Maintaining Hobbies When You Have RA
After the initial shock of your diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has worn off, you may wonder how you will continue doing the things you love; the hobbies and activities that not only bring you joy, but also help you maintain your sense of health and well-being.
Hobbies can help you feel better. Have you ever noticed how time disappears when you get lost in doing something you love? That feeling of being in-the-flow affects how you feel. The chemical changes that occur in your body when you are immersed in doing something you love can be part of your arsenal against inflammation. The changes often go unnoticed; they are so subtle, yet like interest in the bank, over time they can compound to have a profound effect on your health and well-being. That's why I'm writing you a prescription to do your hobbies on a regular basis.
Understandably, some hobbies may have to be adapted to suit your particular situation. A major flare could make it difficult to perform fine motor skills, or be as athletic as you normally are. Hopefully, your treatment plan allows you to quickly return to a can-do state, where you resume living your life pre-flare.
Eventually, you may find that the physical changes that occur make it impossible to do your beloved activities. Don't let that stop you. There's a way through, and it's by stepping back and reassessing. I urge you to seek the wisdom of others – people like Brad, who found his way back to woodworking by changing the way he did things in his workshop.
When you are in the thick of the forest of frustration, you may have trouble seeing a solution. That's why it's important to ask for advice from someone who can see the whole forest. Let people know you'd like help. Ask your doctor for a referral to an occupational therapist. The Arthritis Foundation may also be able to provide you with resources. Post a question or SharePost here on the RA site. Take inspiration and know-how from other people with RA who have found ways to do the things you do – adapt and adopt. Your friends, family, and neighbors can also be a source of help. But, you have to let them know.
Hip replacements, fused toes, and dislocated fingers have forced me to stop some of the activities I enjoyed in the past. The silver lining is that it has given me an opportunity to play, to experiment, to try on some new activities. There was a Groupon for acting classes, which I tried. (It's harder than it looks.) Then, I saw a poster for Improvisational Acting, which is a lot of fun.
As an adult learner, it's important to be aware of the Four Stages of Learning:
1. Unconscious Incompetent. (Don't know that you don't know.)
2. Conscious Incompetence. (Know that you don't know.)
3. Unconscious Competence. (Know about it, but you have to think about it.)
4. Conscious Competence. (Know it so well, you don't have to think about it.)
Can you remember learning to drive, or playing an instrument, and going through the above stages?
You want to cut yourself some slack when you are beginning a new activity. Too many give up at the Conscious Incompetent Stage because they have forgotten how it is to learn. Think about a baby learning to walk. There are many attempts, tumbles and tears, but eventually, the baby is off running, exploring the world from a new vantage point.
Be willing to experiment; to be a beginner again. To feel awkward while you make mistakes. The benefit is that it can lead to new loves. You may tap into a talent/aptitude you never knew you had. Even if you don't have a lot of talent, the important thing is that you enjoy it. That gives meaning to life. It is also energizing.
I'm a big believer in asking yourself open-ended questions to help you live your best life. When you do, you let your brain get to work on finding solutions.
Try these on and let me know what changes for you:
1. How do I feel when I am doing my hobbies? (It's important to carry this feeling forward so you can use it as a source of motivation.)
2. What do I need to modify in order to continue doing my hobbies? (Time, location, equipment, tools.)
3. Who do I know who has similar limitations that I can learn from, or even copy?
4. What did I use to do as a child that still interests me? (I used to write stories as a child. I hit my teens and didn't write again until 2007.)
5. Is there something I'd like to do, but don't because I am afraid to do because I won't be “any good”?
How have you adapted, adopted, and experimented with your hobbies?
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Marianna Paulson is known as Auntie Stress. On her website, you'll find links to her two blogs, Auntie Stress Café and the award-winning, A Rheumful of Tips. She also publishes a mostly monthly newsletter called The Connective Issue. Sign up here to receive information, tips, and to learn about giveaways.