5 Lessons I’ve Learned from Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Updated: May 23, 2022
You know the saying, “every cloud has a silver lining”?
It’s a metaphor for when a seemingly negative circumstance may have a positive aspect to it.
Well, for me, being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis turned out to have silver lining.
While my journey with chronic illness and autoimmunity has been rife with denial, judgement, neglect, pain, and anger, it also immersed me into self-discovery, acceptance, healing, gratitude, love, and transformation.
Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned from living with rheumatoid arthritis.
1. To put myself and my health first
I used to be someone who always put the needs of others first. It wasn’t that I didn’t value myself, but rather I felt my worth came from helping others and being an amazing friend. My loyalty and dedication to supporting others was to the detriment of my own emotional and physical health and wellbeing.
For the first thirteen years after I was diagnosed with RA, I relied solely on prescribed medication while maintaining my same busy, fast-paced, overachiever lifestyle.
And then my body crashed. I hit rock bottom. I could barely lift my body out of bed. I could barely walk. I couldn’t open my hands.
I had to make significant changes. I didn’t know where to begin, but I knew I had to start somewhere. It was then I made the decision, and commitment, to prioritize myself and my health. It was scary, overwhelming, and uncomfortable.
But I had to figure it out. I began by setting boundaries. I learned to say NO. It is liberating to prioritize and take care of myself.
2. It’s okay to show vulnerability
For the majority of my life I believed that showing vulnerability was a sign of weakness. I didn’t want to ask for help. I didn't want to show any signs of imperfection or inadequacy.
When you have physical limitations you need help. I needed help. Not only physical help such as opening a water bottle or lifting a suitcase, but also emotional support because pain hurts.
When I learned that asking for help and showing vulnerability are not signs of weakness, I was able to open my heart and deepen connections with friends, loved ones, and myself.
3. Sleep is critical
Like so many of us, I used to run on a few hours of sleep a night. Staying out late and getting up early for work was stressful and didn’t feel good, but I did it anyway. Why? Because I fell into a pattern of pushing myself and ignoring my body’s need for restorative sleep.
Lack of sufficient sleep, especially those with chronic conditions, can create flares, body imbalances, and undermine healing. I certainly felt that.
Once I prioritized myself and my health, I slowed down and learned, as someone with an autoimmune condition, sleep is critical to my health. If I don't get enough good consistent sleep, I am in pain. When I sleep, I heal.
4. To listen to my body
Which do you listen to more? You mind, your soul, or your body?
I consider myself a spiritual person. I spent my life listening to and developing a connection to my essence and inner knowing (aka my soul).
I never even considered that my body had anything to say or to teach me. Until it was screaming so loud in pain that I was forced to stop and pay attention.
It was a revelation for me to recognize that my body has wisdom. I became aware my body had always been sending me messages that I had consistently ignored.
When I realized that the pain, inflammation, and fatigue I was feeling was my body’s way of communicating to me, it turned my life around. I am no longer angry at my body for showing me pain or not being able to do exactly what I want it to do. I now stop, and listen. I ask myself and my body questions. I've grown to trust my body as an ally.
I believe that any and all body “symptoms” are your body’s way of communicating to you. You can choose to listen or to ignore.
5. Self-compassion feels better than self-criticism
I spent years being judgemental and critical towards myself and, for far too long, I was a perfectionist and overachiever. It was exhausting, hurtful, and ultimately counterproductive.
When I learned to let go of perfectionism and self-criticism, I was able to soften into myself. It allowed me to let go of the tightness, tension, and stress that felt so hurtful and had contributed to my physical and emotional pain.
The more I began to listen to my needs, the kinder and more accepting of myself I became. I learned the healing power of self-compassion.
These 5 lessons learned have supported additional and significant lifestyle, mindset and nutritional changes that continue to strengthen my health and healing.
Had I not been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, I might never have developed this nurturing, loving, and trusting relationship with myself and my body. A silver lining.
Love, Your Wellness Coach,
P.S. To learn more about my journey, check out, From Burlesque Star to Nutrition & Wellness Coach.
P.P.S. Book a free discovery call to discuss your health.
December 22, 2020