Arthritis is not the essence of who I am; it is not what I want people to remember most vividly or most readily about me. I want to be realistic about my disability without letting it define me. I respect my limitations, ask for help when needed, adhere to my medical regimen. But in spite of my overall philosophy, I have good days and bad days.
After all, it isn't fair -- it definitely isn't fair. No one should have to live with a disability. But life isn't meant to be "fair". My Baptist mother says: "if life was fair, we'd all be somewhere hanging on a cross". While she and I may not agree on many things, she is correct that life with a disability is definitely not the worst thing that could happen to me. The good things that have happened to me in life far outweigh the negative.
Some days can be bad just because I can't figure out how to accomplish a task with the limitations of my disability. However, a lot of people have arthritis and someone, somewhere, has figured out how to do almost every task in spite of arthritis. The Internet is a wonderful resource to find ways of overcoming all sorts of obstacles. You can start with this blog which focuses on overcoming hurdles of those disabled by arthritis, and move on from here until you find ideas that work for you.
Some days are bad due to self-pity. I miss the days when I could do whatever I wanted without first having to figure out a way around the arthritis. It is reasonable to grieve our former disability-free lives occasionally. It's healthy. But don't get lost in grief. If it starts to overwhelm you or you seem to never have good days, seek professional help. Your health insurance may cover emotional and mental health. Be sure to ask if there is a difference in coverage for in-network vs. out-of-network, and what free options are available.
Finally, some days are bad because I'm just plain mad. When I experience grief in any of its various stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), that's my cue to change my perspective. I focus on the question "What have I learned that I wouldn't have learned had I not experienced this disability?" This line of thought reminds me that there is a positive aspect to the illness, that this experience is requiring me to grow in many ways. I would still rather not be disabled, but some good has come of it.
For one thing, I've had to make some decisions I had been avoiding for years -- decisions to exclude activities and people from my life that I don't really enjoy. I use to put up with a lot, but the arthritis has left me unable to afford marginally-enjoyable activities. I'm very conscious now of how I use my limited time and energy. In reality, the time and energy of every life is limited, I just didn't appreciate that fact until I developed arthritis.
Keep a Healthy Perspective
Another way to get perspective is to remember how far I've come. When the four leaks under my foundation were recently being repaired there were men in both bathrooms with jackhammers. They ripped into the floors and through the foundation of my home, to get to the pipes below. What a mess. I could remember when I had wanted a home of my own so much it hurt, and how hard I fought to keep my home when I first got the arthritis and couldn't earn a living. The fact is, repairs are a part of home ownership, and I had badly wanted to own my own home. So I stood there with the jackhammer rat-a-tat-tatting away and reminded myself, "I have my wish. Good for me, I got what I wanted. I still have my home."
And that's true for issues around my disability as well. There were times that I desperately wanted to find a doctor that I felt would listen to me. The doctors I have now are all listeners. I wanted to find medication that stopped the pain. I had to first reduce my pain level by changing my behavior, but medicines can now handle the pain that remains. I wanted my flare-ups to be under control so that I could do something in life besides manage my disability and now I have lots of other activities and responsibilities. I have a lot of what I have wished for in the past. And that reminds me that in the future I will have what I am wishing for now.
Remember to Cultivate Gratitude
It is critical to my daily happiness that I keep my priorities at hand. When I feel that everything is going wrong, I quickly run through my list of priorities. As long as those are in good shape, I remind myself that the rest is just irritation.
Before arthritis, I held high-powered but high-stress jobs. I can no longer sustain that level of stress, nor work 80-hour weeks, nor travel 90% of the year. I was unable to work at all the for five years after the onset of RA. When I returned to the workforce, the economy was not good and the only job I could find was "low-man on the totem pole". Of course, I took it. I needed an income, I needed health insurance. Driving was such a challenge that I didn't think I would be able to continue. Finally I was allowed to do the job from home.
In general, I was delighted to have this job which paid me enough to live on, provided health insurance, and where I was allowed to work from home so that I could most easily accomodate my disability. But the work was more boring than any job I had ever held. Sitting at my kitchen table hour after hour doing mind-numbing busywork was almost unbearable day after day after day. I literally didn't think I was going to be able to sit still and do it. But I had to.
I realized I needed a reminder of why I was doing this (the job came with health insurance, and they let me work from home). I made 8.5 x 11" Gratitude Posters and put them on the wall where I had to look at them while I worked. Some things were generally important, like health insurance. Some things were just important to me, like being at home with my dogs Max and Albert all day instead of in an office far away.
Once I viewed those boring tasks as a way of achieving priorities which were critical to my ongoing happiness, it was easier to do them. I remained happier throughout the day, even though the work was still tedious. Gratitude is a great healer of negative emotion. Gratitude Posters are a tangible reminder of all that we are most grateful for.
I suggest you make your own Gratitude Posters today. You can get high-quality free clip art to use from Dover Publications (they offer books of royalty-free clip art). Find art that speaks to you. Make a statement about what's really important in your every-day life. Post them on the wall. Look at them frequently, and hold the thoughts in your mind. Frequently repeated experiences of gratitude, even small ones, will start an upward spiral of positive emotions which will carry over to all else in your life.