Self-Love and RA
Self-love is a complicated issue, especially when you live with rheumatoid arthritis. Air-brushed models in magazines, tabloids that constantly run stories about the weight gain and loss of our favorite Hollywood stars, and social media sites that are getting noisier and more critical by the day don’t help. Over the course of my life with JRA I’ve lived through more hits to my self-esteem than I would want to count; at times in my life this has been a daily struggle. Growing up with JRA was the hardest on me emotionally- I made no effort to go to my prom because I didn’t want to limp in my shoes, and didn’t start dating until after college because I simply didn’t consider myself datable. “No guy would want to go out with me when they have plenty of girls without arthritis to date,” I would say to myself.
A life through the lens of pain and illness
There are plenty of platitudes out there to help, company slogans like the Dove soap “Campaign for Beauty,” which are well-intentioned and well-thought through, and strategies that we can easily learn to help ourselves feel better. But there is a difference between knowing it and feeling it, and for years after I’d finally discovered that I actually did have a valuable place in this world, I still compared myself negatively to people without a chronic disease. When you live with RA, a good portion of your sense of self is filtered through the lens of pain and disease, and this affects how you feel emotionally. It takes conscious effort to change thought patterns, and living with RA can be isolating, anxiety producing, and scary. It’s no wonder that self-love can be hard, especially when the RA is active.
Emotional well-being and physical well-being go hand in hand
I recently read an article by Nan Hart entitled, We’re All A Little Fragile; in the article Nan talks about her own struggles with self- image and how she helps herself to feel better emotionally. It made me realize that taking care of my emotional body just may be as important to my overall sense of well-being as taking care of my physical body. The two are connected, improving physically always makes me feel better emotionally, and when I’m flaring the opposite is true. I’m flaring right now and over the Memorial Day weekend, I found myself struggling with keeping my mood light as my body was feeling so painful and heavy. Nan talks about specific strategies she uses to feel better – buying flattering clothes, getting manicures, so I decided to create a list of my own and during times that I feel my self- esteem is low, I can act to change this.
I’m still working on it, but even putting thought into how to feel better emotionally is making me feel better, so I know I’m on the right track. I’ve also found that by stating how I’m feeling out loud to my loved ones, I don’t feel so alone in my thoughts. Instead, by being honest with them, I’ve involved them in the process of feeling better and this makes me feel less isolated. I’m looking forward to reaping the benefits of these new life changes; I know from past experiences that the more pro-active I am in managing this disease and everything that comes with it, the better off I am.
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