One thing that happens to me when I go through a lengthy period of not feeling well, is that I develop a feeling of negativity. Instead of a whole world of possibility and adventure, I see all the things I cannot do-the doors all close.
It feels like a mental response to what I’m experiencing physically. My body feels more pain and stiffness, and so my movements feel more restricted. I literally feel stuck and so my mind starts adapting and believing.
The power of the mind
From my experience, the mind is powerful. It can help me or it can make things worse. I can succumb to bad thinking, either by listening to others who are negative or creating the bad thoughts myself. Instead I prefer to flip my mind, to use it in my favor. If I want a situation to be different or to change, then I tell it to my mind. I make up a new story. I repeat it. I believe it. Maybe it doesn’t turn out exactly the way I want, but it is always better than the original bad scenario.
The other day I noticed my mind saying: “I can’t do that.” And it gave me pause. I was conversing with my husband and friends about a trip that we hope to take in a year or two-an epic journey to Paris and parts of France. I was thinking about traveling to a village to see a friend my grandfather made while he was in Europe for World War II. And my mind told me I couldn’t do it.
It gave me pause. Was this real? Do I really believe I can’t make this journey? Do I really believe that I cannot somehow find a way to make it work? Sure, maybe I’ll need to take my manual wheelchair and be prepared to hop some curbs and deal with bumpy streets. But when I really, deeply thought about it I knew that it was possible. My mind was playing negative tricks on me and I had to recognize it.
Finding a new way
It’s an old problem. When I was a child with severe rheumatoid arthritis, no one knew if I would be able to be an independent adult, to go to college, to work, to make my own life. There was no path for me to do it the usual way. I constantly had to find a new way to do typical things.
For example, I played in the school band. When I reached high school the band room was accessible from inside only by a staircase that I could not climb. But another door could be reached from the outside, so I’d push my wheelchair outside (winter, snow, rain-no matter) and have someone open the door for me. Another example is that I was the first student in a wheelchair to go to my college. They did a lot of work to accommodate me, but I was literally paving the way toward my graduation.
I had to learn to be creative, to see the possibilities because very few other people could. There was no path to follow so I had to break my own. And I think a part of this was training my own mind. Yet it becomes vulnerable when I am tired and suffering from my RA. It starts seeing walls and I need to remind myself that the possibilities are there. Walls still exist-it’s not a matter of denying the truth. It is a matter of seeing my way around it-either a longer path, or a ladder, or even a bit of strategically placed explosives.
I hope that I have lived with RA long enough that I’m a bit better at seeing how it affects me, how I can succumb to the disease in ways that I don’t intend. My thinking definitely can fail if I don’t keep up some vigilance. It’s not a matter of perfection, it’s just that I need to be aware and recognize when I need a tune-up.