By Lene Andersen
Living well with rheumatoid arthritis — isn’t that an oxymoron? There’s pain, stiffness, doctor’s appointments and endless fatigue. Is it really possible to create a good life with RA? You bet! In my over 40 years of living with this disease, I’ve learned a few tricks that I’d like to share with you.
Having your life hijacked by a chronic autoimmune disease is not anyone’s idea of fun. There are times when it seems as if you no longer have control over anything and it can make you feel really helpless. Living well with RA starts with becoming empowered and taking back control, one step at a time.
Step 1: Get Treatment
I grew up in a time when there were no effective treatments for RA. Progressive damage and disability were inevitable. This is no longer the case. In the last 15 years, many new treatments for RA have been developed, making remission possible and improving the lives of many. Early and aggressive treatment increases your chances of going into remission, but even if you’ve had RA for a long time, these medications can still work wonders. If your disease is not controlled, talk to your doctor about your options. Keep trying until you find something that works. If that’s been difficult for you, remember that many new drugs are in development. There is every reason to hope that one of them will work for you.
Step 2: Get Information
Knowledge is power. This is not just an old adage, but actually true. You may not be able to take over the world by being knowledgeable about RA, but it will make a huge difference in your world. Staying informed about what’s going on in your body, new treatments and how others cope with this disease is an essential part of taking back control of your life. Read websites about RA, join RA online communities and contact your local chapter of The Arthritis Foundation to find in-person support groups. Being aware of what’s going on in the field and the RA community helps you make better treatment decisions and create a better quality of life.
Step 3: Get Perspective
When you’re first diagnosed, it’s natural to go through a period of intense focus on the disease and your reactions to it. Adapting physically and emotionally to having a chronic illness is a process, so allow yourself to take the time to adjust. Then get back to living. You didn’t choose to have RA, but you can choose how you will live with it. Focusing on what you can do, instead of what you can’t, looking for the positive and finding a reason to laugh every day can make a big difference. The author Louisa May Alcott once said she was “resolved to take fate by the throat and shake a living out of her.” That same determination to live well and to actively participate in your family and community is what will give your life meaning and joy.
RA ebbs and flows. Sometimes, the disease takes over for a while, at other times it just mutters in the background. What doesn’t change is this: becoming empowered and taking control will help ensure that your life is a full, rich and joyful one.
Read more about Lene’s book Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain at www.yourlifewithra.com.