Love Your RA Bodyby Cathy Kramer Patient Advocate
Self-love is the ability to see your own worth. It is the concept that you put yourself first — not in an egocentric type of way, but where you see yourself as an important person who deserves to be loved, honored, and appreciated. Self-love comes from within. It is finding your strengths and allowing them to blossom. Unfortunately, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has a way of creating self-doubt in a body that is unpredictable and often in pain. Here’s how to practice self-love with an RA body.
Making our bodies the enemy
To be honest, it is easier to hate our RA bodies than to love them. When pain, swelling, and a lack of energy take over the body, it becomes second nature to focus on what is wrong with our bodies rather than what is right. As with anything we do regularly, the action becomes stronger until all we see in ourselves is the negative. Hateful words to our bodies become the norm and soon our bodies have become our enemies. This is not self-love.
Break poor body-image habits
It takes time, patience, and an understanding that new patterns must be established in order to make a change. The words we use toward our bodies can often be mean and hateful. Take time to listen. What are you saying? Instead of “Stupid body,” try “My body needs help knowing how much it can handle each day.”
Rather than “My body failed me,” say “My body is doing the best it can today.”
Focus on joints that aren’t in pain
It may not seem like it, but there are joints in your body that aren’t in pain. Focus on them. Put all your attention on that one toe that doesn’t hurt. Move it around. Smile at it. Let that toe know that you are aware it is surrounded by a lot of pain and that you sympathize with it. Absorb the feeling of that toe and its lack of negativity. Joints that feel good need attention too
Give love to the joints that hurt
Have you ever had a child or friend who acted horribly to you and later you discovered it was a trying time for that person? You probably wished you had shown them more love when they needed it most, right? Well, your joints are struggling. Each day they continue to do what they can to lift your body and get you where you need to go — all while in pain. Be kind. It’s not an easy time for them either.
Gratitude: Look outside of RA
Rather than making RA the focus of your day, take a look around. Do you have children? A spouse? Friends? Family? What is happening with them? Focus on the gifts they bring to your life. If that is too emotional, try nature. It has a way of easing us into gratitude without any strings attached. Buy a plant and nurture it. Sometimes by loving something else and watching it grow, we see a reflection of ourselves and how lovely we are also.
Listen to others’ compliments about you
If you struggle with finding kind words to say about yourself, listen to others. Have you been complimented on the way you organize your work space or been told you have an amazing smile? Let the words of others be your bridge to finding your own self-love. Also, create a personal mantra for yourself that you say often and reminds you of how wonderful you really are. It is not vain to remind yourself that you deserve love.
Expect others to treat you with respect
Soon after an RA diagnosis, many of us start feeling like we are a burden to our friends, family, and co-workers. We apologize a lot. Soon, we may notice that others aren’t treating us as well as we feel we deserve. This is the time to assess how you have been treating yourself. Once we treat ourselves as someone worthy of respect, it becomes easier to ask others to also treat us with love.
Avoid negative people
Having an RA community can be wonderful. However, follow others with caution. You can easily get caught up in others’ anger about their own health conditions and quickly find yourself in a position where negative talk is expected. Sharing your frustrations is one thing, but if you find the people you read on a regular basis have nothing but negative things to say, keep searching. To fill ourselves with love, we must let positive messages have space in our hearts and minds.
So often on social media I see friends with RA trying to do it all — parent, work, be an athlete, advocate, etc. Slow down! Look at yourself as a friend. Would you encourage a friend to continue at this incredible speed? No. Slow down and let your body have a chance to rest. It needs it more than ever now.
You are worth it!
Living with RA is not easy. It requires that you take better care of yourself than ever before, to change negative thoughts into positive ones, and look outside of their life with RA. This health condition is not going away, but as soon as we can put it into a category of one of many parts of our lives, we can start seeing ourselves as something more than just RA. You have an inner beauty that is uniquely your own. Love that person. You are worth it!