health and abilities, ungrateful, or downright discriminatory. For me, I think it’s people that try my patience the most!
I really do try to approach these situations as educational opportunities. When I have the time and energy, I’ll explain my chronic pain, my disease symptoms, and resulting disabilities. I’ll say how I need accessibility because I use a wheelchair due to my RA. I try to think that everyone has their challenges and they may not know mine.
Making patience a practice
Recently at a family gathering my niece was aggravating her mother and siblings because she wanted to start an activity when they were not ready. Jokingly, I said to her: “Patience is a practice, grasshopper.” I was trying to lighten her mood, but also to give guidance that all of us have to work at patience. Maybe it comes naturally to the Buddha, but the rest of us have to work at it!
When was your last flare?