Shifting Focus

RA Guy Adventures of RA Guy

“Our thoughts create our reality — where we put our focus is the direction we tend to go.” -Peter McWilliams

LenseRheumatoid Arthritis Guy continues to learn the art of subtly shifting focus away from his RA, while at the same time recognizing and respecting the continually changing cycle of symptoms and limitations.

I must admit that there have been many times in the past when I have dwelled on the pain that rheumatoid arthritis has bought into my life. Even though I now know the importance of trying to place the mind someplace else than on the pain, I don’t regret having done so in the past – because I know firsthand just how hard it is to get past the pain. In order to get to Point B, I had to pass through Point A.

I have heard and read this suggestion for years: try to focus on activities that bring your pleasure and try to not dwell on the pain. My internal response was always the same. You cannot even imagine how much pain I am in. How could I possibly do anything else other than concentrate all of my attention on the pain?

Soon after my diagnosis a few years ago, when I was having an episode of morning stiffness and it was difficult if not impossible to get out of bed, my reaction was always the same: anxiousness, followed by fear, followed by an overwhelming bout of claustrophobia (“I have to get out of this body.”) followed by feelings of sadness. And this was only the start of my day!

Now, I often am surprised to wake up and find that I am already slowly beginning to flex my joints (especially my ankles). It’s almost as if my body by itself knows what it needs to do in order to work through this period of increased stiffness. Instead of feeling the need to get out of bed immediately, I relax and appreciate the opportunity I have to gradually shift from being asleep to being awake. However long the symptoms last, I busy myself either with a book, music, or podcast.

In the above two examples, the physical symptoms are exactly the same but their emotional impact on myself are completely different.

I spent yesterday morning working in the kitchen. Cooking has always been one of my favorite activities, but by having a different combination of bad joints each day, I have often spent time in the past justifying to myself why I should not spend time in the kitchen. At times this seemed to me to be the easy and right thing to do…but then all I have to remind myself is: favorite activity! Why am I not doing everything possible so that this activity remains a part of my life?

Thanks to some recent discussions on tumeric in the RA Information Library, I was inspired to cook a range of Indian vegetarian dishes. We had bright yellow (cabbage stir fry), orange (sweet potato with ginger and lemon), deep red (beets with cilantro, lime, and Serrano peppers), and golden white (tofu vindaloo).  Served with a tall stack of popadoms and a side of mango chutney, I was in such sensory overload that my body seemed to be working in my favor in order to allow this midday feast to take place.

After lunch we left the house for an afternoon excursion. The next four hours were spent going up and down a narrow unpaved road that dipped down through valleys and that hung precariously on the side of a tall mountain cliff.  We stopped at various lookout points to take photos, to enjoy the sounds that the blowing wind made through different rock formations, and the enjoy the play of light and shadow on the rolling hills and cragged rocks as the sun moved through the sky. I saw birds I had never seen before, as I drank some warm tea from a thermos and snapped off a square of bitter mint chocolate.

It was a wonderful afternoon, and just like in the morning, I could feel a slight buzz of pain in some of my joints. I was definitely not pushing myself too far, but in the few moments when my mind switched focus off the breathtaking views and back onto my body, I was reminded that yes, I do continue to live with rheumatoid arthritis.

As I got home and started to unwind, I was a little but surprised that my hands went into one of their really bad periods, which usually last between 60-90 minutes. It is very rare that I experience these episodes during the evening – usually they take place during the afternoon. It was almost as if my body had postponed this in order to give me the opportunity to enjoy my new adventures in the morning and in the afternoon.

So now, it was my turn to give a little something back. I closed my eyes and took an hour and a half nap. My body had given me the entire day. Now I was giving my body and my hands the time they needed in order to enter into whatever inflammatory process was necessary at the moment.

And with that little unspoken agreement, I finished a wonderful day.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!