When Doing Less With Rheumatoid Arthritis Gives You So Much More

Sara Nash Health Guide November 24, 2009
  • When I was in high school, I qualified for what you would call an overachiever: I was a straight-A student, was in rehearsal or working on the high school play nearly every day after school, took dance classes upwards of three times a week, and still managed to find time to hang out with my friends. In college, the trend continued as I engrossed myself in my classes and the theater department, even working part time in the management office.  I was always on the move, heading to class, to rehearsal, to show call, to strike, to meet up with a friend -- you get the picture.


    After college, I skipped about living in three major cities within 18 months of graduating and finally settled in New York City -- the city that truly never sleeps.  In addition to working full time as a producer, I went to see performances multiple times a week, squeezed in time with my friends and managed to become certified as a yoga instructor and begin teaching around the city.


    For 15 years, downtime was not a word in my vocabulary.


    And then came rheumatoid arthritis. RA did not like my pace of life.  In fact, it was thoroughly against it. The fact that my life was neatly arranged in pretty little planners, each moment of the day scheduled and calculated, was immaterial to RA. It had its own timetable, and its own agenda, and sabotage ensued. It felt like every time my life would reach a time-pressured crescendo, RA would swoop in and knock me out of the game.


    At first, I tried to ignore it and resist, insisting that my way was the right way, but over time, I kept losing this battle over and over again.  Try as I might, I had to learn to adapt. It became clear that I had to prioritize my life differently and learn to make time for things like sleep, rest, and recovery. Sometimes, as much as I hated to, I had to say no to parties and other events and say yes to a slightly slower pace  or, at times, a completely halted one.


    Fast forward to now -- a new city, a new job, and a new rhythm to the day. Baltimore has plenty going on, but it also knows when to quit while it's still ahead. For the first time in many, many years, I actually have time, luxurious time! I'm still working hard, but in a more contained, manageable way.  I have time to stop and eat lunch every day, something that rarely occurred in New York. My commute has shrunk from 45 minutes each way to 10. I have most evenings and weekends to myself. It's almost like culture shock.


    All this extra time has me feeling giddy, but it also makes me feel guilty, like I'm getting away with some lascivious crime, or worse, being lazy. After so many years of pushing and cramming as much into my day as possible and putting the needs of my body and my health second, making time to take care of myself feels strange and disarming. Part of me feels like I ought to immediately fill up all this time with more tasks, projects and to do's.  I should write more, redesign my blog, take up sewing again, organize all my photographs into picture books, and learn to tango or better yet, all of the above.  The list goes on and on until I have to remind myself that part of the rationale behind this change in my life was for the explicit purpose of doing less, and letting less be more.


    But just as it was always hard to accept doing less or being forced to sit out when my RA would flare up, it is also hard to build preventative measures into my life so that, hopefully, I won't aggravate my RA quite as much. If I can preserve these cushions of time and space in my life and not lock in every moment, maybe I can give my body a better chance to respond normally to stress instead of flaring up and then shutting down. And when my RA does flare, I will have more flexibility to react instead of having all my plans bulldozed.


    Nonetheless, I can tell that shifting my life down a few gears is going to be tough in its own way, but hopefully, I am up for this new challenge and change of pace. For now, doing less is the new doing more.


    Sara is the author of the blog, The Single Gal's Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis and a partner in the Buckle Me Up International Young Arthritis Awareness Movement




    Sara is the author of the blog, The Single Gal's Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis and a partner in the Buckle Me Up International Young Arthritis Awareness Movement