In honor of Rheumatoid Awareness Day on Feb. 2, we asked our friend and RA blogger Annette McKinnon to share how she took control of her life despite RA.
It’s easier to cope with chronic illness if you feel that you have some control over your life and your health. When everything seems to be spinning away from you, life is harder to manage.
I read a scientific paper called Dispositional optimism and coping with Pain that discusses how your conviction about having control helps you to to deal with stressful experiences. It says:
“When analyzing the course of psychological processes of coping with pain, attention should be drawn to the factors which may support an individual in their efforts to reduce sensations or get control over stressful experiences. One of such factors is an individual’s conviction about having control over what happens in life or about the ability to influence and change the course of events.”
With chronic illness you are forced to be your own health manager so it is up to you to gather information to help you make better decisions. You need to learn skills for this complex task as you go along, because the days of good health and no worries are behind you. Yes, there is always the hope of having them return but in the meantime try to find the management style you are most comfortable with.
Here are my first and best ideas to help with this. More suggestions are welcome – please leave your ideas in the comments.
1. Gather a support community. The first suggestion I would make is to join an online group or community. They can be a great source of information and encouragement. It’s harder to find a physical real-time group than one that is online. It is also easier to spare the time for online efforts. (Check out myRAteam.com, the social network and online support group for people living with RA.)
2. Educate yourself. Start small and learn the vocabulary of your specific problem. Then start learning more details. It makes a lot of difference if you know what the options are likely to be before you are faced with them. That helps you to stay in the front seat, even when you are not the driver.
3. Know your treatment options before you need them. Start collecting tips about good doctors, clinics, possible treatments and other types of health care professionals who may be able to help you. When you need them, it’s much easier to figure out if you keep track as you go along.
4. Try to build up a small surplus of your most essential medications. Every time you forget to take a medication, put it in your “extra” vial. You never know what can happen – hurricane, earthquake, pharmacy fire. You don’t want to be desperate because you are running out of medication. It’s another way to have control.
5. Write a journal or blog. Get your thoughts out of you head and put them in front of you. Talk back to them. 🙂 There’s a post about that here about what it can do for you.
6. Plan ahead. It’s good to feel that you always have a possible “move” that you can still make. Whether I’m waiting to see how a new treatment works before going on to the next, or knowing a pain treatment possibility that I don’t always use or need, I feel much more in control if I have a strategy that may help if things get worse.
7. Be open to new ideas. There is little I rule out completely except things with no proof at all. In my case, though I feel that medication in general is working for me, I would consider trying massage, acupuncture, change of diet, specific exercise and so on. I’ve learned it’s a bad sign when people on social media try too hard to get you to use their remedy.
8. Improve at something. There are many free brain exercises, like Beat the Chimp. Tackling sudoku or crossword puzzles every day is another example of control, as is any creative and fulfilling experience you engage in, including crafts and puzzles. Engage your brain.
9. Find a way to be happy. Take a leaf out of Neil Pasricha‘s book and start your own Book of Awesome. There are many things in life that can lead to small moments of joy. Make a folder on your desktop and find a happy picture every day to put in it, for example.
10. Spend time with animals. Pets can keep you going when nothing else helps.
(Right: Annette’s dog Dolly.)
If you live with RA, join to meet people like you: myRAteam.com.
Annette McKinnon has lived with rheumatoid arthritis for 30 years. She spent the last 20 working full time in market research and now is involved in health advocacy and chronic illness awareness. This post originally appeared here and is reposted with permission.