Goals for Coping with Rheumatoid Arthritis
1. Set Attainable Goals
If you've spent all of yesterday in the garden, worked late the day before, expecting to start painting the guest room today is likely to be a ticket to spending a week on the couch, in pain and exhausted. By working within your limits and setting attainable goals - e.g., exercising two times a week instead of every day - you'll be able to meet you goals, building on success and feel good about yourself. This also applies to this list - if doing 10 things this year feels overwhelming, pick 3 or 4 or whatever feels right.
2. Become informed about RA
When you have a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis, it can feel as if you don't have any control of your life, making you feel helpless and depressed. The first step to taking back control is to make yourself somewhat of an expert on your disease and how it may affect your life. M.E.A. McNeil's The First Year Was Rheumatoid Arthritis is an excellent resource to help you get started.
3. Discover Your Triggers
Next, discover how RA affects you by keeping a diary for a month or so. Every day, write down your symptoms, what you eat, what the weather's like, what you did, etc. This will help you identify triggers that bring about a flare - e.g., rain, sugar, PMS - as well discovering what helped reduce your symptoms.
4. Develop Good Team Work with Your Doctor
When you have a chronic illness, the relationship with your doctor is slightly different, with more of an emphasis on you being in charge of the process and your doctor being the expert who gives you the information upon which you base your decisions. Find a doctor who takes the time to explain options, listens, will prescribe the appropriate medication and who understands that it is your life and your body and therefore, you are the leader of the team. If your doctor doesn't listen or answer your questions, find another doctor.
5. Get Your RA and Your Pain under Control
It's important to get your RA under control and that means taking DMARDs (disease modifying antirheumatic drugs like methotrexate, Plaquenil and the Biologics). If your RA is not suppressed, you risk permanent damage to your joints that can affect your mobility in the future. Once your RA is well-managed, your pain levels will decrease, but you may still need medication to manage your pain. Remember that taking painkillers is not a sign of weakness, but a tool to help you get on with your life.
6. Support Your Body
In order to support you, your body needs your help. That means finding a type of exercise that works for you so your muscles get strong and support your joints, trying to maintain a healthy weight to ease the stress on your joints (follow our Expert Lisa Emrich on her journey), taking supplements that can help your RA like cod liver oil, vitamin D and rest when you need it. If you don't take care of yourself, it will be difficult for you to take care of anyone else.
7. Make Work Easier
RA can affect everything you do, including work. People living with chronic illnesses or disabilities are legally entitled to accommodations at work that can make the process of doing their job easier. Most accommodations cost less than $500 and can make all the difference, enabling you to continue contributing in your place of employment.
8. Start to Accept My RA
Being diagnosed with a chronic illness requires grieving and it is common to go through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This process can take a lot of time and energy, so it may be helpful to find a counselor who can help you. Once you accept that you have RA, it can free up a lot of that energy so you can get back to living.
9. Stay in Touch with Friends
When you're tired and in pain, you end up canceling a lot of plans, but it's important to find a way to stay in touch with friends. Good conversations, laughter and love can go a long way towards making you feel energized and like a "real person" instead of a patient.
10. Enjoy Life
Life is made up of moments and if you focus only on your RA, you'll miss what makes life worth living: watching dogs play in the park, the sun shining through green leaves, spending time with your kids, sharing truly terrible television with your partner, going to the museum and looking at a painting that makes you feel still inside. Your life is in those moments, RA is just along for the ride.
You can read more of Lene's writing on The Seated View.