“Your imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions.”
Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy is a big believer in the power of positive affirmations. On most days I can be found sitting at my desk, writing one phrase over and over in one of my notebooks. I have a large stack of journals that have already been filled, and I look forward to completing many more – even though yesterday I had to put a super wide cushion grip onto my pen, in order to lessen the pain in my hands as I wrote. (Note: My hands are now fine; I originally wrote this post a few days ago.)
I think that, all too often, discussions around positive thinking and positive affirmations are too quickly written off as being too “new age”. So does that mean that repeating thought patterns that either don’t move myself forward, or that allow me to remain stuck behind my pain and suffering, is “old age”?
Every episode of the Simpsons starts with Bart writing sentence after sentence on the chalkboard at the front of the classroom. Once again he misbehaved during class – and the solution is to have him write his sentences. Some of the sentences in certain episodes are hilarous, no? Long live the power of positive (?) affirmations in the Simpsons.
I grew up on Saturday Night Live (back when it was still funny), and I remember that one of the best things to laugh about while back as school on Monday morning was Stuart Smalley looking into the mirror and saying things such as “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” To be honest, it took me a while to remove this skit from my mind whenever I sat down to write my affirmations. Al Franken believed in the power of positive affirmations, and now he’s a U.S. senator!
A few years ago, my yoga instructor asked me to bring a notebook in to class. When he returned it to me at the end of the session, there was an affirmation written on the first page. My homework was to focus on this affirmation for the rest of the day, and to write it down 100 times. Almost immediately I noticed the positive effect that performing this activity had on me.
I have since moved on to another yoga instructor, but I have continued with the practice of writing positive affirmations (almost) every day. As my rheumatoid arthritis has progressed during the past months, some of my most peaceful moments have come when I sit down and write. The affirmations range for the short and simple “I love my body.” to the longer and powerful “I forgive everyone in the past for all perceived wrongs. I release them with love.” Often, as I write, I light some incense and put on some meditation music.
A couple of months ago, during one of my darkest and most confusing moments, I had stopped writing my affirmations. (This was right around the time when, for the first time, I experienced a temporary loss in the use of my hands.) I don’t remember where I saw the suggestion – Twitter, Facebook, or Blogs – but I came across someone who said that, during particularly rough moments of living with RA, she pins up positive affirmations all around her house.
I didn’t go quite to that extent (no matter, I wasn’t moving around the house much that weekend), but I did pull out some positive affirmation cards and place them on my night stand. Whenever I encountered a moment of anxiety and pain, I would glance at these cards. They did give me some peace of mind, and that eventually gave me strength to change my negative thoughts into positive thoughts.
These are the positive affirmation cards that I currently use.
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When Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy started blogging on a daily basis, he wondered if he was going to be able to maintain this pace. Who was I kidding? My adventures with rheumatoid arthritis continue to provide me more than enough stories and issues to write about, and I have yet to encounter even the slightest bit of writer’s block.
Sometimes I write my posts at the crack of dawn, minutes before I publish them. Other times I write them them the night before, before I go to sleep. And yet at other times I have some many issues floating around my head (it should come as no surprise that rheumatoid arthritis like to multi-task), that I have multiple drafts in my queue, ready to publish day by day.
Whenever I am dealing with a particular difficult aspect of living with rheumatoid arthritis, writing about that issue takes priority. Sometimes it can be when I am dealing with depression and at other times it can be when I am struggling with anger.
The post that I had planned to publish this past Monday continues to be postponed. I am happy to say, however, that this recent delay is a result not of bad news, but of extremely good news.
Those people who follow me on Twitter might have seen my message that I sent out on Monday night: “Today was my best day in weeks. Actually had about 30 minutes of no pain – first time in months!”
My Monday morning started off like so many others, and the pain and inflammation gradually progressed throughout the day. As I started to get ready for my afternoon session of physical therapy, I had to ask for help in putting on my shirt, sweatshirt, and jacket since my shouders were in so much pain that I could not lift my arms over my head.
At least my feet and knees are doing surprisingly well, I told myself.
(As I rode to the doctor’s office, Irene Cara’s Flashdance was playing on the radio. I won’t go into all the details, but let’s just say that my mental image of myself included a chair and lots of wet hair!)
As my physical therapist applied ultrasound to my shoulders, she commented on how surprised she was that the swelling was going down so quickly – she had never seen any of my joints react so quickly. Wow, I thought – what’s going on? We also applied low-laser therapy to all of the smaller joints on my fingers, which were slightly inflamed and in pain.
As I walked out of the center, I was struck with how silent the surrounding neighborhood was – the only sounds that could be heard was some birds chirping. And then it struck me – my body was absolutely silent as well. I scanned all of my joints, and not one of them was experiencing pain! It felt like I was forgetting something – when in fact the only thing I had left behind was my rheumatoid arthritis.
I took a short taxi ride home, and once I entered the house I announced that I was indeed completely pain free. I counted the months since the last time I had experienced even a minute without pain, and ended up with nine months.
Half an hour later the symptoms returned, but not nearly to the intensity or duration with which they have presented themselves with – even as recently as this past Sunday.
