How Taking The Opposite Approach Has Helped, In More Ways Than One

Sometime last week, I had one of those beautiful moments of realization. This time around, it had to do with the idea that quite often, the thoughts or reactions that are the complete *opposite* of those which often comes to mind first actually provide the best way to get through things. Now I’m no psychologist, but I’ve noticed in myself, at least, that there is a tendency to just stick with “the way I’ve been dealing with things,” instead of stepping outside of my zone of comfort, and trying to figure out if there’s actually a better way to cope. The answer to this never-ending question, I have learned, is almost always a definitive YES!

Welcoming the Pain

I’ve written on many occasions how after years of wanting, hoping, wishing, and praying that the pain would go away, I decided to adopt a completely different approach, and welcome the pain into my life. Originally it felt really weird to even consider such a thing, but the more I put it into practice, the more it made sense. And during the worst moments, when the pain even starts to affect my ability to think clearly, I still welcome it into my life. I tell myself that I’m going to familiarize myself with this pain even more, and that I’m going to learn something about it that I previously didn’t know. All of this means, in the end, that instead of moving towards the usual fight or flight type reactions, I stay calm…and figuring out how to stay calm, during these levels of pain and disability, is one of the biggest victories of all.

Living With RA Has Improved My Life

Quite often, when one is talking about disability and chronic disease, there is a tendency to assume that these conditions automatically lead to a lower quality of life. When this question it turned on its head–as I believe it should be, and as I have done myself in my Real Profiles of RA when I ask directly “How has living with RA helped to improve your life?”–I’ve learned that not only can the responses be quite varied, but that some people will tell me that it’s absolutely wrong of me to even ask such a question. Sure, my chronic illness has bought so much of what is often labeled as “bad” in my life, but the truth of the matter is that its also bought much more good. It’s taught me how to slow down and appreciate the finer, non-material aspects of life. It’s taught me how to face my challenges, and not shy away from them. It’s taught me respect, not only for others, but also towards myself. These are just a few of the life lessons my RA has taught me, and this this I will always be grateful.

My Can-Do List Will Always Be Longer Than My Can’t-Do List

I think many of us have seen the example of little kid #1 playing in a roomful of toys. Little kid #2 walks in, picks up an unused toy that is sitting in the corner, and walks out. All of a sudden, the only thing little kid #1 can thing about is the toy that is no longer in the room. It doesn’t matter that little kid #1 is still surrounded by toys; the only thing in the world that he wants is that toy that was taken away, and he’s not going to be happy until he gets is back. By telling this story I’m in no way trying to undermine the severity of the physical and emotional losses that we encounter when living with chronic pain and disability…but I am trying to make a point about the fact, that no matter how much is taken away, there is always still so much that remains. I know firsthand how easy it is to focus on the losses, and how hard it it to find something to take their place…but in the end, this is exactly what needs to be done. I recently uploaded Philip Glass’ complete collection of music onto my iPod. There are times when I can’t even walk, and I can’t even muster the strength to hold a book…but I can plug in my earphones, and I can explore a new world of music. No matter what happens, there is always something that I *can* do, even it it’s just thinking.

I Love My Life, Just The Way It Is

The other day, as I sat–semi-paralyzed–in the back of a taxi cab on my way to physical therapy, I told myself that this is my life, and I love it. As I struggled to climb the flight of stairs (non-elevator building…go figure) to my physical therapist’s office, I told myself that this is my life, and I love it. As she helped my take off my shoes and jeans, I told myself that this is my life, and I love it. And as electrical currents were applied to the muscles and tendons around my knee–muscles which are once again beginning to atrophy–I told myself that this is my life, and I love it. And I’ve noticed that I’ve started telling myself this over and over again, on a regular basis. I first wondered if that by doing this I was just trying to convince myself of something that really wasn’t true…but now I’ve come to see that I really do believe these statements, and that such thoughts are a true reflection of my life, would I really have it any other way? After all, what’s the alternative. To tell myself that I hate my life? Been there, done that, and all I can say is that such a thought is no longer the thing for me.

