Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, or any kind of arthritis causes much more than just chronic pain. These inflammatory diseases can wreak havoc on emotional well-being, whittle away self-esteem, break our spirit, and often trigger debilitating depression.
Most days are difficult, so when we have one that’s happy, productive, or flare-free, it’s memorable. People living with a chronic illness don’t take one second of relief for granted, plus these respites give us the strength to keep trying to live our best lives, despite the constant physical and mental challenges.
“It’s all about the small victories,” says Jen Soldat, who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis six months ago.
So, as preposterous as it might seem, it is possible to have a “best day with arthritis.” A lot of it has to do with perspective — and appreciating the upsides of challenging situations.
These brave warriors shared their most inspiring moments, big and small:
The Day I Got a Handicapped Parking Permit
“I trip on cracks, fall on curbs, and my legs give out with zero notice. So [getting a permit] was a long time coming. It sure beats having to drive around the parking lot until a close spot opens up. Or parking near a cart corral just so I can use the cart as a walker and make it into the store. I was nervous to ask my doctor for it but my rheumy didn’t hesitate at all. My doctor filled out the application, I brought it to the DMV, and left with a permanent placard. The part that was hard was swallowing my pride and asking for one. It was a tough reality at 31. I’m still afraid of getting dirty looks and nasty comments since I don’t look ‘sick.’ I’m not sure how I will react yet. I may bring my cane with me. It also comes in handy when you can’t reach something on a shelf!” — Natasha Rose Johnson
The Day I Finished Remodeling My Basement
“Last summer, I made the decision to homeschool our girls to be able to bond with them better. One of the major reasons was to help challenge me as well. Without my children, I would more than likely to sleep the day away and become worse. My best day with RA was the day I finished remodeling my basement for their homeschool room. I did it alone without any help. It took me several weeks but I didn’t give up. I patched up and sanded walls, wallpapered, laid a new floor down and even rewired outlets. I put together two desks and also a bookshelf. I found my motivation. I haven’t gone into remission. We are still working with medication and praying someday I’ll get there. But for now I’m fighting back the greatest I can.” — Lisa Ann Root
The Day I Saw the Grand Canyon
“I was diagnosed with psoriatic spondylitis about five years ago. A few days ago I made it to the top of Guano Point at the Grand Canyon. I’m still in a ton of pain but I’m really glad I forced myself.” — Shaun Fenton
The Day I Got My Yoga Teaching Certificate
“Less than a year ago, I was close to being paralyzed from my RA. But I refused to give in to despair. I was the least flexible person in my yoga training class. There were days when I went home and cried because it was so difficult for me to do even basic things. My classmates would often lose patience because they had to slow their pace down for me. I fought so hard for this and I did it. ‘Nevertheless, she persisted.’” — Rayman Gill Rai
The Day I Walked Again
“In 2014, my pain from having AS skyrocketed and stole so many of my physical capabilities. I had nearly lost the ability to walk at all. My right foot would not move past my left and I had a very pronounced ‘pimp limp’ as I tried to walk. I needed a cane or other means of support and stability for even a few short steps.
I was married to a biker for 20 years. He left in 2012 due to his own health issues, and I had really missed the whole biker camaraderie. I was lonely and tired of being a shut-in. I lived in a tiny town in a very rural area of Idaho. One of my friends invited me to join his motorcycle group at a Memorial Day get together where I would meet new people. So I pushed myself and drove up to the resort town of Lava Hot Springs. I refused to take my cane. I was having a great time and was the most sober one there — and therefore the best ‘babysitter.’
My friend was the first one to fall off his barstool and needed to be taken back to his room three blocks away. He was a 6-foot-tall, 250-pound drunk. But I was determined to keep him from wandering into traffic or walking full tilt into a street lamp. Somehow getting my friend back up that hill had ‘unlocked’ my right foot, and not only did I have a great time doing something normal that I had been missing for a very long time, but I have been able to walk ever since.” — Ronna White
The Day I Wore 5-Inch Heels to a Wedding
“I was diagnosed with RA at 32, 11 months after I gave birth. I was still wearing heels to work. I enjoyed dressing up. My motto? The higher the heel, the more praises! Then I just became so tired, I started buying flats so I could be comfortable at work all day. Then it became an everyday thing and I had to give up most of my shoes. I kept two pairs, one a five-inch stiletto. I was invited to participate in my friends’ Catholic wedding and I wanted to wear those heels. I prepared for that wedding. I did not eat anything that could possibly cause flares. No carbs, sugar, beef. I took my medications.
I walked down that aisle as confidently as I could. Right before ‘You may kiss the bride,’ my feet and ankles were already killing me. At the reception, I changed into comfy flats. When we were called to take pictures with the bride and groom, I put my spikes on again. It just made me feel so powerful. Like — I’m gonna slay! I’m just 5’2″ so heels are just a super boost to my personality. Now that I’m a work-from-home mom, I do not have many opportunities to wear heels. But when I have the chance, I make sure to do it. Because it feels me. I am who I was again.” — Katherine Lazafo
The Day I Could Play with My Kids Again
“I’m still early in this journey. All of my symptoms came on after I had my fourth child eight months ago. I literally couldn’t do anything for myself. I couldn’t even sit up in bed without help from my husband. He had to pull me out of bed and walk me to the bathroom. I would scream in pain even when he was helping me. After I had my baby, it was summer and my older kids were home. We stayed in my bed all day with the baby until my husband came home to help me. That lasted for about four weeks then I began doing things in bed like stretching and just lifting my legs and arms. I slowly got better over that time.
