Shifting Focus

“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!

9 Comments
9 comments
  1. Helen says:

    Sounds like a wonderful day!

    I find that I often go way overboard when trying to ignore pain, and just ignore my whole body which means ignoring the pleasure and strength of my body as well as pain. It looks like you are finding a very happy medium!

  2. Jules says:

    Sounds like a wonderful day! I wish you were geographially closer because my other (better?) Half is not even remotely adventurous in his eating habits and I would love for us to do lunch!

  3. RA Guy says:

    A few months back I wrote here that one of my goals was to try to separate my mental well-being from my physical well-being. I’ve worked a lot on this, and it has helped.

    This time around I recognized, however, that I was still living “in a flare” or “out of a flare”, and treating life differently depending upon the circumstances. My current goal is to transcend the on/off nature of these flares as best I can…wish me luck!

  4. Laurie says:

    My hero! I have spent most of yesterday and today obsessing with the fact that when I do my Advanced cardiac life support/CPR this afternoon that I will be sore from my hips to ankles from getting down on my knees to give compressions and breaths. My knuckles, fingers and wrists will be stiff from doing the compressions.My neck will be stiff from mouth to mouth(of course if the mannequin looked like George Clooney, that would make things more tolerable. Throw in the backache from sitting for 4 hours, and I look forward to a night in the hottub. I am premedicating with my usual daily aleve, 5mg of prednisone and some ultram. I am PRAYING that this year when I tell the instructors doing the checklists that I have a physical disability that they are a little more compassionate when I can’t do compressions as deep as they would like. Oh well…off to save lives for the 31st year as a nurse…someone’s gotta do it.

  5. Terry says:

    I am 6 years into my journey after being highjacked by RA. It has truly been a learning experience, even today I am still learning. The main thing that has helped me is learning to listen to my body, recognizing and heading off pain and even flares before they get to severe stages.

  6. Sunita says:

    You write so well RA Guy. Have you ever thought of putting together a book? I think you could inspire so many people.
    I’ve had to shift focus, although perhaps in a slightly different way. I used to be an experimental scientist, by which I mean I used to devise and carry out experiments in a laboratory environment. Now I can’t use my hands very well, I’ve had to reshift my focus towards jobs that don’t require manual dexterity or rushing up and down stairs. I’m now considering science policy as a job, and I do a little freelance work in science editing…but its been a difficult transition, especially when you are in a career that previously seemed so vocational.
    I used to love painting and drawing. My occupational therapist gave me some foam tubing to put around my pencil, and such a simple act brought sunlight to my day. She gave me some special rubber matting material to help open jars more easily. She suggested there could be options for adapting my home for disability. It all sounds so simple, but it meant that maybe I can deal with this condition. Psycholgically, it can be hard to admit that we have a disability…its a big wall. Especially when you are young(ish)! Sometimes I thing the classic “why is this happening to me?”. I have cried buckets over it. Thankfully I still have my mind, well sort of…at least for now. And there are so many things out there that uplift the spirit (even though I’m not religious). Humour is important too I think. I always hope my medications will give me a new lease of life. I dream of abandoning my walking stick and wearing heels again!

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