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!