Alternative Therapy to Relieve Rheumatoid Arthritis

Sara Nash Health Guide April 02, 2009
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    WARNING:  This is a bit of a rant.


    Lately, I haven’t just been sick, I’ve been bugged. I can’t help it. There are many aggravations and annoyances that come with RA, but for me, the one that tends to get under my skin the most is when I’m told that, essentially, I can cure myself if only I’d: stop eating anything that tastes good, stop drinking, start practicing yoga for eight hours a day, ‘make my life stress-free,’ or take some other all natural remedy that is way better than all those horrid meds I’ve been on. In other words, become a saint, or at the very least, someone that doesn’t resemble ‘ME’ anymore.


    Sorry, but when did proselytizing one’s unsolicited cure-all become OK? Don’t get me wrong- I’m up for hearing about pretty much anything, and I have nothing against using natural and alternative therapies. I was a yoga teacher, after all.  If anyone knows about the link between autoimmune diseases and the nervous system, it’s me. Before my RA struck, I was on my way to becoming a yoga therapist, so really, I get it. 


    Vitamins and supplements? Yeah, I take ‘em.  Five a day, to be exact. I’m a huge fan of massage and ayurvedic treatments. And, though I still haven’t managed to find the time or budget to do acupuncture, it is high on my list of treatments to try as soon as I can.  I’m a big fan of having as many tools in my tool belt as possible in my fight against RA.


    So why am I so resistant to the idea of being able to cure myself? Why am I not receptive to the suggestion that if I just go live on a beach and eat perfect food and stay in the moment, that my RA will magically disappear. I mean, wouldn’t that be fantastic?


    Fantastic my ass.


    When someone tells me about some great, all natural thing they’ve been doing that really takes care of their RA, and that I don’t need the meds, or when someone informs me that the ‘real’ problem behind my RA is my stressful lifestyle, instead of finding myself inspired or comforted or hopeful, I find myself wanting to puke. Sorry, but I’m just being honest.


    I think one of the things that irks me the most about these suggestions is that, though usually said with the best of intentions, there is an implicit dismissiveness towards one’s own experience of RA hidden within them.  I’m sure that if I could just go live on a beach and eat perfect food and not involve myself in the real world at all or be ‘stressed’, my RA would be a lot better, but you know what, that’s not possible for me. I have bills to pay, which means I have to have a job. Plus, I want to participate in my life the way it is. I may have to make some changes, but I don’t intend to change who I am. Not for RA; not for anyone.


    Moreover, I don’t think that developing RA was my fault. The real truth, as far as I can tell, is that nobody knows exactly what causes RA. Yes, stress and the autoimmune response have something to do with it, but you know what, everyone experiences stress. People go through truly awful things all the time, but they don’t all get autoimmune diseases. If this were the case, RA would be a much more popular disease, with a lot more funding.


  • I try to remain open to alternative therapies.  One of my requirements when I first went to see my rheumatologist was that she be supportive and open to other ways of approaching treatment. Similarly, I want the same quality in my alternative practitioners-I want them to be accepting of western approaches to treating RA, because I am, and for me, western meds were part of the right choice in helping me gain my life back.


    I don’t see that choice as some kind of cop out or weak admittance that I’m at fault for my immune system going haywire. I appreciate that there are many different ways to approach treating RA, and that everyone has both a different experience of the disease and of the treatment. Sharing experiences is important, but respecting other people’s experiences and subsequent choices is also important. Finding the balance between the two can be tricky, but it makes a world of difference.


    If RA has taught me anything, it’s that the saying ‘to each his own’ is true. Or in my case, her.