Being Healthy with Arthritis

You are NOT your Arthritis

More than once I’ve had someone, always someone who never had a chronic disease I may add, tell me “You are not your arthritis!” This statement is always presented very emphatically, with the utmost confidence. Until recently, whenever I heard this I’d reply, “You’re right, the arthritis doesn’t define Me!”

I thought about this one day not too long ago and suddenly I realized that we were both wrong. Like it or not, the arthritis has shaped who I am- physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, to my very core. It has shaped my thoughts, expectations, beliefs, goals, desires, identity, along with the joints and scars that people see.  I can’t separate myself from it because it has seeped into my being. Like it or not, I am my arthritis.

I’m sure this statement will make many healers gasp in dismay. Perfect health is what we all strive for and distancing yourself from disease is one way, so it would seem, to get there. But what is health anyway? Is it physical perfection? Is it freedom from pain?  I can think of many physically beautiful people out there that are not in any way healthy.  And a life without pain makes you less healthy, not more. People who can’t feel pain live very short lives, many dying in their twenties or thirties.

When I actually took the time to ponder the true meaning of health I realized that, surprisingly, my disease has made me healthier. With each challenge the disease has created for me, the opportunity has been there to transmute this challenge into a lesson on how to be a better person.  The arthritis has made me wise. And I use this wisdom to create a healthy life.

Pain’s Lesson

Pain teaches me every day to slow down, notice what pains me, and to stop. When I push my body too hard I pay a physical price so I don’t.  It allows me to notice other peoples’  pain and acknowledge it to them. Acknowledgement, I know, makes the pain better.

Pain makes me grateful when I’m not in pain, and this gratitude extends out to my life in general. I’m grateful for the ability to walk, talk, see, hear, engage, experience. I’m grateful to live.  Pain brings empathy and understanding and when you have that people want to be a part of your life. So I’m rarely alone unless I want to be.  Pain humbles me daily because I can’t do things that other people take for granted. So, being humbled, I walk through life knowing that my ego never leads.  My arthritis pain is always changing along with my joints so I’ve learned to be adaptable. If it hurts too much to do something I figure out another way, if I’m having an extra challenging day I switch gears and put away the to do list. I’ve learned to laugh at myself and not take everything so seriously. Because sometimes to laugh is all you can do. The arthritis has at times stripped me of my ability to function. And what I’ve learned is that you don’t really need very much at all. My disease has placed me in some dire circumstances.  As anyone who’s survived a visit to deaths door can tell you, after that it’s all just icing on the cake.

So, am I less healthy, living with a disease? Is health the absence of a diagnosable disease? Is it determined by blood tests and lab results? Or is it the direct result of how you are living your life?

I may not be able to cure my arthritis but health is not out of my grasp.  The irony is that living with rheumatoid arthritis has taught me how to be truly healthy. And that is a well earned lesson that I carry through my life.

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