Rheumatoid arthritis is a thief. Over time it can rob you of your peace of mind, independence, energy, and sound sleep among other things. Pondering this too long can make even Pollyanna want to cry, so I try not to. Instead, whenever I find myself in an emotional slump, I do something that helps me to think about my RA with a defiant smile.
What do I do? It depends on how I feel. I tend to go one of three ways: Masochist, creative, or attitude. Let’s explore these further.
When I choose the masochist route I’m not trying to cause myself to suffer, I just know that what I’m choosing to do will hurt. I love to push my body but my RA often prevents me from being as active as I’d like. So, on days that I’m fed up with my painful existence but not hurting too much, I usually end up on a bike ride or walk with my dog Jasper. By now I know my pain well enough to understand when my pain will have longer term consequences (i.e. putting strain on an unstable joint is never a good idea,) and when pain is just pain, hence my choice of activities to push. If I’m in an extended flare, sometimes a bike ride, even a painful one, puts a smile on my face because I can tell myself that RA hasn’t completely stolen my ability to do what I love. A painful bike ride is hard earned, but also makes the feeling of accomplishment much greater which boosts my mood.
Being creative is a much easier way to feel good, however, so often I find having a “craft chick” day with my crafty friend Ellen is the best medicine for my emotional ails. Over the years I’ve made some really fun things when I’ve been down for extended periods of time. I’ve ended up painting rocks and t-shirts, sewing pillowcase covers from recycled clothes, and beading bracelets that I still enjoy today. And time with Ellen always ends up being fun, as we compare stories, laughing and reflecting on life.
I agree with Winston Churchill who said that “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Whenever I find myself in a new RA predicament I try to change my perspective about it and this helps every time. Recently I found myself unsettled about how I was responding to a new biologic drug. It was helping my joints but I seemed to be getting ill all the time and I found myself feeling anxious and resentful. One day I decided to change my mind about my situation. I told myself, “ You decided to take this medicine. You can always decide to stop it. So, why keep worrying all the time- you already know this doesn’t help you your state of mind.” Believe it or not, I felt like a weight lifted off of me immediately and although I’ve had moments since then of anxiety about my situation, they don’t last. I ask myself, “In this moment, do you want to stop taking your medicine?” The answer is no, so I move on.
I highly recommend talking back to your rheumatoid arthritis in healthy ways. It may not change the big picture, but it will put a dent in the burden you bear. And it may just put a grin on your face as you say to yourself, “RA, I’m still in charge!”