Rheumatoid Arthritis, and the pain and fatigue we suffer is NOT all in the mind. But our minds, and our ways of thinking can be the most powerful weapons we have to help us cope with the constraints of living with a chronic illness.
There is one word that has changed my entire mindset, my approach to living with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and changed my attitude to almost everything. It has been key to my way of seeing things, and my ability to not let this nasty little disease destroy my life, no matter what it’s doing to my body.
What’s the word?
As in “I can’t do that…today.”
In all honesty when the full realisation that I would be living with this horrible pain forever hit me, I let that stop me from doing a lot of things. I stopped exercising. I stopped socialising. I stopped making plans. Who wants to plan something when chances are I won’t be able to make it on the day?
I can’t run.
I can’t work.
I can’t be relied upon.
And the thoughts continue from there…I can’t be relied upon, therefore I am a lousy employee. I’m a lousy friend. I’m a lousy mother. It goes on ad nauseum from there.
If you let it.
So instead of “I can’t run” or “I can’t work” or “I can’t cook dinner” or “I can’t clean the house” I changed it to “I can’t run today.”
Inherent in that statement is the possibility that I may be able to do it tomorrow. Inherent in that statement is hope. Inherent in that statement is positive energy, that neutralises the negative energy of the word ‘Can’t’. Because I can’t do it today, doesn’t mean I am a failure at life. It just means exactly that. I can’t do it today.
Many people say the word “can’t” doesn’t exist. Well, fine, for healthy people maybe. “Can’t” most certainly does exist when you have a chronic illness. Especially one as painful as rheumatoid arthritis. I take their point though. And adapt it to my reality. I can’t today.
It also works the other way. When I would have a good day, I would start making plans for tomorrow. If today I could run for 10 minutes on the treadmill …tomorrow I’ll do 20! By the end of next week I’ll be doing my 5km run around the lake again…and I’ll have everything back that I used to have, and life will be as it was…
Then the next day would hit and I’d be in agony and seized up on the couch. Not able to do anything. Then all my planning the day before weighed on me, made me feel stupid, and idiotic. Like a major league slow learner and I would fall back into a semi-depression for a few days. Along with all the pain!
So now, I take things day at a time. A good day doesn’t mean tomorrow will be good. A bad day doesn’t mean tomorrow will be bad. A great day doesn’t mean I am in remission and am going to live happily ever after. A day where I worked for three hours straight on the computer doesn’t mean that I can go out and get a proper job again.
Today is just today. Good or bad. Tomorrow is a new day, and I will use it the very best way I can. I make plans. Sometimes…often…they don’t turn out the way I hoped. People still get annoyed with me because I am unreliable. But they need to understand me if they wish to remain a part of my life.
It’s not that I can’t. I just can’t today.