Last evening Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy had a long telephone conversation with his sister. The longest period that usually passes between our phone calls is usually a week or two, but due to lots of different reasons on both ends our most recent gap exceeded our norm. No complaints on my end though, as that only meant that we had that much more to catch up on as we spoke – and this is always a good thing.
During the past few months I have grown much more accustomed to living hour by hour, day by day. Sure, I reminisce about the past and think back on the most recent weekend. I also plan activities for the coming days, and wonder what life might bring my way a month from now. But in order to get through the many ups and downs of living with rheumatoid arthritis, I frequently find myself living in the moment – as I have written about many times before.
As I bought my sister up to date on my latest goings on in the past few weeks, I found myself pleasantly surprised when I started sharing all of the things I have learned in only the past month. While it’s important to focus in on each step forward, sometimes it’s nice to take a break to look back and see just how far I have come in what can sometimes feel like an eternity, but which in reality is actually a somewhat short period of time.
So as writing here on my blog serves as a personal archive of my adventures as I journey through chronic pain and debilitating inflammation, I would like to document some of these little steps forward that I have achieved, if only to inspire myself to continue to do the same – should I get stuck somewhere down the road.
In a way, this will be my own little RA report card – no grades, all comments.
I have learned that fear is a normal part of living with rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes this is due to the unknown: what might the future bring, will things get better or worse? At other times this is due to the known: I have been through this before, and the mere thought of going through it again scares me. What matters the most is not the absence or presence of fear, but that I react to this fear accordingly. I must not allow it to prevent me from continuing to move down the path that I know is good for me.
I have learned the importance of protecting my stomach. The medicines I take on a daily basis are very strong on my stomach, and I can’t afford to have even one day go by in which I do not do everything possible in order to support my stomach.
I have learned that the quicker I accept that I am in a flare, that things will actually be better and not worse. I will be able to add different activities to my day that allow me to take better care of myself. By listening more closely to my body and the messages it is sending me, I can work with it so that things can get back on track. I will still allow myself to experience the cycle of emotions that accompanies each flare, but I will identify these stages more quickly – and then allow myself whatever time I need in order to work through them in a healthy manner.
I have learned that the sooner I cry, the better I will feel. It’s oh so easy to hold these feelings in longer than I should, but after each good cry there is always one thought on my mind: why didn’t I do this sooner? I will try to remind myself about this next time I find myself holding emotions that need to be released.
I have learned that I can continue to do the activities that I enjoy, whether I am in a flare or not. In fact, dedicating more time and attention to these things that bring joy to my life actually allows me to take my mind off the pain and limitations that living with rheumatoid arthritis presents on a regular basis. If there is an activity that might be too difficult to perform due to certain physical limitations, I’ve learned to see this not as a door closing but as a door opening. This just might be the motivation I need to do something I’ve always wanted to do. Explore a new genre of literature. Appreciate a new type of music. Learn what all of those buttons on my camera actually do. Who doesn’t have a list of things we’ve always wanted to do, but never seem to get around to?
I have learned that chances are very high that dairy is a trigger for my rheumatoid arthritis, and that tomatoes are on my list of possible suspects. I’m almost two months into my elimination diet, and I am taking my time in reintroducing certain items. My horizon in terms of new recipes and things to eat has expanded drastically, and for me this – in and of itself – is one of the most enjoyable (and most unexpected) results of my dietary explorations.
I have learned that even as things get a little better with each step forward, that living with rheumatoid arthritis continues to remain a challenge. I mean this is the most optimistic way possible. I would love to say that I will reach a point where it is “easy”, but I would much rather prepare myself for the realities that are involved in living with this painful and disabling disease, than underestimate the challenge and set myself up for a tumble.
I have learned that the biggest obstacles to overcome are often mental, and not physical. Although when I am confronted with excruciating pain, deformative swelling, and the temporary loss of mobility in certain joints, it often seems that the exact opposite is true.
I have learned that anxiety attacks appear frequently in my life, but that I have the coping skills to work through them. The split-second in which I recognize that my fight or flight mechanism is kicking in, I immediately stop feeding these thoughts and instead place my mind elsewhere – anywhere – where it feels safer. I have learned that even a handful of deep breaths go a long way in preventing a full-blown anxiety attack.
I have been learned that responding negatively to the challenges that rheumatoid arthritis introduces into my life sometimes seems like the easy thing to do, and that responding positively sometimes seems like the hard thing to do. But for each new day that I practice positive thinking, things begin to flip. Thinking positively becomes easier, and thinking negatively becomes harder. I love the power of comes with telling myself that everything is going to be okay. I find the alternative, in which my mind tricks me into believing that things are going to get worse, to be somewhat tiring.
I have learned that the list of things I can do will always be longer than the list of things I can’t do. I have learned the importance of continuing to add to the list of things that I can do. Sometimes I can even add to the list of things I want to do. Either way, this feels much better than adding to the list of things I can’t do.
Lastly, I continue to learn that each new step forward builds exponentially on all of my previous steps forward. This thought excites me, and it provides me with all of the motivation that I need in order to continue seeing the beauty of each new day in which I live with rheumatoid arthritis.
What does your RA report card look like?
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!