Summer R&R for RA

Hello from Brooklyn, New York! I’m back! Okay, maybe you didn’t know I was even gone, but I took a two-week trip back home to Minnesota in early July to see family and friends and to celebrate the 4th of July weekend with a friend who was visiting from Omaha. The next weekend after the 4th, I drove to the small town of Osakis (about two hours north of the Twin Cities) to relax and hang out with my aunt and uncle and cousins on “the farm”–their old farmhouse located just outside of town in the beautiful countryside.

I love it in northern Minnesota, or “up north” as we Minnesotans commonly call it. And I especially love going to Osakis. Attending the Roddin’ Round The Lake streetrod car show every second weekend in July with my family and family friends is something that I’ve done since high school. It’s become a much-loved and anticipated summer tradition that I excitedly look forward to each year. And, like many previous years, this year was full of laughs, silliness, games with the kids, delicious food, jokes and music and s’mores around the bonfire, fireworks, and, well…just a really fun and relaxing time. Quality relaxation, and a real chance to de-stress and connect with others who truly know, love, and care about me, was something that I was in dire need of before leaving New York.

I’ve wondered many times if trying to move to New York is a bad idea for someone with RA. The fast hectic pace, the crazy extra stress, all of the required walking and standing and stair-climbing–it’s not easy. I don’t think it’s very easy for a “normal” healthy person, never mind someone who suffers from chronic pain and chronic illness. So yeah, maybe I’m a bit nuts trying to do this–especially during the intense heat and humidity of summer when you’re supposed to be slowing down and relaxing. Is it possible to relax in New York City? I’m still trying to figure that out.

But coming back to the slower, more easy-going pace of Minnesota for those couple of weeks was like a breath of sweet, clean air–for my body and my mind. Being there on my mini “vacation,” especially in the quiet and sleepy small town of Osakis, made me realize how stressed-out I was and how that stress was negatively affecting my health and my RA in particular. I wrote another article recently that touches on the body-mind-spirit connection, and I do firmly believe that your mental and emotional state can have major effects on your body.

While I was back home in the Twin Cities with friends and family and up north hanging out at the farm, I was able to forget about my daily NYC stresses. Worrying about work, money, health care, managing my RA, public transportation, my social life (or a lack of one),  loneliness, and housing issues all basically disappeared once I gave myself the permission to truly relax for a little bit. And once I did this, not surprisingly, my RA pain felt a lot better. I was in a lighter, happier mood being with family and friends and having fun and it felt great! So why don’t I try to make myself rest and relax more often if I know that it would help my RA symptoms and make me feel better and healthier in general?

Good question.

When I stop to think about it, my theory of why I don’t make more of an effort to rest, physically and mentally, is perhaps due to impatience (I am often an impatient person with many things), and that I don’t want to feel limited or disabled or inhibited by having RA. I don’t think it’s really a conscious decision, but more of a weird thing of getting used to and adapting to the pain and not feeling well, and just continuing to push myself day after day as though I don’t have the disease. As I sit here writing this though, I don’t think that’s the best approach to managing my RA and health. Not at all.

So what do I do? I need to practice being more mindful about listening to my body and resting when I need to rest, slowing down when I need to slow down, and engaging in activities that positively affect my RA and health. What sorts of things? Reading, writing, working on my photography and other creative projects, low-impact yoga, biking, swimming, meditation, listening to music that inspires/motivates/relaxes me, having fun and connecting with others, and I’m sure the list could continue on. Actually, I should probably make a real list so that I have something concrete to look at every day, to help to remind me how important it is to just slow down and to take care of myself and my RA. Everybody needs some R&R sometimes, but especially those who live with RA and chronic pain.

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