Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and I have been in a relationship for a little over 14 years now. For years, we were in a constant battle. While I would never claim RA to be my BFF, we have somehow, someway, become better friends over the years. One of the main reasons is my RA is better controlled these days. But most importantly, after so many years together, I have finally accepted that RA will always be a part of my life and I can either hate it or find something good that comes from our experiences together.
What RA has given me is a tag along friend who through subtle reminders throughout the day, reminds me to always treat myself with love and respect. Like a friend who might text me during the day, a sore hand or stiff knee are now reminders to stop and be present, to check in with myself on how I am managing my day.
Here is what I hear when RA messages me:
Are you taking care of yourself? Years ago, when I came to terms with RA being a part of my life forever, I decided to include self-care into every single day. When I feel my toes starting to ache or my shoulder stiffening up, it is often a reminder that I included too much in my day and I need to reevaluate the rest of the day.
Are you practicing gratitude throughout the day? At a time when I could barely move, I started to look for the smallest of things in my life that brought me joy. It might be the sun on my face, the sound of my wind-chimes, or the thrill of my border collie when I came home. Despite how awful my health seemed at the time, RA helped me to see that life is never as awful as it appears when I really look around and see all the beauty surrounding me.
Are you adding quiet to your day? As an introvert often masquerading as extrovert, I absolutely need quiet in my day. It might only be 10-15 minutes, but it is a requirement for me. When there is constant noise throughout my day, my body starts shutting down.
Are you moving? With RA, exercise is a double edged sword. If we don’t move, we stiffen up even more. A chiropractor used to remind me, “Use it or lose it.” However, exercise with RA often causes additional pain. For me, it is in my hips. RA reminds me that I need to move because it keeps me strong and helps with my balance, something RA likes to play around with.
You are an optimist – This is the most important message I receive from RA. During my worst RA years, I could almost always see myself well again and when I couldn’t, I surrounded myself with people in my life who could take over for me. RA is my constant reminder that no matter what life throws at me, I have the ability to turn it into a positive. I really like that part of myself and I am glad RA reminds me of it often.