Lifestyle Changes & Eliminating The Blame Game

Earlier this year, during the midst of what has definitely been my worst flare ever, something interesting happened: I suddenly realized how much time, energy, money, and hope I was spending on my desire to make my pain go away. And even though I knew, firsthand, the ravaging effect that rheumatoid arthritis often had on my body, for the first time ever I fully recognized how determined (stubborn?) I was to not make seemingly simple accommodations that would lessen the negative impact that chronic pain and disability had on my life.

For years, I hesitated from seriously considering many options which fell under “lifestyle changes” for one main reason: by accepting that there were certain things–within my control–that I could improve through change, I felt like I was implicitly blaming myself for my illness. Yes, I had this disease, but it was this disease–and nothing that I was actually doing/not doing myself–that was causing all of my problems. Case closed. (Or so I thought.)

A few people who are close to me had previously introduced a certain question into my life, a question which I had come across myself many times while reading about chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis, and disability: how much of my pain was caused by the disease itself, and how much of my pain was caused by my reaction to/rejection of this disease?

Once again, such a thought–at the time–only served to move me dangerously close back to the realm of self-blame. Of course *everything* that was wrong in my life, all of my pain, all of my depression, all of my financial problems, could be (and were) blamed on my rheumatoid arthritis. Just read all of the medical information sheets: chronic pain, no cure, loss of mobility, expensive medicines…and the list just goes on and on!

Fortunately, during this past year, I’ve finally opened up and have allowed myself to try to answer such a question, without feeling the need to place any blame on myself. Yes, there are many problems that result from living with an immune system gone wild…and if we’re looking for an actual cause of the pain and disability, we can go all the way down to the molecular level. I’d finally had enough of the blame game, though. I wanted solutions; I wanted a better life.

As I started looking at my life and my daily activities through this lens of trying to make things better, as opposed to through the lens of guilt and blame, I was amazed at how many evident solutions were right in front of me. Ahh…the dreaded “lifestyle changes” had finally become…well…quite liberating! (And no, they didn’t–and never will–”cure” me of my disease…but they’ve certainly made things a heck of a lot easier…and in my case, at least, they have actually helped to lessen the severity of my RA symptoms.)

And by lifestyle changes, I’m certainly not advocating for snake oil remedies. I’m talking about important changes that might seem frightening and/or impossible up until the moment they are made, but that deliver overwhelmingly positive (and obvious) results as soon as they are implemented.

Some of these changes could be “big,” such as my decision earlier this year to stop teaching at a local university. Originally I was jumping into the unknown, and had no idea how I was going to be able to support myself financially. I have since established a tutoring business that not only allows me to work from home, but that actually pays better than my previous job. And the best part of all? I no longer have to push myself to leave the house each morning, flare or no flare. By eliminating this constant stress trigger, I have achieved not only increased peace of mind but also improved health.

Some of these changes could be “small,” such as my decision to stop moving when my body is in a flare. I used to do the exact opposite, in order to prove to myself that I could indeed actually continue to move. I still remember those moments of panic, when my hands began to curl and my knees stopped working. Instead of laying down and giving my body the rest it needed, I would start pacing around the house. I’ve since learned that true victory doesn’t mean not stopping…it means accepting the need to stop when my body tells me to, and appreciating these moments of physical stillness.

I continue to spend as much time, energy, money, and hope as I previous did…but instead of working *against* something, against the presence of chronic illness and pain in my life…I now find myself working *for* something, for a future that continues to improve with each and every new day.

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

19 Comments
19 comments
  1. Becky says:

    I completely agree!! It isn’t going away, so instead of beating your head against the wall so to speak, make those adaptations. It’s not conceding to defeat, it’s taking control. I think that we forget sometimes that it is still our body & we can make those changes. Great blog today!!!!!

  2. Cheryl says:

    I completely appreciate this article. It is one of the beautiful gifts I’ve received from having RA! We have to learn to listen to our bodies! My father accuses me of being “lazy” when I have to stop and rest. I used to get depressed that I could no longer do certain things. However, I’ve come to enjoy the peace that can come from spending the down time getting to know myself and GOD!! Thank You for printing this article RA Guy!! I will be forwarding it!

  3. Nan Hart says:

    I found your concluding comments about working “for” something instead of “against” really compelling. As always your insights are inspirational!
    Nan

  4. Lana says:

    There is an old Japanese proverb that states: “Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.” Fear keeps us from us from achieving our full potentials. For those of us that live with chronic illness, our fears change so we are never really immune from them. All we can do is control what we can and find ways to work around the things we cannot control. I am so happy that you were able to eliminate some triggers of your flare ups. Peace of mind and improved health are important to so many. Personally, I am guilty of not stopping when my body tells me and it is something I have been trying to improve on.

