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The RA Battery Drain

The RA Battery Drain

I’ve been working to restructure the expectations I set for myself. Living with rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease (RA/RD) means that pain and fatigue often get in the way of my “productivity.” I’m doing all that I know to do to decrease the symptoms of this disease, and being frustrated with myself for the impact the remaining symptoms have on my life is counterproductive. Negative self-talk about what I “should” be able to accomplish doesn’t enable me to get more done; the only difference it makes is feeling worse about myself. Therefore, I’m making a conscious effort to change the messages I give myself.

Instead of thinking, “I should get up off the couch and clean the house” I’m trying to shift to “I successfully made it through a work day and now my body needs some couch time.” I’m swapping “I have to get all these errands done today” for “Let me look at my errand list and see what absolutely needs to be done today and which ones can wait a few days.” Instead of “I didn’t get half the things on my to-do list done this weekend” I’m working to think “I got half the things on my to-do list accomplished this weekend!” and (gently) pat myself on the back for it.

Changing my thought patterns takes a lot of effort.

Just as with starting a new workout or a healthier diet, some days are easier than others and slip ups do occur. However, the more I catch myself in negative thought patterns and decide instead to give myself a break, the easier it is to give myself some grace.

For instance, recently I experienced what I’ve coined as an “activity hangover.” On a Saturday evening my family and I participated in a really fun community event that involved a lot of walking and being on my feet for about three hours. The next day I was exhausted. I had a long to-do list for the weekend, and I had planned to tackle as much of it as possible. However, the activity from the night before left me with the telltale signs of an activity hangover: increased fatigue, inflammation, and mild achiness throughout my body. None of my symptoms were at full-on flare level, but I was feeling worse than on a standard day.

Instead of feeling frustrated with myself and trying to push through, I thought, “Last night was really fun and was a special time for my family. It was worth it, but it did take a toll on my body, and right now I just need to rest.” So instead of trying to force myself to deal with my to-do list, after breakfast I blew up our air mattress, piled up pillows, and put on a movie for the kids while I dozed through it. It was just what I needed.

My energy level is like a battery.

Later that evening, as I was plugging in my smartphone to charge overnight, it occurred to me that my energy level is like a battery. Daily activities decrease my “charge,” requiring me to recharge overnight with sleep. However, just as increased phone use requires more frequent charges, so too does increased physical activity for my body. Being on my feet for three hours at a social event on a Saturday evening is similar to streaming a video or downloading data: it requires more energy than standard daily activities.

While I can wish that my phone could stay charged far longer than it does, wishing doesn’t make it so. Instead, I plan ahead. If I’m going on a trip and want to stream a movie while I’m gone, I bring my backup charger so that I can give my phone or tablet a boost if it starts running low. Similarly, if I’m participating in an activity that requires a lot of my energy, it is going to run my battery down more than a typical day, and I have to give it a boost with a nap or some downtime.

Thinking of my energy level as a battery that can be depleted is helpful for me, as it makes it easier not to judge myself. I can get frustrated with RA/RD for giving me shorter battery life, but I’m not frustrated with myself or viewing the situation as a personal failing. Until engineers figure out a way to develop a smartphone with a significantly longer battery life, I’m going to have to plug it in every night and sometimes during the day. Until researchers figure out a cure for RA/RD, I’m going to have to sleep a minimum of eight hours to feel rested and will sometimes need to nap during the day in order to function. Fighting that reality is futile, whereas planning for it can be very helpful.

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

Comments

  • rockcandi
    3 months ago

    Thank you so much for putting our energy drain into a perspective That I believe my husband will understand! It helped me immensely to read this article but in my case it’s not just self talk that I must deal with. Don’t get me wrong, he’s very understanding and helpful but he often gets frustrated w the disease and projects it onto me, as if I can control it. I think this will help him place the blame back where it belongs and be more understanding when I need to recharge!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 months ago

    I do hope this helps him understand, rockcandi! Yes, I know exactly what you mean about how our loved ones can project their frustrations with the disease into us, but we most certainly would change it if we could! The more others can understand that it’s even worse to experience the disease first-hand, the more compassion and understanding there can be. If this article can help anyone understand, that’s a wonderful outcome.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Tamara

  • Noelene
    6 months ago

    I fully agree with the flat battery concept, and a nap is an excellent recharger. So is just resting reading a book, or other ‘just me’ time.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    6 months ago

    Hey @noelene! I swear by my naps. They are a staple in my life and I’m not embarrassed to say it!

    Thanks for sharing! ~Monica

  • Nina Winterbottom moderator
    6 months ago

    Exactly, @Noelene, that quiet time to oneself is crucial. I think focusing on one thing, without mutitasking or distractions, is really useful and more rare these days. – Nina, RheumatoidArthritis.net Team

  • colourfull500
    6 months ago

    Hi to you all,

    I love your apology great way of describing exactly how I feel I need constant recharge so much night and day makes me think when you switch a computer off to recharge n when you switch it back on charged up wish we could be charged up all the time lol.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    6 months ago

    Hi colourfull500,

    Yes, wouldn’t it be wonderful to get a full charge? I’m thinking of those fast chargers where you go from 9% to 100% in a fraction of the time for most cords. Wouldn’t that be something?!

    Thanks for sharing,
    Tamara

  • Mary Sophia Hawks moderator
    6 months ago

    Tamara,
    Thank you! This is a wonderful way to view our world!

  • bullfrog
    6 months ago

    Thank you Daniel. I am in the middle of a career changing storm I appreciate you reaching out. I have been a paramedic for 30 years and it has taken its toll on me with the RA carpel tunnel, new. Pending back surgery. I guesss i am done Change can be hard. thanks again

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    6 months ago

    Hey bullfrog,

    It is so hard to make career changes out of medical necessity. I have done that too, and it is well worth it but it is hard. Thank you for sharing what you’re going through, and best of luck with the RA carpal tunnel. I had that too, but mine was mild enough that sleeping with wrist splints for several months really helped. I hope you find some relief.

    All the best in your endeavors,
    Tamara

  • Jo J
    6 months ago

    So well written, thank you! I call my activity hangover, “hitting the wall.”

    When I am resting after hitting the wall I tell myself, “I am not doing nothing. I’m actively resting so I can rebound better.”

    After an active family and travel schedule the last several months, I am learning a little better how to insert active rest into my schedule. It’s tough! Cuz I really just want to pretend I’m pre-RA and just keep going like the Energizer Bunny! But, pro-active rest pays off for me in the long run.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    6 months ago

    Hi Jo J,

    “Active rest” is such a great term! Thank you for sharing that, as that will definitely come in handy for me. Yes, coming to terms with our limitations is really hard, but it does pay off. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective and what works for you, as it is very helpful for our community.

    Appreciatively,
    Tamara

  • Daniel Malito moderator
    6 months ago

    @tamara Very good simile to describe the energy use in RA. The more we do the faster it drains exponentially, unlike healthy people where the more they do they just use their reserves at a more constant rate. Mindset does help too, I have seen it work wonders. Keep on keepin’ on DPM

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    6 months ago

    Thanks Daniel! All the best to you, Tamara

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