Gratitude and Arthritis

You can’t spell gratitude without RA. I know this to be true. A diagnosis of a debilitating chronic illness will swiftly teach you a new meaning of gratitude in your life.

Lately I find myself taking the stairs at every opportunity I can because my debilitating illness has taught me to be grateful for the times I am physically capable of taking that flight of stairs without pain, being out of shape, or even being here at all. But that’s not to say I feel nothing but gratitude every minute of every day. Far from it.

If anything, living with rheumatoid arthritis for years has taught me that no two days are the same — and struggling to see the “upside” of this disease is perfectly expected and normal.

There were (and still are) times when depression or anxiety from rheumatoid arthritis stole my ability to be grateful or find much joy in my life or the world. Going through the emotions of the grieving process following a severe chronic illness diagnosis was when my anger — and lack of gratitude — was at its highest point.

Rheumatoid arthritis spun my world right around, landing me on disability at age 29. It never occurred to me that one day I would wake up and be sick for the rest of my life. I’ve grown to detest the saying “the greatest wealth is health” but it has given me a lot to think about.

Looking back on my life before RA, I realize I was privileged when I didn’t need to rely on lifechanging medicine for the rest of my life. I didn’t need to spend a significant amount of my time running around to various doctors and specialists. I didn’t have to worry about medication side effects, infections, and lists of symptoms and comorbidities. I didn’t expect to try to get by on disability.

Rheumatoid arthritis opened my eyes to a world I was naive to.

After you’ve lived with rheumatoid arthritis long enough and begin to grasp how it changes your life, it’s hard to ignore the research that has consistently linked positive thinking with good mental and physical health.

There are many times when it is easier to focus on the negatives in life, especially when facing a chronic illness. But I know that incorporating simple gratitude practices can significantly improve my overall mental and physical health, as well as social well-being.

Like I said, you can’t spell gratitude without RA.

So, my mantra has become: This is my life now. I can’t let it break me. Actions speak louder than words. I want to live, not just survive.

I have had to learn to find joy and be grateful in life with chronic illness. It was a process changing my negative thoughts to positive ones but it started to come more naturally over time.

A positive mindset will not cure my RA, but it will make it (and myself) a lot easier to live with.

So what has life with rheumatoid arthritis made me grateful for? Writing out what you are grateful has proven positive results on the mind. Try it. I am grateful for:

1. The friends I have made and the friends who have stuck around through thick and thin with me

I am grateful for the people who haven’t avoided me when I tell them I have a chronic illness, who aren’t afraid to go through things with me. I am grateful for those who see me for more than my disability, who are willing to let me talk about my reality, and who help me when it all gets a bit overwhelming — without questioning my invisible illness with judgment. I am grateful for their support.

2. The dedicated professionals who treat and care for the millions of us living with arthritis

When you hear how some rheumatologists treat upwards of 10,000 patients because there is a lack of doctors in their specialty, you appreciate their dedication a lot more. I am grateful for ongoing advances in modern medicine — like my biologic drug — and those who dedicate their lives to helping the sick. Knowing people who were not able to take advantage of these therapies has helped me feel more grateful for mine. My aunt, who had rheumatoid arthritis too, experienced serious deformities with her hands. I never saw her walk more than a few steps. I am grateful for the wake-up call that her death, which occurred the same week of my RA diagnosis, gave me to take care of my own health.

3. The people who donate time and money those living with arthritis

I have learned a lot from volunteering with such organizations as The Arthritis Society, Arthritis Research Canada, and Pain BC about where donations go. My lived experience with rheumatoid arthritis is a perfect example. Donations go to so much more than just “finding a cure” but also to better the lives of those living with arthritis and those who will be diagnosed in the future. I am grateful for every penny donated to improve our lives. I am grateful for organizations that give patients a voice.

4. The good days and happy moments

I am grateful for the days where I can get more than one thing done — with minimal pain, fatigue, nausea, or your pick of symptoms and side effects. I am grateful for the days I am healthy enough to show up to somewhere I need to be. I am grateful that I have learned the really bad days often pass and over time I’ve learned to adapt.

I am grateful for the days I feel stronger than my RA.

5. The transformation RA gave me

I am grateful for the self-awareness and self-growth RA has taught me. The life lessons that chronic illness have taught me have shaped me into a better person today and given me more purpose in life. I am grateful that I learned to move forward, not fall back. I am grateful for the people who helped me along the way.

6. My son

My son was just a toddler when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve had to make some really difficult family planning choices as a single mother with a serious chronic disease and many complicated health issues. For many reasons, my son will be the only child I have. My rheumatoid arthritis affects him just as much as it does me. I am grateful to have a son who is so willing to help me and that my struggles are shaping him to be a kind, compassionate human. Being a single mother with this disease isn’t easy. I am grateful for his love.

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