Tuesday, January 22, 2013

You're Not the Boss of Me...

My 40th birthday is (all too quickly) drawing near.  Although I am not one to be too bothered with age or getting older, it's human nature to look back and reflect as you approach a milestone.  As I ponder my life, my choices and challenges, my friends and my fate; everything is touched in some way by one thing: arthritis.

I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid and Osteo-arthritis at the age of 17, so I've spent my entire adult existence dealing with this uninvited companion. But, although it's been life-altering, I have done everything in my power over the past 23 years to put myself in the driver's seat when it comes to my health. And a huge factor in controlling this disease is EXERCISE.

WAIT!! Before you groan and quickly move onto cute cat photos or snarky memes, let me quickly reassure you that I am NOT one of those lunatic, exercise-obsessed, perfect body people (although, I do know and love many of them, and honestly admire their dedication and awesome figures).  I am YOU.  If you are an RA/OA sufferer, I totally get it. I have been in your shoes and I have felt your pain. Working out is not in my blood, it's not something that comes easily, and it doesn't feel natural to me all the time.  But, it is something I strive every day to do, not to look good (although that is something I consider...I do own up to a bit of vanity!), I have to do it. I MUST do it.  I won't be able to run errands, chase my boys or even walk if I don't force myself to haul these creaky joints to the gym as much as I can.

The effectiveness of exercise as a treatment for rheumatoid disease is well-documented.  It works for a variety of reasons, like strengthening the muscles surrounding the joints so the joints themselves aren't doing all the work. Range of motion, which in my case, severely suffered in the early years of my diagnosis is increased by regular exercise.  And although I have always found this to be counterintuitive in theory, I've experienced its truth in practice: exercise really does fight off the fatigue that is always accompanied by RA. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation has even spearheaded a nationwide movement called 'Let's Move Together!' to motivate our community to utilize exercise to combat rheumatoid disease.

Obviously, this is all very easy for me to say; after all, I've been eating, sleeping, loving and living with this disease for over 20 years. My RA/OA and I know each other very well and I am used to it.  It's different for anyone who has been recently diagnosed, or even those who've been hanging with arthritis for a while now and haven't found the right path for managing it.  I can hear you all right now -- 'I am in pain and this crazy lady expects me to get on the treadmill?? Not on your life!'  I don't blame you! Not at all. Like I said, I AM you, and I was in the very same spot.  There was a time when I couldn't even walk from the car to my doctor's office without help.  There have been times when I've needed a wheelchair.  There have been times a'plenty that I couldn't do something I wanted.  But that's not how I wanted to live. That's not who I wanted to be.

So I started small.  In the beginning, short walks were all I could do.  I was the only 20-year old in an aqua-aerobics class with 20 silver-haired retirees. But it was a start. And we all have to start somewhere.  And today, I spend at least three days a week at Planet Fitness, and two on my elliptical trainer at home. I am in the best shape of my life.  Because if I wasn't, I know I'd be in the worst.

For certain, I still have my bad days.  There are days when I get up and the last thing in the world I want to do is exercise.  My knees hurt and I am so tired, both from this stupid disease and life in general. But, instead of wallowing, I get up, and I get going.  And you can, too.  I know it's scary and hard and painful.  But it is what it is; but we are what we are.  And that is people who can take arthritis by the throat, and let it know just who's in charge of our lives - WE ARE!

 What I am trying to say is that it WILL get better. You CAN do it.  Join a gym.  Join Let's Move Together and take advantage of the support system it offers. Sign up for yoga class.  Message me anytime if you need to vent.  Take control. Be the boss of you. In taking charge, I promise you will find your determination, positivity, and dignity. We can do this...you and me, one step at a time.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog - I can totally attest to this. I joined a gym at the end of August last year having procrastinated about it for over a year. While I was procrastinating I was also eating way too much junk and putting on weight - probably the biggest no-no for someone with RA.

    Whilst its a slog going to the gym, and due to work I can't get there before 8:30pm most weekdays if you stick at it, it definitely makes a difference. I've lost weight, feel more alert, and definitely have less pain days than before. This also has the benefit of making me feel more productive at work and means I have more energy to do stuff on the weekends.

    The key for me was finding the right exercise. I settled on swimming and try to go 3 or 4 times a week, with the occasional trip on to the gym floor for a 20 minute jog and a bit of cross training just to mix things up.