I went to sleep thinking that no matter how short or long this turn of events lasted, the important thing was that I was given a complete break for the first time in months.
Yesterday morning I was in bed reading and surfing the web, when I realized that I felt great. I looked at the clock on my nightstand and realized that there was still time to get ready and go to yoga – I had already gotten used to not even considering going to exercise in the mornings. (I had missed class the past two weeks.)
Off to yoga I went. I completed the entire routine without over-exerting myself. I even worked up a sweat. (It’s vinyasa yoga.) As I returned home later in the morning, I waited for the pain and swelling in my ankles and wrists to return. I’m still waiting.
Later during the afternoon, which is usually one of the worst times of the day, I did have some pain in my knees and elbows – but it lasted minutes instead of hours. For the first time in more than two months I left the house without my crutches. (I did take my cane, just in case…) I walked the rest of the day with a slight spring in my step. It felt like shock-absorbers had been installed overnight into all of my joints.
I had forgotten what my body felt like…over close to almost a year, all that I have felt was pain. To be honest it felt like a part of me was missing, but I decided that this was one loss I was not going to mourn and the best thing to do was reacquaint myself with my body.
People are already asking me what I did in order to provoke such a drastic improvement. I’d love to be able to say that is was this or that specific thing – but since I can’t, I’ll write about what I think has helped me the most during the past few months.
Many of you know that on top of visiting my rheumatologist once a month, I also do physical therapy and acupuncture on a regular basis. I visit my psychologist once a week, and I meditate at home when my pain is at its worst. Just recently my doctor and I tried out a handful of different NSAIDS to see which one helped the most. I am three weeks into an elimination diet, and I recently started taking high doses of fish oil. I write every day about my struggles, and in opening up I allow others to enter into my world and provide me support. I take Rescue Remedy during particularly rough times. Which of these things help more more than others? I have no clue. What I do know is that taken together, they ALL help me.
“This Is Never Going To End”
One of my biggest rules during the past few months has been not allowing myself to think “this is never going to end”. I had done so many times in the past, and I now know from experience that this thought pattern only leads me to lower lows, and increases my feelings of desperation. Whenever this thought even begins to creep into my mind, I immediately cancel it out and replace it with “This too will pass”. Doing so has been difficult at times, but it is a rule that I will continue to live by.
I like to think that I have humiliated my rheumatoid arthritis into submission. It should come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I often turn the tables on my RA and make fun of it. Sometimes it’s Bingo, other times it’s Survivor, and yet other times it’s Joints Gone Wild. It’s all too easy to feel humiliated by my rheumatoid arthritis when it begins to limit my mobility and when it sends me on an emotional and physical roller coaster. But no matter what, I will continue to laugh at my rheumatoid arthritis, and I won’t let it laugh at me.
I hope this feeling continues to last, but I will continue to go to sleep each night without expectations of what the following day should bring. This has worked well for me in the past, so why change it now?
And even if I should once again experience symptoms of RA sooner that I like, I will find comfort in knowing that every now and then, I can still have a great day like yesterday.
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!
After his latest bout of anger, Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy decided that he would seek a little bit of relief by doing some guided imagery exercises.
Guided imagery uses mental visualization and relaxation in order to improve one’s mood and general sense of well-being. It’s actually quite simple – it’s sort of like inventing a happy place in your mind, and then visiting that happy place in your mind. No reservations or pesky security check required.
In order to gain the most benefit from guided imagery, it’s often best to get into a comfortable position. So I took off my shoes, laid down on my bed, and closed my eyes. A couple of deep breathes, and I was ready to start!
I started envisioning someplace warm. Maybe it’s summertime. (Don’t forget, I’m south of the equator, and this week nighttime temperatures dropped into the low 20s.) There is lots of sun…in fact, I am basking in the sun!
What’s that I hear? It’s like I’m holding a seashell up to my ear. Gentle waves are breaking onto the sand. I’m at the beach! Perfect. In my mind, I have already traded my winter pants for a pair of swim trunks.
I continue to walk, and I can feel the warm sand sifting between my toes. I zig-zag, walking into the ocean every now and then to wet my feet. Pure bliss.
I consider taking off my cape, but I end up leaving it on. There’s no sense in having to deal with a sunburn later on.
All that’s missing is a cocktail. This is my guided imagery, no? Poof! I am now holding a rum and coke, with one of those cool little umbrellas. I could spend all afternoon right where I am. This is the life!
But wait – what’s that?
As I take a sip of my drink, my elbow pops. That’s not good.
I look down at my feet. What the heck is going on with those toes and ankles?
My knees are so red they look like they are sunburned. And they hurt.
My wrist send a flash of pain through my fingers and up through my arm.
This is MY guided imagery. My rheumatoid arthritis is not supposed to follow me here. Go away RA!
And just like that, all of my pain and swelling goes away.
I continue to walk into the sunset, with a big smile on my face, and with my arms thrown up in the air. That’s odd…is that person over there videotaping me?
One of my dogs barks, and I immediately teleport back to the present.
What an odd guided imagery this was. It really did seem like I was walking on that sunny beach!
I know it was all made up, though…
Or was it??
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!
P.S. In all seriousness, performing guided imagery exercises has helped me quite a bit!