Of course, when we’re issued any type of life-altering health diagnosis, it may seem like a death sentence. It may seem like a mountain so steep that we’ll never be able to climb it, or we may feel like hamsters running on a wheel, ’round and ’round, with no end in sight.
Yes, rheumatoid arthritis is a lifelong, chronic condition that, at present, doesn’t have a cure….and no, we cannot choose whether or not we have the disease (for, if we could, we certainly would get rid of it instantly!) However, we CAN choose to “take the higher road” and not “stoop to RA’s level.” It might TRY to ruin our lives….but we don’t have to let it.
I wrote a post once before entitled, “Don’t Let Chronic Illness Steal Your Sparkle” - easier said than done, right? I know that when I look back upon photos from healthier days where I looked more vibrant, or reminsce of my time (so long ago) as an athlete, that I feel a pang in my heart and a sense of loss. But, I’ve learned, that we can replace “who we used to be” with “who we are now” and that we can replace old happy memories with new happy memories. Let’s not let us be saddened by our “pre-diagnosis” lives – let us rejoice that we had those good times, and look forward to many more! Sure, the good times post-RA will be DIFFERENT than our lives pre-RA….but different doesn’t always have to mean bad. We must just learn to adapt.
And, if you’re feeling less-than-yourself now that you’ve been dealt the “RA Card” (or whatever other illness you live with) here are some tips on how to be the best you that you can be, how to stay relatively healthy (within the realms of having RA), and, how to keep your “pretty” even with an “ugly” condition!
1.) Remember that you are not your arthritis. It doesn’t own you! Smile every time you remember this fact – it’ll brighten your day, and maybe someone else’s!
2.) Ladies! Dress for comfort – but don’t skimp on style! There are many ways to dress “RA-appropriate” and still keep your personal sense of fashion. In fact, flats are, once again, “in” this season – so stock up! There are even some cute orthopedic shoes out there if you’re concerned about how they look. Have trouble squeezing in to a constrictive top or buttoning all of the buttons? Try sheer peasant blouses, slip-on tops, and crisp blazers that you don’t have to button. Believe it or not, there are also “arthritis bras” out there – we all know fastening can be a nightmare. If jeans are a nightmare, choose elastic-waisted jeans, yoga pants, or, a long, flowy skirt … perfect for spring. You can still be yourself and look like a lady even if you feel like a monster! And don’t forget about “no-iron” shirts – it’ll save you that much-hated chore! RA or not, no one enjoys ironing! Guys – I’m not forgetting you … make sure you dress for comfort, too. Slip-on hoodies, jogging pants, comfortable sneakers or orthopedic sandals.
3. Get a mani-pedi. Treat your aching hands and your tootsies to a spa day! Try a paraffin wax dip, get a hand massage, give your feet a relaxing bubble bath – you deserve it!
4. Here’s an interesting tip from Health Monitor: Arthritis – try satin sheets pajamas. Not only do they feel nice on the skin, but they’ll help you slide in and out of bed on days when your joints are extra stiff and achy. While we’re on the subject of the bedroom, make sure that you invest in a good pillow and mattress that is easy on the joints. The Arthritis Foundation AND myself recommend TempurPedic products – and if they’re out of your budget, there are plenty good “generic” alternatives that offer memory foam. Many RA’ers enjoy a memory foam mattress with a down mattress topper. We spend about 1/3 of our lives sleeping, and it’s an important part of living a healthy lifestyle of wellness, especially when living with RA. So, this is a worthwhile investment to ensure that you get a restorative, good night’s rest!
5. Take pleasure in the simple things. Fresh flowers, puppies, a baby’s laughter, a shooting star, the sound of the ocean, a stroll through the park. If you learn to appreciate life’s small pleasures, it’s inconveniences and dark times won’t seem as bad….especially if we can find something to appreciate about each and every day. If you get in this routine, you may find that the bad outweighs the good.
6. Eat well.
7. Exercise as best YOU can. Some people with the various forms of arthritis can hike up mountains, go on extensive bike rides, and run marathons. Others can do light resistance training, walking, and water aerobics. Others still can do chair yoga. Everyone’s ability levels are different, but whether your version of exercise is sprinting or simply stretching, the important thing to remember is to DO IT. It is great for all forms of arthritis … but while you’re encouraged to keep moving, please be mindful of and listen to your body: it is important not to “OVERDO IT!”
8. Even if you cannot work, find a hobby or a cause to devote your time to. Many people with RA and other forms of arthritis and related disease cannot work anymore. Some opt to go part-time, others go on disability. There’s no shame in any of it, we have to keep our health as first priority. That being said, great depression often comes with giving up one’s professional identity. So, be sure to fill your time – the time in which you feel “okay” – with something else that is worthwhile. Even if it is volunteering a few hours a week at the Arthritis Foundation, your church, or a dog shelter, or whether you visit with the elderly or bake a casserole for a new mom, find a way to touch base with others – you may even be touching their lives in ways you couldn’t have imagined. This will make you feel amazing. Remember, you’re beautiful outside AND within.
9. Try to hold on to your friendships. Sometimes, chronic illness or disability will drive friends or lovers out of your life. It isn’t always your fault – in fact, it is usually NEVER the “sick” person’s fault. However, do your best to try not to let this happen. When people are chronically ill, they sometimes turn introverted due to the blow that illness delivers to one’s self-esteem. Recognize that introspection, reflection, meditation, and alone time are vital, but also recognize that you need a support system. Communicate with your friends about what you are going through. Educate them. Ignorance isn’t bliss, especially with chronic illness. Don’t forget about their needs! When being sick demands so much and takes so much away from us, we tend to also become self-centered in our thoughts: why am *I* sick, what did *I* do to deserve this, *I* feel so crappy today. Remember that others have problems, too. They may not look or act like yours, but don’t let your issues make you forget about those around you who need you as much as you need them. Sick or not, we ALL need friends!
10. Remember that if you “let” RA ruin your life, it will. You have a choice to make do with what you have – whether that means switching careers, moving to a more handicap-friendly neighborhood, or choosing to use your illness to educate others and spread awareness. Of course, you can choose to let RA isolate you. Destroy you. Tear down your hopes, dreams, and self esteem. You can let the pain dictate your life. It’s up to you. All of us that battle Rheumatoid Arthritis have the same condition. While our other life circumstances vary – and that certainly plays a role, too - the fact that we all have RA together is a constant. It is a bond – not a nice one to have, but a bond nonetheless. Why some do better than others is inexplicable, but I would say that this choice has something to do with it. Think about it.
Smile. Be beautiful. And be you. Don’t let Rheumatoid Arthritis make you forget who you are – and DON’T let it be a life-ruiner!
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