Stop the World, I Want to Get Off
To say this has been a challenging winter for me would be a massive understatement. Between health issues, the passing of our beloved dog, Leah, the intense winter we experienced here in Vermont, work-related stresses, etc., I could write volumes. Suffice it to say that all of this is slowly but surely passing and there is great relief in that knowledge.
I say this because there are moments, if we are honest we all experience them, when we truly want the world to stop so we can catch our breath. Unfortunately, that is not how life works. For those of us with chronic disease, we have an additional burden because in the midst of these unexpected challenges we are charged with managing our RA, day in and day out, never mind these crazy new obstacles!
So how do we do this?
Well, it takes stamina, planning and determination. The first thing to understand is RA does not exist in a vacuum. It is woven into our existence like a well-constructed fabric. Despite the fact other matters are rising up and demanding our immediate attention, RA is never far behind and always needs to be attended to, no matter what is happening simultaneously. This simple truth will be an important operating principle in managing RA.
For example, this past winter I had to undergo several lengthy and painful oral surgeries which took a lot of time and patience (sitting in a dental chair for hours is not my idea of fun). So, that took its own course of planning just to manage what would be necessary to get through it. Add to that, the RA elements. Namely, sitting for long periods of time and how that affects me, how to handle the risk of infection with oral surgery, pain, etc. Something as simple as the fact my jaw was locked open for hours ended up triggering an RA flare in my jaw!
In spite of plans…
The lesson here is that no matter what is happening in our lives, RA needs to be factored in, if we are going to get through it with any degree of success. Otherwise, we ignore the RA at our peril. I knew the possibility of a jaw flare was real and so when I went home I took steps to minimize it (ice, heat eventually, Tylenol, etc.) because I reminded myself that while other concerns may rise up, RA is never far behind. The last thing I needed was a “surprise” flare courtesy of RA. Just simply being aware of how the oral surgery might impact the RA, allowed me to plan ahead and relieve one less stressor.
The unexpected emotional stressors (like having to put our dog to sleep) are a little trickier to view through the RA lens for me. I tend to think of RA in physical terms the majority of the time, putting the emotional aspects in the back seat. But the fact is, my dog was a wonderful companion who eased the mental pain of chronic disease by always being at my side, giving me unconditional love, no matter what. That loss was devastating and I needed to acknowledge that and see how best to weave that into my RA management. It actually took more time and effort than planning for the oral surgery. But over time, I realized how to deal with those emotions and get through the loss with the help of family and friends.
The bottom line is, that even when non-RA challenges surround us, requiring our full attention, we need to be aware of the part our RA plays in dealing with those demands. If we do that, those challenges can be handled successfully.