In support of Arthritis Awareness Month, we collaborated with Rachel Janzen to learn about the top ten ways to cope with rheumatoid arthritis. Her struggle with this autoimmune disorder has landed her some extremely valuable insights on how to better manage the pain. According to Rachel, the following list represents an optimal system for dealing with rheumatoid arthritis:
1. Have a Support Team/Person – Whether it’s a spouse, parent, child, sister, friend or all of the above, it’s crucial to not journey this road alone. It’s extremely helpful to have a support system in place for you to be able to share both the good days and the stressful days that are filled with doctors appointments, biologic infusions or trips to the ER in the middle of the night.
2. Realize You Aren’t Alone – Like the first point on this list, it’s important to remind yourself that you’re not in this alone. Whether it’s meeting others through social media or attending in-person support groups, there are many people experiencing similar hardships. You’ll be surprised at how comfortable you might feel when sharing your experiences with people you don’t know very well. I found that joining social media support groups on Facebook and Instagram helped reinforce the fact that I’m not alone and that many of us are in the same boat. Join a support group, ask questions, help answer questions and before you know it you’ll find yourself laughing with a fellow spoonie about your realities together!
3. Forgive Yourself – Most of us have an idea of where we thought we’d be at different stages in our life, but as much as we’d like for things to go the way we’ve planned, life happens and change is inevitable. As a patient with a chronic illness you have to stop blaming yourself when things don’t go according to plan and learn to forgive yourself and let go. Most important of it all, love yourself.
4.DE-STRESS – Life circumstances sure have a way of bringing on both good and bad stress. While we can’t often control things that happen, we can control how we react to these unforeseen situations. Here are a few suggestions on how to manage your reaction and/or stress:
5. Fuel Your Body Well – Staying hydrated is essential for your body. It helps you feel more alert and energized. Whether your water is flavoured, infused with fruit, or even carbonated, make sure you’re drinking regularly! Similarly, food is equally important for your body. Find a way to eat foods that help reduce disease activity and inflammation. Remember to get checked by your doctor for allergies or sensitivities so you can refrain from experiencing additional discomfort. For example, as a celiac, I must be extremely careful not to consume gluten as it triggers inflammation – not just in my gut – but throughout my whole body. A great way to monitor how you feel is to journal how your body responds to certain foods.
6. Stay Active – I cannot stress this enough. Find something you love to do and make it a priority. Many of us take steroids that contribute to decreasing bone density, so we must stay strong! Increased weight gain makes movement on joints that much more difficult which is why staying active is extremely important. Even if it’s five minutes of stretching every hour or so – challenge your flexibility and be on your feet as much as possible. Your body will be forever grateful.
7. Keep Your Schedule as Last Minute as Possible – I learned this the hard way. I’d plan an activity ahead of time and have to cancel last minute due to a flare which resulted in me losing friends simply because they didn’t understand what I was going through. The tough part with rheumatoid arthritis is that people don’t realize you can feel fine one day and terrible the next. So now, I try my best to not plan ahead of time and fly by the seat of my pants so to speak.
8. Smile and Nod – I’m sure many of you have heard a lot of advice on how to deal with pain, especially from people who aren’t familiar with the disease or what you are going through. Try your best to stay positive and tune it out. Smile and nod, consider the source and laugh about it with your fellow spoonies.
9. Don’t Settle Until You Find a Companion Right For you – Spend the time required to find a companion that believes in you, supports you, and is up-to-date with new treatment options.
10. Be Your Own Advocate – Don’t stop researching and learning about rheumatoid arthritis. Doctors have a multitude of patients which is why you need to go the extra mile in making sure you are well informed about your condition. If you think you have rheumatoid arthritis, make it a point to get a referral ASAP. It is essential to get an earliest possible diagnosis of any chronic illness after which you can work on finding the right treatment for you. Treatment is unique to each individual so take your time in identifying what works for you and stick to that moving forward.
You are all so special, so beautiful, so wonderful and so loved. Remember – what we experience is valuable since we can help someone else who is on the same journey. Remember – it is in your power to turn sorrow into joy and laughter.
Much love, Rachel
About Rachel Janzen
Rachel Janzen was a dental hygienist for 13 years and was forced into a career change due to very severe Rheumatoid Arthritis among other autoimmune conditions. Her life changed thereafter where she struggled to find options for effective help and treatment. Out of desperation Rachel turned to medical cannabis and has found much relief and an improved quality of life. Her body has reached homeostasis and she was able to stop almost all of her medications feeling hopeful for her future. Additionally, Rachel’s experience has helped her identify best practices to better cope with a severe condition like rheumatoid arthritis. She actively conducts outreach efforts and community engagement events – especially when she hears of the challenges patients go through in managing pain and other symptoms of arthritis or autoimmune conditions.