I like to say that living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a dance on roses — there are plenty of thorns. It can be very difficult to see the positive when you are hurting and exhausted. But did you know that nurturing a sense of optimism can improve your experience of pain? Personally, I have found that focusing on what I have and what I can do have made me a much happier person than when I was very aware of what I didn’t have and couldn’t do. This post will take a look (sometimes tongue-in-cheek) at ways you can change thorns to roses.
Meeting new people in white coats. Having RA means spending a lot of time in healthcare settings. Just think of all the new people you will meet! Some will become mainstays in your life and an important part of your support network.
Naps are medicinal. Naps are blissful, naps are restorative, and when you live with RA, naps can be an essential part of self-care. People with RA have a higher need for sleep than the general population — it’s estimated to be as high as 10 hours in a 24-hour period. Your doctor may even recommend that you rest.
Perseverance. To paraphrase John Lennon, RA is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. The disease ebbs and flows and can sidetrack your best efforts. You learn to wait it out, get back on track, and make stubborn work for you.
Connected to the weather. Changes in weather are notorious for their effect on RA, often causing the disease to flare. Being more reliable than a meteorologist will make it less likely that you get caught in the rain without an umbrella.
Tolerance. Living with RA makes you as diplomatic as an ambassador. Instead of snarling at the 497th person who compares their occasional pinky pain to your autoimmune disease, you take a deep breath and educate them on the difference between RA and osteoarthritis.
RSVP regrets. You dread going to a family or work event. It won’t be fun, there will be drama, or you are really bad at small talk. Contrary to every other person who’s been invited, you have a built-in reason to send your regrets. Instead of an evening of social agony, you get to curl up on the couch and watch a movie.
Dating prospects. You can’t drink alcohol because of your medication and need to leave early to get home and go to bed. This makes you the perfect date for an elderly, frail billionaire who might want to mention you in their will.
Professional advocate. Learning to navigate the health care system and advocating for yourself is a transferable skill. If someone you love becomes ill, you will be better equipped than anyone else to help them through it.
Acting skills. Instead of being honest when people ask you how you are, you have developed Oscar-worthy skills that help you look and function as if your pain levels aren’t at a level 8. Meryl Streep has to retire at some point — it’s your turn to shine!
Perspective. Low energy and fatigue are some of the primary symptoms of RA. With limited energy, you learn to spend it where it is truly important. Instead of spending the day cleaning, you hang out with your kids or your friends in a messy, but happy home.
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Lene’s new book is Chronic Christmas: Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness. She’s also the author of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain, 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain, and the award-winning blog The Seated View_. _
Lene Andersen is the Community Leader for HealthCentral’s RA Community. Lene (pronounced Lena) is an award-winning writer, health and disability advocate, and photographer living in Toronto. She’s written several books, including Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain, and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain, as well as the award-winning blog, The Seated View. Follow Lene on Twitter @TheSeatedView and on Facebook. Watch her story on HealthCentral.