We’re All a Little Fragile
As the years go by (22 of them with RA) I have come to realize that as strong as I think I have become in my battle against so many aspects of managing this chronic disease, I still have a daily battle with self-image.
RA not only has the obvious physically painful symptoms that we all know about like joint discomfort, swelling, redness, muscle pain and fatigue, brain fog, mobility limitations, to name a few, but it also has visual symptoms that we do not often address or acknowledge. Ignoring them is not wise and will create self-defeating habits and perpetuate negative self-esteem.
The most obvious and overt images are the joint distortions. Thankfully, I have very few, mostly nodules or slight finger bends but I did have some really distinctive ones in my feet prior to my successful surgeries on both feet several years ago. Another one is the bodily changes, like my waistline, which has become more inflated thanks to, not only aging but the use of some medications like corticosteroids. Add to that the adjustments we must make to our exercise choices, which tend to make finding aerobic activities challenging at best, and the recipe for negative self-image is written.
These types of self-image issues are prominent and pervasive and can have significant effects on, not only our self-esteem but our ability to manage RA. Managing RA, not only means dealing with the physical effects, but also the emotional and psychological effects of dealing with a life-changing, chronic disease. So when our self-image is negatively impacted it directly affects our emotional health and well-being. That, in turn, can lead to depression which has a whole set of side effects, all of which make managing RA even more challenging.
So, how do we counter this and/or can we?
The answer is yes we can. The how is a little more complicated. I think one way is to tackle the areas individually. When I start to look at the laundry list of self-image issues I have it is overwhelming. So, instead, I take it one at a time and try to deal with it as best I can. For example, my waistline. I know that the medications I take contribute as does the limitations in my activity level that has come to be since RA. So, I worked with my Care Team to consider how to deal with this. First of all, I found exercises to replace those I could no longer do. That meant letting go of tennis and jogging and adding swimming and Tai Chi. Not only did this help my weight, but it lifted my spirits as physical activity does. Secondly, I have learned through lots of personal introspection and meditation, as well as a conversation with others, that how I look is not just about weight and waistline but also self-care. I buy clothes that flatter my current figure and I pamper myself with manicures and pedicures and hairstyles that boost my confidence.
In addition, I find that when I take care of my RA, it is reflected in my self-image and so the better I manage this disease the better I feel about myself and the greater my degree of self-confidence.
Let’s be realistic. In the best of times, all things being copasetic, our self-image can be fragile. So, given all that we contend with in dealing with RA, it is no surprise that we can succumb to poor self-esteem. But, as with everything else we battle when it comes to RA, this too is a fight we can win and with the help of our Care Team we will!