6 Steps to Happiness with RA
When you are in the midst of RA, with all that comes with it, can you still be happy? When you’re juggling pain, exhaustion, a dizzying amount of meds and doctor’s appointments and wondering what happened to your life, is there still room for joy?
You bet! It might not always be quite as effortless, but with practice, you can get into the habit of being happy. To mark the occasion of July being National Tickling Month, here are six steps to finding happiness with RA.
Get Help for What Ails You
Years ago, I got counseling to help me develop better coping mechanisms (tip: mindfulness is amazing). It was a successful experience, except towards the end. It took me a while to figure out that using counseling to deal with an extended flare was perhaps not the right tool. I finally clued in and went to see my rheumatologist. We changed my medication, I got a prescription for better painkillers and lo and behold, I started feeling better.
The medical professionals that make up your care team can be a great help, but you need to make sure you see the right person for a particular problem. If you're flaring, see your rheumatologist. If you have trouble getting your pain under control, see a pain specialist. If you're depressed, get counseling. The first step to getting happy is to get as healthy as you can.
Get Financial Help
Everyone says that money can't buy you happiness, but that's not entirely true. When you have a chronic illness like RA, medication costs can be overwhelming and financial worries can color every aspect of your life. There are financial assistance programs that can help you pay for medication, insurance co-pays and medical care, making it easier for you to juggle your monthly bills. Finding a way out of the money morass can take the weight of the world off your shoulders.
Don’t Wait Until You’re Better
Expecting to be happy as soon as you're better, have lost 20 pounds or have a new job is called arrival fallacy. It might make you happy in the short term, but when you're looking for the kind of happiness that can be with you on a lifelong basis, it cannot be dependent on attaining a goal or external reward. To build a solid foundation for joy, you have to look within and change the way you think about your life, your RA and what you need to be happy. And it starts with this: realizing that waiting until you're better puts your quest for happiness out of your control. Instead, start thinking about the things that make you truly happy – your family, partner, kids, faith, friends and I'm sure you can add many more. None of these depend on your weight, what kind of job you have or your disease being under control. They are constant and depend only on love.
Manage Your Expectations
Several years ago, Michael J Fox was interviewed by the magazine Esquire. In this interview, he spoke of living with Parkinson's and said something profound: "my happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations." Managing your interpretations is a big part of creating room for happiness. Although it is now more possible than ever before to go into remission or have low disease activity, symptoms of fatigue and pain are still a part of reality for many of us. Expecting to be pain-free, have the kind of energy you did before RA or be able to do everything you used to will likely set you up for failure and make it difficult to be happy. Changing the way you think includes assessing your expectations and changing them to something more attainable. If you expect to have some degree of pain, you won't get sideswiped emotionally by it. If you build in tricks to manage your energy in your daily routine, you won't get as frustrated when you have to accommodate your fatigue.
Look for the Beauty
When you are hurting and tired, you turn inwards, folding in upon yourself like a hedgehog. The focus becomes narrow and you see only what is right in front of you: your pain, your anxiety, managing the illness. That's a recipe for depression. Making a conscious effort to pay attention to the world around you, to truly be present in small moments of beauty can help you shift your perspective. Search out moments of quiet and give yourself permission to stop for a while to watch, rather than be buried in tasks and worries. It can be the way the sun shines through green leaves, the intense joy of a dog rolling on the ground, the perfection of the yellow pepper you're cutting up for dinner or the swirl of the soapy water in the sink as you do the dishes. Once you get in the habit of looking for these tiny moments of beauty in the every day, you will see more and more of them.
Surround Yourself with the Positive
Moods are contagious. If you are listening only to sad music, watching serious movies and ranting about your life or the state of the world every time you talk to friends, you're going to end up being cranky and sad. There's a difference between acknowledging and expressing your feelings and getting stuck in grumpy. Being positive is often a decision and sometimes, when you're having a bad day, week or month, it can be a struggle to focus on the light instead of the dark. It's no coincidence that they say laughter is the best medicine - when you find a way to laugh, you feel lighter and better able to cope with the hard things in life.
Spend more time with people who enjoy life and make you laugh. During the really hard times, enlist your family in the quest and take turns bringing one positive thing to the dinner table every day. Play with your kids, your partner, your friends. Tickle each other. Read fluff (my favorite is paranormal romances) and watch TV and movies that you enjoy, even if it is reality television or silly sitcoms. And most important of all, don't feel guilty about not feeding your mind. For you, lightness is medicinal.
What makes you happy?
Lene is the author of the award-winning blog The Seated View