  5. Wren says:

    So wise. It’s fascinating to me that no matter how long we’ve had this monster of a disease, we never cease learning how to deal with it gracefully. Terrific post, Guy. You always make me smile.

  6. Sue says:

    Amen! I’ve spent more time than I like to think about ‘pushing’ thru flares…most times rationalizing to myself that “it” is not going to beat me…when in reality by adapting my life….sometimes minute by minute as I go…and being grateful for the freedom TO adapt…it has made me much more peaceful and joyful. (I homeschool 4 children, so I didn’t want to be “the sick mom”…and I need to be joyful for my children and my husband) I’ve found that I can do almost everything I could do before RA and Fibro….just in different ways. Thanks for your thoughts…and God bless you!

  7. Lindsey says:

    My reaslization was the moment when I finally asked my doctor for a handicap tag. I still get judgements from family and passers by, but I feel great about the freedom it has given me.

  8. Terri Lynn says:

    Great article! I needed to read this today. I think there is a certain amount of mental freedom that comes when one decides that they still have control over how we respond to a disease that is so unpredictable. Thanks for your insights as always!

  9. RA Guy says:

    Thanks for all of the kind comments–I’m honored to be in the company of so many others who have figured out some of these same lessons! Sometimes, it seems like the easiest things to change are actually the hardest things to change. (Of course, realizing this is much easier said than done.)

  10. Jackie says:

    On the money, RA Guy! You do a fabulous job of crystalizing so many of my thoughts as I follow you down this road. Acceptance doesn’t have to mean hopelessness and depression, as you so eloquently illustrate.

  11. Marcia says:

    Reading your article was like taking a slow deep breath and then feeling the space inside me that frees up. I have struggled against making some changes in my life and work, but when I stopped agonizing and just let the changes happen, I felt so much better. Another thing I’ve realized is that I’m not “fighting” RA. The disease isn’t really my enemy, it’s just the cards that have been dealt me and I’m the one who decides to play or fold. Each day I try to do one really good thing for myself and another good thing for at least one other person. I do what I can to appreciate the folks in my life and to have gratitude for my blessings, despite the sometimes overwhelming challenges. When I focus on these things, RA becomes only something that’s always there in the background – it’s IN my life but it is NOT my life.

  12. Lisa says:

    Thank you for posting this, it’s something that most of us RA sufferers need to face, just don’t have the courage to do it. Bravo!

  13. Jules says:

    Thank you- I needed this today. I can’t tell you how much it moved me. I have been avoiding the lifestyle changes that I need to make. In the face of the enormity of living with RA- making BIG changes that need to be made (even though I know in my head it needs to be done) just seems like too much. It’s kinda like…”Hey, body? How much MORE do you want from me?” I am going to bookmark this. I think I need to read it over and over and really process how I can apply it to my life and use it as motivations to get my butt in gear and make my own changes.

  14. Valerie says:

    I have been struggling with admitting I have RA. I have one of those gray area cases, but over the past few months it has become apparent to me that my symptoms are getting worse, I have been avoiding taking RA meds because I am afraid of the side effects and actually accepting I have a disease. Your blog made me realize I wasn’t alone in dealing with the changes that RA brings to your life. I hope I am able to overcome my mental resistance and fears, so that I can find some peace in my life,

  15. Bronnie Thompson says:

    Thanks for a wonderful post. I live with fibromyalgia, and I’m researching how people who live well despite having chronic pain (of any type) actually do so. What I’m discovering is that accepting doesn’t mean giving up hope, that pretending the pain isn’t there and grimly continuing as before doesn’t work, and that giving up and stopping life doesn’t work either. It seems that acceptance means being comfortable with doing things differently, staying involved with what is important in life, getting good support, and making your own decisions about how to live despite the pain. It might mean telling other people to take a hike if they want to interfere with your choices, or being persistent if there is something you want to know about and people (treatment people) don’t want to or cant be bothered to find out. Its a journey that doesnt end. I’d love to hear if this resonates with you. Thanks for your great site. Bronnie.

  16. Sue says:

    Thank you. I feel like I have finally found a place that understands. Acceptance for me has been a hard since starting this journey 2 years ago. I am slowly learning to adapt and learning to ask for help (a biggie for me). I am looking forward to using this site in my quest for a postive outlook on living with RA. Thanks again.

  17. Su says:

    Thanks RA guy, it’s nice to know there are people out there who understand how difficult it is. It can be a lonely world when people don’t understand what you’re going through.

  18. Linda says:

    Thank you Ra guy! I have just realized this exact thing and am currently making scary decisions . The thing is I have two young children and a husband as well to consider, it is very important I get this right. I need to stop feeling guilty for having ra and find solutions. I am looking forward to following your posts it is a lot to deal with, nice to find a place to take a breath :)

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