Why Hobbies Are Important When You Live With Rheumatoid Arthritis

 

Today is day four of RA Blog Week 2017, and we are answering the question:– Hobbies are healthy or maybe they are not? What is your hobby and how does it help you with your autoimmune conditions? If you do not have a hobby imagine a great hobby for a person dealing with RA. Here is my answer: 

When you live with rheumatoid arthritis you have a lot of work to do. It takes time and energy to go to the doctor, keep all your lab work up to date, manage your medications, do your exercises, get enough rest- living with RA is a full-time job. RA steals so much from a person, taking physical abilities and limiting possibilities, it can take all the oxygen in the room so there is no space left for anything else. Which is why, for me, having hobbies is so important. Having a hobby is one way I can get back to being truly myself. Over the years I’ve had many, and every hobby I’ve picked up has given me back pieces of self-confidence and joy that were lost because of the JRA I’ve lived with since age two.

My hobbies are in one of two categories- restful or physical. My physical hobbies are the ones that defy logic and may seem less than smart for a person with JRA but that is exactly why I love them so much. When I push my body past what others would consider prudent I prove to myself that the JRA hasn’t completely taken my life from me. I know that if I didn’t have JRA I’d be an athlete of some kind, and when I feel strong I’m happier. Biking is one of my physical hobbies. I live in Durango, Colorado, a mountain bikers paradise and full of people we call “Durangotans,” because they are uber fit, and with hundreds of miles of trails at the edge of town, so during the past few years, with the company of my very patient husband, I’ve learned to ride over rocks and up long hills. When my body is more swollen and I can’t necessarily depend upon it to power up a hill, but I still feel okay enough to get on a bike, I’ll ride on the river trail, a paved walking/biking path that never gets boring. Over the years I’ve tried rock climbing, kayaking, hiking to the top of mountains, horseback riding; some of these things are no longer feasible for me but I’ll always be proud of myself for doing them, at least for a time.

My restful hobbies spur my creative juices and help me when I’m falling into depression. If I’m in a prolonged flare-up or recovering from surgery I tend to find a craft that’s easy and let it take my mind off of my pain and negative thinking. Often, the crafts I do end up as gifts, which helps me emotionally because it shows me that even when I am barely functional I can still give back to others. After one surgery I painted t-shirts, during my last long flare up I painted rocks- over the years I’ve had a lot of fun at the craft store! Reading is my most consistent hobby-something I do every day because it helps me to relax at night and take my mind off of the pain.

 

Hobbies have saved my sanity, boosted my self-confidence, and helped me to remember who I really am, without the juvenile rheumatoid arthritis stealing the show. I think that hobbies are even more important for someone with a chronic disease, they are cheaper than therapy and physical hobbies kill two birds with one stone- they help to keep you healthier and moving.

Having lived with JRA since I was so young I have no before and after to think about. I can only imagine how hard it is for someone who develops the disease in the prime of their life, like the majority of my peers. During the years that I worked as an occupational therapist I saw so many people who developed a chronic illness, and stopped all of their hobbies, telling me that they were too tired, didn’t have the time, or the inclination to do them anymore. I always wondered if the joy was gone because in their heads they were comparing how it felt before the disease versus after, and I tried to encourage them to find new activities that they could do.

Rheumatoid arthritis forces change, but it doesn’t have to wipe out all of your joy, and it definitely doesn’t have to take away all of the things that bring you joy. Why not use the limits that RA places on you to find new things to put a smile on your face? Why not prove to yourself and those around you that you still can be who you were meant to be, just on a different way? I may not ever be a professional athlete, but I can still inspire others by pushing my body in ways that prove we are all stronger than we know.

So, today, think about your life and your hobbies. Have you put them aside because you feel you have other, more important, things to focus on? Have you become discouraged because of pain and/or fatigue? If so, I urge you to take another look, try something new, or go back to something you forgot you loved so much. Your body, and your mind will thank you.

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