Take Charge of Your RA so It Won't Take Charge of You

by Cathy Kramer Patient Advocate

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a health condition that may play several different roles in your life. Sometimes it is strong and angry. Other times it can be gentle and in control. It has a way of making surprise visits when least expected. It has a personality of its own. Like any uncomfortable relationship, it requires setting limits and crafting strategies of playing nice. Keeping RA in check means finding a balance of medications and lifestyle changes that allow us to lead the lives we desire.

Be Patient While Working on a Treatment Plan

Number one in playing nice is stabilizing RA. This can take time, so please be patient with your doctor and your body. Something I didn’t understand early on in my diagnosis is that each one of us responds differently to medications. It wasn’t explained to me that I may need to work with my physician or Rheumatologist to experiment a bit before finding a medication match. Lack of knowledge prevented me from understanding my own body and delayed my ability to live peacefully with my condition.

Man taking prescription medicine.

Take Your Medications

Without proper treatment and following a medication protocol faithfully, RA tends to get angry. As we feel better, it’s easy to fall into a routine of skipping medications. This allows RA to show its ugly face through flare setbacks. Also, RA can be sneaky — it likes to work quietly, doing its dirty work on joints and organs without us even knowing. Untreated, we may not see the effects on our bodies for months or even years. Taking your medications is key to playing nice.

Accept That Rheumatoid Arthritis, in Some Form, Is Permanent

RA is a health condition that will be with us for life. It can be treated. It can lie dormant for years. However, it will always be there lurking, ready to pounce back into our lives. For many, this can be difficult to accept. We want to push it aside and pretend it doesn’t play a significant role in our lives. Acceptance is mandatory in order to move forward. Even on our best days, we must listen to our bodies and set some boundaries so that we can live the lives we want to lead.

goals list

Set Realistic Goals That Take Your RA Into Consideration

A mistake we can make is letting our chronic illness take over our lives. Knowing you have a health condition that can rule your days doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t make plans for tomorrow, next month, and years to come. Set realistic goals and reflect on them often. It may be financial, family, work, or physical goals. There is no point in our RA journey that we can’t target better things for ourselves. RA is a part of us, but it doesn’t own us.

Despite Your Symptoms, Exercise

Movement has so many positive effects — we can’t let it slip away. No matter where your symptoms are, remember that there is some type of exercise that can be incorporated into your daily routine. On a tough day, it may be lifting your arms to make a cup of tea or taking a few extra steps. On a good day, it might include lifting weights, joining a Zumba class, or riding a bike. Make exercise decisions on a day-to-day basis so that you can listen to what your body needs.

Mother and young daughter reading a storybook lying on a bed at home.

Create Downtime Every Day

Thankfully, many of us are able to control our RA due to medications and lifestyle changes. However, this also means that many of us jump right back into busy days and soon find ourselves stuck in a flare. RA is part of our lives on bad days, but also on good days. Incorporate this knowledge into each day, setting aside time to nap, put your legs up, or include some quiet time in your day. Remember, we are always working to keep RA happy.

Have Fun

If you have lived with RA for any amount of time, you know it can be a real party pooper. We are often afraid to step out and have fun in fear of RA stealing it away. However, fun has a magical way of letting us put pain on the backburner if only for a short time. Getting lost in the moment of laughing with your family, playing a game, or going to an event may be just what our bodies need. Constant pain and worry are never good for us.

Consider how rheumatoid arthritis might change you for the better

Like it or not, RA has most likely changed you. If you are like me, you probably have had days when you just wanted to go back to the person you were before RA. However, this new you is strong and capable. Allow yourself to grow into the person you are with RA rather than fighting the change. For me, it means I speak up for myself and others more, allow better self-care, and have a more empathic side of myself. Embrace the new you!

Note Your Limitations and Build Your Future Around Them

Keeping RA happy may seem like a full-time job. It is. But on the flip side, an angry RA is also a full-time job. I prefer to work with happy RA. It isn’t easy to find and accept the limitations put on you by RA, but doing so allows you to move forward with your goals. It can reduce the flares and allow you to have fun. Learning to work with RA can allow you to move forward with a happy, fulfilling life.

Cathy Kramer
Meet Our Writer
Cathy Kramer

Cathy Kramer has been married longer than not and is a mom to two young adults plus an aging border collie. She splits her days/nights between two community colleges as an ESL/ABE instructor. She is a strong believer in gratitude and attempts to leave a smile everywhere she goes. Cathy shares her positive voice as an advocate in the rheumatoid arthritis (RA), chronic illness, and self-care communities. Her ongoing journey with RA can be found on her blog The Life and Adventures of Cateepoo. She often hangs out @cateepoo88 on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Cathy is also a Social Ambassador for the RAHealthCentral Facebook page: facebook.com/RAHealthCentral.