About four months ago, Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy experienced some of his deepest lows in his multiyear journey of living with RA. I thought that I would never get out of the situation I was in, and giving up hope often seemed to be the easiest thing to do. The smallest of movements caused the most excruciating pain, and walking was next to impossible. My world was caving in on me.
Each one of these days was documented here on my blog, which I had just launched at the end of April 2009. For those who are interested in reading more, the period I describe above corresponds to (approximately) the end of April 2009 until the end of May 2009.
Looking back at that time, I now realize that even though I felt as if I had no tools supporting me, I actually had a lot of them. And out of all of them, one of them stands out amongst others – Positive Thinking. The fruits of my positive thinking are becoming more and more clear each day. Practicing positive thinking has allowed me to build a solid foundation out of next to nothing, and it sure feels good! (It also provides me a lot of confidence as I move forward each minute, each hour, and each day).
I have written about positive thinking a handful of times before, but let me clarify once again what I mean by positive thinking. For me, positive thinking means continually being optimistic, while recognizing and accepting the realities of my life with rheumatoid arthritis. For me, positive thinking means accepting that the pain and the flares will always be there…but that at the same time, that I will continually strive to find ways to integrate this pain and flares into my life.
Positive thinking means tricking my mind, without resorting to denial. Sure, on any given day I might wake up and find myself dealing with some pretty serious symptoms of my rheumatoid arthritis. I have every right to grieve, to get angry, to cry, and to process the wide array of emotions that accompany the physical symptoms. While I accept where I am at that moment, I also give myself the right to think about where I would rather be. Once I clearly define these two points: where I am and where I want to be, the path between them appears almost by itself.
I am not saying that moving from point A to point B is by any means easy. In facts, it’s often one of the most difficult challenges of living with a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis. But, as with most everything else, the more times I do it the easier it becomes.
My mind often reacts as I think most normal minds would, in that it begins to get confused as a result of the intense chronic pain. The onslaught of pain signals that the body is continually delivering overloads my mind at times. My mind stops thinking clearly. Everything seems 10x or 100x more difficult than it did just a day before. It seems like things will never end. And my emotional spiral just starts spinning downwards.
I have found that while positive thinking may not always prevent these downward spirals, it will at least put on the brakes sooner than usual…and the hole that I have to climb out of is not as deep as it used to be on previous occasions. Positive thinking is that change of direction that is so important…instead of thinking on the negative, it’s thinking on the positive. For me, positive thinking is the FIRST STEP in the right direction. The longer I practice positive thinking, the more steps I move forward in the right direction.
Positive thinking is knowing that the list of things that I can do will always be longer than the list of things I can’t do. Positive thinking is deciding to sign up for the evening class at the local university, even though I know it will bring certain challenges of it’s own. But in the end, these challenges are easily overcome. And what I am left with is the fact that I am pursuing an activity that I love – despite my rheumatoid arthritis.
In doing so, I find news ways to trick my mind (once again, only I mean this only in a positive way). Just yesterday, I spent all afternoon with my nose in a translating dictionary and with my fingers typing away on my computer’s keyboard, trying to read a homework assignment written in a completely foreign language. (They always seem so impossible at the beginning, no? If I crack this one, it will be my fourth language.) As is the case during any intense studying session, I took multiple breaks. During each break, I was surprised with how much my hands and feet were hurting. Sure, the pain was there all along…but when I lost myself to my new language, I no longer had any thoughts that I could dedicate to my pain.
I went to class in the evening, cautiously answered questions that the professor posed to the class, took notes, laughed at his jokes (which I am happy to say are actually funny), repeated phrases over and over and over again, and then copied some digital files from his computer onto my memory stick. The ninety minutes flew by. At the end of class, I put everything into my backpack and pulled out my scarf. Guess what? Pain. And lots of it. Like I said before, I have no doubt that is was there all along….I just had not taken notice of it.
Yesterday I wrote that I am feeling better, emotionally, during this current downswing. Sure, the pain and stiffness is just as bad as it’s always been. It might even be a little worse, as I noted that these symptoms have never appeared before while I am on a Prednisone taper. But by practicing positive thinking over the past few months, I have built a strong foundation on which to stand.
I have noticed that encountering this current flare has been just a tad bit less intimidating that it used to be. And if this were the only benefit of months of positive thinking, it was worth every moment.
I’m not stopping here, though. I am going to continue to practice positive thinking even more – and see what other benefits are out there, that I have yet to discover!
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!