Self-Efficacy and RA

Living with rheumatoid arthritis can make completing basic tasks very difficult, if not impossible. In my case, I know that my physical limitations mean it takes me longer to do things and also more effort. However, I have an enduring belief that where there is a will, there is a way to get things done.

While I was growing up with RA, my parents taught me to take care of myself, to always find a way because they knew I would need this skill to cope as an independent adult.

If I couldn’t do something, it was up to me to find a way, find a tool, or ask for help.

Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to complete tasks and reach goals. It is a concept defined and explored by psychologists to understand how people cope with challenges throughout life. It’s related to how we think about ourselves, self-esteem, motivation, habits, and behaviors.

If I have learned anything from living with RA, it is that the disease is a problem to be solved. Can’t open a jar? Find a gadget that will help. Can’t walk long distances? Get a wheelchair. Can’t do the laundry? Get help with this task.

While I am naturally stubborn and will struggle (and struggle) to do something myself, I also was trained in self-efficacy. This means that I don’t give up, even when faced with a daunting problem. Instead, I will work to figure out a solution or a workaround.

For me, self-efficacy has been crucial for living with RA.

It is something that I practice, that I tell myself over and over: “I can do it. It’s just a matter of figuring out how.” I think, if we sent a man to the moon, then I can get this task done.

My go-to example of self-efficacy is when I learned how to walk again after my total hip and knee replacements as a teenager more than 20 years ago. My recovery was complex and took a long time. It took me weeks of physical therapy to gain the strength to practice standing, then more time to practice standing unassisted (no walker).

The first time I stood up by myself, my arms were shaking from pushing myself up and my legs were quaking with the effort of standing. As I looked down five feet to my feet and the vast expanse that loomed from the chair I had just launched from, I honestly did not know how I would sit back down. I feared falling, tilting and missing the chair. I feared that my legs were shaking so much, I would sit with a crash and break my weakened bones.

I was frozen. I could not sit, yet time was running out because I did not have the strength to stand for long. I cried for help and the physical therapist guided me down with an arm. I had failed this time, but would not do so in the future. My mother coached me, telling me to say to myself: “I can sit down by myself.” Over and over. She wanted me to practice believing it, then practice the act until it was true.

To me, this is self-efficacy: believing that I can accomplish what I put my mind and effort to, especially when it is very important to me.

No, I’m not going to convince myself that I can climb Mt. Everest. But if I put my sights on a goal (even one that seems extremely difficult), I will find a way to make it happen.

Without a strong sense of self-efficacy, I would not have recovered successfully from my first hip and knee replacements, or the knee revision surgery three years ago. I would not have gone to college, lived by myself, worked and grew a career that I’m proud of, or enjoyed the travel I have experienced.

Perhaps the best way to put it is that while I have RA and live with physical disabilities, it does not define me. Instead, I choose to define myself and create a life that I enjoy.

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.

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