Having arthritis hasn’t been an overwhelmingly positive experience, as you can probably imagine. Aside from the constant pain I’ve lived with since fall 2001, arthritis has affected my life in so many other ways. I achieved my dream only to lose it after a year. I moved back in with my parents (something that wasn’t easy for my independent self). But arthritis has also taught me a lot of lessons that I may not have learned as soon as I did, and it made me who I am. When you start living in constant pain at the age of 10, that pain affects all of who you grow into, even when you try to prevent that. I wish that I didn’t live in the pain that I do, but I can’t change the past 15 years, and I don’t know who I would be without it. That being said, here are 8 lessons my arthritis taught me.
I know my body better than anyone else – I absolutely learned this the hard way. As in, I had at least 5 ankle orthopedic surgeons tell me they couldn’t find anything wrong with my ankle, 3 knee orthopedic surgeons tell me they couldn’t find anything wrong with my knee (because clearly my knee was just dislocating for the hell of it), and at least 5 other doctors tell me they didn’t know why I was in pain. Eventually, I started believing them on some level. I say “on some level” because thinking that there wasn’t anything causing it didn’t change that I was in pain. As much as I knew that it wasn’t all in my head, if you have 6+ doctors in 2 years tell you that there’s nothing wrong with you, you start believing it. I still remember my first appointment with my MGH ankle surgeon and the amount of relief I felt when he a) believed me b) knew what was going on and c) had answers. If I learned anything from that appointment – and what he found when he put a camera in my ankle a few months later; arthritis was one of the issues in my ankle – it was that I know my body and what I feel more than anyone else.
Take a day off – My body regularly needs days off for physical and mental reasons, whether that’s to be okay for an important event or because I’m trying to avoid a flare. But we all need days off because there’s no reason to be “on” all the time unless you’re the president or an ER doctor regularly called in. Your body and mind will thank you.
Get 8 hours of sleep – Sleeping less than 7 hours means I’m in more pain the next day, and sleeping at least 8 usually helps my pain. But sleeping a full 8 affects more than just pain, and the rest of my body is continually grateful that I need as much sleep as I do. Here are 23 incredible benefits of getting more sleep, including that you’ll be happier and you’ll learn better.
Drink a LOT of water – With all the medications I’m on, I get dry mouth if I don’t drink bottles of water a day. But staying hydrated helps my body as a whole, and I’m very grateful that I drink so much. The CDC says that water helps your body keep your temperature normal, protect your spinal cord, and more.
Achieving your goals isn’t always worth the damage you do to yourself – Like I said, I achieved my dream, and for those of you who haven’t been around here for a while, that was teaching. I wanted to be a teacher since high school when I realized how few people actually cared about studying literature, and I worked my butt off at Vanderbilt. I did my student teaching at a middle school in Nashville and then at a high school in a Nashville suburb and I loved it. I then took a job teaching 9th grade English in Nashville and with the life of a first-year teacher, the extra stress of working at an urban school that had recently lost its needs-to-be-fixed-ASAP status (I had 175 students), and my rampant autoimmune disease, I was quickly worked to the bone. I dislocated my knee at least twice that year and had multiple flares – plus I wasn’t getting the aforementioned important 8 hours of sleep and I almost never had time off. I worked 10-16 hours a day 5 days a week, and another 4-10 over the weekend. It got to the point where I was so, so sick, and a part of me wished I hadn’t done it.
But it’s ALWAYS worth fighting for what’s most important to you – Well, just a part of me wished I hadn’t. The rest of me just wished that I had worked somewhere with less stress and work because I have never felt as at home as I did in my classroom talking about Romeo and Juliet or grammar. It was second only to the feeling I got when I held Aureole for the first time.
Your body will thank you for eating right – Eating healthy doesn’t equal medicine, but it can make you feel better. In my case, it turns out that a lot of traditionally “bad” foods cause my immune system to attack me harder (I’m looking at you, gluten, dairy, corn, soy, egg, and and hydrogenated oils). But the parts of my body not ruled by my immune system also enjoy when I eat healthy, and I feel better as a result.
Listen to what your body is telling you – As I said at the beginning of this list, I know my body best, and I know when it’s trying to tell me something. Whether its message is big or small, positive or negative, related to health issues or not, your body is talking to you all the time. Listen to it, and don’t fight it.