What to Do in Life When You've Conquered RA...For Now
“I won! I won! I won! I won the rheumatoid arthritis (RA) golden ticket!”
My RA is currently calm and controlled. I fought for years to get here, often wondering if it was even possible, and spent a few years fearing its return. But for now, I feel triumphant about having control of RA.
For years now, my bloodwork has returned without any complications. I have remained on the same medications for eight years with no noticeable side effects. Most importantly, RA no longer controls my decisions about life. However, this does not mean that RA is no longer a part of my life. RA has a sneaky way of popping up to remind me that the two of us are one. But, it no longer determines whether I can get out of bed, hug my family, or set long-term goals for myself.
When I was first diagnosed with RA back in 2004, I searched long and hard to find someone who got better with RA. My search was unsuccessful, and I felt doomed for life. As my symptoms got worse, it seemed that I, too, would never get better. Fortunately, there was something in my heart that encouraged me not to give up, to keep the hope of remission alive.
Visualization is the greatest gift I have given myself. On my worst flaring days, I would close my eyes and see myself riding my bike as fast as I could. I would see visions of myself holding on tight to my children’s hands and skipping down the sidewalk or hugging them tightly without any pain.
At one point, after months of a horrible flare, I started to lose the ability to visualize myself healthy and my children took over: “Mom, let’s imagine you at the park playing with us.” The philosophy that we become what we think we are stuck with me, and my family and I were determined never to see me as someone who could no longer enjoy life.
During this same time, I made many lifestyle changes. I chose healthier food options. I worked on reducing my overall stress. I realized that I am a good listener and people often took advantage of this trait. I sought out friends who took time to listen to me — a gift that is so wonderful. I made self-care a priority. I am worth receiving that care.
My openness to medications was not always there. Like many, I feared the side effects and was not open to conventional options. However, when I finally realized that saying “no” to medications came with the huge side effect of not living the life I wanted, I opened my mind. I accepted where I was on my journey with RA and that it required the use of biologics and disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
It took a few years without flares before I started to feel confident in trying new things. I took baby steps, always worrying that I would end up where I was before. But once I felt confidence in my body, I started living life differently.
Working out was something I loved in my 20s and 30s. In my 40s, RA pain changed that and made workouts unreliable until I finally just stopped. A year ago, I felt ready to make exercise a priority again. It’s wonderful! As I get stronger, I feel more like myself again.
In the past, I hesitated to make plans because I didn’t know how I would feel. I disliked going out with friends because I didn’t want them to see me struggle to get up from the table. With time, the lack of flares gave me the confidence to say “yes” to outings with my family and friends without hesitation.
During some of my worst flares, I feared that I would need to stop working. However, as my RA became more controlled, I added on classes I taught. Recently, I went from part-time to full-time, something I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to do.
Will my RA return? There’s a good chance that at some point my medications will stop working and I will need to experiment to find another one that works with my body. I am completely aware of that fact. Yet, enough time without flares has given me the confidence to stop worrying about when and if they will happen. Now is the time to enjoy life and the break from pain I have been given. Plus, an amazing lesson I have learned from RA is that I am strong. If things turn around for me again, I now have enough safeguards in place that I will be good, and that knowledge is comforting.