Growing up with severe rheumatoid arthritis was not easy—physically nor emotionally and mentally. Looking back, I feel grateful that I had supportive family and friends. But I also had some extra mental health help at crucial times that made a huge difference.
As a teen I saw a psychologist to help when I went through my joint replacements and recovery. It was a very difficult experience to have such big surgeries at a young age and I needed to harness great mental and physical strength (more than I knew I had) in order to get through this period. It really helped for me to have someone to talk to, who wasn’t in my close circle, and that I could be honest about my emotions and frustrations.
Living with RA is a challenge within itself
I have learned that while living with rheumatoid arthritis is challenging in its own right, the mental side is equally (or even more) important. Through all my childhood flares, physical therapy sessions, various treatments and more, I had to keep my resolve, manage the roller coaster of emotions, and manage my mind to keep healthy.
Navigating the transition to adulthood
Later, while in college, I saw a psychologist again to navigate the transition to adulthood and independence. While I was in a pretty stable place with my health, I was now having to live with physical disabilities in a world that wasn’t too friendly to these differences. I had to process these feelings and learn how to cope with being different in ways that I couldn’t change.
Then in my 30s I sought counseling for a few years to address anxieties about growing older with rheumatoid arthritis and my disabilities. We talked a lot about what quality of life means to me, what help I need now and what I may need in the future, and how to live happily with my chronic conditions.
Throughout my life, I have found periodic psychological counseling to be very helpful for my mental health. I think it’s natural for people with chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis to literally have a lot on our mind. There are extra things we have to deal with and worry about. And it’s also natural to suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges either related to RA or just in addition to, as a part of the human experience.
Many people may fear “the headshrinker,” but really it is just another tool for addressing and maintaining good health. Unhelpful thoughts and feelings need to be understood so that we can be at our best and strongest, especially when living with a chronic condition like RA.
I know that when I’m feeling stressed and tired, my RA gets worse. So it makes sense to me that mental health can have a huge impact on my body. Keeping my mind in tune helps to keep me on a healthier track overall.
One sensitive area includes depression and sadness. I have experienced profound sadness about my RA—either related to pain, stress about progression of the disease, limitations from the damage, how it affects my life and relationships… And on and on. Unfortunately, these emotions are a natural part of living with RA. But they don’t have to control us.
It’s important to ask for help
Asking for and getting help with mental health is important for living with RA. There’s no shame in in. In fact, it shows strength when you know you need help and ask for it. Just like any other part of living with RA, asking for help is OK.
Think of the mind as another joint we need to exercise to keep ourselves healthy. Mental health is important for RA patient health too.