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Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis
I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) at the age of 12 and it gave me a lot of pain and suffering until in my 40s when God intervened. As you can imagine as a 12 year old, this was a big shock for me and my family. I was a kid and RA was an old persons disease as far as I knew! My life changed from being very actively involved in sport to one that ranged from walking with a slight limp to complete bed rest.
In this article I want to share some of my experiences and some of the things that have help me to live a fairly “normal” life over the years. I am hoping that in some way this article will encourage you if you are living with RA or have just been diagnosed.
1. Develop a good relationship with your doctor
Developing a good relationship with your doctor is vital for managing your RA. When I was first diagnosed at the age of 12, my Mum looked around for local doctors who had a had experience in Rheumatology. We found a General Practitioner whom understood my condition and had studied extra units in Rheumatology during his training.
Since finding my local doctor I was his patient for the next 26 years until his recent retirement. Having this long term relationship helped us to develop a level of trust and understanding. I found this very helpful when I was struggling with my condition and needed to discuss different medications and treatment plans. My doctor not only knew my condition, but he knew how it effected me personally.
2. Exercise to strengthen the supporting muscles
Now I have to admit that exercise comes naturally for me. Before I was diagnosed I was involved in athletics, football, cricket, field hockey, tennis and just about every sport that was on offer! As you can imagine, after my diagnosis this changed and was cut back. However it never really completely stopped.
I have found that being involved in gentle exercise over the years has been of great benefit. For the last 20 years I have done light weight training two to three times per week to strengthen the supporting muscles around my joints. This combined with riding and exercise bike or the occasional swim has helped me to continue to live a fairly normal life. Regular exercise has helped to keep my joints strong and moving and has improved my overall health. It has also helped me to keep within a healthy weight range for my height which in turn has placed less stress on my joints.
3. Eat a healthy diet
When I first started to research the role diet has on arthritis I found there was a million and one opinions on the subject! These ranged from people saying you should eat only fruit and vegetables to those who say that diet has no impact. There were also many opinions ranging between the two extremes.
From my experience I have found that eating a healthy well balanced diet does help my condition and improves my overall health. I eat a diet that is full of fresh vegetable and fruit, full of whole grain breads and cereals, dairy products, eggs and nuts and seeds (I am vegetarian). I try my best to steer away from junk food, but occasionally allow myself to pig out! I have found that eating a healthy ovo-lacto vegetarian diet improves my overall health and when my general health is better, my condition is a lot better!
4. Get plenty of rest
One of the side effects of RA is that you are often tired. At times it just takes more of an effort to do the basic things. I know at times when my knees and feet are sore it takes a lot more effort in walking long distances and doing heavy work. This often leaves me feeling very drained afterwards.
A key to being able to live a normal a life as possible is to get enough rest. This might mean you need extra rest at times if you are particularly sore or swollen or you just have to clear your schedule for a day or so to recover. I usually find that after taking it easy for a few days my energy levels return to normal and I am ok to resume my regular workload again.
5. Know you limitations
I know it might be hard for some people to admit, but when you have RA you have limitations! At times this may vary depending on how your feeling at the time and knowing yourself is the key. I would love to run long distances everyday and climb mountains, but I can’t. So I have learnt to adjust my lifestyle accordingly.
Now I am not saying you need to wrap yourself up in cotton wool! You just need to know what you can and can’t do depending on how your feeling at the time. In normal times I can undertake relatively physical work like gardening, laying concrete slabs or pavers or painting a room. Other times I might struggle to climb a ladder to trim a tree because my knees are sore and swollen. If I am planning to do some physical work or do something out of the ordinary I see how I am feeling first. If I am feeling good, I go for it. If not I wait a few days!
6. Develop a support network
Having a good support network around you can make a huge difference to your life when living with RA. I am very blessed that I am married to a wonderful girl who understands me and supports me when things are going well and when things are not going so well! I also have a great family who knows my condition and are always there to help me in times of need. This has helped me a lot over years to know that help and support is there.
I have also found that having a local church family to be there for you too is a great benefit. At times over the years it might have been a word of encouragement from someone or just the offer to pray for me has made a huge difference. Sometimes it has been great just to talk to someone when I have been not feeling the best.
7. Keep a positive outlook
I believe keeping a positive attitude is vital for staying on top of your condition. It often gets hard at times when you are suffering with pain, stiffness and you are unable to live a normal life. To be brutally honest it can get very depressing! It might be especially hard if your doctor has given you bad news.
I believe that you need to keep positive and expect the best no matter how you are going. I have found that when I am going through a difficult time it generally doesn’t last forever. If my knees or feet may be very sore and stiff, before long things ease off and it gets back to normal. Sometimes it might be a matter of days, weeks or even months, but things usually get better.
At the start of this article I said that I was wanting to share my experience and things that have helped me over the years. I am hoping that is the case! For me it has been nearly 30 years since that diagnosis and my life has changed in so many ways. However, I would encourage you to think positive and get some support networks around you because with a little bit of help and support you can live a fairly “normal” life.
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