Setting goals and talking to your medical team about how to achieve them can be difficult when you live with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or other chronic illnesses. Interactions with your doctors are often very reactive. You discuss your current issues. Your team tries to help.
How do you get more proactive and get your healthcare team on board?
Why setting goals is important
“When you live with a chronic illness, your horizons shrink. You think more short-term than long-term, just because of the nature of what you’re dealing with,” says Dr. Laurie Ferguson, VP of Education with the Global Healthy Living Foundation, the parent organization of CreakyJoints. “Setting goals widens your horizons, it helps a person feel more in charge rather than always being the recipient: of the illness, the physician, the medicine.”
Shortly after diagnosis, it is normal to want others, especially those in authority such as your doctors, to tell you what’s going on and what you should do. As you start to adjust to living with chronic illness, you begin to get back in touch with your dreams and ambitions about what you want your life to be. “It’s a mindset shift,” Dr. Ferguson says.
How to set goals
Setting goals with your medical team and setting goals for your life exist on a continuum. Ultimately, your medical goals support your life goals, making it possible for you to achieve the things you desire. These include work, travel, starting a family, and so on.
Spend some time thinking about what you want, both in terms of your physical health and your life.
You may want to divide your goals into short- and long-term before talking to your healthcare team. Short-term goals can include reducing your pain or finding a way to feel less tired after work. Using a longer view, you may want to get strong enough to get back into a sport you love, have a family, or go back to school.
Dr. Ferguson encourages the newly diagnosed to “to try to stay aware of not this is how my life is and all the doors are shut now, but what doors are possible to open.” For those who have had chronic illness for a longer time, she suggests thinking of an area that gives them joy. “It starts what I like to call the upward spiral.”
Setting goals with your medical team
“It’s important to let your medical team know you’re moving towards a goal,” Dr. Ferguson said. This shows them that you are engaged, and enables them to work with you to help you achieve your goal.
Most of us don’t have a lot of time with our specialists, so it’s important to be clear on your goal before your appointment. Dr. Ferguson recommends you “think about the questions you have and how you imagine they might help.”
For instance, do you need your doctors to assess whether your goal might be harmful to your body? Do you need your medications adjusted?
If you anticipate that the conversation might get more in-depth, or you want to fine-tune your goal in collaboration with your doctor, you may want to ask for a double appointment.
Dr. Ferguson also recommends that, before an appointment, you role-play talking to your medical team about your goals. Have a friend or family member play your doctor. This allows you to practice and develop clarity in what you want to say.
Over time, your goals are likely to change. Perhaps you’ve attained one goal and want to work toward something else. Perhaps you finished school and want to find a job. Or maybe, after a long period of not responding to medication, you and your doctor finally found one that works, and you want to become more physically active.
Goals are fluid. Involving your healthcare team in building toward your goals you will make treatment more relevant and directly connected to creating meaning in your life.
How do you set goals with your medical team?
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Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author ofYour Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.
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.