RA can be a gift.
When I say that, people usually look at me as if I've grown another head. How can this chronic autoimmune disease that frequently and randomly takes over your life be a positive thing? Sure, it isn't always all rainbows and unicorns — sometimes it's like being perpetually rained on and speared by that unicorn's horn. But RA doesn't just take, it also gives. And one of its gifts is the opportunity to reinvent yourself.
The moment you receive a diagnosis of RA, you are no longer the person you were. Now you go through life with a chronic illness that requires medication, coddling and juggling a host of challenges. Sometimes, these challenges sideline you for a while and sometimes, they mean changing your life completely. Living with RA forces you to reevaluate your life, both physically and emotionally and that can be a good thing.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. Being unfortunately practical, I got a Masters degree in Social Work to make sure I had the safety net of a day job. The problem with having a day job when you have RA is that there is no energy left at the end of the day to do anything else. In 2004, I had a huge flare that took away most of my life. After I started the Biologics, I gradually regained strength, but never enough to go back to a regular job. Having received the gift of getting my life back, I decided to honor this gift by following the dream I had put aside. After a few years, I started working for HealthCentral, and just this week, my first book was released. Without the debilitating flare that made it impossible for me to work, I would probably have spent the rest of my life wishing I could become a writer. RA gave me the opportunity to live my dream.
Whether it is smaller, everyday adjustments or bigger, more life-changing adjustments, RA can be a catalyst for assessing your life and finding the path to a new you.
Be Kind to Yourself
Even when the medications work, you often have to remember to pace yourself to avoid breakthrough pain and flares. If the meds don't work quite as well, managing your energy becomes a vital part of your everyday. Most of the people I know who don't have RA live in a state of permanent stress. They check their work e-mail before they go to bed, commit to too many obligations and spend their weekends running full-out. When you have RA, your body has definite opinions about how much you should rest and it becomes impossible to burn the candle at both ends. You need to be kind to yourself to prevent flares. This gives you the opportunity to create more balance in your life. To set boundaries about when it's reasonable to read work e-mail and get comfortable with a slightly messy house, but more time to spend with your family.
If like me, you are facing a situation where you cannot continue in your job, it can be incredibly stressful. How will you pay the bills? Do you have to stop working entirely? Having trouble at work that can't be addressed by accommodations in your job doesn't mean the end of your working life. Maybe this gives you the opportunity to go back to school for a degree that will enable you to work in something less physical. Maybe it's the opportunity to reevaluate your skills and create a job that better suits your abilities, both in terms of job skills and what your body needs. Reinventing yourself takes time and thought, but can lead to a new career that might be more satisfying than what you're doing now.