The Impact of RA on Self-Esteem
A few months ago, I read an article on Huff Post Parents that really got me thinking. The article was called “Why I Want My Sons to See Me Naked.” The author – a mother of four young boys – discussed how she thought it was important to let her sons see what a real female body looks like, rather than having their first exposure to the naked female form be airbrushed and perfect. Not only did she want to teach her sons to be confident about their own bodies, she wanted to let them know that “real is beautiful when it comes to the opposite sex.”
This article struck a chord with me. For some reason, it was the first time I had really considered how my own body image might affect my sons. In the back of my mind I had always known that if I were to have a daughter I would have to be careful not to let my body image affect her – but why should this be any different with my boys? As the mother in the article rightly said, “instilling a positive body image is not an issue reserved for people with daughters.” How true!
However, after realizing that my own body image may actually have an impact on my sons, I was also alerted to the extra challenges that I face as a mom living with rheumatoid arthritis. While the mom in the article was thinking about how she reacted to her stretch marks and a little extra flab, I started thinking about the physical changes that life with chronic illness places on my body.
Unfortunately, living with RA – and many other chronic illnesses – can often cause physical changes to your body. I may not be sporting any twisted joints or surgery scars (yet), but I do sometimes have visibly swollen joints. I’ve also had to deal with physical side effects from medications. Methotrexate has made my hair fall out. Prednisone has helped me gain weight I didn’t want as well as covering my body in bruises. And when I am on prednisone long-term I also end up with the dreaded “moon face.”
Physical changes in your body can often have a psychological impact, decreasing confidence and self-esteem. Coping with these physical changes can leave you feeling less attractive and less comfortable in your own body, which can then take a toll on your mood and your relationships. I have experienced all these issues myself. And now, as a mother of two small boys, I have also started wondering what impact my own body image may have on my children. Because I do think it will affect them, I am doing everything I can to try to keep my self-esteem strong!
If you are struggling to cope with the physical changes brought by life with arthritis, here are some things that might help:
Try to accept your arthritis. While arthritis may change the way you look or move, it is important to remember that it doesn’t change who you are as a person. It is natural to have feelings of anger, resentment, or grief, and accepting those feelings is the first step towards working through them. If you can replace those negative feelings with a realistic acceptance of how your body has changed it can help improve your self-esteem.
Take care of yourself! While it can be really hard to find the energy when you aren’t feeling well, taking the time and energy to look your best may actually help you feel better in the end. This will mean different things to different people, but the goal is the same: to feel good about yourself. Consider a new haircut or new clothes in a flattering color. Or pampering yourself at a salon or spa. If you make it a daily goal to look your best it really should help boost your confidence – and will also have a positive effect on those around you.
Include your family. If arthritis is affecting your body image, it can also add anxiety and guilt to your relationships. This can have a negative impact on your sex life and serve as a less than ideal role model for your kids. Talking honestly to your family about how your arthritis makes you feel will be vital to improving your relationships. Here are some tips for talking to your partner about intimacy. And while I will always strive to present a positive body image to my kids, especially while they are still so young, I think there will also come a time when I will explain to my kids that sometimes my body makes me sad. Being proactive in addressing negative feelings will hopefully help my family accept the changes arthritis will bring to all our lives. In our family we like to think of my arthritis not as my personal problem but rather as an opportunity for all of us to work together.
Seek additional help. There’s no shame in asking for help. Keeping your self-esteem strong is really not easy, particularly all on your own. If you are really struggling with this issue, it is important to seek additional help. If family and friends are not enough, you may want to consider talking to a therapist to help you sort through these difficult emotions.