I will continue to welcome the pain. My chronic illness has improved my life. I will always be able to do many things. And no matter what, I will always love my life, just the way it is.

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

6 Comments
6 comments
  1. Deb aka abcsofra says:

    This post got me thinking…warning…watch out…smoke is rising from brain and filling the screen :-) I have always been a fighter since birth. Partly because I had to and I think partly because it is in my DNA. Although I know I “fight” my ra life, I fight it in a good way. I don’t exactly approach my pain as you do…with acceptance and welcome it with open arms (so to say) but instead I plot and plan and calculate a way to get around it, over it and yes…through it. I was never the meditating type (maybe I should try that one of these days) but my approach is opposite of what alot of others would do. And for me it is also opposite in the sense that at one point I was ready to throw in the chips and resign myself to a life of disability and loss of who I was. At that point I decided and made a key decision that I couldn’t just resign myself (I had children to raise at the time) and for me to succeed at this, I would have to fight. So, I put on my ra boxing gloves and have been mentally duking it out ever since. My point here is that each and every one of us walks this ra path or autoimmune illness path and each and every one of us will find what works for us. You have always been an inspiration and salvation to others and to me this is your greatest gift you “have received” by getting this crummy disease. And even more amazing, you are giving this gift to others. Sometimes I think the cosmos out there has a destination in mind for us. It is just a question of whether we listen and realize exactly what that might be. And hint…it might not be what we planned or even thought was possible.

  2. Pamela J Walton says:

    I so agree with you. It is in my nature to be a positive person. Before I was diagnosed and the pain was at its worse, the non positive feelings I was having were foreign to me. But even then, I continued to do as much as I physically could because stopping was never an option for me. Once I was diagnosed and I adjusted to this news, I just incorporated it into my already full life, but who I am has always remained. I deal with the pain as I deal with any difficulty in my life, head on. (sometimes I may whine to God a little, but He is God, and I am sure is use to people whining, Lol) I think staying positive, embracing even the difficulties in our lives, does reduce the stress and the pain. I hate this disease, do not get me wrong, but like you I do love my life. And when I am not whining to God, I am thanking him for giving me my life and beautiful family. I also thank him for you because you are a gift to so many. Your journey through RA is truly an inspiration

  3. Aggie says:

    Once, many years before I had RA, I pulled the muscle away from the bones in both my elbows. I was told it could take over a year for this to heal, and many days the pain was unbearable. I couldn’t work, couldn’t sleep. I was recently divorced, a single parent with a 6 year old, and I could barely pick up my food to eat and once leaned over like a dog to just eat it off my plate, in tears of course. I fought it for a long time, and then one day, I gave up fighting and just thought…well, this is how it is. And all of a sudden it was like a weight was physically lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t have to fight the pain anymore. I could just “be.” And with the help of hypnosis from a gifted therapist, I could be free of the constant pain, even if only for 30 minutes at a time. It took years before the tendons/muscles completely healed, and from time to time when I overdo, my elbows let me know it. Sometimes when the medication the dr prescribes for RA just isn’t doing all I hoped it would and I’m having a particularly bad time, I try to remember that it’s okay to not fight the pain. I can just “be.” And as they say, this too shall pass. And it does, often in its own sweet time. But I have survived another rough time and I’m all the better for it. God bless us…EVERYONE!

  4. Carla says:

    I love all the wisdom and insights you’ve shared with us during your journey and I truly enjoy all the RA profiles. I’ve thought about doing one myself and always stop cold at the question of how having RA has improved my life. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t taken the time to slow down and learn the lessons but RA bringing me benefits? I don’t think so. This is not to detract from anything you’ve said or the hope that your perspective can bring to others, it’s just a different point of view, and I continue to value and respect yours.

  5. Lene says:

    this reminds me of reading/listening to Mindfulness for Beginners. It has this wonderful quote that they use in their programs for people with chronic or serious illnesses: “there is more right with you then there is wrong with you.” When I first heard it, the world stopped for a moment while I absorbed the concept. It’s a good one to remember

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