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Second-Guessing My Symptoms, and Myself

Just as my condition fluctuates, so does my self-perception. There are days when I am achy, and I want only to rest. Often on days like that I second-guess myself and wonder how bad the pain “really” is, and if perhaps I’m making too much of it. I call into question whether it’s the disease that is entirely to blame or if it’s poor coping skills that are responsible. I’ll wonder if rather than listening to my body, I should instead ignore my symptoms, and just push through and pull myself up by my bootstraps, so to speak. Then, of course, there are the days when the pain is so searing, so omnipresent, that all I can do is obey its wishes and go to bed with painkillers and a heating pad. In those moments, the pain is too intense to doubt its reality for a second. It’s not a matter of pain tolerance or of perception, because pain that intense just can’t be tolerated. Those times leave me astounded at my foolishness on those milder days, when I do second-guess myself. A flare leaves no question as to whether any of this could be in my head. Yet, once the flare subsides and I have a number of good days, I find myself again second-guessing my symptoms.

I have heard from many people in the RA community and know I am not alone in sometimes questioning the severity of the symptoms I am experiencing. It’s a perverse form of wishful thinking: perhaps if I could change my perceptions (which I do have some control over) then I could make my disease (which I have very little control over) go away. In a way, the thought that I just need to toughen up a little is preferable to the reality that I have a chronic, degenerative disease that doesn’t have a cure and that is both unpredictable and variable in nature.

Of course there is a lot of power in positive thinking, and I’ve personally found benefit from guided imagery CDs that focus on the body’s strength and ability to heal itself. Laughter can be excellent medicine, and an optimistic outlook on life can ward off depression. However, there is a huge difference between staying positive and being in denial. When I second-guess myself, it doesn’t help my physical symptoms; on the contrary, over-exertion can lead to an increase in symptoms, and the flogging I give myself when thinking I might be making a mountain out of a molehill leaves me feeling emotionally weak in addition to physically vulnerable.

It has been 14 years since my diagnosis, and no matter how many times I have vowed to honor the messages my body is sending me (“Go ahead and rest already!”), I still catch myself second-guessing, and even berating, myself that if only I could toughen up all of this wouldn’t be such a big deal.   It’s wishful thinking, but not the kind that leads to dreams come true. My RA isn’t going to be wished away, and the kinder I can be to myself the stronger I’ll be in facing the continual challenges of having this disease.

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

  • Sherilyn Grady
    4 years ago

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have had this conversation with myself several times over! It is nice to know I am not alone. I keep wondering if I am lazy and making excuses for myself. It is such a help to hear someone else say the same thing.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    I’m so glad you found the article to be helpful!

  • Arleen Goldberg
    4 years ago

    This article really resonated with me and describes so well my thought processes when I’m not feeling well. I’m always questioning, Do I really have this disease? It’s only been 6 or so years for me, stay strong everyone. Articles like this help me get through. Thank you.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    You’re so welcome – I’m glad we can help each other through by not feeling so alone with our struggles.

  • Nes
    4 years ago

    Thanks for sharing I so needed this today!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    You’re welcome – I’m glad it came in handy!

  • Wren moderator
    4 years ago

    This is spot on. I do the very same thing–and I’ve had RA for almost 28 years! Even though I know better, if I’m not actually forced off my feet by the pain and disability of a flare, I wonder if the pain I feel is really that bad or just me being a wimp again. And this, even though I know that to push myself through the pain is to invite even more, and worse pain later.

    I think we’re so inundated by cultural messages to be well even when we’re not, and that all we really need to do is try harder, that we’ve bought into them. We feel guilty because we hurt and can’t just make it go away through strength of will. What a shame, because we are actually extraordinarily tough, strong-willed individuals who do all we can to live to our fullest despite being in frequent–or even constant–pain.

    I say we ought to celebrate ourselves and acknowledge our courage and stamina. We certainly have plenty of both! Thanks for writing this. I’m sure I won’t be the only one to identify. 🙂

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks so much for your comments and perspective. I’ve been diagnosed with RA for 15 years, so it’s validating to know that others who have had RA even longer also share this experience.

  • Michelle
    4 years ago

    Yes! I too have been living with RA for over a decade and find myself doing similar things. Thank you for posting this and sharing your experience. Pieces like this are so helpful and encouraging. Wishing you all the best,
    Michelle

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks Michelle! I’m glad you found this to be helpful. It takes a village to raise a child, but I also think it takes a village to thrive in spite of RA.

  • Lizzie Sait
    4 years ago

    Thank you so much for this! 🙂 I have recently been diagnosed with RA (3 weeks ago) and i am finding out more and more as time passes, these stories have helped massively as i now know it’s not just me! X

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks Lizzie! I remember the flood of emotions I had when I was diagnosed. I wish you all the best, both in finding successful treatment and also in acclimating yourself to this new reality. I hope our site and community is helpful in that process.

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