I have rheumatoid arthritis. And I’ve had it for far longer than I’ve not had it.
A recent full-blown flare-up reminded me how fortunate I am not to have experienced one of this magnitude since I began practising stress transformation techniques.
To help you understand what someone goes through when they live with the pain and deformity of rheumatoid arthritis, I’ve created some simulations for you to imagine:
- Tightly wind some elastics around your fingers. Then, put some heavy winter mittens on your hands. Now, open a carton of milk, unscrew a jar or unlock the door.
- Place some marbles in your shoes. Put your shoes on. Go for a walk.
- Bend your knees. Apply duct tape vertically along the front and back of your knees. Now straighten them.
How was that?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease in which the body mistakenly attacks its own tissue. The disease is characterised by inflammation – hot, stiff, swollen and painful joints. As the disease progresses, it affects the synovial lining of the joints, erodes bones, and can damage ligaments, tendons, cartilage, joint capsules and organs.
Oh yeah, and energy. It can suck the life out of you. Everyday living tasks not only hurt, but are also next to impossible to do. (Even when the disease isn’t active (flaring), the damage the disease inflicts echoes on…dislocated fingers mean that opening bottles without an aid can be next to impossible. Slipping your credit card into the slot at the pay station is a struggle. Low seats or benches, although inviting, mean that getting up off them will require fortitude.) If you take these things for granted, stop and appreciate how well your body works; regular heart-felt breaths of appreciation are an excellent antidote to stress.
The pain of rheumatoid arthritis varies and can include, but is not limited to, some of the following descriptions: throbbing, aching, sharp or dull pain, grabbing or nagging. That is the querulous nature of the disease. When I first moved to British Columbia people often said, “Wait five minutes and the weather will change.” Somewhat like rheumatoid arthritis. An hour can see a change, either for the better or the worse.
Since I’ve learned about stress and work daily on transforming it, my flare-ups are further and fewer between. I am much better at pain-management, which frees up my energy.
The constant activation of the stress response wears out the nervous system, which wears you out. Think of it as stepping on the brake and gas of your car at the same time. Not good for the car. Not good for you.
If only I had known about these techniques thirty-three years ago, I may not have had to go through as much pain, joint and bone damage and surgeries. But, it is what it is. Perhaps I was not yet ready to learn and practise these on-going in-the-moment techniques? As in stress transformation, you start where you are.
One of the most challenging aspects of living with this disease has been to learn to maintain joint function by protecting the joints from undue stress and strain. I enjoy getting things done and it can be frustrating knowing that engaging in the activities of everyday living can contribute to the further destruction of delicate and damaged joints. Similar to what I teach my clients when they are learning to transform their stress, it is about balance. How much can I do? How often? How heavy? With what assistance? What to let go?
If you live with a chronic condition and feel like you’re being blown about in a storm of uncertainty and are ready to take some control over your “internal pharmacy”, please consider learning some stress transformation techniques.
The way you think and feel is important for your “inner climate,” which in turn, affects your “outer climate.” Adjust your climate control.