My best day was the day that I could finally care for my kids since getting diagnosed with RA. When I could lift my arms in the air without screaming for help, they got excited with me. They saw my fighting spirit come back. And since I saw their reaction to how I overcame this giant obstacle, I have been more determined than ever. When I have a bad day now, I think back to then and realize it could be worse. Mornings are hard, of course, but my family has adapted to helping me in the mornings. It’s amazing what a great support system can be for someone. I have come so far compared to where I was eight months ago. I take that as a win.” — Stephanie Schaefer
The Day I Discovered Scuba
“I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis just before my 3rd birthday — now I am 24 — so it has always limited my ‘adventures,’ even though I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie. About two years ago I discovered scuba diving and was opened to a whole new world of adventure. Not only is the water easier on my joints, scuba is one of the most inclusive and accommodating sports on the planet. There’s always someone open to helping load my gear and get me settled on the boat. Once I hit that water I am free — I feel completely weightless and there’s no pain. I’ve swam with sharks and turtles and rays, I’ve seen beautiful coral and stunning shipwrecks. Those are always my best days!” — Jessica Bews
The Day I Felt Like an Athlete Again
“I was diagnosed with RA in 1999. One of my best days was completing the zip line trail in Stowe, Vermont, with my husband several years ago. We did it on a whim while on vacation. I figured if the Real Housewives could do it so could I — although I wasn’t wearing heels at the time. My husband was surprised when I suggested we try it. It was so exhilarating and I can’t wait to do it again!” —Ellen Newman
The Day I Bought Front-Clasping Bras
“I was so depressed one morning because I couldn’t put on my bra. Then I remembered I had bought some front-clasping ones from J.C. Penney. Oh my God, this was the best thing ever. I’ve only been diagnosed for half a year but I’ve been having pain for the last three. My mother had rheumatoid arthritis, too, and she used to do the bra ‘shimmy,’ which involved clasping it then moving it around so it was in the right position. Well that just didn’t work with my hands, elbows and shoulder. So the moral of the story is, find what works for you and embrace it!” — Jen Soldat
The Day I Got Married
“I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was 17 so I’ve been living in pain my entire adult life. My best day with RA was my marriage in 2011 to my wonderful husband Tim. I ordered my wedding ring two sizes larger, so I could go back and forth between the ring finger and middle finger when I had inflammation. My rheumatologist gave me extra prednisone for the whole week, so on the day of my wedding, I wore high heels! Well, kind of. They were fancy wedges. I danced nearly all night. I love dancing so much and prior to RA it was a huge part my life. We traveled to Lake Tahoe for our honeymoon and I was able to go hiking and boating. My rheumatologist has been so awesome and I honestly can’t thank him enough.” — Joni Collins
The Day I Saw the Great Wall
“I was scared to travel so far to Beijing but with my husband’s help, we actually made it to the Great Wall of China. My little legs were so tired, but I’ll never give up on my dreams, I’ll keep fighting! We also went to Thailand and it was breathtaking. I’m so happy we did it. The secret: Rest, pain meds, repeat.” — Renee Rutherford
The Day I Rode My Horse
“I got RA when I was 2 and I turn 67 next month. I’ve had both of my hips replaced and my ankle and wrist fused, in addition to other surgeries. Having RA is like being on a roller coaster. I have had ups and downs all my life. But my love of Morgan horses and the strong desire to train and compete are my lifeline. Every day that I can ride my horse is a great day. I value exercise; it keeps me motivated. When I get up in the morning, look in the mirror and see someone looking back at me, I make the most of my day.” —Nancy Mangum
The Day I Climbed to the Top of the Vatican Dome
“I have had RA for 22 years. I went to Rome a couple of years ago and I climbed to the top of the Vatican dome, all 750 steps. I took my time and stopped halfway at the cafe there, but I did it. I’m heading to Pisa in eight weeks!” — Nyree Dawn
The Day I Took a Road Trip to See My Granddaughter
“My best day with RA would have to be when I was able to drive eight hours to visit my granddaughter last November. She and her mother had previously lived almost 20 hours away, which was way too much of a drive with my RA and fibromyalgia. Flying is very difficult and painful for me as well. When they moved closer, I was so excited to finally get to see her after not seeing her for over a year. A few days before our trip I ended up in a pretty bad flare. I was absolutely determined to make this trip happen regardless of my pain. Somehow the morning that we left, my pain and inflammation had decreased significantly, and I felt better than I had in a very long time. We spent the entire weekend with my granddaughter. I was able to go shopping and play with her. We even went to a photographer to have family pictures taken. Somehow my body decided to give me a break for that weekend, which I desperately needed.” — Roxanne Dalis
The Day I Walked 26 Miles
“I’m from Glasgow, Scotland, and have been living with psoriatic arthritis for just shy of 20 years. A few years ago I did what we call the ‘Kiltwalk,’ which is a 26-mile walk for our local children’s hospital. It was hard going and took 8½ hours but it was all for a good cause.”— Dawn McGillivray
The Day I Celebrated My 10thAnniversary
“My husband and I took a trip to Grenada around the Grenadine Islands for about 10 days. Not sure if it was the altitude and warm weather or being closer to the equator but I felt normal for once. I had literally no problems with my RA other than my knees hurting from a long ride on a moped. Seriously wondering if I should move there. Haven’t felt that great in probably 15 years!” — Kate Rose