During the many years in which I have lived with rheumatoid arthritis, I have learned firsthand the importance of controlling the thoughts that often bounce around my head. Quite often, especially during my worst moments, telling myself that things will get better makes me feel…well, better. And telling myself that things will get worse will make me feel…you’ve got it — worse!
Now, I am in no way saying that I am denying myself the ability to connect with what is happening to my body, nor am I preventing myself the opportunity to experience the highs (yeah!) and lows (I believe that life is not about being happy all the time…) that often mark my days. What I am doing is accepting that being an optimistic realist is one of my most essential coping skills, when it comes to living with this disabling and chronic illness.
It’s easy to remove the obvious, major thoughts of self-doubt and self-blame (or at least it’s easy now, looking back on the past few years). What is a little more difficult is to recognize and eliminate the numerous little voices of non-support than present themselves all too often. Having focused on this finer level of negative thoughts during the past few months, I have been able to see a noticeable improvement in how I deal with the challenges that come my way. I feel much less stressed than I used to, and this in turn makes going through each day not only possible but even more enjoyable.
When I woke up this morning, I immediately knew that I was not going to go swimming. It wasn’t that I was in particularly bad shape; I just felt a little more tired than usual. So without so much as a second’s hesitation, I decided that it would be best to stay home and rest. I made this decision, and moved on with my day. No regret. No sadness. No unhappiness. It’s not like I’m going to stop swimming forever…it’s just that today was one of those days when I needed less physical activity, and more rest. Only this morning did I stop and realize that this was the first time I’ve made the decision to not exercise without feeling guilty, without thinking that maybe I should have just pushed a little more and gone through with my usual morning routine. Experience has shown me that some of my biggest setback were triggered by pushing myself just a little too hard.
Just a little over an hour ago, I experienced a pretty strong flare involving my hands, elbows, and shoulders. As the inflammation increased and my joints and muscles began to give out, I bundled myself up for the event (today is colder than usual) and selected some music (Chopin’s Nocturnes and Golijov’s Oceana) from my iPod to listen to. As I lost the use of my upper body, and as the pain once again peaked, I was surprised at how amazingly calm I was. No, not the “I need to calm my thoughts” state of being that so often accompanies the symptoms of my disease, but a complete and total calm. There were no thoughts of what I should or could instead be doing, no guilt about “resting”. Every thought that crossed my mind was one of 100% support for what my mind and body were experiencing at the time.
All of these feelings are new to me, as is my ability to remain calm during a flare (this is been one of my personal goals for more than a year now). And in certain ways, this newness is still a little bit uncomfortable to me. Not that I’m complaining though…I know that this is something that I can totally get used to!
I can’t eliminate my pain and disability, but I can get rid of those thoughts that don’t provide me the support that I need to continue moving forward!
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!