As the holidays cycle through and the year starts to wind down, I am feeling the curveballs life — especially life with chronic illness — throw at us. My biologic infusion was two days before Christmas, and boy, did I need it. I was starting to feel my energy running on empty last week. My pain levels were climbing.
I know my body will need rest after the holiday marathon. So why should I stress over making New Year’s resolutions I know I will end up breaking or struggle to even start? Every time this time of year rolls around since I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis almost five years ago, I find myself asking why I need to define my entire year’s goals by January 1.
After all, I don’t exactly thrive in the cold with rheumatoid arthritis. (Plus living in the Great White North, maybe I need a few extra weeks to blossom, especially during the flu season.)
Setting goal-oriented resolutions usually requires making new habits and creating consistent routines. That’s not easy when arthritis symptoms, doctor appointments, medications, surgeries, and tests are so unpredictable. Life with chronic illness is bumpy.
These days, I am finding the concept of New Year’s resolutions stressful — and I’m not in the mood to create any more stress for myself when I know how bad it is for me.
Instead of vowing to overhaul my life in the first few weeks of January, I’m going to stick with the long-term changes I know are good for me, my RA, and my family.
Work on Stress Management
Stress has gotten the better of me lately. I am still exhausted from my son’s birthday earlier in December and I am also mourning the loss of a good friend due to his struggles with chronic illness. The realities of life don’t take a holiday just because it is the holiday season. Chronic illness doesn’t go on vacation during the holidays either. It’s not all sugar plums and everything nice, but I’ve had to put on a brave face to create a magical holiday and birthday for my son.
I find stressful situations to be a major trigger for unrelenting fatigue with my rheumatoid arthritis. If anything brings me down, it literally brings me down to my couch or bed.
I know that with chronic illness I will grieve and experience different emotions, many of which others may not understand. I know it’s OK to feel what I need to feel when times get overwhelming, but I am always working on how to pull myself out of it and move forward.
Take Each Day as It Is
Some will be memorable in good or bad ways. Some will just feel like a blur lost in a sea of fatigue. Some days I just can’t move as fast as others; I call this arthritic speed. Our bodies and flares don’t care if it’s January 1 or June 1. We know what we need when living with chronic illness. Let’s celebrate that we are still here and acknowledge the blessings we have already instead of focusing on what we must have or do by a certain time.
Let Go of Expectations
While on the elliptical at the gym this year, I found myself thinking that I couldn’t believe how far I had come when before I used to shame myself for how far I had let myself go. I’ve developed healthy habits — just at my own arthritic speed. I don’t pay attention to how long it took me, just that I did it for myself and my son. There were things this year that I crushed and things that I failed at. Sometimes you need to let go of expectations to be happy or content.
Use Energy (and Time) Wisely
It’s important where we channel our energy or focus or thoughts when living with fatigue and cognitive dysfunction. Often what goes in what ear goes out the other. Sometimes I have to read a page a few times over and over to remember it. I have to be selective with my time and attention. My plate is pretty full as a chronically ill single mother trying to take on the world.
As I mourn the loss of my longtime friend, I am angry at myself for not saying goodbye even though I knew the inevitable was approaching. I can feel myself going through the grieving process. Thankfully my own diagnosis has given me better skills to cope with loss. I thought I had more time, but I find myself reflecting on life and how it never goes quite how we expect.
Some peoples’ lives get cut way too short; other people live past 100. Some stay healthy over time; others have a lifetime struggle with chronic illness. We are never actually granted time. Tomorrow is never certain.
As the new year approaches, I’ll abstain from making any concrete resolutions, but instead I’m going to attempt to live by these words:
Live for yourself and those you love — and use your energy wisely.