Last updated: February 2022
I remember purchasing my very first brace after being diagnosed with Rheumatoid Disease (RD). It was for my right wrist. My wrist began to hurt in a way that demanded my full attention.
After having RD for a while, you develop the uncanny ability to instinctively know the difference between a new pain and the familiar, “I overdid it pain.”
I am a yoga instructor and a barista at a very busy café, so I am familiar with the painful residue of a long day. This was not that.
Embracing the brace
I knew it was time for a brace. People in my various RD support groups talked about their own collection of braces and how invaluable each of them was to them.
I was secretly relieved that I didn’t have any yet. Maybe that meant that my RD wasn’t that bad. Maybe I would never require any braces at all?
With some hesitation, I bought the wrist brace.
I felt defeated and scared at first but then empowered because it helped me teach yoga and allowed me to be careful and mindful at my barista gig. No biggie, after all, it’s just one brace.
The next brace I purchased was for my knees. Same story as before, different body part. I felt anxious, sad, and defeated at first. Naturally, I wondered, “Am I getting worse? Is my disease progressing?”
Both my left and right knees were generous enough to share the brace with each other and to never both need it at the same time. For that I was grateful.
The return of rheumatoid disease pain
The other morning as I slowly opened my eyes waking up from sleep, I felt it.
There was a sharp pain deep inside the base of my thumb. I knew instantly that it was a new Rheumatoid Disease pain and my heart sank.
Fear trampled my positivity and I instinctively thought, “Here it is, just one more body part being painfully chipped away by this horrible disease.” Not the most empowering way to begin my day, but it came up without warning.
I felt bad and sad for a few days. I got stuck in the “Why Me’s?” of it all.
RA pain creates challenging emotions
I’m doing everything I know how to do.
I go to all of my appointments and religiously take my meds. I gave up alcohol, smoking and gluten, then took up yoga, meditation, and resting as an actual activity.
I try with everything I’ve got to maintain a positive attitude but sometimes, like now, I just feel sad and scared.
I am exhausted from continuously having to brace myself emotionally for the impact of waking up with the next new pain. It’s pre-fretting and pre-fretting robs me of my enthusiasm and wastes my precious energy. I don’t need that and neither do you.
This week when I felt that new pain I fell back into that place of fretting and fear.
What if despite all of my efforts I am getting worse? Even considering that made me feel frustrated, scared, and incredibly sad.
Instead of trying to shut those feelings down because they are scary and uncomfortable, I allowed them to stay as I moved forward.
Self-care and rheumatoid disease
I continuously iced my thumb and enjoyed my hand massager while snuggling under my favorite fleece blankets.
I comforted the parts of myself that felt sad and asked for help carrying, holding or moving all the things.
I kissed my thumb hundreds of times like I would kiss the hurting thumb of a four-year-old.
I purchased a comfy new brace for my thumb and then went on with my week.
This experience has taught me that adding a new brace to my growing collection does not have to have the negative significance that I thought it did.
What I've learned
I thought it signified the beginning of the end like it was the smoking gun of disease progression and demise.
I have realized that with this disease, so many things are only as significant as you decide they are. If my disease is progressing, I will give it everything I have.
If I am just having a painful day or week, I will give it everything I have with a new brace on my thumb, knee or wrist.
I am always working on how to move through hard and fearful feelings without getting stuck there.
I have experienced over and over again that when I acknowledge and honor my occasional “Why Me’s,” I am capable of moving through them much faster and getting back to the things that make me feel happy and full.
I no longer want to emotionally brace myself for the next new pain or continuously worry that I am getting worse because pre-fretting saps my precious energy and devours my enthusiasm.
Rheumatoid Disease decided to be my lifelong companion so I have decided that we shall coexist in a way that leaves me feeling empowered instead of held hostage.
A brace can support RA emotionally and mentally
I now have pink arthritis compression gloves that I wear every night, a wrist brace, orthotics for my shoes, a knee brace and a thumb brace.
Instead of seeing these supports as symbols of physical weakness or injury, I have decided to consider them outward symbols of my awesome courage and resilience. Kind of like how Wonder Woman wears her cape, but in my case with more Velcro and support.
I would like you to consider this idea the next time you wake up with a new pain or a familiar old pain.
Your braces are symbols of your willingness to move forward, your enthusiasm for living a large life, and of your ability to take gentle care of yourself.
If you already have braces, I encourage you to wear them with gusto and pride. Be willing to set aside any negative connotations you may have attached to these devices of comfort and brace yourself, because you are worth it.
Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?
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