Thriving within your “new normal”

When I was first diagnosed with Rheumatoid Disease (RD), I thought my life was over. I read stories of people who couldn’t get any pain relief, who were disabled by the disease, or had experienced immeasurable harm from some of the medications they had been on. Frankly, I was scared to death.

Fast forward four years, and I have found that while I have definitely had to adjust to my disease, my life is far from over. Part of the reason for that is my relationship with Pack Health, which I was referred to by someone else with RA. This program – from the personal coaching to the disease management tools and techniques – has taken me from despairing of my disease to learning how to live a thriving life in spite of it.

As a contributor to RD Blog Week 2018, I would like to share some tips I received when I was a new member of Pack Health that helped me manage my Rheumatoid Arthritis:

01 Keep Track of Your Life

I don’t really like using “trackers” to write down food or exercise, but when you’re hurting and you want relief, it is a big help to know what your triggers are so that you can come up with a plan to avoid them. Tracking your pain on a daily basis also helps your doctor track your progress. For me, it empowered me by helping me see that when I made small changes to my routine, I could really make a difference in my health and the way I felt each day.

02 Keep Moving

One of the lies RD tells us is that we need to rest more to feel better, when in fact moving more is what we really need to feel better! From using a pedometer to tracking steps, to doing gentle yoga for arthritis, I have found that getting off the couch is key to my wellbeing. And when I ease into exercise, rather than trying to jump right back into routines my body can’t do anymore, I don’t flare as often and I can still do a lot of the physical activities I love.

03 Eat Healthy and Stay Hydrated

This one is a challenge for me because there is nothing I love more than a cup o’ joe; and when I am sick, my first go-to is comfort food, including a big bag of gummy bears! My Health Advisor reminded me that I need to be drinking at least a glass or two of water for every cup of coffee I drink and that too much sugar will only lead to more inflammation. I have also found from experience that processed foods like lunchmeats will get me flared up every time. The more water I drink and the more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy proteins I eat, the better I feel.

04 Take Your Medicine on Time

It may sound simple, but when you’re juggling multiple chronic illnesses that each require different medications that need to be taken at different times of the day, it’s easy to forget whether you took one! My Health Advisor suggested tying my medicine to a daily routine, like brushing your teeth or having breakfast. There are also now phone apps that have medicine alarms built-in. How handy is that!

05 Pray Away Your Pain

Spirituality has played a big role in my healing journey. I have truly found that prayer and meditation can make a big difference, not because I expect God to instantly remove my pain, but in the process of letting go of things I can’t control. Focusing my mind on things above, rather than on my pain, and accepting life as it is instead of just whining about what it isn’t, has given me the ability to find joy despite what I am going through.

06 Do Something You Enjoy

The happiest RA patients I know are those who have found a way to do something they love, despite their disease. I have one friend who travels extensively with her husband, another who does some amazing photography, and others who do crafts. I love getting outdoors in the woods or in my kayak. One friend has an amazing gift for connecting people, which she has found a way to do online without even leaving her bed! Don’t let RA steal your life. Even in the most severe cases, there is probably still something you can find to keep your mind off your pain and onto something you love.

07 Don’t Go It Alone

Take the time to find adequate support from others with your disease. There are some amazing online groups out there, and there may be some in-person groups as well. Isolating is not the answer, though, especially since RA and depression often go together. It is critical to find people who will encourage you on your bad days, celebrate with you on your good days, and answer questions you may have about various treatment regimens. Being able to be there for those same people on their good and bad days will give you a sense of purpose as well. You might even make some new friends!

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