Yesterday I was reminded that even though my rheumatoid arthritis is in fact progressing, chances are that with the positive mindset and coping skills that I have developed over the past few years, it probably has not advanced as much as it might have otherwise done so.
I really liked this perspective. Usually, when we enter the unknown or the unquantifiable, I think we often have a tendency to adopt the worst-case scenario. The same thing often happens when we look at some of the more tangible aspects. Hence, “my RA is getting worse” instead of “my RA is not getting as bad was it could, it I weren’t making such a concerted effort to manage my efforts, get lots of rest, and follow-up with all of my medical appointments, no matter how tired or fatigued I might be at any point in time.”
During an office visit a few weeks ago, my rheumatologist started telling my partner what a great patient I was, thus invoking a certain amount of shyness and red cheeks on my part. My doctor mentioned how me surrounding myself with so many positive and supportive people via my blog and Facebook page, and how my continued efforts with Show Us Your Hands!, have given me a hopeful outlook on life–an outlook that is certainly not in the majority, when it comes to the chronic illness patients that he works with on a daily basis.
My rheumatologist then turned to me and said, “because the truth of the matter is that no matter how much I try to help you (and that was a specific you, not a general you), the one thing that is always going to help you the most is that mind of yours.”
This isn’t to say that both my doctor and I aren’t determined to find the medical option that provides me the most relief, and it wasn’t meant to imply that my disease is more psychological than physical. We also were not saying that my thoughts are going to magically fix what is going on with my body. His words were putting a voice to the one thought that has gotten me through (and continues to get me through) the absolute most challenging moments, which is: the mind is a powerful tool, and I *must* use it to my advantage.
So as I got absolutely thrashed last evening, with a flare that would be off of all my previous charts, I was pleasantly surprised with how I was not only totally aware of my thought process, but I actually managed to remain in control it…even as I continued to experience pain and emotions that were completely new to me.
As my body started to shut down, and as my entire world shrunk down to the six feet between the top of my head and the tip of my toes, my thought process went just like this:
I know exactly what is going on, and I know exactly what will happen over the next hour or two.
Everything is going to be okay. (Which quickly got rewritten to: Everything is okay.)
This is me. This is my body.
My mind tried to go back to some of its old tricks. An inside/outside voice started to tell me that my body was in too much pain and that I needed to find a way to escape my body.
I countered this immediately. I told myself that trying to run away from the pain would not help my situation any. I told myself that I would turn into, and embrace my pain…a pain completely unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
I found a point of equilibrium, a point where even though I had lost almost full use of my entire body, I was at peace.
And as if that wasn’t a big enough payoff, I then heard a voice telling me:
If you can embrace this level of pain, there will never be another level of pain that you will not be able to embrace.
This, I am pleased to share, is how I managed to emerge from my most challenging flare yet (oh, how many times have I said those words!?) feeling not weakened, but instead feeling more empowered than ever before.
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!